We’re pleased to introduce another guest blogger today, Richard Hamilton. Richard will be blogging regular on “the intersection of publishing and technical communication” under the main title of Publishing Perspectives.
Welcome to the inaugural post of Publishing Perspectives, a series of guest posts that will look at the intersection of publishing and technical communication. I plan to cover a wide range of topics, from business planning to typography, but I’m open to suggestions, so please post a comment if you have ideas for topics. Before diving in head first, I’ll use this inaugural post is an introduction to give you some perspective on my background.
I became a publisher by accident. After a career that included stints as a programmer, internationalization engineer, product manager, and documentation manager, I left the corporate world to try something new. I had no long-term goal, but I did have a short-term goal: write a book about managing writers. As anyone who has done so will tell you, writing a book is never a short-term goal, but after only a couple of years, I completed Managing Writers.
I could not find a publisher. Publishers, myself included, like to think we can predict a book’s success, but in fact we rarely get it right. However, in this case, the publishers got it right. While my book has sold well for what it is, it would never have met the expectations of a mainstream technical publisher (more on that in a future post, but for now it’s enough to say that the number of sales that a mainstream publisher needs to make a profit is far more than an efficient, niche publisher needs).
So I took the self-publishing route, which, because I had written the book in DocBook XML and was able to do my own stylesheets, turned out to be pretty easy (I have since learned that many of the things I thought were going to be hard, like production, turned out to be easy, and things I thought would be easy, like marketing, turned out to be hard). I worked through the mechanics of self-publishing and got my book into retail channels.
To the extent that there was a plan, it was to follow in the footsteps of many authors and use the book as a calling card for consulting business. Instead, I got hooked on the process, and with help from some key people (thank you Scott Abel, Anne Gentle, and John Hedtke, to name just a few of the people who helped XML Press get started), I began working with other authors and have now built a business as a publisher. I’ve kept that business close to the technical communication world, producing publications related to technical writing, content strategy, and social media. So, when Kevin Cuddihy asked me if I’d like to be a guest blogger on STC’s Notebook talking about publishing, I immediately said yes.
I have found that publishing and technical communication are cousins, a bit like baseball and cricket. The basic skills are the same, but the rules vary, sometimes in unexpected ways. I have learned a lot that applies to publishing from my years as a documentation manager, and as I’ve gotten into publishing, I’ve learned a lot about publishing that applies to technical communication. I look forward to sharing that perspective with you and hopefully starting a useful conversation.
Richard L. Hamilton is the founder of XML Press, which is dedicated to producing high quality, practical publications for technical communicators, managers, content strategists, marketers, and the engineers who support their work. Richard is the author of and editor of the 2nd edition of Norm Walsh’s published in collaboration with O’Reilly Media.