March 5, 2020 - Neither Mark Wutka nor Stephen Perkins went into their software development careers thinking they’d become published authors.
But both Banyan Hills Technologies developers ended up seeing their names in print – in bookstores and on Amazon – after being approached by publishers who saw their work online.
For Mark Wutka, it all started when he coded a game and posted it to a website that was popular with developers. The people who contributed games were recognized on the site with their names listed in alphabetical order. A publisher looking for potential authors browsed the list in reverse order, assuming the names at the top of the list were already approached by other publishers. The very last name at the bottom of the list? Wutka. The publisher reached out and found a willing first-time author in Wutka, who would go on to pen several books about Java and related technologies.
The life of a writer
Both Wutka and Perkins are grateful for the opportunity to have had their names featured on the cover of books, but the book writing process was more arduous than either expected.
For Perkins, part of the challenge was writing around both a full-time job and raising a baby. That first editor reached out to him the day after his son was born. Says Perkins, “I was still at the hospital when I saw the email.” Writing the first book wasn’t too bad (“babies are asleep all the time,” he says), but subsequent projects became more challenging as his kid turned into a toddler.
Perkins noted that the financial rewards for writing can vary widely. For subject areas where there is a large audience, say C++ or Java, the effort is worthwhile. But for smaller projects involving a narrowly-focused niche book, the authors get more out of the intangibles (boosted reputation, invites to conferences, points on a resume) than they would from an actual check.
Wutka warns that writing can sometimes feel overwhelming and relentless. “I got so burnt out on it,” he admits. Wutka says that for his first book experience, the editor pressured him to turn around entire chapters in the space of just a few days.
Even on later book projects, he was expected to write quickly, with little regard for work-life balance. He had agreed to a book that was about 1,200 pages, “and they wanted it in four months. So that’s about 300 pages a month, which works out to about 10 pages a day. I had to write every day. I was writing on Thanksgiving. I was writing on Christmas day.”
Even so, the experience of writing was positive for both of them. Book authorship helps open doors, like consulting work and speaking at conferences. Perkins says that it helps you stand out with hiring managers, too. “Most resumes do not have a publication section on it,” he says.
There are less tangible benefits to being a book author as well. Wutka enjoyed finding ways to incorporate photos of his grandkids in illustrations in the books, for example.
Advice to other would-be developer/authors
The authors have advice for aspiring writers. First and foremost, not all publishers treat authors the same, and it can be helpful to know what the book-writing experience may be like before signing a contract. “It’s a good idea to talk to authors who have written for various publishers just to see what their experience with that publisher was,” advises Wutka.
And don’t discount self-publishing. In the past, there was a stigma associated with publishing a book without a mainstream publisher, but in recent years, that’s less the case. Perkins says, “Amazon has put a lot of tools in place to make that more feasible, and there’s a lot of respectable people doing it themselves.” Self-publishing has the added advantage that you’re adhering to your own writing schedule, not a publisher’s, and you control every aspect of the final product.
But traditional publishers own passive distribution pipelines, and you’re almost guaranteed to make more money than you would on a self-published book. If money isn’t motivating your book-writing aspirations, that might not be important to you. But remember: As Wutka says, “It doesn’t take very long for the novelty of having your name on a book to wear off.