Getting a deal for the book

Sharing our experience, for other first-time authors.

As two first time authors, we had little to no idea of what it would take to publish a book. Having now signed a publishing deal, we thought it might be helpful to other budding business book authors to share how we approached it.

If you have had a book published we’d love to hear if your experience mirrored ours, or how it differed.

Having got our inspiration, we decided to just “have a go” at writing a book. The tests were;

  1. Could we establish creative chemistry?

  2. Could we be productive with an 8-hour time difference?

  3. If 1 & 2 were achieved, would we produce something that seemed vaguely interesting and useful?

We set these tests in complete isolation of thinking about a publisher. It was more akin to auditioning ourselves. Even though it was never discussed, on reflection, I guess there was some built-in damage limitation. We never publically announced that we were exploring writing a book together, so if any of the three tests had failed, no one would have been any the wiser.

Having begun to collate material independently for a few weeks, on the 14th January 2020 a Google doc was created and we both started dumping in our ideas.

We prioritised simply getting “stuff” out of our heads and onto paper, rather than spend time worrying about the overall structure of the book. We felt (and still do) that the creative process should be sacrosanct.

Being in different timezones actually turned into a real advantage. We could both write fresh content by day and then wake to edits, suggestions and new material to review. Pretty soon we had something like 30,000 words in various stages of development and I had got into the groove of morning review, writing, and then Zoom calls in the evening.

We felt that getting to 30,000 words was a bit of a milestone even though we had no clue on what percentage of the book that actually represented, and how much of that would ultimately be trashed. Some chapters were reaching completion whilst others were not much more than ideas in a bullet point list, however, we now had enough to describe what we had, and had a better idea of what we were trying to create.

So we wanted to start getting some outside perspective before we either went too far down the rabbit hole or started drinking our own kool-aid. It was time to peak above the parapet a little.

As two marketers, it was natural that we approached this phase like launching a product. We researched our market to understand the other Developer Relations books already published, and in fact, between the two of us, we already owned most of them anyway and brought the ones we didn’t. After this exercise, we remained convinced our book was both complementary to the existing books, whilst filled a gap that needed to be addressed.

To start the conversation we reflected on our motivations and why we thought the book was necessary. We developed our thesis and wrote “The 8 recurring challenges for DevRel leaders”. We got ourselves a memorable domain name, social accounts, and tentatively started to mention what we were up to.

We reached out to a few friends to kick the tires on the ideas. It felt natural to share early without fear, as we have known from day 1 that for the book to be successful, the ideas, tools, and frameworks need to be adopted by DevRel practitioners.

Why spend a year writing a book and then sit nervously waiting for a reaction, when we could test and refine ideas as part of the writing process to ensure our prospective audience for the book was supportive of our endeavors?

Our little ‘pitch-deck’ for the book was coming along, containing:

  • The context of the book

  • Why we believe our book is important

  • What makes our book different/unique

  • The target audience

  • Our biographies

  • High level marketing plan for the book.

  • Sample table of contents

Thoughts were now turning to contacting publishers. Then the doubt kicked in.

We had a really strong feeling that we had one chance to nail this. Perhaps due to the fact we were thinking night and day about Developer Experience and losing developers with crappy self-service design!

This might be the only book we ever write. What if everyone rejects it? How do you even contact publishers? We had no clue. We got sidetracked for a few weeks considering if we needed to hire a literary agent to maximize our chances of success. I came close on a number of occasions to buying a directory of agents. But after some desk research of agents and a return of confidence, we finally kicked that idea into touch. For me, the clincher was our subject matter is so niche, the best possible people to sell it was us.

We built a shortlist of ten publishers in October 2020 - those that had published DevRel or related books, or other technical/business books that we admired - and in early November 2020, we began to submit our ‘pitch-deck’ directly to them all. With the holidays fast approaching and with COVID affecting every business, we suspected to be met with a wall of silence.

However, we were surprised that pretty much all came back within a few days of submission. Most were, of course, the obligatory “thanks, but no thanks” rejection email, but two stood out confirming they were interested, sending us their proforma contracts for review. Was it going to be this easy?

It should be noted that in addition to sending our pitch to publishers, we spent a long time prior considering the pro’s and con’s of self-publishing or a hybrid publishing model. Other than the obvious reduced commercial risk of signing a traditional deal, we ultimately felt our chances of the book being recognized as a true reference text that could be adopted by business schools would be enhanced by working with a publisher.

The terms on offer were very similar, which helped informed us to not waste time negotiating industry-standard clauses, “don’t sweat the small stuff”. The areas we did seek clarity on, however, were:

  • Our ability to share the processes, frameworks, and models freely to the community outside of the book, and to allow adaptation. Standard clauses were capped at 10% of the book content.

  • Access to a developmental editor to help us structure and produce such a complex book

  • The approach to graphics & illustrations, as our book will have considerably more of those than average.

Negotiations continued for a couple of weeks and there was really very little between them. Ultimately we decided to go with Apress as they had published Mary’s wonderful ‘The Business Value of Developer Relations: How and Why Technical Communities Are Key To Your Success’ back in 2018 which gave us confidence that they had experience in our niche.

We signed the deal on Christmas Eve 2020.

A great way to end a pretty terrible year for all.

Reflecting back on our experience, we are actually pleasantly surprised by how painless the whole process was for such complete novices. The publishing industry has moved to a self service model, meaning that directly submitting proposals is entirely feasible, just another example of how the internet has disintermediated the middle man.

From the start of our writing process to signing was just short of 12 months. The actual publisher pitching process to signing was just 5 weeks.

By treating the book as a product with a well thought out pitch preprepared, we perhaps shortened the time before an offer was made, but we have no evidence to confirm if that is actually true or not. Perhaps it was the old classic - right time, right place.

From this point on the hard work really starts.

Continue to follow our updates here as we go through the book developer process, and please share with anyone you know that might find this interesting/useful.