Writing a book ????

Every since XNA was released my visibility in the community has meant I get the occasional email or phone all about authoring a book. I've resisted for several reasons.

  1. Its a BIG time commitment and I don't have much of that
  2. The $$ return is terrible

When I mention #2 to the publishers they always tell me that "many authors do it for the increased visibility and not for the profit". I usually point out that they are calling me because I already have the visibility which rarely goes down well.

So how little money do authors make? Its hard to get all the details of course but you can find general information out there. I have a good book on self publishing that might be a little out of date now.

Lets take 7 XNA 3.1 books (I ignored Dan's book as it seems to be on super sale). The average 'list price' is $38.55 and the average actual price is $25.23 so pretty much every book is sold at a 35% discount.

As an author you will negotiate your pay usually in 2 ways. An advance and a per book percentage. Obviously both vary but O'Reilly are very up front about their 10% rate and 5% on translated copies on publisher NET sales. If Amazon is selling our imaginary XNA book for $25.23 you know they paid less than this so lets assume the publisher sold the book to amazon for $20. So from the $38.55 'list' price the author is going to see about $2 a copy.

That's not too bad if you are Stephen King but technical books have a rather limited audience. I've seen several places that talk about 10,000 copies in the 1st year being considered a 'best seller' in the technical book space. Lets say the average book sells 5000. That's a grand total of $10,000 before any taxes for your hard work. I've seen advances around the $10,000 mark so its no surprise that common advice is to negotiate as big advance as possible because most books will never pay beyond that.

So how long does it take to write a book? I asked a few folk some years ago and though it was a pretty wide range the estimates were between 500 and 700 hours by the time you have got everything done, edited, proof read and produced the code samples, supporting web site etc.

That gives us a pay range of $13-$20 an hour assuming your book. I've mentioned this figure to some authors and been told thats 'if you get lucky'.

So back to the publishers - how many of them pay their staff $20 or less an hour? It just seems wrong to me that the person who puts in the effort gets the lowest wage? When you buy that XNA book does it cross your mind who is getting rich off it?

So last time I was asked to write I suggested a $25,000 advance to make it worth my time and you can imagine how well that went down.

So why do authors continue to write books? Well there are many intangible rewards. Some folk do it for the increased visibility which can get you jobs, MVP awards, speaker gigs at conferences, some folk do it because seeing your name on a book is just plain cool. Others do it as a challenge - its something that they have always wanted to do. Others think that $20 an hour is worth their time as a second/side job. I can totally understand all of these reasons and heck I need to thank many of the authors for doing it - I own hundreds of your books. For some folk its just a hobby that they would do for free so the money is a nice bonus - heck I've probably put in more free hours on the xna.com forums over the years and rarely felt exploited.

However I just can't get over the feeling of being shafted. I can bill much more than $20 an hour for regular work and as my blog readers know I have plenty of other hobbies that take up my time.

But.... with George and Chris writing a Windows Phone book the topic has come up once again in my circle of twitter friends and I've got to admit it would be nice to see my name on a book in a book store.  

So given there is no way I'm working for $20 an hour (max) I've dug out the self publishing book and taking a look at the options there.

Here's some questions I posted on twitter and I'd appreciate feedback in comments or email.

  • How much does the publisher of the book vs the author name affect your buying decision?
  • How do you find your books? Brick and Mortar browsing? Online browsing? Other?
  • Do you still buy paper or are you all buying eBooks now? Do you care about DRM? Can I trust you not to upload the eBook as soon as you get a copy?
  • How big do you expect a book that costs $25? I understand you care about content but if you are in a book store and you grab a thin book you are less likely to buy it. The 7 XNA 3 books range from 336 to 792 pages. Average is 496. The bigger the book the more 'value' in terms of pages per $. That ranges from 25 pages per dollar down to 12 pages per dollar.
  • I also asked about color as I see it starting to appear in technical books. I see its use in game books and in reading VS code but after a quick look I realised that its just not economical for self publishing yet.
  • What do the big publishers get wrong? What drives you nuts that would make you buy MY book instead?
  • What is missing in the XNA books? What do they do wrong? What do they do right?

No this doesn't mean I'm going to write one for sure... all of the time constraints about still apply and it seems like the successful authors have some amazing ability to sleep less than 4 hours a night and let me tell you - I love my bed!


Published 21 June 2010 09:36 AM by zman
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