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The Best and Worst Tech-Book Publishers? 271

Posted by timothy
from the little-pots-of-red-ink dept.
An anonymous reader writes "I am an author working on a technical book about an open-source software package. I am looking for a publisher, and I would like to hear experiences from any Slashdot authors. Who are the best publishers to work with and why are they great? Who are the worst publishers in the tech book business, and what nightmare/horror stories can you tell us about them? Any publishing company in particular you recommend avoiding? Any gems of advice (rights reversion, etc.) you can provide for first-time tech book authors?"
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The Best and Worst Tech-Book Publishers?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:07PM (#29080495)

    Any gems of advice (rights reversion, etc.) you can provide for first-time tech book authors?

    Get back to work on the BOOK - quit fooling around on Slashdot. ;)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Pretty funny coming from a first post!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The most appauling documentation I've ever found was in the Cliff's Notes stack in Wonderbooks and Barnes'n'Noble, by some 3rd-party author known as Donald Knuth. He writes the same book over and over with only minor spelling tense and minute theory corrections, and doesn't accept any other questions to give greater brevity except if those questions were from himself. It's as if he only talks to himself. The man is neither mad or genius, and his short stories don't even match the natural law "VENOMOUS. S

    • Get back to work on the BOOK - quit fooling around on Slashdot. ;)

      Actually, I'd disagree here. The volume I post on Slashdot - and the practice you get in responding to criticism from grammar trolls (they're called 'copyeditors' in the publishing world) - was one of the things that helped convince me that I would be able to write my first book in the time the contract allowed.

      The advice I'd give to anyone in this field is give up if you can't take criticism. Before your book is published, you will probably have to defend something on every page (sometimes more than o

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:14PM (#29080517)

    I went through the process of writing a nearly 500-page book on newly minted standard, which went as far as being typeset. Then a another major publisher got a book out a month ahead of me, the market tanked, and they dropped the project.

    As bad as that seems, I learned a lot in the process and it would definitely go faster a second time around. Didn't help that I was suffering at that time from an undiagnosed disease (Addison's) that left me fatigued.

    But yeah, it bothers me that they would take it that far and elect not to push the jolly red candy-like button on the printing press.

  • AC time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:25PM (#29080569)

    My god, there's going to be a lot of venting on this thread... how about we make it a lot shorter and ask if any publishers *aren't* a nightmare to deal with?

    Note for people about to post -- check your contract. Both of mine explicitly stated you must not say anything nasty about the publisher. You want to go AC on this thread.

  • I hear good things... :-)

    Schwab

    • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:04PM (#29080763) Homepage

      I used to have warm, fuzzy feelings about O'Reilly and my shelf full of O'Reilly books. That was before they started spamming me. I'm a college professor, and they sent me spam trying to get me to adopt one of their physics books for my courses. This was at a .edu email address that I had never given to them -- in fact, I had no preexisting business relationship with O'Reilly at all, except for buying their books on amazon and in bricks-and-mortar bookstores (and not with that email address, either).

      I don't do business with spammers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tadghin (2229)

        Tim O'Reilly here. I was alarmed by this comment, as I don't like to think that my marketing department sends out spam, so I forwarded this message on to the team. Here's the reply I got: "this person has posted this before. We've searched for his email with no luck. I responded to his comment previously on slashdot and asked for him to send me a copy of the email so we could research. He never replied. Instead of letting us fix it, he would rather be a troll."

        I suspect, now that I look more carefully, th

  • by Venkata Prasad (874420) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:30PM (#29080599) Homepage
    Did you evaluate the possibility of selling a PDF copy from your website yourself? I am not author but based on my experience with the lonely planet guides as well as a couple of books from the "pragmatic programmers" I started liking the ease of using the e-books. That said it is also important that your book is discoverable by it's target audience. Getting it published from the likes of O'Reilly would make it easy for many people who are looking for open-source related books (thats where I would first search), but if you think that your book has enough unique stuff and that you can make it easily discoverable over the search engines, nothing like publishing it in the form of an e-book (from your own website)!
    • by belmolis (702863) <billposer&alum,mit,edu> on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:42PM (#29080653) Homepage

      A related option is to have an outfit like Lulu [lulu.com] publish the book and sell it for you. You upload a PDF. They take orders and process them, print the book on demand, and send it out. They take a fixed cost (based on number of pages, binding, etc.) and you set the margin added to that, which goes to you. You get an ISBN, which gets the book into Books in Print, and they have arrangements for listing the book with Amazon.com and some other distributors. It looks attractive if you don't need the editing or marketing that a regular publisher provides.

      • by bcrowell (177657) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:59PM (#29080731) Homepage

        A related option is to have an outfit like Lulu publish the book and sell it for you. You upload a PDF. They take orders and process them, print the book on demand, and send it out. They take a fixed cost (based on number of pages, binding, etc.) and you set the margin added to that, which goes to you. You get an ISBN, which gets the book into Books in Print, and they have arrangements for listing the book with Amazon.com and some other distributors. It looks attractive if you don't need the editing or marketing that a regular publisher provides.

        I've used lulu for some nonfiction books, and I've been fairly happy with them, apart from some painful issues early on until I learned how to work around some of their issues. However, I wrote those books to scratch my own itch, whereas I'm guessing the OP wants to write his to, like, you know, pay the rent and stuff. Self-publishing is not a good way to make any significant amount of money. The big problem is lack of promotion. It's also virtually impossible to get a self-published book into a books-and-mortar store. (Possible exceptions would be, e.g., getting a bookstore in Pacific Grove, CA, to carry a self-published book on the history of Pacific Grove.)

        Another thing to realize about lulu is that they have different levels of service, some of which cost the author and others that don't. The general rule in thr world of publishing is that money is supposed to flow toward the author, not the other way around; anything else is most likely a scam, and even if it's not a scam, it's almost certainly not a good idea. I use lulu's free level of service, and it works for me -- but that means I don't get an ISBN from them, or any of theire other services (which I suspect are basically snake oil).

        If all you want is to get an ISBN for a book and get it in Books in Print, you can just do that directly by dealing with Bowker. You don't need lulu for that. One thing to consider about getting an ISBN for a self-published book is that you're supposed to have a different ISBN for every edition of the book. I don't know whether lulu will do that for you or not.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by belmolis (702863)

          Thanks, very informative. One question, though. For books on computer science and related areas, how important are brick-and-mortar sales these days? For books on some topics they're probably very important, but for CS I would think that they wouldn't be, provided that you can get sufficient publicity for the book, via, say, a positive /. review.

        • ...whereas I'm guessing the OP wants to write his to, like, you know, pay the rent and stuff.

          The technical authors I've met didn't do it for the rent (even the ones with big publishers). They did it for the reputation, and the promise of money that reputation might get them. For the kind of work that's expected of you, you're actually paid very little (although, I'm sure there can be exceptions, for instance if you're already semi-famous in the open source world -- you might be able to negotiate a better deal and/or achieve higher sales because of your name-recognition).

        • Unless he's writing a tech version of the Da Vinci Code, he's not going to be making enough money to pay the rent ...

          Rich.

          • by msclrhd (1211086) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:47AM (#29081943)

            Harry Potter and the Windows 2008 Administrator?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by tomhudson (43916)

            Unless he's writing a tech version of the Da Vinci Code, he's not going to be making enough money to pay the rent ...

            Tech books with movie options?

            "Inside SCC - the Spaceballs Compiler Collection"
            "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - C++ and the STL"
            "Gone With the Windows - switching users to linux"
            "American Idol - Internet Edition Explained" (a For Dummies" book)
            "Start Wars - Why you have to click on Start to shut down and other Windowisms explained"
            "District 9 - The saga of Alienware"
            "Enema o

        • I'm assuming the OP isn't Stephen King. Otherwise, it's a very bad time to be a writer of either fiction or nonfiction; it's hard to get published, you don't make much, and you're competing against this internets thingy where people give away what you're trying to sell.

          I published my novel with Lulu, as well as distributing it online for free, and I'm very happy with the result; in the fullness of time people have willingly sent me tips and bought enough copies to give me about the same amount of money I

      • by wonkavader (605434) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:05PM (#29080769)

        Get the ISBN yourself. Don't use someone else's -- it can reduce portability. For example, a ISBN from Createspace cannot be move to anywhere else, so you're stuck on Amazon only, forever. If you have your own ISBN, you can move to Lulu (for example) or to a more conventional publisher.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by bcrowell (177657)

          Get the ISBN yourself. Don't use someone else's -- it can reduce portability. For example, a ISBN from Createspace cannot be move to anywhere else, so you're stuck on Amazon only, forever. If you have your own ISBN, you can move to Lulu (for example) or to a more conventional publisher.

          This isn't quite accurate. First off, you're supposed to have a new ISBN for every edition. A book is not supposed to have a single ISBN associated with it forever, so portability is not such a big issue. Just get a new ISB

    • Selling an ebook from your personal website? Have fun with your 1 sale a month. What, do you expect word of mouth to advertise for you? "Hey dude check out this libffi book on some guy's website!" Unless you're on Amazon or O'Reilly, you're not going to get exposure.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816)

      Gee, what an interesting idea. Too bad a couple million people had it before you. For any given subject matter, there are already a lot of people writing about it on the web. Some of them are pretty good. No newcomer is going to rise to top of the search engine results unless their work is really good and they do a lot of viral marketing.

      Speaking of marketing, you have a pretty simplistic notion of what publishers do. They don't just print up the books and list them on their web site, they market, advert

      • ...provide editorial support. That last one is kind of important, assuming that you don't want to look like an illiterate clown.

        This can be valuable even if you aren't an illiterate clown. I'm an editor as well as an author, but I still find that a good editor's second pair of eyes is extremely helpful and useful in beating my material into a shape suitable for publication.

        • This can't be moderated up enough. I write for a living and the difference between unedited or badly edited, and well edited is astonishing. Even if the changes an editor suggests are minor (reordering clauses in a sentence, fixing typos, and so on) they can make a huge difference to how readable the end result is. My articles tend to be farmed out to one of a small number of freelance editors. With some I need to carefully read the result, make sure they haven't introduced any mistakes, and fix the thi
    • Exactly. What is even the point of a publisher nowadays? Back then, they were there to print books, distribute them and do the marketing.

      Nowadays with e-books on the rise, there is no point in printing anymore, distribution can be done from the own site trough payment services like PayPal, and all you need is get the word out via marketing. So let someone make a nice site, and let someone else throw out good advertisement. (The one that people *like* to see! More that "getting the word out" style, and no se

      • by Brian Gordon (987471) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @01:29AM (#29081343)

        all you need is get the word out via marketing. So let someone make a nice site, and let someone else throw out good advertisement.

        On what budget? On whose time? Who's going to design an attractive ad? Who's going to make your attractive website? Who's going to compare ad prices (and pricing models) across sites and ad networks that you've never even heard of? Authors write. Publishers have deep pockets for advertising (bootstrapping sales from a $100 advertising budget is not an option because your product has a limited life cycle), they know graphic designers, they know how to market a book, and they know how effective different types of ad campaigns are and how to get good prices. And a publisher might be able to get you on paper: huge cost but it's a market you'd otherwise be missing. Also you need an editor; a writer is just being unrealistic if she thinks she doesn't need an outside perspective. Grammar checking by people who actually know when to use the past subjunctive or the present indicative mood, yes, but also people who can tell you you're overdoing an easy section or not explaining something clearly enough.

        • But but but...I was told the internet would make everyone a professional writer and that publishers wouldn't be needed anymore. Are you trying to tell me that they actually do add something to the equation?
  • the good and the meh (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:45PM (#29080661)

    O'Reilly is only meh as far as treating authors. They play favorites, they pay the lowest royalty rate (10%), and they shove so many books out the door that yours may get lost. They pay the same rate for digital sales, which really stinks because their overhead is a lot lower. OTOH they are very good at actually selling books, they keep trying new forms of distribution, the O'Reilly brand is tops, and they pay royalties quarterly, which is a nice thing. Better than the typical annual or bi-annual.

    No Starch is very excellent. Good editors, good royalty rates (10-14%), and you get good personal attention.

    Both will allow you to write your manuscript in other than Microsoft Word. Many publishers are wedded to Word, which is beyond idiotic. It's a terrible tool for manuscripts, and for people like me who boycott corrupt evil globalcorps it's a deal-breaker.

    The Dummies book are very tightly controlled and they pay cheap.

    You'll deal first with an acquisitions editor. All publishers have a lot of information on their Websites on how to pitch them. For god's sake read it and do what it says; there is a goldmind of information there and you'll look like a moron if you don't take advantage of it.

    Be sure you have what it takes to write a whole book-- it is more work than you ever dreamed. If you want to write a good book, that is. Have several conversations with your potential editor to determine if you can work together. An editor will make or break you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nametaken (610866)

      You're kidding me, 10-14% is a good royalty rate for an author?! That's disgusting.

      • by vonFinkelstien (687265) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:23PM (#29080851)
        That's better than what I get as a textbook author.
      • keep in mind that bookstores pay something like 50-60% cover price.
      • by introspekt.i (1233118) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @12:19AM (#29081095)

        You're kidding me, 10-14% is a good royalty rate for an author?! That's disgusting.

        It sounds disgusting, but the publisher has all the overhead (presses, distribution, marketing, and staff to support) and pretty much all the risk. e-Books excluded, books cost money to edit, typeset, print, ship, get shelf space, etc. Not to mention they also have a shelf life in this particular case. The publisher is absorbing all these costs and the author collects his or her royalties. Yeah it sucks to be getting paid that "little" relatively speaking, but note that the in the case of publishing, most of the heavy lifting is done by these companies, especially in the case of these tech books, where the content isn't so extreme and complex to write about as it would be in many engineering, math, and science textbooks. 10-14% seems pretty reasonable to me, IMHO, but I don't write or publish books.

    • by pwizard2 (920421)

      O'Reilly is only meh as far as treating authors. They play favorites, they pay the lowest royalty rate (10%), and they shove so many books out the door that yours may get lost. They pay the same rate for digital sales, which really stinks because their overhead is a lot lower. OTOH they are very good at actually selling books, they keep trying new forms of distribution, the O'Reilly brand is tops, and they pay royalties quarterly, which is a nice thing. Better than the typical annual or bi-annual.

      I'm writ

      • by jgrahn (181062)

        I'm writing a tech book as well and I deliberately skipped O'Reilly for an altogether different reason. I never liked how their books all look the same; it gives me a definite "work for hire" vibe whenever I look at their stuff. (they all have an animal on the front or have a consistent look with other books O'Reilly has published in the same category) For instance, every time I see one of their books, I think "Oh, here's an O'Reilly book" instead of "Oh, here's a book written by $author."

        That's not the im

        • "O'Reilly seems way cooler to me than being published elsewhere"

          And cooler than being published by elsevier too.

      • "I'm writing a tech book as well and I deliberately skipped O'Reilly for an altogether different reason. I never liked how their books all look the same; it gives me a definite "work for hire" vibe whenever I look at their stuff."

        Your choice. Only remember O'Reilly has a reputation pwizard2 hasn't. Whenever I'm looking for a book on the IT field I go to O'Reilly first. You can bet that if I find a suitable one on "the animal's collection" against one from pwizard2 your chances are slim (and that's taking

    • by nostarch (128284) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @12:35PM (#29084669)

      Actually, we offer from 10-15% royalties, on a sort of cafeteria plan. Our authors have the choice of three royalty options -- 10%, 12%, or 15% -- with advances ranging from $0 to $8,000.

      Our royalties are flat which means that we don't cut them for different types of sales. The only royalty that varies is the royalty on electronic sales; currently 1 1/2 times the chosen royalty rate.

      And unlike most publishing companies today, we edit everything. Sometimes we rewrite everything. I've personally rewritten many books over the years at no additional cost to the author. There's a lot of overhead in this business when your publishing actually acts as a publishing company, as opposed to a printer.

      Also, we're distributed in the U.S. by O'Reilly -- a business relationship that has really been great for us. We remain independent, we control the business 100%, but we have great reach into the marketplace.

      Bill Pollock, Founder
      No Starch Press

  • by Len (89493) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:46PM (#29080667)
    Penguin Classics. They're forever bitching about plot, characters and crap like that. Plus, they won't publish anything about tech invented after 1920.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:48PM (#29080675)

    Posting anonymously for obvious reasons.. I'm published with Apress. They have good people who mostly seem to work independently from home as well as more "admin" type folk who reside at Springer, the parent publisher. Apress's workflow is honed for a high number of books with little room for creativity. For example, you probably won't get much of a say in the cover of your book. You will also have little say in the workflow which is almost entirely Word based (though they can be semi-flexible in some cases, such as with Scott Chacon's new Pro Git book).

    With Apress, for a book on reasonably popular topics from a new author, the advance is in the $5-8k range. The biggest downside of going with them is the inflexibility of the workflow and the opaqueness of the management - getting responses via e-mail can be tough on things like royalty issues, etc. Trying to get them to agree to stuff like open sourcing the e-book or a cover that's not in the style of the rest of a series is like pulling teeth. Royalties start at about 10% and work their way up to 20% once you've sold 20,000(?) copies (unlikely). I believe it's 15% for over 10,000 copies. They take a significant "reserve" each quarter and you do not get any of this back until at least 18 months later (6 quarters, basically). On a book with an RRP of about $40, Apress get about $18 net so your royalties are based on that, not the RRP. So let's say you sell 5,000 copies (not a bad number unless you're on a very mainstream topic).. you're looking at $9000 royalties - don't expect to see all of this for a couple of years though due to the reserves.

    Separate to that, I hear very good things about the Pragmatic Programmers / Pragmatic Bookshelf although I haven't worked with them myself. Supposedly they have a very good, hacker-friendly workflow and offer 50% royalties.

    • by belmolis (702863)

      Does anyone have any idea what typical sales for technical books are? I have no idea what it means numerically to be a technical best seller, or what the sales of an ordinary book that is not a dud are like. And yes, I've googled. Sales figures appear generally not to be public.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:11PM (#29080803)

        Google for "programming book profits" - a number of authors did blog posts a few years ago around that theme. Also try more advanced searches like "1000..10000 copies" in connection with publisher names and words like "advance" or "reserve."

        My personal "I've worked with a few publishers in various capacities" yardstick would vary depending on the topic.. for example, a Beginning C# Book should sell > 10k copies no problems, whereas a Beginning Haskell book might do well to sell 5k. But for a not-too-popular, not-too-obscure topic, I'd say 3000 probably means you won't be working with that publisher again, 5000 == everyone's vaguely happy but not over the moon, 8000+ == it was a pretty solid run, 10000+ == you did well, prepare to get hounded to write more.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by jaredbpd (144090)

      I'm surprised more people aren't recommending Pragmatic Bookshelf.

      They seem to have great terms [pragprog.com] for their authors. I guess the only drawback could be that your particular open source book isn't something that fits with their established bookshelf, but it never hurts to ask.

      • by EvilIdler (21087)

        I only know Pragmatic Programmers as a user, but I love that they're open to a PDF version, and letting people preview the book while it's being written. For some tech books, this is basically free quality control :)

    • Even if they require a Word file, you can use something else. My editors use Word too, but I don't have MS-Office or Open Office installed on my computer. It's not a problem, unless you want to use LaTeX.
      • by pwizard2 (920421)
        I'm doing my manuscript in LaTeX. Over they years, I've found Word (or Writer, or any other conventional word processor) to be absolutely horrible for large documents. ( >= 50 pages) If you're doing something small, it is easier to use a WYSIWYG tool like Word/Writer, but for something with many citations, cross-references, emphasis on document structure, etc. LaTeX is second to none. Plus, many publishers I'm considering use LaTeX anyway, so I can just give them my manuscript and it will save everyone a
        • Even if they don't particularly like LaTeX, most publishers will accept a camera-ready PDF. You may have to spend some time working with the production editor to make sure this is to their standard (geometry, crop and fancyhdr packages are a godsent), but the end result is that the book looks exactly how you wanted it to look, and you get the benefits of semantic markup while writing. I use OmniOutliner to create the outline, then some AppleScript which dumps this into a directory structure with one folde

  • by gardyloo (512791) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:49PM (#29080681)

    Though it's not specifically a *tech* book (more a science thing), I helped co-author a chapter for a book published by Cambridge.
          I hadn't worked with them before, though my co-authors had. I had lots of questions about the contract (re-use of published material, what our responsibilities were, and so on). The publisher was very helpful in figuring them out, and explaining to me what each thing meant (and accepted a couple of changes for future contract versions). The book itself is of high quality, in cover, printing, typesetting, figures, etc., and the turnaround time for reviewing and editing was good.
          I'm quite happy with them.

  • by Shaterri (253660) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @10:53PM (#29080693)

    ...depending on your moral stance; the company (which unfortunately owns a host of major computer book publishers, most notably Academic Press, Digital Press and Morgan Kaufmann) has had a small host of scandals, mostly concerning exorbitant journal fees and 'sponsored' pharmaceutical journals (they were the publisher behind the Merck Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine scandal, if you recall that). MK and AP publish some of the finest books in the industry, which makes this that much harder a moral stand to take, but it's worth evaluating how you feel about the publisher before you consider going down that route.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blind biker (1066130)

      As one who has and is having experiences with Elsevier, I totally approve and support the above post. I won't go into all the disgusting details, but basically, fuck Elsevier.

  • O'Reilly, of course (Score:5, Informative)

    by thefinite (563510) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:01PM (#29080747)
    I had an awesome experience with O'Reilly for my book iMovie '09 & iDVD: The Missing Manual [oreilly.com]. (Working with David Pogue was obviously super cool.) My editor, Pete Meyers was great: helpful, responsive, and professional. The publishing deal was good, especially considering it was my first book. O'Reilly also has excellent resources once the book is out, including a web site for authors that has promotion tools and up-to-date information on book sales. It's hard to imagine a publisher reasonably doing more than O'Reilly does.
  • by CuteSteveJobs (1343851) on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:19PM (#29080841)
    Good:

    "Thomson Course Technology" are extremely good. They have the highst editorial standard I've seen. Books like "Shaders for Game Programmers and Artists" by Sebastien St-Laurent are extremely well done and IMHO the best in the field.

    O'Reilly is good ole' reliable but he does tend to fatten his books out to ridiculous sizes. Why say in one paragraph what you can say in ten pages? It makes them slow going for learners, but that aside we should congratulate him for raising the bar for all publishers.

    Bad:

    Wordware and Charles River have put out some shockers over the years. These seem to have included many books written by the "give a kid some money to go away and write a book for us." These are rambling monologs to nowhere in particular. I remember one they did on character animation where the author where he didn't discuss the most commonly used formats because they were "too hard" (why else would I buy his book!?) and another which told the reader to buy some particular company's SDK (sure, but what if you don't want to?) Some of their other books have just been copied straight from a technical specs with minimal explanation. Occasionally they do a good one though: Frank Luna's books on shaders and 3d programming are good.

    We should also flame Elsevier, McGraw Hill, Wiley and publishers of textbooks. We see far too many textbooks with typos, errors, problems without solutions ("sold separately"), overpriced US editions and the way they rip off students by bring out new editions with superficial changes. The same with their academic books which seem to have very poor editorial control. For all the money these publishers make they should do a better job, to say nothing of their overpriced academic journals.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by px2 (321882)

      Bizarrely you've actually got the same publisher in both the good and bad columns. Charles River got aquired by Thomson (now Cengage), owner of Course Technology. The title that you mentioned, "Shaders for Game Programmers and Artists" by Sebastien St-Laurent, is probably from another publisher they acquire a few years ago, Premier.

      I'm not saying you're wrong though. In the end, it all depends on the author and editor, and one publisher could easily could have good and bad books. Especially when they're pro

  • Elsevier has no morality whatsoever. They publish fake magazines, with fake studies in them, especially targeted to make doctors think they are real and therefore describe pills that kill their patients, or at least make them suffer while going broke, just so the pharma industry can make money.

    But the also published "The Art Of Game Design" which is a really great book (except for the very "old world" chapters about money making).

    So it as usual is no black/white thing, as this is close to Hitler, who also did the exceptional good thing (*gasp*). ;)

    As usual this is all a question of trust. So here is my little addition to your graph of trust. :)

    • by fm6 (162816)

      They publish fake magazines, with fake studies in them, especially targeted to make doctors think they are real and therefore describe pills that kill their patients, or at least make them suffer while going broke, just so the pharma industry can make money.

      Citation needed. The version I heard [onthemedia.org] was that the studies we're all legit, but cherry-picked to help sell products. And note the past tense: they got caught, and stopped doing it.

      Dishonest? Certainly. But not the evil murderous thugs in your version. Which, frankly, sounds like the usual fourth-hand blog bullshit. Use your brain before repeating such crap.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 15, 2009 @11:34PM (#29080917)

    I've written computer books for 20 years, and you'll be shafted on your first book deal no matter what you do. So, if you want a career out of this, choose a publisher that can push titles out the door: O'Reilly or Dummies. For a first time author, establishing a reliable reputation is more important than your royalty rate. You need to show you can produce a marketable product on time, and be able to work professionally with editors, copyeditors, proofreaders and everybody else who will try to muck up your copy.

    Also, pick an agent in the tech field, like Fresh Books, Waterside, or StudioB. Sure, they'll scoop 15% off your take, but by weeding the crap out of your contract, they'll get you a better deal in the long run. They also know which publishers are best suited for your book, saving you a lot of time. And time is key in computer books: You must deliver on deadline, or you're toast. The tech field changes too rapidly for tech books to have much shelf life.

    Once you have a decent first book under your belt, then try to pump up your royalty rate.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Make sure your contract clearly defines what it means for your book to be out-of-print (remember, this is the digital era, you might need special verbiage in there to cover that) at which time all copyrights revert to you.

  • No Starch Press has been known to do ok with their authors.
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:13AM (#29081827)
    they choose you.

    Unless you have an established reputation in your field - one that is worth real cash (hint: most exist only in the mind of the author and/or are not worth a cent), or you are an already published author you won't be in a position to pick or choose which publisher gets to risk thousands in the shrinkingly small possibility that your work might just, possibly break even, or (even more unlikely) make a few bucks.

    As it is, there's this recession thing going on at the moment. What that means for you is that publishers are less willing to risk their money on unknowns - and since you have to ask which publishers are good / bad, it doesn't sound as if you've done this before. It also means they have a backlog of new authors waiting for their stuff to get into print. It also means fewer people are spending money on books. Put all this together and even if you can find someone willing to put your work into print, it won't happen this year - maybe not even next. You might just see you name on the cover in 2011 and you might just see an earnings cheque somethime the next year. However, the money you eventually make won't cover the cost of your time - even at minimum wage rates.

    Better to use your book as a loss-leader and give it away (thereby helping to ensure that future authors have an even tougher time trying to get their works into bookshops - no-one said it was fair, just or right :-), and try to make your money on consultancy based around your book and the knowledge you have in that field.

  • by James Youngman (3732) <jay&gnu,org> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:22AM (#29082043) Homepage

    I published a book with Sams. Never again. There were two main problems. The first was that they published my material in two books and to start with only paid me for the first (until I pointed out that they had 'forgotten' to pay me). The second problem is that they have a publication process totally based on MS Word. That's very common in publishing. However, in my case the result was that quite a bit of the content got screwed up. The shell commands for example had back-ticks turned into single quotes. Gah. So I won't use Sams or any of the other impressions of Macmillan Computer Publishing again (this is not the same publisher as Macmillian, confusingly). Another thing that would give me pause is the number of completed pages per day they expect. I don't believe an individual author could come within a factor of 3 of that and maintain any level of quality.

    Now for the good news. Next time around I would engage with any publisher who has a workflow that either produces camera-ready copy (e.g. with LaTeX for example) or uses something like DocBook -- essentially, any workflow that limits the opportunity for people who don't understand those funny symbols to accidentally mess them up (in my case I don't know if the people or Word messed up my shell code). I'd talk to O'Reilly and Addison-Wesley first, though there are other publishers who are equally accomodating.

    OTOH I suggest you take your existing computer science bookshelf, give each book a score out of say 5, and sort them by score. That should give you a shortlist of publishers to talk to.

  • by nostarch (128284) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @01:34PM (#29085137)

    Here are my (biased I'm sure) thoughts on selecting a publisher. (I founded No Starch Press.)

    First of all, remember that a publisher is not a printer. If all you want is to see your book in print or to "get your book out there," you don't necessarily need a publisher to do that. You can use any of several print-on-demand printers; buy a run of books from an offset printer; sell your book as a PDF; post it as HTML; or other. And there's nothing wrong with doing that at all -- your choice depends on your goals.

    Publishing is, or should be, a service business. A publisher should work with you to develop, craft, and market your book. They should help you to make the writing clear and understandable. They should be your harshest critics (because if they're not, the reviewers will be). They should involve you in the process and you should get to know their staff. You should feel free to ask them questions and they should provide you with clear and direct answers. Unfortunately, publishers are becoming more like printers everyday. We're resisting that trend.

    If you're not getting editorial services from a publisher you might think of using a printer instead and trying distribution though Amazon directly or through your website if you've got a popular one. After all, if you're not getting service from a service business, what are you getting?

    At No Starch Press, we read and edit everything. That's what our editors do in addition to bringing in new authors. Throughout our publishing process our emphasis is on producing quality books, not more books. We release a title when we think that we've done our part to make that book the best that it can be and if we think that the book isn't ready we delay it. That's true of all of our titles whether they're our Manga Guides or our hacking, sys admin, or programming titles. That doesn't mean that every book we publish is a winner but we've worked hard on every book to make it great.

    When contacting publishers, ask the hard questions before signing a publishing agreement. How does your publisher market and sell books? How will they sell your book? Who will work on it? How will the editing process work? How involved will you be as author and how much can you be involved? What if you have concerns about the editorial work? How will you be paid? How does the agreement work?

    We're a pretty editorially-driven publisher. But by the same token, thanks to our distribution relationship with O'Reilly and our agreements with various international partners, we've got great reach into the world marketplace. We've had books translated into over 20 different languages and we sell our books around the world.

    One thing that makes No Starch Press unique though is that we are very picky. We don't publish a lot of books because our goal is not to have 10% of our list carry the rest; I'd rather see 90% of our list carry the remaining 10%.

    OK, enough said. Time for a blog post.

    Bill Pollock, Founder
    No Starch Press

  • by monk (1958) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:58PM (#29086525) Homepage

    My experience publishing a book [oreilly.com] with O'Reilly was just about perfect. The editors were smart, well-informed and deep enough to catch even binary encoding typos in protocol descriptions, and even though my coauthor and I had looked for critique by just everyone we could talk into it, the mandatory peer review process gave us a great chance to hear what people who had no vested interest in protecting our feelings had to say about the book in its nearly finished form. We made significant changes for the better from the editors' edits and suggestions and peer review questions and criticism. I would recommend O'Reilly to anyone with a technical book.

    One thing to be aware of, O'Reilly prefers to start from scratch rather than getting a completed manuscript. They have very strict submission guidelines (down to specific styles in the document) that feed into their automated typesetting process. It's worth the effort to do it their way, because it eliminates plenty of opportunities for error and confusion.

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