Your Deadline Or Your Life

Computer book author Dave Prochnow rode out Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi and risked his family's life so he could FedEx a manuscript:

Getting to the highway involved doing things that you would never ever do with kids in a car -- driving off the road, driving through people's yards, and driving over power lines. Yes, we had to drive over power lines. Luckily at least one of them was dead -- that was the one that just touched our roof antenna. Gulp.

Generalizing wildly from his personal experience, Prochnow scolds the media for exaggerating the damage of the storm, telling people to "believe your own eyes, not the one-eyed, myopic media."

He's lucky to have survived two mistakes that often proven fatal: Riding out a strong hurricane and driving over power lines.

Rafe Colburn relates another story of people driving around in the eye of Hurricane Rita. Downed power lines are incredibly dangerous, carrying up to 26,000 volts of electricity.

One thing I tell people about computer book authors, after working in the profession for eight years, is that we're not always the most lucid people in the world. When you work alone on technical documentation in your home for years, getting a majority of your information and social companionship from talk radio and the Internet, you can easily reach a point where Travis Bickle starts to make a lot of sense.

Choosing to drive over power lines with your kids in the car, just so you make dead on PSP Hacks, Mods, and Expansions, may be the most insane decision to come from one of us since Ed Yourdon predicted the Y2K bug would cause the collapse of civilization.


I know from personal experience Dave Prochnow's plight. I made two abortive attempts to write computer books. In speaking with other computer book authors about how much money is at stake, I think that if Dave didn't risk life and limb, he would jeopardize the dozens of dollars he could see from an IT book.
I commend anyone who can publish an IT book.
On book #1, my editor dragged the project from 120,000 upto 200,000 words; stalled on payment and wanted to revise the outline AFTER the final manuscript was submitted. Later, the editor's successor said that based on the fab success of my first book with them, she wanted to talk about a second book. She was so screwed up, she didn't know that book #1 never made it print.
On book #2, my co-author faked cancer so that he wouldn't have to write his half of the book.
After that, I thought, "Forget this." If I had worked at McDonald's I would have earned more money.

I've heard lots of stories like that, but I have to say that my experience in computer book writing has been a good one. It did get pretty tough when the dot-com bust cut my sales in half and I couldn't take a break between books.

If you find a good editor and that person sticks around the publisher -- both rarities -- it's not a bad living. I got lucky having Mark Taber and Scott Meyers at Sams Publishing for more than a dozen books. I also have had a good experience recently doing a Movable Type book for Wiley.

It's not the voltage that kills you, it's the current. Of course, you're dead either way.

(Just thought we should get back to the subject of life-threatening situations, assuming that being a computer-book author is not one of them.)

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