Becoming a Technical Writer
So you’ve thumbed through yet another overpriced, overhyped IT book, and you just can’t take it anymore. “Where do they find these guys?” you scream. “This guy wouldn’t know his Active Directory from his telephone directory!”
Congratulations, you might have just taken your first step toward enjoying the fame and fortune of a best-selling author. Then again, maybe not.
Writing is a lot like hitting a golf ball: It’s far more difficult than it appears. And writing well is an absolute art form, sort of like what Tiger Woods looks like hitting a golf ball. Of course, the difficulty in mastering the skill doesn’t excuse the author for his run-on sentences. Nor does it excuse the publisher for stringing together several hundred of those sentences and charging you $40 for them. But if you’ve ever considered writing for a living, make sure you understand that it’s not as easy as putting through windmills.
So Why Author?
- Becoming Rich and Famous: You probably won’t. Remember, for every Tom Hanks, there’s 1,000 (or more) aspiring actors taking sushi orders in West Hollywood right about now. Only a handful of authors have the market cornered on books that sell 100,000 copies or more. That’s why I’m forthright with authors when we discuss the projected royalties they’ll earn from book sales. A realistic estimate will determine if it’s worth your time. Speaking of time, there’s really no way to tell how long it might take you to write a book. A good measuring stick, however, is a sample chapter or outline. If either takes weeks, you probably have your answer.
- Marketing Your New Consulting Gig: Of course, success is not always measured in money. You might be more interested in marketing your skills for either your personal business or future employers.
- Strengthening Your Resume: Just like anything you’d do to remain a step ahead of your peers, authoring a book is certainly a respectable feather in your cap. Of course, you’ll need to weigh this investment against the value of earning a certification or degree.
If you’re not entirely sure that you’re ready to write, you should explore several opportunities to get a better feel for the business. With each opportunity that follows, simply send an e-mail that briefly details your qualifications and clearly states the specific opportunity about which you are inquiring.
Regardless of your level of interest, the key is to get your foot in the door. At the very least, keep banging on it. Editors juggle numerous projects and resources, and their needs change frequently. It never hurts to check back every couple of weeks.
These are the technical gurus who read the author’s work in progress, ensuring, at minimum, that the material is technically accurate. Our best technical reviewers also suggest clearer, more concise or perhaps even better ways to explain material. Writing is a craft that must be honed, and good authors will credit their reviewers and editors with helping them improve. Good tech reviewers—like good authors—are at a premium.
Remember screaming at your new $40 doorstop? Now open that book to the credits page and e-mail the acquisitions editor. Provide a few details of what you found and offer to complete a more detailed post-publication review.
The publisher may or may not offer to pay you for this. Consider it an opportunity to get your foot in the door, and if you get a free book—or perhaps even a payment—it’s a bonus. If you provide a publisher with a detailed, insightful “bug report,” you’ve given them reason to consider you for future work. For example, some of Que Certification’s best reviewers today were readers who sent us e-mail alerting us to any inaccuracies, shortcomings, suggestions, etc., in our products.
Writing Chapters or Other Material
You might not be ready to overhaul your car’s engine, but you can change a pretty mean tire. That makes you a role player, and all publishers need role players.
That has perhaps never been more true than it is today, when few authors can meet the market’s stringent deadline pressures. More often than not, authors fall prey to missed deadlines, and publishers will need to summon you off the bench to pinch hit. Prove yourself a worthy reviewer, and you’ll be there when the coach calls.
Jeff Riley is executive editor at Que Certification, managing the best-selling Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series of books. A former journalist, Jeff got his foot in the door as a copy editor at Que in 1994 and within three years had moved on to project editor and then acquisitions editor. Jeff has acquired more than 100 titles to date.