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Tech Books: Caveat Emptor

These days, we have a myriad of ways to judge whether any given product – like, say, a book on SQL Server – is any good. We ask our friends in the industry, check reviews online, or failing anything else, we go for the name we recognize.  “Hey, Dan Bookman has a new version of SQL Server Widgetizing for Mortals out for R2? Awesome, I need that!”

One thing you should really be aware of, though: It’s very common practice for an author to write a book, and then have nothing to do with the next-version rewrite that has his/her name on the cover (either because s/he didn’t care to dive back into the book writing process again so soon, or wasn’t asked, for whatever reason).  So Dan Bookman’s name may be on the cover of Wigitizing ver R2, but it’s not his baby any more. 

Cookie by esthereggy on flickrThis isn’t always a bad thing. I’ve seen books go from good to great (or less than good, to great) with a new author at the helm to build on old material. The trick is finding out before you buy.  How, you say? I’m so glad you asked. Here, have a cookie.

Definitely, check the reviews, ask your friends. But if you’re looking at a book because of the author, and you suspect the newer version didn’t involve that author…why not ask that author?

“Hey, Dan Bookman…I loved ‘SQL Server Widgetizing for Mortals 2005‘, and I notice you’re second-listed on the cover of the new R2 book. I was just wondering if you were involved with the new book, and whether you recommend it?”

There may be a few authors who will candy-coat if they don’t like the new book, but in my experience authors are pretty straightforward with their opinions. Likewise, you might be tempted to think that an author will promo his/her own book over others’, but I suspect that’s pretty rare, too. The tech authors I’ve met and talked to aren’t in the least concerned about losing the $2 (ish?) from the sale of a book…they’d rather see that you get the best info available.

It’s interesting to note, by the way, that authors don’t get rich writing tech books. They make some money, sure. But they write largely for the experience, the exposure, and the amount of knowledge one picks up in the authoring process.

Happy days, and for heavan’s sake, caveat emptor!

Jen McCown

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Posted by Anonymous on 6 January 2011

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