Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Technical Writing.. Books or Blogs?

I’ve been thinking lately about whether it still makes sense to write technical books.  Years ago, I had a contract to write a book for Cisco Press.  Due to a job change, I was only able to complete a few chapters, and after handing it off to another author, it seemed to die a quiet death.  I used to be able to find a reference to it on one of the Amazon websites, but a recent search turned up nothing.

About six months ago, the writing bug bit me again, and I created a proposal for “Enterprise Network Designs” and sent it off to Cisco Press for feedback.  In the (long) time between sending that email and receiving a meaningful response, I chose instead to begin writing this blog.  Blogging fits my schedule better, and it provides a more interactive communication platform.  IIRC, I felt a good deal of deadline pressure and a bit of nervousness about making mistakes.  Once information is committed to paper, it’s difficult to fix it.

As a result of these events, I’ve been trying to determine if we’ve reached the end of the technical book publishing industry.  I don’t recall the Cisco Press contract being especially lucrative.. something like 10 – 15 percent of gross revenues go to the author, minus some expenses.  As several technical authors have mentioned, you don’t get into the field for the money.  Maybe they’re just trying to keep the competition out, but for some reason I doubt that’s the case.

Why wouldn’t technical authors go the blog route, and cut out the publishing middleman?  This would eliminate much of the overhead of publishing, as well as free the author from official deadlines.  Revenue can be generated by monetizing the blog, as well as follow-on contract work.  If the content is well-written and relevant, the professional prestige gained from the effort should be comparable to being a published author.  Technical book readers are by definition technical, so reading a blog should be well within their comfort zone.


What would the author be missing?  A few items are:

Deadlines - Is that good or bad?  Depends on the author, I suppose

Copy Editor – Go with a freelance editor?

Book Signings – Not sure a substitute is available for the blogger

Seeing Name in Print – Ditto.. no obvious substitute available

Copyright Protection – There must be a good solution to this, right?

Publisher Credibility – Cisco-related books from Cisco Press probably significantly outsell books from Pearson Publishing, even though they’re the same publishing house.  The lack of a well-known imprint could make it difficult to build an audience.


What are the advantages?

Full control over content

Easier publishing process (arguable, I suppose)

Infinite ability to revise content after publishing

Better interaction with readers

Better for the environment, if that is meaningful


I would think it would be relatively easy to monetize the content through eBooks, like the Kindle.  Some technical blogs are already syndicated on that platform, such as Jeremy Stretch’s Packet Life blog.  Thirty cents per month per user probably isn’t terribly lucrative, but for hassle-free revenue, why not?

Monetization Strategy

Google Adwords

eBook syndication

Professional consulting

Partnership with training vendor (depending on blog content)



I’d love to get some feedback, especially from authors (books and blogs).  Have you considered something like this, or are you already do it?  What are the challenges you’ve faced?

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