Ivan, over at ipspace.net, has an interesting post up on writing books —
Several points in reply…
No, you won’t make a lot of money. Writing books for a living (in fact, writing for a living at all) has been pretty much destroyed by several factors, including the absolute dismal rate at which our culture reads (I’m considered something of a freak with my goal of reading 100 books/year; C.S. Lewis read that many in a few weeks in the hospital, across four or five languages), and the rate at which people try to “climb the author pile” by writing for free on blogs/etc.
There is one comment here that I think is really worth pointing out: To make matters worse, core networking is not exactly a popular topic (compared to Swift Programming or Introduction to IPv6)… I’ve heard this a lot in my time as an author—for instance, my books simply don’t sell as well as just about anything at the CCIE level, and CCIE level books just don’t sell as well as books at the intro level. I can even translate this into my time as a Cisco Live SGM—the more theory a session has, the smaller the room you should plan for. This was never related to the speaker or the actual topic at hand, it was always just this: people want to know how to configure things first, they want some idea of how they work next, and they don’t really care about why they work.
I’m of two or three minds about this phenomenon. Is this because we have way more people entering the field than are at the top of the field? After 25 years in the industry, I don’t think this is true. Is this because basic information is really that much more valuable than the more advanced books? It might be true that most networks are small or mid-sized, and the vast majority of network engineers really only need to know how to configure some pretty basic stuff to “get by.”
But I’m going to turn this argument on its ear. Another way to put this is that we’ve all decided, as engineers, that learning just enough to get by is “good enough.” Maybe we just don’t read past searching for a blog post that tells me which new “big brand box” to buy, and how to configure something to get a problem solved.
If so (and I suspect this is the real reason), we’re not only selling our entire culture as engineers short, we’re also selling our employers short, and—worst of all—we’re selling ourselves short as people. It would be truly sad to come to the point where no-one reads because we’re all convinced we can get by on a diet of video, blog posts, and short form sell sheets—that we would truly say, “we’re all okay with being expert beginners forever.”
Don’t be an expert beginner. Seriously, go read a book. And I’m not saying this because I want the royalties—it would be nice to retire on the proceeds of the ten books I’ve written, but I’m realistic enough to know it’s not going to happen. You need to go read some books for you. Get out and grow some, would you?
Exposure? Ivan is probably right here; starting a podcast, blog, or even blogging on an established portal will probably get you more exposure than writing a book. In fact, I often struggle with whether I should be building this blog, or writing on an existing portal, and I don’t ever seem to be able to come to a solid decision either way. The main reason I keep ‘net Work alive is because I can talk about what I want to talk about. I’ll never get the hits of a blog that’s mostly doing configurations, but that’s okay—because I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I can tell you that learning a new configuration is good for about a year, but learning why something works the way it does is good for about twenty years.
So, given I don’t write books for money, and I don’t write books for exposure, and ignoring my little rant in the middle—then why?
I’ve been presenting at conferences large and small since around 1998. I’ve written white papers, blogs, and all sorts of other things. I’ve recently broken into video (I have an IS-IS LiveLesson releasing through Pearson this month, and I have several more planned). Given all this, I still have to say—nothing beats a book for structuring and laying out a lot of information quickly and efficiently.
So I still plan on writing books because the format has a lot to offer. There is something about having the space of 80,000-150,000 words, with diagrams, sidebars, asides, and all the rest, that allows you to actually say something that you just can’t say in a video (just as there is something about the visual nature of a video that allows you to say things that are hard to say in a book). Further, books are more interactive than video and blogs in some ways; you can really get deep into another person’s thought processes and understand concepts in a fully orbed way through a book that you’re just not going to get in any other format. Authors can listen and respond by modifying, updating, and pushing new content—what’s recorded on video, and what’s in a blog, must almost be replaced rather than updated.
So if you want to do what’s best for you, feel free to dive into blogging, making videos, and the like. If you want to really learn a topic, go read a book or two or five or twenty. If you really want to explain a topic, then writing a book might be a good idea. Books still have their place in the world—both writing books and reading them.
And that’s why I still write books.