Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm trying to understand how I should evaluate writing a book, article, or conference presentation.

Writing a book is a lot of work. Same for writing an article in a magazine or presenting in a conference. They need time and you may even make a mistake here and there that back fires (bad reviews, people calling you an idiot..) Also you do it for free (at least for magazine articles and conference presentations. For books you get something like a $5K deposit and you rarely get any additional sales royalties after that).

So how should I evaluate the benefits? I would appreciate answers that call out if you have done this before. I may not write a book because it's way beyond what I'd like to commit time-wise, but should I bother giving conference presentations or writing shorter articles in magazines?

share|improve this question

closed as off-topic by MichaelT, gnat, Kilian Foth, World Engineer Jul 22 '13 at 12:49

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking career or education advice are off topic on Programmers. They are only meaningful to the asker and do not generate lasting value for the broader programming community. Furthermore, in most cases, any answer is going to be a subjective opinion that may not take into account all the nuances of a (your) particular circumstance." – MichaelT, World Engineer
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

2  
I have no idea whether you should bother. What do you want to accomplish? What do you hope to get? What sort of career are you looking at, if you're hoping to gain visibility? –  David Thornley Dec 9 '10 at 21:05

17 Answers 17

up vote 23 down vote accepted

It all depends: what are your goals?

**

[Note: my background is as a programmer, but I've been making a living as a tech writer/speaker for the last 12 years. After 15 titles, dozens of magazine articles, and speaking internationally, I think I'm at least as qualified as anyone else here.]

**

If your goal is to make money, don't bother. Really. I know a lot of people in this business, and very few make a decent hourly wage from writing. Of the ones who do make a living at it, all of them write for beginners (tip: there are always more beginners than intermediate or advanced users).

However…

IF you're currently working as a consultant and
if
you want more consulting gigs with bigger companies at a higher price and
if
you've been offered a book contract and/or speaking gigs
… then go for it.

Don't think of it in terms of work with low compensation; instead, think of it as just part of the training and prep you already do in order to get those consulting jobs.

Screw writing articles for magazines/sites that don't pay — or say you'll write for them, on the condition that they run your article without ads. If they're making money, you should be too. However, if the magazine helps you get those high-profile consulting gigs, see the advice in the previous paragraph.

**

Speaking gigs, though, are almost always worth it. At a minimum, you'll meet other presenters, which is how I've met some truly amazing people. Networking opportunities abound.

**

On the other hand…

IF you have an amazing idea for a great book that no one else has written and
if
you can't rest until you see that book in print
… then go for it.

In this case, it's about love, not money. If you can handle a life where this book doesn't exist, then don't write it.

**

But it's really all about where you want your career to go. If a book helps you get to that place, then see if works for you.

share|improve this answer

I suggest that you do not write a book, because nowhere in your posting do I see anything even close to saying "I really want to write a book", nor is there anything like "I'm excited about topic X and I'd like to tell people about it". Those are the two reasons to write a book.

Writing a book is a labor of love. I spent three years working on my book about job hunting, and I wrote it because I felt strongly that it was information that techies needed to hear. I sure didn't do it for the money. Sure, I cashed my sixth quarterly royalty check the other day, and it's gratifying to get that, but that's not what gets you through the process.

If you do feel like writing a book is seriously something that you'd be interested in, I suggest you practice to see if it's for you. Go and start a blog on whatever topic it is that you'd like to write a book about. Say you want to write a book about Ruby. Go start a blog on blogspot.com or wordpress.com and write blog articles about Ruby. Write at least three long articles every week, without fail. Is that fun? Then maybe you can write a book. (And besides, you're going to need a blog to support your book and build interest in it, so you might as well start now.)

I see from your posting history that you asked the other day about presenting at conferences, and I told you about some of the process. I'm getting the feeling that you're at a point where you're flailing around in your career. Am I right in thinking that you feel like something's missing in your career, and you don't know what it is? If that's the situation you're faced with, definitely do not go to write a book. You write a book or give presentations because you have information that you need to get out.

share|improve this answer

Rands does a great article on writing a book in which he talks about, among other things, if you should.

share|improve this answer

I don't have much to say that others haven't said already, but here goes...

I've done all those things, and fame and fortune decidedly did not follow. Nevertheless, I got it "off my chest". And, there is a certain microscopic amount of respect that it earns in some quarters (and disrespect in others :).

Frankly, for discussing issues and viewpoints, these stack* forums are pretty good.

share|improve this answer

"Teaching" via writing books and preparing presentations is one of the best ways to learn, so in that respect it is very worth it. I studied for my calculus exams by writing a "book" covering all the material (there was a teachers strike so I had plenty of time for that), and it helped me immensly. That is also why I write blogs. You don't have to actually release anything you write. Write for your own satisfaction, but write it as if you plan to release it. Otherwise it may not be very good.

share|improve this answer

As has been said in other responses, the answer depends largely on your definition of "worth it". I've written a book, contributed to a few others, wrote a handful of magazine articles, and speak at conferences four or five times a year, and to me, it's "worth it".

But to me, it's worth it because I want to help others in my profession (software testing) understand the true challenges of their job, get better or think about something differently. So far, I've had some success, so I keep going - and along the way, I learn a lot of new things too.

OTOH, if you're writing or speaking for fame and fortune it may not be as satisfying to you.

share|improve this answer

yes it's definitely worth it ... specifically for 2 reasons: 1) mastery of a subject (or part of a subject) - if you are able to present at a conference most likely means that you understand the subject or have something new to present regarding a subject ... either way it's a good thing 2) learning through teaching ... if you're able to publish an article (not just research article) - i am thinking along the lines of maybe an article on CodeProject, or your blog or a computer magazine ... shows that you know how to accomplish something and is able to explain to your audience ... which is also a good skill to have.

share|improve this answer

That's funny because just yesterday, my lawyer sent a letter to the editor of a book I wrote in 2002. I want my copy rights back to put the whole content on the internet (Creative Common or eBook, I'm not decided yet).

Why ? Because, even if I've been well paid to write it (one reason to write one), I want my contribution to be used and read by more people.

I really think that everybody should create, contribute and deliver intellectual property. That's why I'm involved in open source projects as well.

So writing a book is certainly one of the best way to contribute in changing this world.

If you want to change the world. Contribute.

share|improve this answer
1  
I whole-heartily agree with this attitude. One small point: creative commons is a license and eBook is a format. You can have a ceative commons licensed eBook, a creative-commons licensed paper book, or an eBook with a restrictive license. From a consumers perspective, I'd encourage you to release the book with creative-commons license in as many formats as possible, including eBooks, pdf, and print-on-demand (e.g., lulu). –  KeithB Sep 23 '10 at 16:24

Nobody has mentioned this yet but I find it worth pointing out that it’s fun!

In fact, that would be my primary motivation to do any of those things. Mastering a topic and preparing a presentation / writing an article or a book is immense fun. So is the feeling of satisfaction for a work well done.

share|improve this answer

A lot depends on your current job and what you would like as your next job. If you work for a large company and intend to do so indefinitely (you like the location, benefits etc) then your gains from being an author or speaker are restricted to what you learn by preparing and the enjoyment you get from actually doing it or from being able to look back and see that you did it. In fact, you may have to do things like take vacation days in order to speak at a conference. Your extra abilities (confidence, technical knowledge, comfort speaking) may lead to promotions at work, or they may not. The downsides are the time, typically harvested from family time (evenings, weekends) and the stress (especially for a book, which has deadlines -- author review time is insane as any published author will tell you). Most people can write only one book in their free time. Beyond that you need to free up the time some other way, such as using up vacation time or banked overtime.

However, if you work for a small company (whether you own it or not) then management is likely to see a benefit to the company of you demonstrating your knowledge. In the best case, the time you spend prepping is considered working, the time you spend traveling and presenting is considered working, and you're rewarded in the workplace for what you've done - in addition to learning the material, gaining confidence, working on the "brand of you", and getting to travel to cool places. This is how it works for me.

There is also the matter of your next job - both the knowledge and the confidence will take you a long way there, and of course your next employer may have already heard of you.

Is it worth it? Well, lots of people are doing it and they look pretty happy. I know I am. Articles and speaking are more granular than a book. Start there. As long as you are realistic about the benefits, and have thought about how that fits with your job, it can work beautifully.

share|improve this answer

I'm now writing articles and book reviews for more than 11 years, and right now additionally a book about Google Go. Additionally I'm giving talks at conferences. I definitely have to say it's worth it. Not because of the directly earned money. But writing and presenting helps to keep open-minded for new technologies or trends as well as it supports networking and is giving a good reputation. That opens doors, e.g. for new jobs.

share|improve this answer

Define "worth it". It may not be worth the money but you very much enjoy doing it. Or you may get shitloads of money but hate doing it.

Concerning writing a book, check out the top answer for this SO question: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/347821/do-programmers-read-books-or-is-the-book-industry-dead

share|improve this answer

First: I find talking about something I think it's worth knowing quite interesting and it's even better if other people find it interesting! If it's going to be "real hard work", unless you are at a position where it's needed, probably it's going to be quite disgusting.

As any other thing, it improves with time, so each time will be a little less hard.

There are also some good side effects of that: You can improve the perception of other people about you, you'll learn more about the subject you're talking about, you'll share information with people interested on the same area... There are even people that live of writing books or talk in conferences, but I think that should be an outcome. If you start with that idea, that you're making an article just because you want to get paid, or you want to be perceived as an expert... well, probably you'll find it really frustrating, as it something to achieve on the long run...

I think definitively it's worth it.

share|improve this answer

it is absolutely worth it. It also depends on what you are looking for since the returns vary. If your primary interest is to understand the topic better, share your experiences and knowledge it is absolutely worth the effort. But if your idea is to make money out of it and gain recognition for yourself than that requires a totally different strategy. In both cases it is worthwhile as long as you don’t mind the effort.

share|improve this answer

Writing a book, an article, or presenting at conference are essentially acts of self-marketing. If you represent a company that sells something, or you are a consultant that wants to sell himself, or you have on an issue that is important to you, or you want to get hired, or you want to improve your reputation for other reasons, you should present or publish (or blog or tweet etc.).

For the first few times, the act of researching the book or traveling to the conference or meeting new people as a result of your efforts are worth it by themselves. But ultimately, most of those who publish or present a lot, always have something to market, and their efforts are focused around that, as are their cost calculations.

share|improve this answer

Giving good conferences or writing good articles requires an almost complete knowledge of that specific topic. Your gain is this extra knowledge you gather, while preparing for it.

One other good outcome of this is that you actually help other people, spread your knowledge, feel confident about yourself.

share|improve this answer

If you do your work well (i.e. you know what you're talking about and speak/write good) it's surely worth it.

I remember reading an article somewhere saying you can make an income out of this in the long term, because you can gain trust, show expertise and likely be hired to just (or mainly) do that.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.