Book Royalties

Scott Robert Ladd scott at
Fri Jan 4 05:57:15 CET 2002

Well, I've written 17 books since 1990, mostly on C++ and Java, and made a
"decent" living when writing was my full-time professional. With three kids
now and other responsibilities, I went back into industry, when I make more
than double my best annual "book" income.

> Actually, I started writing the thing for Sybex, then they had some
> budgetary cutbacks, but decided not to tell me they were cancelling my
> book for a six weeks of writing (it took some nasty legal-sounding
> letters to wrestle some due monies out of them).  Fortunately, after a
> delay, I have a new contract to finish it with Addison Wesley, who is
> really a much better publisher anyway.

I've had some bad luck with publishers, too -- they get sold (M&T), or
decide to "change direction" and abandon a finished book project (Cambridge
and O'Reilly, in my case). It's a rough business. And I've told a couple of
publishers to take a hike after they treated me like dirt... the bigger the
publisher, the more they'll try to railroad a writer into giving up
copyright or modifying a book for some political agenda (as in MS Press
messing up my Visual J++ book in '97).

> But for my gap time, I thought really seriously about self-publishing.
> The electronic vs. paper issue is surprisingly unimportant, actually.
> You can get a printer to produce a very nice physical book for just a
> few dollars a copy.  I looked at some paper stocks and print process
> stuff, and for a run of 1000 you can get something just as good looking
> as what New Riders of O'Reilly publish for less than $4/book.

Does electronic self-publishing work? Well, it all depends on whether people
are willing to pay. Even Stephen King didn't make much money from his
experiments in e-books; only about 2/3rds of people were willing to pay for
what they downloaded. It's impossible (or at least highly impractical) to
publish in a format that can't be "shared", thus it is difficult to enforce
any sort of payment for one's work. Once an electronic book is "in the
wild", it's likely to be available from web sites around the world.

> An author needs to find an editor; and either find a typesetter and
> or do it herself -- but then, I am doing my AW typesetting in exchange
> for a bit of extra money from them anyway (I wouldn't dream of trying to
> be my own editor or indexer; authors are blind to certain things in
> their own books).

Excellent advice. I'm a lousy proofreader of my own work; I like having an
editor. I tried indexing one of my own books; some publishers pay out of
their pocket to index books, while others ask the author to pay for it.

> The real problem with self-publishing is publicity and distribution.
> It's easy to get an ISBN; and not hard to get your book listed on Amazon
> and Barnes-and-Noble websites.  But to put books on bookstore shelves, a
> self-published author has a big challenge.

Once again, great advice. This is where self-publishing falls down for me;
I'm just not very effective at marketing. The market is flooded with books
from "big name" publishers, and the web is inundated with free material
(mostly bad) that leaves today's younger developers wondering why they
should pay US$20-60 for a dead tree book (or even $5 for a PDF!).

I wish Bruce Eckel well; I hope he can pull off a profit from his online

Oh, I'm still working on books; I've just taken a couple of years to have
real benefits, a steady paycheck, and to get myself reoriented in practical
practice. Writing computer books is *not* the path to riches and fame, but I
still love doing it... so back into the fire I go, with the naive belief
that *somehow*, someday, I'll make enough money to quit my "real" job... ;)

Scott Robert Ladd
Master of Complexity, Destroyer of Order and Chaos
  Visit CoyoteGulch at
    No ads -- just info, algorithms, and very free code.

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