• Fernando Doglio

How to write your first tech book in 8 steps



So far I’ve been able to successfully publish 3 books, and during the course of this (and maybe next) year, two more will be out. This essentially qualifies me to write about the process for a while.

I’m not an expert, by far, but still, the process for normal and best selling authors is the same, so I wanna tell you about it in case you’re wondering what it takes to actually get one of these bad boys out.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to talk about self publishing, I’ve never done it, so I’m not qualified to tell you about it. 


#1 Stop thinking you can’t write a book

The first step to getting your first book published is to overcome a mental barrier. I’ve written about this in the past: writing a book is easier than it looks.

You don’t have to be a master at something, or even (on a very extreme case) know much about the subject you’re writing about. All you have to understand about the process, is that you’re going to have to do a lot of research. Weather you’ve worked in the past with the technology you’re writing about or not, researching the latest trends and the sate of the art is always recommended. Personally learned this the hard way, while working on my first title “PRO REST API Development with Node.js”, I was sure I understood how REST worked, but in fact, I changed my view on the subject quite a bit during the process of writing the book. I came into the project thinking I knew a lot and came out the other side knowing a lot more than I originally thought possible.

So, step #1, stop listening to that voice telling you you can’t do it, you actually can and will.


#2 Find something to write about

You don’t need to have the full book written, or a first draft or anything like that, this is definitely a plus over writing fictional books, where you usually need to have a full manuscript before a publisher will even look at you.

All you initially need is an idea, you have something you want to write about? Don’t worry if it sounds like no one will care enough about it to read it (I’ve been there). Just do the following:

Go to amazon.com and search for your topic, try different combinations and see what results you get. If your idea is very specific like “The benefits of writing your unit tests using camel case notation in JavaScript”, try different combinations, such as:

  • Benefits of unit tests in JavaScript

  • Unit tests in JavaScript

  • Benefits of unit testing

  • Writing unit testing in camel case

And so on, that’ll give you an idea of the type of market out there for your potential book.

Now open up a document and start working on the next step.


#3 Create a table of content for your book

This is important because a) publishers will ask for this as part of your proposal and b) it’ll give you an idea of how you can develop the subject you’re going to write about. It’s not the same to think you’re going to write about testing using camel case in JavaScript, than saying you’ll have the following chapters:

  1. What is unit testing

  2. Benefits of testing your code

  3. How to write your tests in JavaScript

  4. What is CamelCase notation and how it changes your testing code

  5. Modules available to do CamelCase testing in JavaScript

  6. Practical example and benefit analysis

  7. CamelCase used in the wild — a case study 

Suddenly your idea is now composed of 7 chapters, it has structure and most importantly, it can be estimated. Yes, you’re going to have to estimate your ToC, this can be complicated thing to do if you’re doing this for the first time, because you’ll be asked to provide the approximate number of pages for each chapter, as well as how long it’ll take you to actually write them.

Depending on the publisher you contact, you might get some help regarding these numbers. At Apress.com they’re very open to helping new authors draft their proposals, so if you have a solid idea, they will probably guide you through the process.


#4 Write a sample chapter

Yes, this kinda a sucks, because you will have to dedicate some time to writing without actually knowing if your idea will be picked up by anyone. Most publishers will ask for a sample chapter, mostly to understand how you write, they don’t know you so they need something other than your emails.

Don’t worry too much about the content of the chapter and about the length, this will probably end-up changing once you start working. 

As a recommendation: don’t write the first or last chapter, write something in the middle, that way you avoid things like final words or welcoming the reader to your book and stick to the meaty gritty of the book.


#5 Send the book proposal

By now, you have your ToC, your sample chapter, and you even got an idea of the market and competition your book might have. You are ready now, to send your idea to a publisher. 

Yes, you’re sending the proposal to them, usually if you go to a publisher’s web site, they’ll have some sort of link where they describe their process, here are a few of them:

There are others of course, these are the ones I’ve interacted/published with in the past.

Some of these publishers even provide templates for the proposals, in such cases you should always try to follow them, otherwise you’ll probably be asked to change your proposal before they even consider it, so take the time and make sure you’re sending everything they ask for, it’ll save everyone time and energy.

Now, unless you’re trying to write something that’s been done to death, you’re probably get either an OK from them and the process will continue, or you’ll get some pointers to refine your idea, in which case I suggest you follow them. Remember: they know what’s selling and what isn’t.


#6 Negotiate your contract

Once your proposal is accepted, you’ll need to sign a contract, it’s a standard process and in it they’ll define things like: royalties (how much money you’re getting for each sale), advance (how much money you’re getting up-front, remember that you’ll start getting money from your royalties once you’ve covered this number with them), the ToC, the chapters and book deadlines and so on. 

Don’t be scared by this process, it’s not a very large document (usually) and you can definitely push back if you’re not happy with the conditions. The important thing here is that if you sign it, then it’s up to you to stay on track, so make sure dates make sense.


#7 Write, write and oh, that’s right: Write!

Now it’s time for you to start working, my recommendation would be to write every day. Yes, every fracking day, that way you make constant progress, it’s easier to manage things that way, as opposed to having to pull 3 all-nighters to complete a chapter. By working on it every day, you gain extra time to consider what you’re adding into your chapter, go back, change, re-write and overall deliver a better product than what you’d have if you wrote the whole thing in 3 days.

The writing process starts with you, but it doesn’t end when you deliver your chapter draft. For technical books publishers will usually provide you with technical reviewers. These are other tech folks that will review your drafts and add notes regarding all technical aspects of your work. This is an amazing bonus that you normally don’t get if you’re going solo (unless you pay for it of course, but here it’s free!). You should take advantage of this and pay close attention to what the reviewers say. Although you can always push back and ignore those comments, just make sure you have a very valid reason for doing that and it’s not your ego at work.

Your draft will usually also go through style reviewers who will check your writing style, they’ll ignore the technical content and focus on making sure you’re grammar and syntax stay constant throughout the chapter, that you’re addressing the reader the best way possible. Again, if they give you notes, pay attention to them.


#8 Book review

Once you’ve delivered all chapter drafts, and they sent them back with comments. After you’ve reviewed the comments, made the required changes and again, delivered the second drafts, they will take them all and send them to production. What this means is (and I’m no editor here, so I’m speaking from what I’ve been able to gather on my side) they will make it look good in book format. They will go over your chapter’s format, fix whatever needs to be fixed and create a first book draft in PDF format (usually), where you’ll see the cover, the back cover, all the copies in them and of course, the content. You’ll basically be looking at the e-version of your book (well, at least the first draft of it), you’ll be asked to review it and again, provide any feedback you might want. 

After this, the book will be released.

You’re now done! Congrats! You did it! You managed to create a full book from a simple idea, you can now seat, relax and drink whatever form of celebratory beverage you like to consume, you’ve earned it after all. 


A couple of extra pointers:


How much money will you make? 

Simple answer: not a lot, at least not if you’re just thinking about writing and seating back to relax. The advances aren’t that big, some publishers are willing to pay more than others though. The numbers I’ve seen go from 2k up to 8k per book (but with no royalties in the future). If you’re trying to get into this for the money, you can’t think of the advance as the main source for it. There are many places online where they discuss strategies to make passive income from books. I’d suggest looking into that.


How long does this take? 

A while, you need to be patient. Writing take time, specially if you’re not doing it as your main job (I’m assuming you have a full-time job here). In my case, my books have been relatively short (around 200–250 pages), and writing them took around 2 to 3 months, after that you have to add the time it takes for the reviews and final production process. So all in all for small books I would say a total of 6 months (definitely longer if you’re predicting writing more pages).


Final thoughts

This is definitely not an easy thing to do, but it’s also much easier and accessible than people think, so I would suggest giving it a try if you’ve been toying with the idea. Just do it!

Also, even if it’s not a big seller, how many people that you know have a book written by them on their house? (you usually get free copies of your books :) )

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