My friends Linda and Ken from the Microsoft Press team presented a lunch session at TechEd on How to Become a Technical Author. For those of you with technical authoring aspirations but unable to attend said session, I'm poasting a somewhat unreliable mini-summary here. Ken agreed to host a Live Meeting version of the whole session in coming months, so watch for registration info--his presentation in person is mass better than my blogged-paraphrasing of what he told me on the TechEd shuttle back to the hotel.

Books are popular--and someone has to write them. A quarter billion in revenue from computer trade books in US alone last year. Even if things are moving online--books still need authors... Do these things, if you're interested in writing technical books. Ken pointed out that their talk wasn't just about Microsoft Press--these tips are good across the industry:

  1. Get some visibility. Visibility/reputation in target community = a plus in authors. Good ways to do this are via community activities i.e. blogs <FYI, I have no aspirations to technical authoring. I'm just, um, blogging.>, posting in forums, presenting, websites...Many of the Microsoft Press authors are MCPs, MVPs, very involved types.
  2. Beef up your writing. "It's a marathon, not a sprint!" Start out where you can to get some writing experience, such as computer trade magazines. Ken pointed out that pretty much every recent magazine contains at least one article penned by a Microsoft Press author. I noticed that MSDN and TechNet hosted a session on authoring articles - maybe that is a good place to start. Here is their Q&A.
  3. Come up with an idea. This is not the publisher's job, it's yours! (Sometimes publishers do start with an idea and then find the author--but in those cases they go to their known experts and proven authors, so don't expect that out of the gate.) The publisher will: a) want to hear your idea, b) will want to know what other books are already out there on the subject, and, c) if so, what makes your idea different. Do run your idea past your publisher before spending time on your proposal... for Microsoft Press you would send an e-mail.
  4. Write an exceptional proposal. Per Ken, this is where you really invest your time. it is like your job interview or audition. It is a lot of work, but without it, your great idea probably won't get very far. Check out the Microsoft Press proposal guidelines to see what is involved.

There might be more to the presentation, but we got off the shuttle at point #4, and so ends my mini-summary. I'll try and get their PPT to share, and will poast registration info for the Live Meeting as soon as I have it.

More about Ken: I lost my glasses and Ken tried to help me find them. We walked all over the conference center after things shut down on Thursday night- registration desk, info desk, security booth, brown cardboard box in security lunchroom.... Though we were unsuccessful, we did get to check out the conference center behind the scenes. I couldn't see what was happening, of course, but I bet it was cool. Also, it sounds like Hunter had an interesting talk with Ken about the future of press books. Check it.