Learn All About Writing A Published Technical Book, From Idea To Print

Author with book

Ever wondered what, exactly, goes into creating a technical book? If you’d like to know the steps that bring a book from idea to publication, [Sara Robinson] tells all about it as she explains what went into co-authoring O’Reilly’s Machine Learning Design Patterns.

Her post was written in 2020, but don’t let that worry you, because her writeup isn’t about the book itself so much as it is about the whole book-writing process, and her experiences in going through it. (By the way, every O’Reilly book has a distinctive animal on the cover, and we learned from [Sara] that choosing the cover animal is a slightly mysterious process, and is not done by the authors.)

It turns out that there are quite a few steps that need to happen — like proposals and approvals — before the real writing even starts. The book writing itself is a process, and like most processes to which one is new, things start out slow and inefficient before they improve.

[Sara] also talks a bit about burnout, and her advice on dealing with it is as insightful as it is practical: begin by communicating honestly how you are feeling to the people involved.

Over the years I’ve learned that people will very rarely guess how you’re feeling and it’s almost always better to tell them […] I decided to tell my co-authors and my manager that I was burnt out. This went better than expected.

There is a lot of code in the book, and it has its own associated GitHub repository should you wish to check some of it out.

By the way, [Sara] celebrated publication by making a custom cake, which you can see near the bottom of her blog post. This comes as no surprise seeing as she has previously managed to combine machine learning with her love of making cakes!

3 thoughts on “Learn All About Writing A Published Technical Book, From Idea To Print

    1. I enjoyed reading the blog. :-)

      I’m not a writer but I did write a book. I worked it slightly differently. I was a replacement author so the outline was written though I had to argue against a few chapters (BGP in Home Automation? Really?). I started with what I knew, ran everything by hand and made the notes. My editor hammered into me “What is ‘it’?” Meaning don’t assume the reader knows what ‘it’ means, spell it out. Also be careful with those TLAs (3 Letter Acronyms). Not everyone understands WTF you’re referencing. There was a lot of explaining the details so folks could almost use it as a instruction sheet.

      On burnout (yup got me too), I just put my head down and pushed through. I play ‘inspirational’ music (heavy Rock, Punk, Heavy Metal) to get me going. And if that failed I went out and exercised to help me relax. 6 Months of weekends takes it’s toll. Also the loss of an entire chapter due to a hard disk fire (wrote it in one weekend). In the end we threw out more than 200 pages of material to bring the book down to less that 450 pages (not including the lost chapter).

      Oh, and tech books aren’t going to make you a lot of money. You’re mostly doing this for love of the subject.

  1. Thanks for the post. I will have to go through it in more detail to enjoy somebody else’s journey.
    And I would like to add my story:
    Via a consultancy project got back into Forth a bit about 10 years ago.
    There was much information online.
    But not so much in a nice book form, and you might not know it is there.
    It was quite a difference for me to flick through a book rather than a PDF.
    So I asked the copyright owners – mostly got the ok
    ( even from Chuck Moore ) to publish the material in book form.
    And then went ahead to learn how to publish books.
    The professional route seemed too difficult, as the expected result of this activity was not fixed yet.
    Instead I went to do amazon books – ebook and print books.
    I was surprised how easy it is with all of the tools they offer plus just Microsoft Word.
    Now there is a nice collection available. Proof that the system works.
    It just took time and work for mostly preparing, formating and publishing
    – and took a lot more of my spare time than expected.
    But you can see the result of this finding, preparing, formatting, sometimes translating, and publishing.
    And the experience as well later offered the opportunity to write and publish own work.
    One of them is the RCA CDP1802 Design Ideas Book BMP802.
    See the actual list if you are interested
    Anybody can try it out. Just be prepared that people can judge your work online …
    I took the amazon route, as there was no overhead cost required.

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