March 22, 1999 -- Newsletter #20

By Joe Burns

GOODIES TO GO!(tm)
March 22, 1999 -- Newsletter #20
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Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

This is Newsletter 20, and in addition, we're about to top 20,000 subscribers. I think there's some cosmic connection there.

Wow, last week's newsletter really sparked a lot of e-mail. Many of you agreed with me, but then a lot of you thought I was on the Microsoft payroll. I assure you that is not true. If anything, the money flow is from me to Microsoft rather than the other way around.

Did you hear that according to Jobs Rated Almanac, "Webmaster" is the best job to have in America? I still think "Lottery Winner" might rank higher....

My father got an A on his midterm.

Now, on to today's topic...

If you've ever taken a creative writing or script writing class, then you've probably heard the old adage, "Write what you know." Well, for the last two months, I have known about finishing up the JavaScript Goodies book.

This is my second book. "HTML Goodies" was my first, of course. But HTML Goodies seems a long distant memory now. I am at the end of the process. In fact, I have to be "all in" by the end of this month. "All in" means all editing and writing is completely finished and the book can go to print. It's a long process that I thought I'd give you a glimpse into.

If you've ever wanted to be an author, keep this in mind: be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.

>From start to finish, here's my experience of the process for getting a computer book on the market.

First off, and this is the hardest part, you need to find a publisher who is actually willing to listen to you. There is a process of "pitching" your idea to someone who has the power to get this thing into print, and better yet, market it once it's there.

You can go about it two ways. I've tried both. First, you can do the research yourself. Find a series of publishers. I did it by simply going to the bookstore and writing down the names of publishers from the spines of the relevant books on the shelves. Or you can try and find an agent. I did that, too.

If you go the route of contacting the publishers yourself, you'll need to either head to their Web sites or call them on the phone. Each publisher has what they call "Author Guidelines" that you can download or have sent to you. I'll get into to what all that is in a second.

If you go the agent route, first you need to find one. There are numerous books out there that discuss how to get books published, and will list literary agent after literary agent. Read over the list. The agent is usually very up-front in that they only deal with fiction, or children's stories, or computer books, etc. Find one who deals with your topic, and follow their guidelines for possible representation. Usually you have to send them at least a chapter, a table of contents, and an outline. The gentleman who represented me for a while demanded the entire book, a full manuscript.

Once you get representation, then comes all the contract fun. How much does your agent get? Usually you'll have a reading fee, or fee for office expenses. But in return, this person has the ear on the publishing world and can get your manuscript read. You may not be able to do that yourself.

I've been actually pretty fortunate in that respect. My relationship with Macmillan came through my relationship with Earthweb. Before HTML Goodies was purchased, I had literary representation, and the manuscript was read, but turned down at a few places.

When you approach a publisher, you're asked to answer a few very basic, but unbelievably difficult-to-answer questions. Publishers like to know little things like, Who would buy this book? Why is this book better than what is already out there? What will separate this book in the book buyer's mind? It's very easy to puff out your chest and proclaim that your book will be the best ever written, but can everything that's already out there be junk? These are hard questions to answer.

Once all the wrangling is done, and a publisher is willing to take a shot with you, then all the fun legal and financial stuff gets started. Here's a hint: If you get into writing books to get rich, play the lottery. There is not a great deal of profit at the author end. You really have to want to do this because you love it far more than because you need to pay the electric bill. Now, that's not to say that three or four books down the line that you'll have a nice tidy royalty coming in, but don't bet the farm on your book.

My deal pays me a percentage of the cost of every book sold. But wait! That doesn't mean a percentage of the retail cost. That means a percentage of the cost of the book from the publisher to the retail store, which is less than what your local bookstore gets from you.

And so it starts. The paperwork is done and you begin to edit. The first step in the process is to get the book into publishable format. This has nothing to do with your content. What you have written must be put into a publisher template. This is where you state that this line will be a heading, this will be a subheading, this will be bold, this will be italic, this is where an image will go, this is the caption for the image, etc., etc., etc. Furthermore, if you are offering any images, now is when you capture them to a specific image format that I have never seen used anywhere except in this instance. It is amazingly tedious and time- consuming.

Now you, the author, edit the content one last time. When you're happy with it, you send it off to your editor. I actually have two editors this time around. I guess I make a lot of mistakes.

The editor makes more changes than you'd like and then sends it off to a tech editor whose job it is to make sure you are not giving out any bogus programming advice. My tech editor this time around is a JavaScript programmer at Netscape. Pretty cool, huh?!

Finally, this terribly convoluted chapter arrives back on your doorstep. It's actually quite hard to read at first. The original text is in black. The editor's comments and repairs are in red. The tech editor's comments are in an off-green. Any comments that you make will show up in purple. Finally, any changes made to the text will show up in blue. But not just blue, strike-through blue. You see, once something is on the page, it never leaves. It just gets struck through and given a different color.

You get one last look at it all. A few small battles break out here and there because you don't like your text being changed. You become embarrassed because you misspelled something easy or made a blatantly stupid programming error. You both curse the editors and thank your lucky stars that they were there to help you not sound like a jerk who got a book deal.

Once you make all of your final changes, the editor runs the chapter through some kind of devise that eliminates all of the comments and strike-through text and off it all goes to the layout and design team to be turned into chapter.

I have nine chapters in the JavaScript Goodies book so this will all happen nine times before it's all said and done.

Finally, you are asked to write up your bio, acknowledgments, dedications, and book introduction. Once all that's in, you sit back and wait for the cover art to show up. You give it the thumbs up or down, and then it's pretty much out of your hands. The sales and advertising force at the publisher takes over and you hope people lay down good money for what you had to say.

People have been buying HTML Goodies at a fairly steady rate. The powers that be seem happy. I mean, they gave me a second book deal. I'm hoping that this one will also sell well, because as much as I kick and scream during the process, I'm actually looking forward to getting started on a third one. In fact, I've already verbally pitched the idea. My editor seems somewhat interested.

But he said I have to finish this one first.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

And that's that. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: I am again looking forward to my beloved Cleveland Indians going back to the World Series this year! With that in mind, did you know that the original rules of baseball required the winning team to score 21 runs? They would simply keep playing innings until the score was met. Games that didn't meet 21 were called a draw. In addition, the original rules of baseball allowed you to force a player out by throwing the ball at him. If he was off base, and you hit him, he was out.

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