Notes from Scoring a Tech Book Deal at SXSW

Scoring a Tech Book Deal
#techbookdeal
Robert Hoekman Jr
  • Five things you need
    • A sellable idea
      • A sellable idea has to be a good idea, but it has to be more
      • it has to fill a need
      • it has to fill a gap that other books don’t fill
    • Evidence that you are the one to author this book
      • Sell yourself to the acquisition editor
      • You have to prove that not only you can write this book, but that you are THE one to write
      • It’s not just qualifications. “I never had the title Interaction Designer”, but it was a huge part of my work.
      • Q: What are qualifications?
        • Do you have a blog
        • Do you have 5,000 twitter followers
        • Other ways you can illustrate that you are listened to
        • Do you participate in forums where you are a recognized leader
        • Your proposal should include your explanation
        • “The first thing I do is Google you”
        • A writing sample. Could be a sample chapter, or something else in the style of the proposed book. Show that you can communicate and that you can educate people on the subject
    • A willingness to change your idea (#4)
      • Your original idea may not be as sellable as what you think
      • Your acquisitions editor will help you shape the idea to something you can use
    • Thick Skin (#5)
      • Your development editor will shred you during the writing. It’s their job. You don’t write as well as you think you do.
      • Your readers will shred you. It’s the internet.
    • A really good relationship (bonus)
      • If you are on the verge of divorce, it will be the end of your marriage.
      • You really need a supportive partner.
      • When you are working on the book, you don’t get your other jobs done... 
        • taking care of kids, taking out the garbage
  • Q: What about agents?
    • Entirely optional
    • Might help you get more money
  • Q: What goes in a proposal?
    • Publisher will document it. You’ll find it on their website.
  • Q: Rapor with development editor?
    • Needs to be good. If isn’t compatible, you could talk to the acquisitions editor, about another editor.
    • On the flip side, the editor is always right. If it’s not working, it’s possible the book will just get killed.
  • Q: What about sending a draft of an entire book?
    • Absolutely not. They will reject it outright. They want the development editor to shape the book. If you’ve written the whole book, they can’t shape it. It’s like writing an entire web application before getting any feedback/guidance.
    • Table of content plus sample chapter is the most you should send.
  • Q: What about title of the book and cover design?
    • Don’t send it. It marks you as someone who will be difficult to work with because you are coming in with hard and fast notions. The publisher might ask you later for ideas.
  • Q: What about things that are not strictly tech. Maybe partly tech.
    • The publisher will talk to sales rep, marketing department, book buyers to see what they would buy.
    • If the book you have wouldn’t get shelved with the tech books, then the book buyer wouldn’t buy it. That’s a different book buyer. They won’t do one-off books. 
      • A little less important on Amazon.com, and critically important in brick and mortar stores.
  • The best reason to go to a publisher is that they have a reach that you don’t have unless your 37 signals.
  • You shouldn’t be in this to make money. It’s just not going to happen. And the publishing business margins are so thin these days, there is no chance of negotiation.
  • Q: What about screenshots and images?
    • Your development editor will say “we need more images here and here”
    • The compositor will work to fit images and screenshots to the space available and made it look the best possible given space available and printing technology
  • Every publisher will have a proposal template for what they are looking for
  • You should be able to explain your book in one sentence, you’re in good shape.
  • Q: What should be the sample chapter?
    • I tell people I need a writing sample. I need to know what your voice is like, your tone. I want the writing sample to match the type of book you are proposing. But it is not essential to be an actual sample chapter.
    • Writing a sample chapter is helpful, we don’t want people to write it just to write it, but it can be helpful
  • “5,000 followers on twitter” -- mentioned many times. A magic number for publishers to know you are compelling???
  • Don’t make sloppy mistakes: 
    • If you are writing a proposal to O’Reilly, don’t say “I really want to publish with New Line”
    • Don’t have spelling errors.
  • Agents:
    • Publisher will always low-ball the agent, because they know they are going to have to negotiate. If you are a first-time author, I’ll just offer what I think we would have ended up with.
    • If you come from an agent I trust, then yes, I will look at it more closely. But if it is an agent I don’t know, then it’s no different than coming yourself.
  • You get paid an advance, that’s an advance payment on royalties. 
    • Advance can be around $10K, is not trending any higher over time. 
    • Royalties can be 10% to 12%, for as long as book sells
  • We’re not looking for writers who want to write 20 books. We’re looking for (as an example) an interaction designer who is incredible passionate about interaction design and wants to share that.
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