Writing hacks: desist

The book progresses, but not quickly enough. I’ll have to reach to meet my deadline. My biggest challenge from a time perspective is trying to find relatively fresh, fun ways of looking at topics, which have been discussed to death online and in other books. Especially since I’m not known to be either a great photographer or graphics artist.

No, this isn’t fishing for compliments, or reassurances. I have no wish to be a great photographer or a great graphics artist. I enjoy the world of web graphics because, unlike my programming, I’m not dependent on any of it for a living. I’m free to try new things, to tinker around on my own, and just generally have a lot of fun. That’s actually the whole point of the book: having fun.

We don’t seem to have fun with our use of web graphics, and I include photography in this. We’re all too damn earnest. We’re passionate about everything we do, and there’s few things that will destroy fun and a sense of personal exploration more than being both earnest and passionate. I’m rather hoping my book will stand out because it is neither earnest nor passionate on the topic of web graphics.

Oh my, I sound like Jeff Atwood and his don’t buy my book refrain, don’t I?

In his latest, Atwood–after having gone through one book writing process and looking back on the whole thing like the wise old gray beard that he is–writes how tech books are nothing more than dead trees. Don’t buy them, don’t write them, he exclaims.

I particularly liked the part where he states how anyone can be an author:

Even if books make no financial sense, perhaps the ancillary benefits can make the effort worthwhile. I won’t lie: you’ll get a little thrill the first time you ego-search Amazon and see your book in the results. There is a certain prestige factor associated with being published; people are impressed by authors. To me, these are ultimately empty accolades. Anybody can write a book. The bar to publishing a book is nonexistent; with sufficient desire, any would-be author can get published. Just because you’ve published doesn’t mean your book is worth reading. It doesn’t mean your book matters. It just means your book exists. Far from being impressive, that’s barely meaningful at all.

Just to be sure that he hasn’t convinced you enough that all book writers are hacks Atwood re-emphasizes:

In short, do not write a book. You’ll put in mountains of effort for precious little reward, tangible or intangible. In the end, all you will have to show for it is an out-of-print dead tree tombstone. The only people who will be impressed by that are the clueless and the irrelevant.

There is some truth in what Atwood writes. A lot of books don’t earn out their advances in order to get post-publication royalties. Unless you’re one of the few to have a huge best seller in the tech business, you’re not going to make any serious money; you’re barely going to break even with the hourly rate paid babysitters.

Some truth, too, with Atwood’s note about people no longer being impressed with book authors. Too many of us weblog–the old saw about familiarity breeding puppies, or some such thing. He even goes so far as to ensure you’re careful not to exhibit any respect for book authors by stating that those pitiful few who might give respect to authors are both irrelevant and clueless.

Marketing’s the thing, now. Marketing and attention. Don’t have to take my word for it: look at that the so-called Techmeme ‘leaderboard’ and you’ll quickly find that no amount of hard work, quality, or interest can compete with middle aged men having petty temper tantrums because they’re not getting their share of the lollies.

Books that are how-tos, help, or guides just don’t hack it today. Many of the better selling so-called ‘tech’ books don’t offer any practical advice. Most are formed from rants, both for and against, the technology many of the authors don’t even understand. Books have become more clan entry than helpful guide; you share your affiliations by the reviews you write.

Why do those of us who write tech books continue, then? That is the question, isn’t it?

One must, however, take Atwood’s rant with a little salt. After all what better way to generate noise about a book on a subject where too many books exist than to write something controversial at the same time you begin to promote the book. It’s just unfortunate that Atwood has chosen to promote his work by throwing those of us who have written tech books–for whatever reason–under the bus.

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