Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. — Gene Fowler
If only it was that easy!
Yet, many like me go through the pain and frustration, hoping to scribble a few words together and eventually make them into a book. More than words, writing requires a stockpile of patience and perseverance.
In this two-part article, I will narrate the process Luke Hedger and I went through to bring out our book Serverless Development on AWS: Building Enterprise Scale Serverless Solutions (O’Reilly, 2024).
Serverless Development on AWS
Serverless Development on AWS eBook : Brisals, Sheen, Hedger, Luke: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store
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Except for an exceptional few, writing is an evolutionary process. Over the years, I’ve been sharing my thoughts via simple blogs — my learnings on cloud, AWS, serverless, and life. From here, I needed something unexpected to elevate the blogger in me to an author.
That unexpected message
In early September 2021, I received a LinkedIn connect request with an encouraging follow-up message from an acquisitions editor of a leading publishing house.
I’m an Assistant Acquisitions Editor for …. Publications. At the moment, I’m contacting you to ask whether you might be willing to speak with my colleague …., our Senior Acquisitions Editor, about your general expertise.
…. is looking into developing new book publications on various tech topics and would be very interested in speaking with you about your expertise and discussing any suggestions or ideas that you may have for new publications, and perhaps any interest you may have in writing.
A few days and a couple of emails later, I spoke with the senior acquisitions editor to understand their intention to explore a topic I had written as a blog.
Getting to know The Proposal
The outcome of the meeting was for me to submit a book proposal on the topic they wanted me to author. As a newbie in this area, writing a proposal for a book on a topic that didn’t have much scope to expand on was tough. I struggled to fill in the details.
So, I took time... During this time, I boldly changed the topic!
I took a long time because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity, and for that, I had to explore ideas and speak to experts, authors, and others from the industry.
After a few soul-searching months, in early January 2022, I wrote back with the following message and a proposal.
Speaking with fellow engineers and others in the industry, I noticed, there isn’t enough guidance for enterprise teams adopting serverless. The available books focus on specific areas and those are good for individual engineers and smaller teams. These books don’t cover the end-to-end development cycle of serverless which is crucial for enterprise scale adoption. Based on these findings, myself and my colleague Luke Hedger have come up with an idea for a book to address the same.
My first book proposal had 14 parts and 62 chapters!
Blessing in disguise!
What I submitted was completely the opposite of their original idea. They were interested in a niche topic, not generic. Understandably, they didn’t take much time to turn down my idea and the proposal.
There ended my brief association with this publishing house.
Amidst the disappointment, now with something of a proposal in hand and the knowledge of submitting ideas to publishing houses, my quest continued.
After a few days of crawling the web, I landed on the shores of O’Reilly Media.
Why We Opted For A Publishing House
By this time, Luke and I had discussed, debated, assessed, and made the decision to go with an established publisher (as opposed to self-publishing).
The main reasons for not going down the self-publishing route were
- We, as authors, had a very limited presence, popularity, fame, and following on social media.
- We would require extra effort to market the book to generate sales.
- We wanted both the print and ebook options to be available to everyone.
- We had zero knowledge of the content editing formalities to prepare the book reader-ready.
- We only had a limited time at our disposal, balancing weekday work and family.
More than the monetary benefits of self-publishing, we preferred to have our names associated with a publishing house and remembered longer.
I can’t stress enough the importance of preparing the proposal. It is a time-consuming task that requires plenty of thought and tailoring to each publisher.
After making the necessary changes for O’Reilly, we submitted the proposal via their website around mid-February 2022.
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The following sections highlight what we had to include for O’Reilly.
The justification part
Along with the provisional title, subtitle, author’s name, bio, contact info, etc., the following are crucial and with enough details.
- Marketing description — This is, in essence, the selling pitch for the book. A couple or three paragraphs in length will eventually become the details you read when you look at a book page on Amazon or other sellers.
- About the topic — Explain the main topic and state the reasons for writing the book to influence the publisher. The more details you provide, quoting industry trends, news, surveys, and so on, the better.
- Audience — Who this book is for. How many people use the technology discussed in the book? How will this book be used by the readers — as a daily reference, read first and then refer occasionally, etc.?
- What will the reader learn, and how will they apply it? — Looking from a reader’s perspective, what the book teaches, and how a reader may apply the knowledge gained from it.
- Keywords — A generous list of all the trending words, technologies, principles, practices, architectures, etc., associated with the book.
- Other book features — Is there a GitHub repository for the book? Will there be code examples, etc?
- Software dependencies — Is there a dependency with the version of a software, and will a new version impact the book’s release?
Comparison with other books
Writing can be a passion, art, knowledge sharing, education, and so on for authors, but for publishers, it is business. Hence, they try to assess the uniqueness of the proposed topic by asking you to compare and contrast it with several of the competing and similar books.
Here is the list of books we had to consider and incorporate in our proposal.
- Running Serverless (Neuri Consulting LLP, July 2019)
- Serverless Handbook (Gatekeeper Press, June 2021)
- Serverless Architectures on AWS (Manning, March 2022)
- Learn AWS Serverless Computing (Packt, December 2019)
- Serverless Architectures with AWS (Packt, December 2018)
- Learning Serverless (O’Reilly, November 2020)
- Full Stack Serverless (O’Reilly July 2020)
- Building Serverless Applications with Google Cloud Run (O’Reilly, December 2020)
- Programming AWS Lambda (O’Reilly, March 2020)
- Building Microservices Second Edition (O’Reilly, September 2021)
If you haven’t done any thinking beforehand, this is where you will spend a fair amount of time. The outline must include the book’s chapter details.
High-level chapter overview — For every chapter, a brief paragraph of summary describing its content.
Detailed chapter breakdown — The level 1 and 2 headings for every chapter.
NOTE: With just a high-level concept, it can be challenging to think through each chapter and come up with the headings and their order. The good news is, though it sounds intimidating, once the project is on, there is flexibility to alter the headings and their placement.
Specs and schedule
This is the final part of the proposal, where it records the following details.
- The expected range of the total number of pages (ex., 500–550 pages)
- Will there be diagrams and pictures?
- Any special considerations in terms of color, content, etc.
- The anticipated content delivery schedule. For example, two chapters by, half draft manuscript by, full draft manuscript by, final and full manuscript ready for production by, etc.
TIP: Be generous with the page count and aim to keep the count high (as much as possible) during the project negotiation. The production team can be very strict on this and may refuse to increase the count beyond a certain allowance.
It took us by surprise and had to suffer the consequence and settle for 35 pages of content as digital download.
The proposal discussion process can be quick or lengthy, depending on the acquisition editor and the team behind it. After a few weeks of eager wait, we heard back in early March 2022 from O’Reilly.
Good morning, Luke and Sheen.
My name is … … and I’m an acquisition editor here at O’Reilly Media for both cloud computing and security. Your book proposal was recently forwarded to me, and I have added some initial editorial feedback for your review and input. Happy to discuss any of my comments further!
Things went quiet after the initial contact and a few edits on the proposal.
As days and weeks went past, Luke and I lost hope.
To make things complicated, another publishing house approached me to write a book on a similar topic. They wanted to move fast, and there was some money on the table for me to take if I committed to start the work immediately. With the long silence from O’Reilly, we were in a dilemma.
When it comes to making decisions, Luke is quite strong with his reasoning. Assessing this publisher, their tempting offer and terms, and comparing them with O’Reilly, Luke highlighted a few points as to why it is still worth waiting.
So we waited!
A new acquisition editor
After three agonizingly long months, we heard back from O’Reilly in early June 2022 with the news that we have a new acquisition editor to work with, as the previous editor got promoted to a different role.
I am cc’ing … …, who is the new Sr. Acquisitions Editor for the Cloud Computing space. She will be your main point of contact for your current book proposal Serverless Development on AWS. … will be in touch in the near future for a more formal introduction and with any immediate feedback/questions on the proposal.
With the new editor in place, things started to move fast(er). They suggested a few changes to the proposal that we were happy to accommodate.
After a month, in early July 2022, the proposal was circulated for internal review at O’Reilly and with their subject matter experts (SMEs).
The glimmer of hope!
Towards the end of July 2022, we received a rather long email from our editor about the feedback from the review. Except for one strong argument against it, the overall tone of the email was positive!
I’ve received some additional feedback on the proposal from our internal SME’s, and the general consensus is that the proposal is promising and fills in essential gaps that haven’t yet been covered in current books on the market. However, there still seems to be some concern with the large scope.
After making the necessary edits, on 29th July 2022, our acquisition editor submitted the proposal to O’Reilly’s editorial board for approval. A few more changes to the scope and length were requested.
And finally, on the 5th of August 2022, our proposal was formally approved by the O’Reilly editorial board!
TIP: One feature of the book that the O’Reilly team liked in our proposal was the inclusion of chapter experts and their brief interviews at the end of each chapter. To this, the serverless adoption casestudies at the end also added weigtage.
Publishers look for unique features in a book that can make it standout.
With the project’s approval, members from the finance and contracts team got in touch to take us through the DocuSign process. After reading through the contract and completing the necessary forms, we signed it on the 10th of August, 2022.
In addition to several contractual terms, the writing schedule also became part of the contract.
- Any two substantial chapters by December 15, 2022
- One-half of the chapters by April 15, 2023
- A draft suitable for technical review by October 15, 2023
- A completed manuscript by December 15, 2023
With the contract in place, the acquisition editor took a back seat and handed the responsibility to the project team.
The writing of Serverless Development on AWS was well and truly underway — officially!