To blog or to book? That is the question.


With all apologies to Shakespeare, I’m looking for a bit of input from those of you interested enough in setup to follow my blog.  There have been a number of cases where someone has suggested, "Rob, you should write a book about setup and the Windows Installer!"  Each time I was buried in coding projects (I honestly felt like I was doing the job of three developers some days.  It was awesome!) and wouldn’t even consider it.

Well, I’ve been approached about writing a book about the Windows Installer and setup again recently.  For some reason, this time I keep entertaining the idea.  I know Raymond Chen has said he would never write a book but my style of writing is very different from his and from what I’ve heard the world could do with another good book on setup (not that I can write a good book, but I could try).  I also know that Scott Mitchell has said you can’t get rich by writing a "computer trade" book but I’m not really looking to get rich by writing a book on setup. 

So why am I entertaining the idea of writing a book?  Well, let’s see if I can present these in order of importance.

1.  I have always wanted to write a book.  I enjoy writing (I actually enjoy communicating, writing happens to be one of the easiest ways to reach a larger audience) and think it would be incredibly satisfying to have published something.  Writing a book about something I know quite a bit about seems like the most reasonable way through what I’ve always heard described as a grueling process.

2.  I enjoy sharing the information that I’ve learned over the years.  I like to pretend that maybe my explanations and opinions about setup make someone’s life somewhere a little bit easier.  A book would potentially be able to reach a wider audience.

3.  Writing a book would force me to organize my thoughts and opinions.  I have a lot of ideas about what works when designing setup but I have never written them all down.  Often in discussions and presentations, I only remember some set of the rules.  A book could capture them all in one place.

Sounds good, eh?  So why not just go off and write the book?  Well, let’s see if I can present the reasons not to write a book in order of importance.

1.  Everyone says writing a book is a hard thing to do.  It is not just hard on you but the people around you.  That’s why authors always thank their loved ones in the acknowledgements.  I suppose I’d have to at least inform my friends and family before starting the book.

2.  I wonder if it would be better to spend my creative energy on improving the state of setup instead of just writing about it.  I am fortunately in a place where I hope to seriously improve the setup experience for developers and end users over the next few years.  So I have to consider if the extra hours spent working on a book would be better put towards designing new features and writing/debugging more code.

3.  Blogging would essentially halt.  This is the one issue that would affect you (the blog reader) most.  I would feel guilty writing words into blog entries when words should really be flowing into a book.  I’m not sure many people would miss me but from what I’ve read it seems like six to seven months to complete the book sounds very optimistic.  I wonder if they’d delete my blog if I didn’t post for a year?  Hmm.

That’s my current thinking.  If you have comments or suggestions, I’m very interested in hearing them so please leave some feedback.  If you don’t want to post publicly (for whatever reason), feel free to drop me a private comment.  In the mean time, keep coding, you know I am.

Comments (18)

  1. Vatsan says:

    It seems that profit is not one of your motives for writing a book – so why not write the book, get it published by MSPress, but make available a soft copy (.chm file, for instance) for free. It would just be like some of the Java series books from sun – available online and for download, and folks still like to buy the paper copy.

  2. John Cavnar-Johnson says:

    Blog your book. Post draft sections and solicit feedback. You’ll produce a better book and a better blog.

  3. Ornus says:

    How will a book writing affect you work on WiX? I guess you’ll have to stop with the project as well?

    Anyway, if writing a book appears to be such big project maybe you could consider starting an official column on Installer and write articles for it? Or is your blog as official as you would like such column to be?

  4. KC Lemson says:

    I enjoy writing as well, but the thought of writing a book makes me not enjoy writing anymore… I wrote a 200 page whitepaper a few years ago, pretty much the size of a small book. The actual authoring part was a blast, but come time for editing, I about lost it after the 1729th revision, even with Word’s excellent markup UI I just got sick of it.

  5. orcmid says:

    Hi Rob. I endorse the comments that are already here.

    My approach to this is to work my way toward the "book + CD-ROM" by beginning with documentation, tutorials, and even the sort of goodies that Raymond Chen blogs. Anything that helps you to field-trial your writing and develop small deliverable pieces, articles, etc., is what I look for to have some accomplishment and not be tied to the problems of delivering a complete book from the ground up. Also, there are some nice book developments that are done completely on-line and the published (print edition) book is an available bonus for people who like bound books. I think that is all worthwhile to consider.

  6. Couldn’t you use the blog as the place where you post your first, crude rough drafts of short chapter sections? That way you could get feedback, and the blog readers would be happy too. The book would still be different and polished enough for people to want it.

  7. Don’t do it.

    It’s *way* too much work – there’s better stuff to pour your energy into (e.g., code, blogs).

    The blogs and other community stuff is more valuable (in my opinion, anyway).

    I suppose you could organize your thinking in a Setup Wiki instead? Let’s you think about larger scale writing, but still can happen incrementally and with community engagement…

  8. Lonnie McCullough says:

    I think its a great idea. Setup is one of those things that you hack at until you finally get it right because all the docs are so dense you don’t know where to start. And since no one really understands setup you never know for certain that your installer is working. Having a book by someone who knows the technology intimately could only make the world a better place. Your blog is a great place to start and WiX provides a great framework for samples.

  9. Ron Green says:

    How would you differentiate your book from, say, Phil Wilson’s book, "The Definitive Guide to Windows Installer" that was just published?

  10. Tom Mertens says:

    Many of your blog posts contain really valuable information (think about the "Components 101", "Script in MSI", "Inside MSI", just to name a few). A blog also helps you "fighting the good fight for setup". On top of this, a blog can be written in a more informal manner than a book. I agree with some previous comments: if you really want to write that book, post your ideas and draft texts for chapters/topics on your blog. The questions and respons from the community could help you improve the book… I sincerely hope that you will keep blogging about the tremendously cool Windows Installer technology and WiX (perhaps about making dialogs in WiX ;)…

  11. Chui Tey says:

    JoelOnSoftware blogs and then turns into a book. It is cheaper in the long run, since you get to write interactively, and also build up a reputation.

  12. Steve Hicks says:

    Hi Rob,

    What about doing a real-time publishes type of thing.

    You could announce the book and your plans for it, chapters etc and then gradually release chapters as they are completed.

    You could continue to blog then and use material interchangebly.

    Of course the book would take longer and blogging might become slightly less frequent but it could be a good compromise.

    I agree with others that it should be published as a free electronic version aswell as a proper mspress book.

    I look forward to reading it 🙂

    Steve.

  13. Riko Eksteen says:

    Actually, I think I book would be a good idea. I’ve been working with MSI for over a year now, and there isn’t really any good book about MSI available – most are linked to third party technologies like Wise or InstallShield, and there are no books documenting the "philosophy of setup", something that is quite important imho.

    That said, the blog is invaluable at the moment, and documenting the progress here would be great.

  14. Craig Boland says:

    I think the book idea is a good one. What better way to spread the gospel of good deployment than to publish the Good Book! I think Rob’s perspective is more than a really good "How To", it’s more like the "zen of deployment". I’ll certainly miss the blogging, and hope that Rob will still blog with thoughts/commentary along the way, but what we gain in the form of the book will be worth more than what we lose in the form of blogs in the meantime.

  15. Why not blog the book?

    It may sound like a wierd idea, but if you are not looking to turn much of a profit, you coud put out the book in small, blog sized increments. Much in the same way that some web comics have made it into print form. MegaTokyo and MacHall are two that I know of.

    You would get lots of feedback during the process and we would all feel like we got to help as well as learn something. The book may take a litle longer to write, but I bet that it would be better then it would be by writting it in a more conventional manner.

    And to anticipate a question. Yes, I would still buy the real book. 😉 I still like to flip through pages, and I know that a lot of people feel the same way. For example, I bought the first MegaTokyo book and plan to buy the rest, and I have read every page online already.

    Oh, well. I will stop ranting now. And I look forward to reading your book or to continue reading your blog.

  16. Imagine a blog entry about my second full day at OSCON 2004 and meet several incredibly amazing people from the Open Source community.

  17. Imagine a blog entry where I discuss where I’m going after working on the SDM Platform team.

  18. Imagine a blog entry where I discuss where I’m going after working on the SDM Platform team.

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