About [not] writing books

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/08/28 21:30 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2005/08/28/457383.aspx

(Nothing but a bunch of navel gazing in this post, you may want to skip if you have a temperment like mine; I would have no patience for this type of rubbish, myself!)

A few days ago when I shook my fist at the heavens and proclaimed my kingdom for some Unicode controls, I mentioned about how Joel Spolsky said some incredibly nice things about my book, and even mused that "Hopefully we'll see another book on international software from him soon."

Well, I can honestly say that there is nothing planned at the moment.

Though I have noticed the best way to get publishers to woo me for such a thing is to go out in public and talk about international stuff, and being wooed (is that a word?) is flattering, I am finally smart enough at this point to know that it is a lot of work to write a book. Even if I have a lot of the material I would cover already figured out.

I have pretty much had a simple rule for as long as writing a book was ever a topic to discuss, one that I think I first said aloud to Sharon Cox and Brad Jones at a dinner meeting in San Fransisco in early 1999 during VBITS. The rule?

The rule is simple: I would never want to write a book that I wouldn't want to read.

Sharon later became my acquisitions editor at Sams Publishing, maily on the basis of what went on in that meeting (well, that and the fact that folks at Wiley told me I would not be able to choose the animal for my book cover!). Of course Brad left Sams before my book was published and Sharon left soon after for Hungry Minds that was subsequently bought by Wiley, I think. How do editors and writers even know where to stand when the tectonic plates of the publishing world shift around so frequently? :-)

Anyway, the rule does not mean I would feel some morbid need to read the book later; it would serve no purpose, I probably know what it will say half the time.

What the rule means is that unless it was the type of book that I would want to go into a book store and buy then I would not want to put it out there. Farnkly, there are way too many freaking books out there. And while there are some gems, there is also a lot of worthless crap out there, too. I wish more of the people who wrote books would just stop writing and spend some more time reading books. And articles. And documentation. Because what some of those people write just makes it harder to find the useful information!

(I have similar feelings about a lot of the technical blogs out there, for what it is worth -- I'll blog about that some other time)

When I wrote Internationalization with Visual Basic I had a bunch of years of consulting to draw on. And not just consulting for Microsoft, but for a lot of Microsoft customers, too. But in the time since then, I have not been doing nearly as much consulting, and therefore not nearly as much time looking at dozens of different projects and scenarios and helping people come up with solutions. I have mostly been working for one company, and while I have been working on projects that I loved, they are not the sort of thing you can write books about.

Hell, they are barely the sort of thing I can write blog posts about!

I think that any book I wrote now would be either (a) an insightful look into how to do international software on MS platforms, or (b) a rehash of what you could have gotten out of MSDN anyway.After seeing some of what the competition for the book is and will be and would be, I am reasonably certain I would come significantly closer to (a) then some of the others have on the grounds of accuracy, correct terminology, and scope of coverage alone.

But hell, I could probably give them a run for their money on that by just publishing this freaking blog (with this entry as the introduction!). Which is not saying this blog hs ever nearly all that I would want to cover; I am saying a lot more about their weaknesses than my strengths, believe me.

If you listen to the interview that Joel did, he points out one of the problems I would run into if I wrote a book -- the people who enjoy slamming me in anonymous book site reviews for (in their opinion deserved) revenge or whatever, certainly do come out of the woodwork. One of those people even pretended to be a Microsoft employee (this one was taken down from amazon.com after the real person got in touch with them and asked them to take it down -- since the person who posted it was not smart enough to realize that their review was linked to his previous reviews, we even found out who he was!).

Anyway, it makes me realize that it is unlikely I could write something good enough to entirely escape this muck in which I have placed myself.

This fact might rule out politics for me, too. Not that my unpopular political beliefs would get me elected anyway. :-)

Now I was going to write another book for Sams called Internationalization with SQL Server. It had an ISBN (0-672-32099-1) and was not quite half written (8 chapters out of the 18 in the approved TOC!), but they decided not go with it (they paid off the advance plus a bit more for my troubles, so I am not entirely bitter about the whole thing). Of course that was nearly five years ago, so even what was done would need a major update to be relevant now. It would be easier to start over, probably. But not being an internationally recognized SQL Server expert would probably work against me and I would not have the just-published other book with a similar title from the same publisher to help, either.

And there was one great idea I had for a book and I even pitched it to my former acquisitions editor Sharon when she started working for Hungry Minds (when it was its own company). But it was a slightly radical idea and her boss said no, and none of the editors I have talked to since then have been interested either. So perhaps it was a little too radical (or maybe just a bad idea). Perhaps I'll blog about it some day and readers here can tell me if I was on track or on crack.

But I really can't look at other books that aren't getting it done as a source of inspiration to get it done myself. The book situation for internationalization in .NET is pretty bleak (and does not like it will be getting better any time soon), but I don't think I could tackle it and my job unless the book was a big part of the job while it was being written (which seems pretty unlikely in a product group that has too many projects and not enough resources as it is!).

For now, I feel a little safer here anyway, where "for great justice somebody set us up the blog" and all that. I'll keep covering the internationalization issues I know about, and try to strike a chord here and there. Plus talk about the music I like from time to time, which seems to also entertain folks....

# alanjmcf on 29 Aug 2005 7:18 AM:

Do you have book recommendations then, for instance a book on Unicode. Is the official book the one to get?

For i18n, g11n (hope that's the right count), in general, and recommendations?

And for Windows, one should use MSDN I take it.


# Jeremy D on 29 Aug 2005 8:28 AM:

Launch every (internationalized) zig?

# Michael S. Kaplan on 29 Aug 2005 8:34 AM:

<P>Well, Alan, like I said, the landscape is looking fairly bleak. </P>
<P>Developing International Software (1st ed.) is available online (http://www.microsoft.com/globaldev/dis_v1/disv1.asp) and the 2nd ed. which is broader in scope but not as deep on coverage is available for purchase (http://www.microsoft.com/globaldev/getWR/DIS_v2/default.mspx). Both work well for conceptual issues but the first does more in the code and examples department. </P>
<P>The Unicode book is available for purchase and online (http://www.unicode.org/versions/Unicode4.1.0/) and to get the full syory on the standard you need the various technical reports that are only available online. There is of course this blog. :-) </P>
<P>There are other books out there, I just have trouble recommending a lot of the ones on Windows because there are usually real problems with them, in my opinion....</P>

# Mihai on 29 Aug 2005 12:38 PM:

I also think "Developing International Software - 1st ed." is still somehow "the book". There is nothing after it that I can say is good enough. You can also find it on some older MSDN CD (.chm), if you don't like the online format.
2nd edition is also good on "how", if you get the basics and the "why" from the first one.
I always recomend them both, mentioning that the 2nd edition should really be 2nd volume.

Satchmo Pops on 11 Aug 2010 7:33 PM:

Authors do not longer need a publisher's complicated politics and demands. Today they have Publish-on-Demand with DIY with options for personalized services. Not only that, but the publishing business' landscape itself has changed a lot. Just last month, Amazon reported that eBooks currently out sale hardcover books. There is a great article and analysis about self-publishing here:

Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know:


How to self-publish an e-book


Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Aug 2010 10:34 PM:

For my needs with internationalized text, that won't work....

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referenced by

2010/01/29 Dr. International is dead, long live Dr. International...

2008/06/09 But What of Michael?

2008/03/17 Reductionizational innaccurization in acknowledmentary textual material

2005/09/30 The book idea that didn't happen

2005/09/11 An odd place to draw the line

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