No Starch Press Blog

Choosing a publisher

Hey, I wrote something on Slashdot today. Time for a blog post.

Here are my (biased I’m sure) thoughts on selecting a publisher as posted to Slashdot.

First of all, remember that a publisher is not a printer. If all you want is to see your book in print or to “get your book out there,” you don’t necessarily need a publisher to do that. You can use any of several print-on-demand printers; buy a run of books from an offset printer; sell your book as a PDF; post it as HTML; or other. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that at all — your choice depends on your goals.

Publishing is, or should be, a service business. A publisher should work with you to develop, craft, and market your book. They should help you to make the writing clear and understandable. They should be your harshest critics (because if they’re not, the reviewers will be). They should involve you in the process and you should get to know their staff. You should feel free to ask them questions and they should provide you with clear and direct answers. Unfortunately, publishers are becoming more like printers everyday. We’re resisting that trend.

If you’re not getting editorial services from a publisher you might think of using a printer instead and trying distribution though Amazon directly or through your website if you’ve got a popular one. After all, if you’re not getting service from a service business, what are you getting?

At No Starch Press, we read and edit everything. That’s what our editors do in addition to bringing in new authors. Throughout our publishing process our emphasis is on producing quality books, not more books. We release a title when we think that we’ve done our part to make that book the best that it can be and if we think that the book isn’t ready we delay it. That’s true of all of our titles whether they’re our Manga Guides or our hacking, sys admin, or programming titles. That doesn’t mean that every book we publish is a winner but we’ve worked hard on every book to make it great.

When contacting publishers, ask the hard questions before signing a publishing agreement. How does your publisher market and sell books? How will they sell your book? Who will work on it? How will the editing process work? How involved will you be as author and how much can you be involved? What if you have concerns about the editorial work? How will you be paid? How does the agreement work?

We’re a pretty editorially-driven publisher. But by the same token, thanks to our distribution relationship with O’Reilly and our agreements with various international partners, we’ve got great reach into the world marketplace. We’ve had books translated into over 20 different languages and we sell our books around the world.

One thing that makes No Starch Press unique though is that we are very picky. We don’t publish a lot of books because our goal is not to have 10% of our list carry the rest; I’d rather see 90% of our list carry the remaining 10%.

Bought a Mac Mini

I bit the bullet and bought a Mac Mini for the office. What a piece of cake to set up. (Not that I didn’t expect it to be easy.) Just about $380 at Microcenter for the 1.83 machine with 1GB RAM and a small hard drive. But who cares.

Take it out of the box, plug in a DVI cable, attach keyboard and mouse (whatever I had sitting around), plug in network cable, and turn it on. The music plays, the screen shows some silly movie (which I’ll call “Ta Da!), and it sets itself up.

Type a couple of keys on the keyboard so that OSX can figure out which driver to load, run a bunch of updates, install iLife ‘09, and you’re pretty much done. And unlike a Windows install, not one error message!

I’m always impressed by the Apple packaging — even down to the rounded edges on the sytrofoam and the plastic wrap on each piece of electronics. Someone is thinking through the entire experience and they do a fantastic job.

I know I’m about the 10 millionth person to discover the beauty of the Mac, but I think further praise is due here. I still prefer Ubuntu and that’s what I plan to keep running on my machines, but I just ordered another Mini for home.

Now to tackle the Ram Upgrade. Maybe the hard drive, too.