On a writer’s mailing list, professional full-time computer book authors are sharing their own experiences about how they became full-time authors. My friend and colleague Ray Lischner shared a particularly interesting story…
Here’s what Ray shared:
I started working as a software developer straight out of college, and
watched from the sidelines during the PC boom, as computer books
flooded the market. I kept telling myself, “I can do that. Heck, I can
do much better than that!” But I never found the time.
At one of my jobs, our group’s tech writer quit just prior to a release.
To his credit, he honestly thought his job was done and the
documentation was ready. I had recently joined the group and read the
documentation closely–just so I could get up to speed on the group’s
I found numerous errors. The tech writing department had no
one to spare, so I volunteered to fix the documentation, which
essentially meant rewriting almost from scratch. I still remember the
dread in the editor’s eyes when she first met me. I could tell she was
horrified at the very notion of a software engineer writing
Many years later, out of the blue, I got fed up with the corporate rat
race and decided to quit. Then I had to figure out what to do with
myself. I picked up Borland’s Delphi, which was brand new, and thought
I might write some Windows shareware. I started participating in
newsgroups, answering questions about Delphi. Several beginners’ books
had come out, but no advanced books. I saw an opportunity for an
advanced Delphi book, and submitted a proposal to the Waite Group. They
were interested, but wanted some changes. I obliged and resubmitted.
This went back and forth several times and eventually they sent me a
They wanted to bring in a coauthor because this was my first book, and
asked me to partition the book into my chapters and his chapters, which
I did. I completed my chapters on schedule, but they had no yet found a
suitable coauthor, so I finished the rest of the book on my own.
Macmillan bought the Waite Group while I was writing the book, and they
cancelled it soon after–just when it was starting to gain popularity.
About that time I learned about this email list and joined. I discovered
that the terms in my first contract were abysmal, so I found an agent
to help with future books. Since then, I’ve written another half-dozen
books or so (including Shakespeare for Dummies). I’ve taken on some
part-time teaching, training, and consulting work, but I consider
myself a full time author.
In my best year, I earned about half what I had earned as a software
developer, but I greatly enjoy the freedom. The year after my best
year, I developed rheumatoid arthritis, and I have never been that
productive since. My wife now pays most of the bills (she finished her
Ph.D. in physics and now has a real job, poor girl), but my pittance
helps. Now that I’m getting Remicade (one of the latest and greatest,
and most expensive treatments for RA), I am able to write more, and I
expect to finish a book this year. I haven’t written a single article
since I developed RA, but this year I expect to start writing articles
again. But first, I have this book to finish…
My thanks to Ray Lischner, author of
C++ in a Nutshell, for permission to republish this question.