“Microsoft is having released .NET to developrs [sic].” (The [sic] here indicates an intentional misspelling).
A manila folder stuffed with roughly 300 pages of 8 1/2 x 11 paper printed single-side containing the manuscript for this book arrived at my office. I had been contacted to review an upcoming ASP.NET title, and the book had arrived. I was expecting a hardcopy of the book, as the editor indicated the book had already gone to press. Maybe the printers just weren’t finished yet.
The preface for the book notes that the content is intended for intermediate developers with moderate experience in .NET. Familiarity is assumed, but not required; programming basics would not be covered within these pages. The typical instructions on how to read a book were also included in the preface. Great, I would never figure that out on my own… I am glad they used 10 pages to explain this.
Where to begin? Do I look immediately for the references and see what kind of material the authors drew from? I thumbed through the pages… no noticeable references anywhere. I skipped to the table of contents to see what kind of material I would be reviewing. The outline looks similar to the 10 or so other ASP.NET titles I own, they seem to have hit the high points. Let’s just start with Chapter One.
The very first sentence of the book had a misspelled word. Not that you would have noticed the misspelled word: the grammar was comical. The very first sentence of this post reflects what I read. The line above is not a direct quote, but is close enough to protect the innocent.
What a first impression that left on me. I could not get past the first line of text without having an opinion formed about the rest of the book. I reiterate that this book was already at the printers’ press. The editor obviously had more pressing issues with this title to let spelling and grammar mistakes of this magnitude slip through. If the editor was already that overworked, this book is surely doomed.
The rest of the chapter flowed similar to the first sentence. For that matter, the entire book (save for two chapters) seemed as though all of the authors simply started writing, hoping the finished product would form a cohesive outline as the process evolved. Though some of the chapters had gone through Word’s spelling and grammar checkers, it was obvious which chapters had not gotten a second review from a disinterested second party yet. The most horrific part of the book, though, was Chapter One.
This is a disturbing trend that I notice in more technical titles these days. Chapter One seems to be the throw-away chapter, as if the authors were obligated by the publisher to include some introductory material without a clear vision of what the rest of the book is about. At its least, Chapter One should lay the groundwork for the rest of the book, giving reason why this book matters and, more importantly, should help guide the reader through the book’s content. At its best, Chapter One should introduce material so concisely and cleanly that the reader is compelled to continue to chapter two.
Very few books I have read lately have that type of impact on me. I browse through chapter one, notice nothing outstanding, and skim through chapter two or three. Sadly, many titles don’t seem to catch their stride until past the middle of the book, when the author finally becomes interested in the material they are writing about. This seems to be most noticeable with Wrox books: the beginning chapters seem rote discussions from MSDN listings, the latter chapters finally lend insight. Some publishers have almost completely avoided this phenomenon, such as Addison Wesley.
Maybe this is a result of the fact that technical authoring simply doesn’t pay much. Authors write their first book and are hit with the reality that not every book is a best seller. Maybe it is attributable to the amount of writing we were (or were not) forced to do in high school. Maybe it is indicative that many authors’ interests and skills lie in writing software and not documentation.
The real question, then, is how the publishers allow sub-par content through? How do they simply assign one technical reviewer and one copy editor and expect a quality book from a team of 5,6,7 or more authors? How does an editor not review the content?
As .NET ages, we are sure to see titles that are a much higher quality than the initial flurry of books released with Beta 2 and release 1. And I am looking forward to that.