Writing a technical book

This is a fairly concise collection on how to write a technical book. It may seem arrogant for a 1- book author like me to do so, but I get a lot of queries on this and it seems there is a fair amount of information asymmetry on this process.  I have experience with getting rejected and accepted in both creative and technology domains, but I will make this post fairly tech specific.

Books I have Written-(click on images to go to the book site)


Poetry (Self Published)

In Case I Don't See You Again
Corporate Poetry
Poets & Hackers (e-book)
Technology (Published )
R for Business Analytics
(Currently Writing)
R for Cloud Computing ( Springer) – Due 2013
R for Web Analytics and Social Media Analytics (Springer) – Due 2014
Top 5 Myths on Writing and Getting Published
  • Publishers dont like unsolicited manuscripts.

Well they don’t like unsolicited manuscripts from total unknowns. This is also very domain specific. If you are writing a novel, or a poetry book, or a technical book, approval rates will depend on current interest in that domain.

Advice– If you are first time author to be, choose your niche domain as one which you are passionate about and which has been generating some buzz lately. It could be Python, D3, R etc.

  • Publishers get all the money

No, they don’t make that much money compared to a Hollywood studio. Yes, books are expensive, but they basically are funding a whole supply chain that may or may not be efficient. Your book is subsidizing all the books that didn’t sell. Proof reading, and editing are not very glamorous jobs, but they take a long time, and are expensive. I have much more respect for editors now than say 3 years ago. The ultimate in supply chain efficiency would be if each and every hard copy was printed on demand, and each and every soft copy was priced efficiently given pricing elasticity. Pricing analytics on dynamic book pricing (like on Amazon)— hmm

  • Writers get all the money

You would be lucky to get more than 14% from a gross selling price of a hard copy or more than 40% of an electronic book. You want to make money, dont write technical books, write white papers and make webinars.

  • Writers get no money

You don’t make money by writing a technical book, but your branding does go up significantly, and you can now charge for training, webinars, talks, conferences, white papers, articles. These alternatives can help you survive.

  • I got a great idea- but I keep getting rejected. That guy had a lousy idea, but he keeps writing.

THAT guy wrote a great proposal, spent time building his brand, and wrote interesting stuff. Publishers like to sell books, not ideas.Writer jealousy and insecurity are part of the game – you have a limited amount of energy in a day- spend that writing or spend that reading. Ideally do both.

Book Publication

The book publication process has three parts-

1) Proposal

2) Manuscript

3) Editing

1) Proposal- Write an awesome proposal. Take tips from the publisher website. Choose which publisher is more interested in publishing the topic (hint- go to all the websites) . Those publisher websites confusing you yet- jump to the FAQ.

Some publishers I think relevant to technical books-




2) Manuscript- Write daily . 300 words. 300 times. Thats a manuscript. It is tough for people like us. Hemingway had  it easy. I used a Latex GUI called Lyx for writing http://www.lyx.org/. You may choose your own tool, style, time of day /night, cafe , room to spur your creative juices.

3) Editing- you will edit, chop, re edit and rewrite a book many times. It is ok. Make it readable is my advice. Try and think of a non technical person and try and explain your book to clear your ideas.

Once your proposal is accepted, you sign a contract for royalty and copyright.

Once the contract is signed you write the manuscript.This also involves a fair amount of research, citations, folder management , to keep your book figures, your citations ready. I generally write the citation then and there within the book, and then organize them later chapter by chapter. Un-cited work leads to charges of plagiarism which is the buzz kill for any author. Write, Cite, Rewrite.

You will also need to create index (can be done by software) so people can navigate the book better , and appendix for hiding all the stuff you couldn’t leave behind.

Once you submit the manuscript ,you choose the cover, discuss the rewrites with editor, edit the changes suggested, and resend the manuscript files, count till six months for publication. Send copies to people you like who can help spread the word on your book. Wait for reviews, engage with positivity with everyone, then wait for sales figures. Congrats- you are a writer now!




End of the year /world post

I was writing my end of 2012 post, but someone told me the world is also ending today. So here goes-

1) More than 175,000 views in 2012 meant Decisionstats.com chugged along nicely this year as well. That makes it 5 years of being a snarky,eccentric,niche analytics blog.  Happy Birthday to you and me.

2) Thanks to people who have sponsored the server costs in the past and currently – AsterData (2009-10), Predictive Analytics Conferences (currently) and Rapid Miner (currently). Please let me know if you want to sponsor your company in a banner ad. It helps with the server and coffee /tea costs a lot, and it keeps the nose slightly up of water. I changed servers from rackspace back to wordpress.com, and discontinued the newsletter services from the service provider because of tech issues.

3) I also managed to get the R for Business Analytics book out. After two years of telling people I am writing a book (like my family, friends, assorted pretty strangers in cafe, my ex-wife’s lawyers)- I managed to write it.

So You cant sponsor an ad . Buy the book. Support Decisionstats.com

4) Enough self noise. Lets talk analytics.

1) R did well. RStudio became the most happening R startup, hiring Hadley Wickham (Santa R Package) , and further consolidating their grip on the R Developer market (estimated 30 % of 2 million devs use it) and in a fitting launch , gave us Shiny to make R a true web apps platform. SAP Hana and Oracle R entered the R services too. Oh and Revolution Analytics changed the CEO (again) – but David Smith blogs on and on. it is easier to stay President of USA than remain CEO of Revolution Analytics

(He will kill my neck if he catches me with my wisecracks)

2) SAS did well. It stuck to its guns on concentrating on thought leadership in analytics, services and solutions aimed at customers. You cant stay in business in a technology area for 4 decades without developing some iron nerves and patience. Lots of bloggers tell them what to do. They dont just write blogs, they ship code.

3) IBM did well, and became bigger. The Big Data everyone mentions  is actually referring to number of zeroes that IBM spends on acquisitions. Seriously, dude. No – they continued to change their approach by making a complete eco system on this space.

4) Google did hmm okay. Kinda disappointing. Nothing blew up. No one sued them. Fined them. Same old boring Google, same great search engine. Some things didnt change (and shouldnt)

5) Facebook went for an IPO. People got screwed. No wonder some old people get scared of IPOs.

6) Social Media grew bigger. and bigger. Caused some arrests in India. But they remain a good source of Big Text Data that waits for someone to kick marketing ass with. The USA had its four year elections which is a big driver in social media noise for the rest of the Internet /Planet. Nothing changed actually. Same old hope and change stayed the top guy.

7) Anonymous hacked websites. Julian Assange dodged the police. Bradley Manning stayed in Jail. Cyber hactivism grew stronger.  No springs in Arabia. No spring in Africa. The digital divide exists, and human beings still starve as you read this on your tablet computer.

8) I discovered Louis Armstrong and Jazz. This probably doesnt count as a top ten update. But hurrah for writing my own blog.( and yes I wished I discovered Go Down Moses before)

Did you write your own blog in 2012. No? Hmm . There is your New Year Resolution for 2013.

9 )   M121221-154520-0ainstream  media hurts so much is the reason people read poetry and technology blogs

10) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We all need a break. Enjoy yours safely.

The second meetup for R New Delhi Users

The R Users of New Delhi met for the second time on Dec 15, 2012. We meet on the third Saturday of every month.


We talked on epidemiology using epi calc package  ( we have 1 doctor and 1 bio statistician) , and Cloud Computing ( we have two IT guys) and Business Analytics. We also discussed the GUI , R Commander , Rattle, and Deducer for beginners and people transitioning to R from other analytics software. We also discussed the R for SAS and SPSS Users books, and R for Data Mining Book. The free book for R for Epidemiology ( http://cran.r-project.org/doc/contrib/Epicalc_Book.pdf ) was mentioned . Not bad for 1 hour.

We are currently unfunded and unsponsored , I hope to get some sponsors to give away R books to encourage users and group members (excluding my own). The only catch to join this meetup group, you either need to attend (and be local) or present something ( if you are not in Delhi)2

I have been trying to get this group to go from Vector to Matrix to get a bigger sponsorship from Revolution , but I am constrained by meeting in a public cafe. That is due to change since we managed to get one sponsor for meeting place in Noida ( a Business School batchmate who owns his office)


Deadlines for applications are:

  • March 31, 2013 for Matrix and Array level groups.
  • September 30, 2013 for Vector level groups.

2013 Sponsorship Levels

The size of the annual grant depends on the size of your group.

Level For groups that are:  Requirements Annual Grant ($USD)
Vector Just getting started A group name, group webpage, and a focus on R. (Here are some tips on starting up a new R user group.) $100
Matrix Smaller but established 3 meetings in last 6 months with 30 attendees or more.  $500
Array Larger and groups  3 meetings in last 6 months with 60 attendees or more. $1000


WordPress.com changes Analytics

WP.com made a cool change to WP- Stats , its default analytics program, It now counts visitors as well as visits. This is especially useful to writers like me who like to customize content based on analytics ( GA Analytics does not work on WordPress.com hosted sites) and who dont want to bother with hosting /hacking (WP.com is much more hassle free than self-hosted , or even Rackspace hosted in my experience).

Of course the guy DOS-ing my poetry blog (via Yahoo Image Service) needs to use Tor to hide. Unless they dont want to hide and just want to click on my Roses poem 200 times (passing a subliminal message?) . Of course GA Analytics loves line charts and WP Stats loves Bar Charts, but we wont get into that.



Why Google will never be a monopoly?

1) It takes 5 seconds to switch your Search Engine Provider.

2) It consistently does not lock you with added services of its own (like Youtube runs on Iphones and Facebook and on Internet Explorer and so does the search engine  and so does Google Maps).

3) It has leveraged the maximum from goodwill from open source developers without investing too much money back into them Goodwill is precious and once you lose dev cred you lose it for some time (as some companies found out in the last decade).

4) It has very well funded rivals from MS, Oracle,and Apple and Facebook. That alone will guarantee competition more than any lawyer.

Some Google Strengths-

5) Its  portfolio remains under monetized  – that gives it plenty of flexibility. The following products are the best in class, and yet are mostly free for retail customers.

  •  Youtube
  • Gmail
  • Android
  • Google Maps
  • Chrome
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Docs/Drive

6) Its main product is free to use. You cant beat free. You can try. but cant.

7) It remains the prime source of CS/ Math/Stat related talent on this planet (remember Map Reduce paper). Only the NSA has more bad ass geeks.

8) It tries not to be evil. Mostly it is not evil. Sometimes the ads get irritating. But never evil.

Happy Holidays

Words-adapted from The Bible, book of Ecclesiastes
Music-Pete Seegerhappy-holidays

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to build up,a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

Try and learn R – for Free

A free online course on learning R ( sponsored by O Reilly)


Table of Contents

  1. R Syntax: A gentle introduction to R expressions, variables, and functions
  2. Vectors: Grouping values into vectors, then doing arithmetic and graphs with them
  3. Matrices: Creating and graphing two-dimensional data sets
  4. Summary Statistics: Calculating and plotting some basic statistics: mean, median, and standard deviation
  5. Factors: Creating and plotting categorized data
  6. Data Frames: Organizing values into data frames, loading frames from files and merging them
  7. Working With Real-World Data: Testing for correlation between data sets, linear models and installing additional packages

codeschool try R