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Ian Sinclair, successful author of many books including PCW tutorials, has some words of encouragement for technical writers.
There is a widely-held belief that anyone who has knowledge of a subject can write a technical book or article on that subject, but a quick glance at some of the manuals that come with computers and their software should soon dispel that fantasy. The unfortunate fact is that technical writing is a skill that is acquired by experience, and it's not always easy to obtain the experience. It's rather like Catch-22 - your work will be accepted when you have the experience, and you never get the experience until your work has been accepted. How, then, do you get yourself into the business of technical writing?
The obvious necessity is to have some technical expertise. This doesn't mean that you should be an expert, far from it. Only too often the expert is the worst possible technical writer because he or she never realises that readers are not experts. Certainly if you are writing for postgraduates you need to be an acknowledged expert in your field, perhaps Ihe acknowledged expert. For any other purposes, and particularly if you are writing for the general public, what you can get over is a lot more important than what you know, always assuming, of course, that you know enough to understand the topic for yourself.
In short, don't be intimidated just because you don't understand everything about your subject, but make sure you know really thoroughly about what you are explaining. If you want to write about car servicing you don't need to know how to replace a clutch, but you certainly should know how to adjust the cable and check for correct operation.
Practice makes perfect
Technical know-how also implies have-done. You quite definitely must have practical experience of what you are writing about, because unless you have tried something for yourself you don't really know about it. You may be quite convinced after reading a manual for a piece of software that you know how it works, but it's almost certain that when you start using it for yourself you will find that your understanding of the manual does not always correspond with what actually happens. Would you know from reading the LocoScript manual that you cannot replace each occurrence of book, and should take more time than any other Chapter in the book, even if you are not submitting a sample. It should be laid out in a logical sequence, broken up into reasonably short paragraphs, with sub-titles as needed. The printing should be on A4, double-spaced, one side only. The assessment of this sample will take time, because it has to be sent to someone who can judge it technically, perhaps another author. If you hear no more after a month, however, it does no harm to ring up and enquire.
Reading a sample means that a publisher has invested some time and money on your idea, so that if your book proposal has any merit, but your writing techniques could be improved, you are likely to be told rather than have the proposal turned down completely.
If you get a quick rejection at this stage, it's likely that there is a serious flaw in your sample, and you will have to re-draft it before you try again with another publisher. Sooner or later, if there is any merit in the idea, you will receive a contract in the post. Some contracts specify an advance, which will be returnable if you don't deliver. Watch also for the royalty figure - some contracts specify 10% of cover price, which is good, but others state 10% of money received, which amounts to 4% or less of cover price and means that large sales do not translate into a lot of cash for you.
You then have to submit the rest of your work. Even if delivery on disc is called for. always print a paper copy even if only for your own eyes, because faults that seem to pass un-noticed on the screen will scream at you from a piece of paper. Make sure that everything is as you want it, because alterations to a book once it has been set into print are ruinously expensive, even in these days of computer typesetting.
Once you send off the manuscript start planning your next book, with the experience of the first behind you. The important thing is to keep up a continuous effort, because if your first book succeeds you will need a second one to pay the tax bill, and if the first one does not succeed you will want to try again anyhow.
Finally, what can you expect to get out of all this work? The most important answer is satisfaction, knowing that you r have imparted some useful information to readers. You will not make a fortune unless you happen to hit a lucky jackpot, and you should not expect to be able to become a full-time author overnight. It took me 23 years of part time work to get to the full-time stage, and it can still be a precarious life. Don't expect any perks like computers on loan, though if you are writing in other technical fields you may find firms more cooperative. You have at least one advantage that was denied to me in my early days - a computer that is an excellent word-processor and which can also be used for your book-keeping and data-processing. That's progress.