Feb 19 2010

So You Want to Write a Book?

What the heck is wrong with you?

Still interested? Fine. I’ll tell you my take on this whole business. I’m only an expert on this if you take the adage that the expert is the guy that’s a page head of you in reading a book. To date I have published two full books and three chapters in a third. I can easily think of enough people who all have more experience than that with book writing that I’d have to take off both shoes to count them all.

Is anyone still reading? Cool. So you have the desire to write a book? Let me pop your first bubble. You will make very little money. This bears repeating. You will make very little money. If you were to figure out your hourly rate for writing this book, something I’ve never had the guts to do, you’ll cry yourself to sleep at night for being such a total fool to agree to write a book.

Still here? Let me pop your second bubble. Your home life/free time/family time/sleep cycle/excercise will suffer. Yes, that’s right. You’re getting paid pennies and you’re suffering for it.

Glutton for punishment? OK. Here’s how you do it. Do you have an idea for a book? If not, stop here and go and think of one. I’m assuming a technical readership since this is a geek blog about geek topics by a geek. Do you think you know everything there is to know about… oh, I don’t know, SQL Server 2008 hierarchy data, and you’re convinced you can fill 200+ pages talking about it? Great! You’re on your way. Pick a publisher. I’m not providing links or suggestions here. If you don’t know any book publishers that means you’re not reading books. If you don’t read them, I don’t think you should write them. Stop here and go read a technical book, preferably one of mine.

Have a publisher in mind? Go to their web site. Every one I’ve looked at has a “write for us” web page. Follow the directions there and submit your idea. You’re now on your way. I’m sure things are different for the big name authors or authors outside the technical sphere, but since you don’t have a name and you’re writing technical books, that’s pretty much all you need to do. You don’t need an agent or a lawyer. You’re going to get a non-negotiable contract from the publisher and you’re going to sign it because you want to write a book. Assuming they like your idea. Ah, but you’re not done with simply submitting the idea. You need to do two other things, and these won’t be easy. You need to define your market. Are there more than 20 people interested in reading a book on the hierarchy data type? Sound easy? It is a bit. Here’s a more challenging one for you. You also need to define how your book will stand out from the rest. If Itzik or Kalen has written 50 pages on hierarchy data types… ready for it… how will your 50 pages be better than theirs?

Stopped crying? Other options are to write articles for publication in places like SQL Server Central or Simple-Talk or SQL Server Standard (and I know the editor from SQL Server Standard most intimately, he needs articles). A few articles about the hierarchy data type and you’ll be a recognized expert. Now, if one of the publishers decides, “Hey, we could really use a book on the hiearchy data type,” and they happen to notice your article, you might get invited to write for them. Or, someone else writing a book needs a chapter on the hiearchy data type, they may contact you to help out. Or, if you’re constantly hanging out on one of the online discussion sites answering detailed questions about the hiearchy data type, the publisher or another author may find you and ask you to write a chapter.

Anyone still here? Of the two approaches, I’d suggest writing articles first. That’s going to do two things for you. First, it gets your name out there and you’ll get noticed. That’s how I did it. Second, it’ll let you decide if you like writing. The first time you get an article back that’s gone through a serious technical edit and it looks like someone has questioned every other word you wrote and the comments, while kind, bash through your arguments and ideas like a wrecking ball… you get to decide how much you like writing. A book is 50 times worse.

Want more? That’s about all there is. There are lots of details when it comes to the act of writing the book, how versions are managed, the writing schedule, promotion (if you get any), how you split the oodles of cash with your co-authors, if any (authors I mean, there will be very little cash), that sort of thing.  Networking is a useful tool. I wrote my second book because I happened to be at a publishing party for an author and I ran into his editor. A short conversation and a couple of emails later… I’m losing sleep and skipping exercise for very little money. Having friends and contacts will lead toward getting partnered up for a book. That’s how you can get tapped to write a chapter or three.

Still reading or have you all long ago stopped reading because this book writing thing is way too much of a pain?

Would I do it again? In a heart beat.


  • By Roy Ernest, February 19, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

    “Would I do it again? In a heart beat.”
    You need help next time you decide to write, please do look me up. I can do research, make samples for lab and those kind of stuff. I dont know how to write though. But I would love to be in the process. And I dont need money from what you get when you start selling the books.. 🙂

  • By Chuck Boyce, February 19, 2010 @ 4:22 pm


    I have the book you co-wrote with Sajal and your book on Execution Plans. I think your content is outstanding. I appreciate your hard work. Thank you very much.


  • By MarlonRibunal, February 19, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

    ahhhh…a discouragement for wannabe-authors! 😉 Book-authoring = SACRIFICE!

  • By scarydba, February 19, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

    Hey Roy,

    Nice offer. Thanks. I’ll have to see how it works out. I tried doing that with the last book but it got hard to manage the work.

  • By scarydba, February 19, 2010 @ 6:16 pm


    Thanks. I’m glad they’re useful. That’s sure what I strive for.

    Actually Sajal Dam didn’t do any work on that book. He’s listed as co-author because there’s still a bit of his work from the original left in there. Maybe 10%, maybe less.

  • By scarydba, February 19, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

    Hi Marlon,

    Not so much trying to discourage as much as set realistic expectations. It’s a heck of a shock just how much work and how much time is involved when writing a book. Best to try to get the information out to people if you can.

  • By MarlonRibunal, February 19, 2010 @ 9:23 pm


    That’s right. Plus, like you said, you must have an expertise over the topic; and I guess that is the greatest challenge. 😉

  • By Jeremiah Peschka, February 22, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

    This reminds me of a conversation we had at the Tap House in Seattle the day before the PASS Summit started.

    I’ll add this piece of advice for anyone considering writing a book: as someone who majored in English and wrote or edited an average of 5 pages a day for four years straight – if you don’t love writing, don’t attempt writing a book. Make sure that you love writing and you love what you’re writing about.

    Grant, I’ve always enjoyed your presentations and blogs because you convey your pasion for the subject so clearly. It’s that passion that makes it possible to write a book and say “Man, I love punching myself in the junk over and over again, I think I’ll write another book!”

  • By scarydba, February 28, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

    Thanks Jeremiah. It’s the passion that sees me through. I really do enjoy this stuff. I wish I was better at it, but I’ll keep swinging, regardless.

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