Sean’s Obsessions

Sean Walberg’s blog

About Writing a Book

Whenever people find out I’m writing a book, I’m always asked how it all works. Now that I’m almost done, I’ll take some time to write it out.

The first step is to get a proposal accepted. The first time I tried this I worked with an agent from Studio B. He had me write out my ideas, and we gradually shaped them into a proposal document. The agent then tried to shop it around to various publishers, but I got no bites.

For the book I ended up writing (Check Point CCSA Exam Cram 2), I was supposed to be the technical editor. I had previously been the technical editor for a Linux+ book since the author was a friend, and this enabled me to get on to the Check Point book since I hadn’t screwed up on the Linux+ book, and I had relevent Check Point experience. There were some problems with the progress of the project, and they were looking to get a new author. I was given the opportunity to put in a proposal.

I had been dealing with the acquisitions editor (AE), who oversees the project and whose prime role is to approve/disapprove book ideas. She had a standard proposal template, which I worked through with her, after which the book was accepted.

I then put my agent in contact with the AE, and they negotiated a contract. The way contracts in the publishing industry seem to work is that the author gets royalties on the wholesale cost of the book (wholesale is about 60% of the cover price, I’m told). Typical royalty rates are between 7% and 12%, and often are on a sliding scale (ie 7% on the first 5,000 9% on the next 5,000, and so forth). The author is paid an advance on the royalties, from which future royalties are deducted until the balance is paid out, and the author can start getting cheques.

There is far more to a contract than just the money. There are many things that deal with future editions, schedule, translations, re-use, and cross accounting. The last one is interesting, because it means that if you write several books for the publisher, they have the right to deduct unearned advances on one book from the royalties of another. The agent negotiates these terms with the AE based on their knowledge of the market and other contracts the publisher has signed.

After that, the writing begins. The payments depend on the contract – the royalty may be paid out in whole, or after predefined milestones. My project was to go from Nov 15, 2004 to Mar 1, 2005.

I was given a Word template to do the writing in, which sets out the styles for headings and such. I submitted my work to my development editor (DE), who managed the project for the most part.

My work was given to the technical editors (TE) who checked for accuracy and completeness, and made comments where needed. The copy editor (CE) checked for grammar, making changes and asking questions where needed. The DE also made comments on the structure of the document, and for conformance to the series guidelines (this book was part of the ExamCram 2 series, so they want a consistent look and feel). All these changes were incorporated back into the original document by the project editor (PE), who sent them to me.

I then go through all the queries made by the various people (called author review) and make changes as I see the need. Sometimes I disagreed with some of them (keep in mind that only the TEs are technical people), sometimes their comments prompted me to add a new section. Their combined effort really made a difference in the book. This last section ran in parallel with the writing of the book, though in my case I didn’t start getting the edits back until I was about 75% done the writing.

Where it sits now is that by the end of the weekend, I will have submitted all the content for the book, and will have completed the author review stage for about 75% of the material. Once that’s all done, I will have another opportunity to review the entire book, and once that’s done, the book is off to production. Then I’m told it’s 3-4 months until it hits the shelves. In the meantime, I have to build a small website for the book.

As for what’s next? I don’t plan on writing another book in the near future. I’d like to write some articles for magazines, and perhaps be a technical editor on another project.


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