Some of you are aware that I am writing an (almost) weekly commentary for a SQL Server Magazine e-newsletter called SQL Server Magazine UPDATE. I was told that I could write about anything related to SQL Server, but that turned out not to be true. There has to be at least some technical or business value to my commentary. A few weeks ago, I wrote a commentary about my publishers' page count limitations on my books, and it was rejected. :-(
So I guess I I'll just have to post it here, since so far Adam and Peter haven't rejected anything I've written. :-)
In my commentary of August 14, I talked about “Too much information”, and listed many different sources where you could get details about the features and behavior of SQL Server 2008. When I referred to “too much”, I was talking about too many different places to have to look. I am currently faced with a problem of having too much information in one book: my upcoming SQL Server 2008 Internals book. However, it’s not readers or information seekers saying that it is too much, it is the publisher.
When I sign a contract to write a book, the publisher always asks for a page estimate. However, before I start researching a new topic, I have no idea how many pages it will take to explain the topic well. For example, before I knew anything at all about SQL Server 2008 compression, I had to figure out how many pages I was going to write about it. I always tell my editors that I just can’t say, and they reply that they just need an estimate, and not to worry. So I have always given a lower limit, trying to figure out the fewest number of pages I might need. I always assumed that the publisher wanted something in the contract that would assure that the book would have some substantial content, and not just be something fluffy written in a hurry to meet a deadline. So I always thought the estimate was a minimum. But I was wrong.
Suppose you have a contract to work for someone for 40 hours a week. Is that ‘at most’ 40 hours, or ‘at least’? Is your boss going to tell you to go home once you’ve been there for 40 hours? If I have a contract to work 20 hours on a project for a fixed rate and end up working 25, is my client going to complain?
I was quite surprised when during my last month of writing my SQL Server 2008 Internals book, my project editor wrote to me and said we already had 70% of the page count for only about 50% of the chapters, and she hoped the rest of the chapters would be very short. In fact, the longest chapter had not been submitted yet. So I had a week of not writing while we tried to figure out what we could cut, and we tried to get the publisher to agree to increase the limit. It was very hard to get an increase, because the lower number was in my contract.
This got me thinking of a line from the 1984 movie Amadeus, when Emperor Joseph tells Mozart: “Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.” And Mozart replies: “Which few did you have in mind?” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086879/quotes
The outline of the book had been carefully planned and all the co-authors and I had either finished writing or were almost finished. What researched, tested and polished information about SQL Server internals should we remove?
I finally came to a somewhat satisfactory arrangement with the editors for my Internals book (although it’s still not clear if the introduction, foreword and index will count against the total or not), and I thought that I wouldn’t have to worry about anything like that for a while, because not every publisher could be so short-sighted as to sacrifice quality by trying to reduce immediate costs. But again I was wrong. I am also working as a co-editor on a book of SQL Server tips and best practices, written by a group of over 40 SQL Server MVPs. We are not getting any payment of any kind, but will donate all our royalties to a children’s charity. We’re also doing all the technical editing among ourselves, so the publisher has very little work to do. But I just found out that we also will have a severe page limit on this book. So again we have to decide what to cut and what to keep.
I’m sure the publishers have their reasons for this limit (although it never came up on any of my earlier books), but it seems like reasons can always be re-evaluated. I’m just glad there are more places that my readers can look for information, so anything that doesn’t fit in my book, my readers can find out more about in my blog, in a class, in a conference session, or in one of the “too many different places” that I have already told you about.