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Kalen Delaney

Did You Know? My Book Had Too Many Pages!

 

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.

Happy Reading!

~Kalen

Published Monday, December 22, 2008 2:58 PM by Kalen Delaney

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Comments

 

Jack Corbett said:

If you write it all in one book, how will the publisher make any money on their other SQL Server books?  Also remember you are going to make other writers look bad if your book is too good.

December 22, 2008 5:50 PM
 

Eric N Smith said:

Can't find the book on my shelf, but I've seen this problem from another author. There was a note in the forward describing the lack of available pages from the publisher and letting the reader know that chapters X through Y were available on the accompanying CD and at a web link. The chapters were listed in the TOC but had a note saying something about being available only electronically.

December 22, 2008 6:09 PM
 

Kalen Delaney said:

Eric

Unfortunately, the publisher has also chosen not to include a CD, but there will be a website. (mine) THere is one chapter from the previous book that will be included on the website to supplement the new book.

~Kalen

December 22, 2008 6:28 PM
 

James Luetkehoelter said:

Kalen,

One - I love the quote from Amadeus. I use it often in many situations

Two - This is insane, on both accounts - that your book had too many pages, and that the editorial was rejected. I'm now thoroughly depressed about the state of the industry....

December 22, 2008 8:01 PM
 

aspiringgeek said:

I concur w/ the rabid dobie.  Indeed, hearing about this makes me rabid.  The publisher's position is absurd.  I understand you had other unexpected challenges with the publisher.  I used to respect MS Press.  However, failure to give you what you need, what with your track record & whilst you worked in good faith, is discouraging.  Writing solid material is challenging enough without being shackled by unexpected constraints such as you describe.  Thanks for sharing, Kalen, & good luck.

December 23, 2008 8:03 AM
 

BradC said:

No inside information here, but perhaps it is a cost-planning issue.

Maybe the cost to print the book depends on the number of pages, and the contract with the printer has already been established for X number of pages for a certain negotiated cost.

That could explain their hesitation, because it would require them to go back and re-negotiate with the printer.

December 23, 2008 9:58 AM
 

James Luetkehoelter said:

Am I the rabid dobie? I'm a GSD with dirt on my nose? I wasn't digging in the mud - honest!

December 23, 2008 10:00 AM
 

JohnC said:

Well, post whatever gets cut on the web freely available to anyone and I bet that it will read and used by many more people that the book will ever reach. Put a note in the book directing people to the web to see the additional material.. Problem solved..

December 23, 2008 10:26 AM
 

Alexander Kuznetsov said:

Hi Kalen,

but apparently the book is already selling on Amazon, with price, shipping price etc. Probably there already are people who preordered the book. If the book gets larger, both prices might have to change, and the editors and sellers might lose money.

December 23, 2008 12:25 PM
 

Kalen Delaney said:

Brad, JohnC, Alex, Geek

MSPress did say it was a cost-cutting issue; they have outsourced the copyeditting and have to pay by the page. My biggest complaint is that this has never happened in all my previous books; they have always told me the page count in the contract was just a formality.  So to be taken by surprised after most of the chapters are already written is the big issue for me. I have always written more than I planned, and the publisher never made me cut pages before.

As I mentioned, we will have one chapter online. We could put more. How much more? Why don't we just make the whole book online, and save lots of costs that way?

Yes, I know it is on Amazon. It has been listed there and selling since long before I was told about the strict page limitation, and every other book I wrote was on Amazon long before I was finished writing.

My publisher has told me that I should be thankful for what I have. Due to costs, they have actually had to cancel some books completely and they told me I should be glad that my book is still on the publication list at all, and the fact that my book wasn't cancelled completely is because of my 'track record'.

Oh well... I am grateful for all that I have, and for being able to write these books and share what I've learned ....

Thanks for the support!

~Kalen

December 23, 2008 12:48 PM
 

Bernd Eckenfels said:

There are some good reasons for a publisher to watch the page count. One it is related to the production costs (proof reading, setting, design, paper and printing costs) as well as distribution costs. And this directly influences the pricing of the book. And marketing tends to segment the market and find a target price for the book.

Besides that, there is a pragmatic reason to force the authors to cut down the volume because all book texts contain unneeded junks. So they wont give in so easyly in order to make you work harder on good concies content.

Gruss

Bernd

December 23, 2008 1:41 PM
 

Alexander Kuznetsov said:

Bernd,

I disagree with the following: "all book texts contain unneeded junks". Many books are bloated with screenshots and other junk, but Kalen's books are actually quite succinct - they are big only because the subject is big.

December 23, 2008 2:18 PM
 

Aaron Alton said:

"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"

Are you able to share the name of that book?  I'd love to put it on my watch list.  Sounds like it's being done for a great cause.

December 26, 2008 10:49 PM
 

SaudiGeek.NET said:

Hi Kalen,

Here are some suggestions:

1) Making all appendixes available online.

2) Making 1-3 chapters available online.

3) Can you make the book into two parts of a series (e.g. Developer and IT Pro, or Professionals and Experts?

Also, you may send them both in one box (optional) or separated.

*: What I mean by online is make those material available to download and print on the book website.

Thanks for your book in advanced and sure I will be happy to read it.

Best Regards,

SaudiGeek.NET

January 5, 2009 6:34 AM
 

SaudiGeek.NET said:

I wrote:

"Also, you may send them both in one box (optional) or separated."

Here is the correction:

Also, you may make both of them in one box (optional) or separated.

Best Regards,

SaudiGeek.NET

SaudiGeek [at] hotmail

January 5, 2009 6:41 AM
 

David Benoit said:

I like the idea of putting the whole thing online. I know the whole reading online vs. on paper can be a huge discussion but the flexibility it too great to ignore. I would gladly pay the same amount of money for access to an online book as I would to have the printed version on my shelf. Less room in my house, easy to search, etc, etc, etc. AND of course it is environmentally friendly.

Maybe with the next book...

Side note, I did already order the book though. Can't miss out on this one!

January 8, 2009 9:30 AM

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