I have four books out right now that I consider “current.” Of them, three titles, Learn Windows PowerShell in a Month of Lunches, Learn PowerShell Toolmaking in a Month of Lunches, and Learn SQL Server Administration in a Month of Lunches, are what I consider “evergreen” titles.
That is, they cover introductory material that isn’t going to change much as their respective technologies evolve. They are, largely, beginner books, and beginner books almost by definition don’t change all that much. A tweak here and there, sure, but nothing massive.
PowerShell in Depth presents more of a problem. It’s meant to be a fairly comprehensive reference, and as such, it has to be updated each time there’s a new version of PowerShell. Which creates two problems.
Problem one, the process of updating takes several months. Literally, in the time we were updating the title for PowerShell v4, a preview of v5 came out. I mean, jeez. Publishers are not geared for this kind of release cycle. The sheer logistics of maintaining inventory and whatnot are going to make it hard to keep the book updated going forward.
There’s also a financial concern. I get 1/3rd of the PowerShell In Depth royalties, and I’ll be frank – it’s earned about a mortgage payment. One. That’s mainly because authors don’t get much from books, and further because on that title the three of us are splitting our fraction between us. If a book lists for $50, it sells to Amazon for $22.50 (which is why the publisher runs 50% off promos so often – that’s still more income than you get from Amazon). We basically get around $2 per title to split between us, or about 66 cents each. You gotta sell a lot of copies to make a mortgage payment.
Making that little, combined with the rather massive and intrusive effort of revising the book every freaking year, is making us wonder how we’ll keep up – or even if we should. Certainly, the book retains value if it doesn’t cover every latest feature. But this is a problem for all technology books as the pace of releases increases.
Not sure what we’re going to do. There’s some value in having published a book, in terms of side-work that comes along like training, but we could get that value (I think) by self-publishing an easier-to-keep-updated ebook. That ebook wouldn’t be of the same exact quality, because we likely wouldn’t rely on a dev editor, a tech editor, a copy editor, and a series of review passes – parts of the process that make revising a print book take six months! On the other hand, errors could be corrected more easily. We could possibly self-pub that through something like Amazon. If we charged $10, we’d be making several times more revenue than a traditional royalty model nets us. True, we’d possibly have less exposure and therefore fewer sales… but that’s hard to say. Anyway, PowerShell In Depth will remain with Manning for always, because they’ve been excellent to us and are a great publisher to work with – they’re just caught up in a new kind of release cycle that doesn’t work well with traditional book publishing.
But it’s hard to say what we’ll do next. It’s tempting to just do books for free, but I’m the only one who can write fast enough (e.g., it doesn’t occupy all my time, so I can still do paying work), to make that happen. It’ll be interesting to see what happens… and I’d love to hear what you think.