As synchronicity would have it, I've seen a lot of blog posts and articles lately on technical book writing and publishing. The one that has generated a lot of discussion was DHH's post on "Shaking up tech publishing". David talks about the success that 37signals have had in selling their Getting Real book online, in PDF format, and bypassing the traditional book publishing channels (here's a post from the 37signals blog with a 30-day update on their book sales). It's fascinating to read the comments on David's post, especially the ones from Tim O'Reilly (who doesn't need any introduction) and Gary Cornell (who does -- he's the publisher of APress). Tim talks at length about bestsellers, economies of scale, royalties, coping with too much success, etc. Gary Cornell responds with his point of view, then DHH throws in another wrench, and so on. Very entertaining.
I wish Tim and Gary would post their comments in their blogs, so that people could then link to them. As it is, their thoughts are scattered throughout the Comments section of David's post.
At least one book publisher did record his comments in a blog post format -- that would be Daniel Read, the creator of the developerdotstar blog/community/publishing house. In his "Tech publishing and developer.* Books" post, Daniel talks about his experiences as a "small, independent publisher using digital printing and on-demand distribution for niche titles." Developer.* just published their first book, "Software conflict 2.0: The Art and Science of Software Engineering", containing 30 essays by Robert L. Glass.
So there you have it: self-publishing via PDF downloads, traditional book publishing at O'Reilly and APress, and printing-on-demand. At least you have lots of options if you're thinking about writing a technical book. Of course, before you start on that road, make sure you actually have something worthy to write about :-) And if you want your book to be successful, pay attention to the style of your writing, not only to the substance. Here's an enlightening post from Kathy Sierra -- she of "Head First" book fame and Creating Passionate Users blog -- on "Two more reasons why so many tech docs suck".
To end on a "Joel-on-software"-esque note, here's a quote from Joel Spolsky himself:
"The software development world desperately needs better writing. If I have to read another 2000 page book about some class library written by 16 separate people in broken ESL, I’m going to flip out."
Via Weinberg on Writing, a great post from Steve York on "Writers and other delusional people". Must read for all aspiring writers out there.