Didn't work Wednesday: SimpleDB book

Though it was a lot of hard work, and took me way longer than it should have, getting the Pro Active Record book published was a lot of fun. And after a short break, I wanted to try and publish another book.

At that time, I bounced around a number of ideas with my contacts at both O'Reilly and Apress and through a series of conversations I had it narrowed down to two potential leads.

The first was an idea on ‘adding search to your site’, in which I would break down all the different options at the time for adding a search feature to your site. This would include things like Lucene, Solr, and even just pure DB and regex search.

My contacts at O'Reilly liked the idea enough to request I write a few sample chapters to flesh the idea out a bit more – they weren’t committed 100%, but it was looking good.

At the same time, I was also pitching the idea of covering 'key store databases’ to my contacts at Apress.

After a bit of back and forth on that front, we had narrowed it down to doing a dedicated book about either SimpleDB or MongoDB (it was early in the life of both and so it was *very* unclear as to which would be the bigger winner).

Of the two - I had only really used SimpleDB myself, and because it had the backing of Amazon, I felt like it at least had a more guaranteed to exist future (better for a book). So I said I would focus on SimpleDB – and they green lighted the project!

Since there was a green light from Apress and only a strong *maybe* from O'Reilly, I decided to table the search book idea and just focus on SimpleDB (even though I had *way* more domain experience and knowledge around the search topic)…and since writing a book is a massive undertaking, I got a friend of mine ( Tyler Frieling ) to agree to pitch in.

Over the next few months Tyler and I would spend countless hours researching, writing, and emailing drafts (and questions) back and forth around the topic of SimpleDB. On top of the technology being fairly new (and hence not documented that well), we were using Python 3 for all our example code because it’s suited well for print (and neither of us knew Python 3 that well at the time).

So it was filled with lots of interesting little challenges, and countless hours of frustration, but we were making progress little-by-little.

And yet, we never did end up actually publishing that book (or anything since)!


Well a number of things happend while we were writing it that ultimately made it not work out:

1. We took way too long to get a complete draft together (in fact we never got a complete draft together – we got about 75% complete). The tech was moving forward too fast, our learning curve, and most importantly our interest in the subject matter was not keeping up.

2. Apress underwent a large reorganization. The people assigned to our project changed a few times – this made it even easier to slip through the cracks on deadlines and accountability (and didn’t add to the passion for the project)

3. Tyler went through a job change that was exciting and challenging…so he really needed to focus on that opportunity (in fact, I haven’t connected with nearly as much as I should have since he made that change – a sad side note that reminds me I REALLY owe him a check-in!). 

4. We were never forced to sign contracts and never bothered to collect our advance. This probably sounds a bit crazy - but we weren’t writing the book for the direct cash (the advantage to writing a tech book is in the reputation and reach after the fact; not in the direct cash from sales). Again, a bit of a result of the reorganization within Apress, but we were able to slip through the cracks without having to be 'officially’ committed to do anything. Most people would view that as a problem, but we thought of it as freedom (we could get out of the project at any time if we wanted).

In the end since no money had exchanged hands and we were so far behind schedule (because we had lost passion for the project) - we decided to cancel the project (and Apress gave us no pushback about that decision from their end either).

Overall - this was probably a really good thing as fast forwarding to now, clearly MongoDB is the winner of the two (and personally I’m a MASSIVE fan of MongoDB – and haven’t used SimpleDB since I stopped writing about it [too expensive; too clunky; not a huge advantage over other options]).

Not being able to execute on that book (because of passion) caused me to fall out of love with the idea of publishing any other books as well (though I do still believe there is a market for a quality search book)…instead I shifted my energy and attention back into building real software and startups (and this was about the same time Twitter came onto the scene – so I had a shiny new toy to grab my attention in that realm anyway).

The funny thing is, since getting published, I have realized that I do like to write (hence this blog) and I haven’t entirely ruled out trying to get something else published down the road…but if/when I get around to trying that again, I’ll make sure it’s a topic I’m insanely passionate and knowledgable about…and it will likely not be a pure tech book (maybe more like something that helps bridge the gap between hardcore techie/programmer and 'regular’ people).

…and probably self-published in some way (maybe even via kickstarter)

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

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