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What is the process for becoming a technical book author?

  1. Dec 7, 2009 #1
    Besides the obvious: Experience in a technical field...What is the process for becoming an author of a technical book?

    When during the writing process should you contact a publisher?
    How do you know which publisher to contact?

    I have been thinking about writing an introductory engineering book for high school to entry level college students. Something as a primer for getting your feet wet in engineering, before spending $30k+ on college courses.

    I have an outline, and plan to spend the next two years writing. (Probably take longer, but I am an optimist) I am looking for about 400 pages and I am hoping the book will retail for about 60-75 dollars. My main market would be high school technology instructors and professors of engineering design courses.

    How much and how does an author get paid for a book? Is there any up-front cost to publish? How do I get the book reviewed before / after publishing? I am thinking about paying some of my college professors to reveiw the book for me.

    Any information would be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2009 #2


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    Your first step should be to get copies of existing introductory books and size up the competition. If you can't make significant improvements over the texts that are already on the market, then don't bother. Publishers won't want to pay for printing, promoting, and distributing books that don't make them money. Such books have limited distribution, and that's one reason why textbooks are so darned expensive.

    If you simply want to become a technical writer, first identify your strengths, find an industry with a need, and pitch your talents. This is going to be a tough sell if you don't already have a good reputation in the industry, and a track-record of having produced good written materials in the past, but those are the breaks. Good technical writers can make a comfortable living document existing industrial systems, writing training manuals, etc, but you'll have to be willing to travel, sign confidentiality agreements, carry lots of liability insurance, and surrender all the materials to the company that contracted for them. If you write for industry, you will almost certainly be dealing with proprietary systems, which makes it impossible for you to show managers of other mills copies of your work without violating confidentiality clauses in your contract.
  4. Jan 10, 2010 #3
    Depends on the type of technical book. In the case of textbooks, there are either monographs in which some researcher talks with a publishing house to publish something. There are also intro textbooks, in which someone with a big name in the field contacts a publisher.

    I'm not sure what the market is like for trade books, but I've found that with usually the best way to figure out something is to find someone that writes trade books and they'll tell you know what needs to be done. I know people that write science fiction books, children's books, and cookbooks, and they are useful sources of information about what those businesses are like.

    With academic monographs, the author gets royalties, but usually that's not why they publish, since they want a book out to get reputation and tenure. With intro textbooks, there are some situations in which someone does make a substantial amount of money from the textbook, but that involves convincing your professor friends to make your text required reading for their class.

    It's generally the case that the vast majority of the price of the book goes to the publishing house and the book seller (I think the author gets only 5% or so of the book price).
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2010
  5. Jan 10, 2010 #4
    It depends very heavily on the field. Most of the technical writers that I know write user documentation for software, and because those manuals get included in the software, they are public and can be used to get jobs in other companies. The curious thing is that in the software industry, the technical writers invariably write user documentation and not internal technical documentation. The internal documentation is usually written by the developers, which means that it gets done badly.

    The thing about the technical writers that I know is that they are often artistic types that figured out that you really can't make that much money writing science fiction or children's books, so they write software manuals by day and use their science fiction writing as extra money.
  6. Jan 11, 2010 #5
    Make a free ebook/lecture notes. This will get you noticed and trusted. Publishers like to see that the author has had some experience writing quality material. You do not have to make it super comprehensive or have any problems, but you NEED TO WRITE BEFORE YOU WRITE.

    Being a good, clear writer is essential for quality material.

    Also, do you have any experience teaching? At higher level technical books, the author just has to state the facts and leave the thinking to the reader(some books even lack proofs to ALL their assertions). However, at a lower level(which HS books count as), you need to not just be able to spit out facts and examples but clear out misconceptions and help the reader out with complicated material. This can only be done through DECADES of teaching experience.

    Good luck.
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