**A note from Dan Holme: This week, I’d like to turn over the column to a friend and colleague to answer a question that both of us are regularly asked: How does one get going as an author and write a SharePoint book?
Stephen Cawood is a Vancouver-based SharePoint MVP. He recently joined Aquatic Informatics after key roles at Metalogix and at Microsoft, where he was a Program Manager on the MCMS and SharePoint product teams. Stephen has written a number of books including the best-selling, How to Do Everything: SharePoint 2010 and the upcoming title How to Do Everything: SharePoint 2013, both published by McGraw-Hill.
With those books under his belt, he offered some guidance for anyone who might be wondering how to get going with writing and publishing a book… So without further ado, here’s some great advice from Stephen!**
Writing a SharePoint Book: You Don't Have to Go It Alone
With the release of the SharePoint 2013 Preview, a great content machine has been switched to high gear. Articles, blog posts, training material, and documentation are all being crafted at a furious pace. And we can’t forget the books—lots and lots of books.
A quick search on Amazon reveals that a single stack of all the SharePoint-related books would be well over 100 feet high. If you’re one of the people thinking about writing your first SharePoint book, my advice to you is to find a coauthor.
Naturally, I don’t mean just anyone; find an experienced coauthor who already has a book under his or her belt. Writing a book is a great deal of work and it’s best to have someone on board who has worked through the entire publishing process.
Some writers like to say that an article is a sprint and a book is a marathon. Personally, I prefer to say that writing a book is like training for a marathon; running a marathon takes a few hours, but training for a marathon is months of dedicated work.
A book can be an excellent addition to your résumé. One of my past co-authors used our book as a prime credential to kick-off a significant career change. A number of SharePoint speakers have written books to improve their ‘street cred’ and it works the other way as well—some start with a book and use that as a vehicle to speaking engagements. If you’re interested in personal branding, just search around a bit and you’ll find some good advice. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Who should you ask to be your coauthor? Clearly, the ideal person would have already written a book about SharePoint. Other important factors include how well you know the person and how visible he or she is in the SharePoint community.
If you’re seriously considering writing a book about SharePoint, then you’re likely familiar with a number of people who are prominent in the SharePoint scene. The “big names” are likely already tied up with projects, but someone who is an up and comer (like yourself?) would be a good candidate.
See if you can find a small project (an article or a code sample) to work on so that you can get to know one another, and then only if it goes well, you can pop the question about writing a book together. I wouldn’t be concerned about when you write the book-- if it’s an original topic that genuinely reaches an untapped market, it doesn’t need to hit shelves the day that SharePoint reaches RTM.
Tune Those Writing Chops
If you’d rather work on your own, I’d recommend working up to a book. If you don’t have a blog, that’s an ideal place to start. People write for different reasons, but if part of your motivation is to raise your profile, then you likely already have a blog. After your own blog, you can look to write some guest posts for other blogs, then submit some articles to SharePoint focused sites and publications. This will help you exercise your writing muscles and verify that you’re serious when you try to find a publisher.
I won’t spend too much time talking about finding a publisher; that’s a whole topic unto itself. However, this is another reason why it’s a good idea to find someone who has already written a SharePoint book. Your coauthor would already have contacts with an editor and/or literary agent.
I didn’t set out with these recommendations in mind, but I ended up following them. While working on the Microsoft Content Manager Server team at Microsoft, I was asked to write some code samples for a book called .NET Server Solutions. It wasn’t a big project for me, which was perfect. After working on that project, I was one of the five authors on Microsoft Content Management Server 2002: A Complete Guide. The MCMS book allowed me to work with some people who transitioned to the SharePoint domain: Bill English, Todd Bleeker, and Shawn Shell.
Get Ready for "Feedback"
If you’re going to write a book, prepare for criticism. Criticism is everywhere in today’s connected world. It seems like every application I open is asking me to criticize something. To give you an example, try going to a bookseller website and look at the reviews of your favorite books. For example, the classic novel, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, has 98 one-star reviews on Amazon.com.
Most of them were written by people forced to read the book in an English class, and they include witty comments such as “this book is twilight without the vampires.” No matter how stupendous your SharePoint 2013 book is when you’re done, you will get some negativity from people who will be oblivious to how much sweat you put into your project.
Preparing for criticism is a good segue to my next point: Publishing a printed book is an entirely different experience than working on a website or writing a blog. Once a book has been published, that’s it, it’s done. If you wrote that SharePoint 2013 will make your morning cappuccino, then you just have to accept that somewhere in the range of 20,000 copies of that message are permanently available. You can’t go back and correct your errors or re-word your witticisms.
Many people have never had the experience of not being able to make changes to their writing. In my first book about Microsoft’s Halo video game, I mistakenly put a Covenant beam rifle where there should have been a sniper rifle. I know you’re all thinking, “Seriously? How could you mess that up?”
Well, at least three people emailed me to point out that I had, in fact, made a mistake. In all, I found six such mistakes and all I could do is publish an errata page on my blog.
It's Not For the Money
Finally, I feel it’s important to talk frankly about money. Don’t do it for the money. I’ve heard as high as 95 percent of books don’t make back the advance. This means that the authors don't receive any royalties because the total sales don’t cover the advance payments.
If you’re looking for a way to make money, writing isn't the way to go. Write a book because you love writing, and write your book about SharePoint because you’re dying to write a book about SharePoint. Good luck and enjoy the process!