In October of last year, I submitted a proposal to O’Reilly Media for three different books, hoping they would pick up on one. I have no previous publications. I have no agent. This is what is referred to as an “over the transom” proposal (and any expression with a nautical origin warms my heart). It was a long shot. Everywhere I turned, I read about how hard it was, and how few proposals get further attention. I thought it was such an incredibly unlikely prospect that I wasn’t even nervous. Not one little bit.
Why O’Reilly? Because they’re the best. In my opinion, they are hands-down the best technical publisher in the world. My first O’Reilly book was Randal Schwartz’s Learning Perl; it was certainly not my last. Many O’Reilly titles later, I have come to think of them as the first, best option. If I need to learn something, I look for an O’Reilly title first: I only grudgingly consider other publishers if O’Reilly doesn’t actually have a title on what I’m looking for (which is rare). For me, it was O’Reilly or nothing.
When I got the letter from O’Reilly, I steeled myself for the form letter rejection. I was ready for “thank you blah blah blah unfortunately blah blah blah”. I was completely unprepared for the sequence of events that followed. Talking to a senior editor over the phone. Discussions of royalties. A stack of O’Reilly books arriving at my doorstep:
And here I am, a short three months later with more than half of a finished book. Quite honestly, despite all the hours I’ve spent writing, and the encouraging check-ins with my editor, the shock still hasn’t worn off.
Once the book contract was signed back in November and the reality started to set in, I started to wonder if I could really crank out a book in six months. Now I’ve relaxed about that: the writing’s going well, my editor seems happy, and I have a good grasp on how much writing I can realistically expect to get done in a given week.
Some things I have learned along the way:
- Writing a book is hard work, but fun hard work.
- O’Reilly has been great…their publishing tools, their editors, everything about the process is top-notch.
- Writing a book about something is a great way to learn it. Really, really well.
As for the inevitable question…what animal are you going to get?…the answer is that the author doesn’t have much say in the matter. The art department picks an animal based on some kind of mysterious criteria (my editor quipped that they hold a seance), and unless the author has some kind of deep moral or religious objection to the animal (?), they get what they get.
Still, I can dream. Obviously, who wouldn’t want a Tarsier? Unfortunately, that bizarre animal was taken long ago. I can’t complain, though: it couldn’t have gone to a better title (in case you didn’t know, I’m a huge vi fan). Here are people’s suggestions, and my take on the likelihood of that choice:
- Steve Rosenbaum: baby olinguito. Not taken! Chances: good!
- Jamie Jeffers: liger, dingo, or sloth. Unfortunately, the liger is taken. However, the dingo and sloth are free! Chances: good!
- Meris Brown: fennec fox. Taken, unfortunately. Chances: poor.
- Del Olds: goblin shark or slow loris. Both free! Chances: good!
- Ian Kennelly: arctic tern. I knew nothing about this animal, but apparently, it’s totally awesome. Unfortunately, it’s taken. Chances: poor.
- Dean Gorman: owl. There are O’Reilly titles with the barred owl, generic owl, and owls (plural). However, there are still a lot of interesting owl species left. Chances: moderate.
- Carole Hardy: elephant. Taken, but by a book no one cares about anymore. Chances: moderate.
- Stephen Leineweber: Flipper. Surprisingly, the dolphin has not been taken yet. I’m not sure what the chances of getting a specific dolphin are, however. Chances: moderate.
- Tom Paul: harpy eagle. Nice pick, Tom! This is definitely the most badass animal on the list. Other titles have claimed the spotted eagle, crested eagle, white-tailed eagle, and short-toed eagle, so maybe there’s a chance! Cross your fingers for me. Chances: moderate.
- Dylan Hallstrom: Panthor. Once again, O’Reilly doesn’t usually go for specific animals (though they have ventured into fictional animals, so maybe there’s a chance). If I did have a say in the matter, this would be high on my list. Well done, Dylan. Chance: moderate.