Tuesday, 21 August 18: me, on ed(1), at SemiBUG

The headline pretty much says it all, but:

Next Tuesday, I’ll be presenting on ed(1) at the SouthEast Michigan BSD User Group, semibug.org. 7 PM, Altair Engineering.

I doubt that any user group or conference will want me to show up to talk about ed(1), even though it is the standard text editor. So, this is probably your one and only chance to see this talk.

Second Editions versus the Publishing Business

I find myself with an extremely publishing-wonky moral dilemma, and want my readers’ opinions. My apologies for the length of this post.

Tech and academic publishers will frequently release a new and updated edition of a book simply to goose sales of the book. In college I bought three different versions of the same calculus book because they changed constants in the exercises. Calculus hadn’t changed, but the publisher gouged my wallet because they could. I had better use for that money, like getting desperately needed dental care.

Today I have my college degree, a bridge, and an assortment of fillings that rivals Jaws from 70s Bond flicks.

Second editions for the sake of second editions have a special place in my heart. A place with lots of flames, pitchforks, and high-power belt sanders applied to really delicate locations.

Second editions can be worthwhile and necessary, though.

I recently released a second edition of SSH Mastery. Unlike calculus, tech changes. The first edition contained actively incorrect information that would hurt people and dozens of minor flaws. It needed a polish. I’ve openly declared, repeatedly, that if you bought the first edition and kept up on changes in SSH, you don’t need to buy the second edition. Absolute FreeBSD is getting a new edition, eleven years after the previous edition. That’s too long, but life happens.

Similarly, TCP/IP Illustrated got a second edition. It needed one.

I’m finding myself in a moral quandry, though. One driven by publishing business.

My Tilted Windmill Press print books are available exclusively through Amazon’s CreateSpace print-on-demand program. This has been a potential problem for quite a while. I’m not a fan of monopoly or monopsony in my business dealings. The other major print on demand provider, IngramSpark, requires a publisher provide ISBNs. I deferred this purchase for several years, because ISBN pricing for US citizens is absurd.

Last December, I finally purchased a block of one thousand ISBNs so that I could use non-CreateSpace printers.

Ed Mastery and the new SSH Mastery were released on both CreateSpace and IngramSpark. FreeBSD Mastery: ZFS and FreeBSD Mastery: Advanced ZFS were re-issued under my own ISBNs and channeled through both printing services.

After a few months of sales data, I’m confident in saying that adding IngramSpark has increased book sales. I’m selling print books in Asia and Australia, which I’ve never done before. I expect to recoup my investment in ISBNs entirely in 2018, which is far ahead of my predictions. Cool.

Why did those sales increase? I’m considering this experimental evidence that CreateSpace’s non-Amazon distribution is not as good as one would hope. This is utterly unsurprising, as Amazon has repeatedly shown that they’re not interested in playing nicely with competitors.

The problem comes with changes in CreateSpace. Amazon is merging CS into their pure Amazon program, Kindle Desktop Publishing. Creditable industry scuttlebutt says that non-Amazon distribution will only get worse. It’s time to re-release all of the Tilted Windmill Press titles under new ISBNs. For most of the books, this only requires I take the time to assign ISBNs and make a couple minor changes in the

Some titles are troublesome, though. Specifically Networking for System Administrators, Tarsnap Mastery, Sudo Mastery, and DNSSEC Mastery.

I outsourced the design of these books. I used old ebook layout methods. The smart thing for me to do is insource all of them, redo the print layouts and covers, re-convert them to ebook, and reissue under new ISBNs.

But… all of these books contain nits.

DNSSEC Mastery covers DLV, which is no longer a thing, and the recommend algorithms have changed. Sudo development isn’t exactly breakneck, but there’s a couple new features that merit a nod in Sudo Mastery. Tarsnap Mastery specifically declares that there is no Tarsnap GUI. In the best tradition of tech publishing, the GUI came out right after I released the book. Networking for System Administrators, though… surely network principles are timeless? There’s stuff I would alter, add, and update. There’s always more to say about networking.

As long as I’m doing these reissues, shouldn’t I take a little time and update the text? It wouldn’t take terribly long, right?

Those updates would make the books second editions, though.

DNSSEC Mastery specifically says that DLV is going away, and to check for the current recommended algorithms. The Tarsnap GUI–well, frankly, who cares about that kind of error? “Oh, a GUI came out after the book was released? Cool, cool.” New sudo features? Sure, that’s life.

When I write my tech books, I do my best to future-proof them.

But if I don’t release second editions, then I’m reissuing books with known fixable warts.

I could put on the back cover: If you’ve read the first edition, and kept up with changes, you don’t need this second edition. My gut not only calls that lame, it does so in a loud taunting voice.

And I always try to play straight with my readers. Y’all bought me that bridge and those fillings.

So, what would you rather see? What makes sense to you?

Author Discoverability

I’m at BSDCan, so it’s a great time to talk about the discoverability aspect of being a writer. My goal is to make a living as a writer for the rest of my life. My literary craftsmanship affects that, but it’s not the biggest factor.

When you read a book, a couple things can happen. You might get quit reading partway through and forget about it. You might read the book, take what you need, and move on. Or, if the author twiddles your brain just right, you’ll track down everything else the author has written and buy it all.

As a matter of craft, I need to improve my writing so that it’s more likely that people who happen to encounter my books experience that addictive dopamine rush.

But as a business, that’s insufficient. Businesses can grow, stagnate, or wither. I can scrape by on stagnation, but eventually my current readers will die and my business will wither. Yes, yes, dead readers are a tragedy and I’ll mourn each and every one of you, but more importantly, they’ll interfere with paying my mortgage.

So I need to grow my business, which means expanding my readership.

Growth means exposing my work to new readers. Every reader exposed to my text risks experiencing that dopamine rush and suffering addiction. This is called “advertising.”

I appreciate all the folks who tell others about my work. Frankly, a person’s word to a friend is the most powerful advertising you can have. But in some ways, I’ve achieved market saturation. If you run a BSD, you’ve been exposed to my books. If you watch BSDNow, you know who I am. I’m grateful that Allan and Benedict admit that I exist.

Parts of the non-BSD world know I exist. Every time Julia Evans says something nice about me, I get a sales surge. NixCraft supports my work with reviews and public statements. These folks help pay my bills.

So, I know my work can generate appeal beyond my core BSD crowd.

I’m now looking for other podcasts to appear on, for both fiction and nonfiction. I’ll be on IT in the D on 30 July. A couple other podcasts are in discussion.

Ideally, though, a book sells itself. A book generates buzz. One book that “hits” drags in many new readers.

I’ve had a viral hit in the last twelve months. A book brought in more readers than any podcast I’ve been on. That book is, of course, Savaged by Systemd.

When something works? Do it again, but differently. Maybe as a dystopia rather than satire. And with blockchain instead of systemd.

In unrelated news: I’m a bad person, and I should feel bad.

“FreeBSD Mastery: Jails” Sponsorships, and writing schedule changes

I’ve been scurrying to finish git sync murder, the sequel to git commit murder, so I could have it at BSDCan.

This isn’t going to happen. If I’d been writing anything else it would have been done, but the numbers show that cozy mystery is not my natural form. Most of the time I top out at about 500 words per hour, as opposed to the 1000 wph I achieve writing fiction involving flamethrowers and bare-knuckled amateur dentistry.

For the record, I’m fine with the speed. Quality beats speed any day.

I’m therefore falling back to my usual writing schedule: 1.5-2 hours per day on fiction, and the rest on nonfiction.

Per my 2018 schedule, it’s time to start writing FreeBSD Mastery: Jails. I’ve been idly assembling the parts over the last couple of months.

For you folks who said you wanted to sponsor it: have your choice of ebook or print.

Depending on how this book comes out, I might do a second jails book. Print sponsors of this book will have the option to sponsor the second book at a reduced rate. Those who sponsor both will get special jail-themed recognition. It’ll completely depend on how complex the book is.

The goal is always the best book.

New talks, and the F-bomb

The video from my recent mug.org visit is now online. It’s my ZFS introduction, as well as a brief talk about Ed Mastery.

I had originally planned a talk about ed(1), but the ZFS talk went too long. (That first speaker was a real blabbermouth.) Instead, they asked me to talk about why the book was a secret, how I arranged sponsorship for that book, and how the various versions of that book came to be.

This talk is a little rough, because I wasn’t prepared to give it. I completely winged the whole thing.

It’s also the first talk where I drop the F-bomb, live and on camera. Because I have to rehearse my talks beforehand if I want to eliminate the cussing.

My talk from BSDCan 2017, on the OpenBSD Web Stack, is now live. It appeared a couple of weeks ago, but I only found it now.

I’ve updated my YouTube playlist with all of these, as well as a couple older talks I missed and a BSDNow interview.

Too Subtle for my Own Good

It turns out that part of my April Fool’s book release failed. More than one person has commented on the excoriating review of Ed Mastery posted on Dan Langille’s blog.

People missed the italicized text at the top:

Here’s a guest post by Michael W Lucas.

I wrote this review.

Of my own book.

Ripping it apart as a terrible idea, and myself as a terrible author.

Of all the parts of the Ed Mastery release that could be taken as a prank, this was the most prankish. I thought it was obvious.

The failure of a prank goes on the prankster. Live and learn.

Now, back to writing “git sync murder…”

“Ed Mastery” follow-up

Yesterday I released #mwlSecretBook: Ed Mastery.

April first is the perfect day to release such a book. I wrote a nice release announcement and everything.

Now that April Fool’s is over I should probably say: this is a real book. It exists. You can buy it.

The Manly McManface edition? Yep, that exists. It is a real thing. To my surprise, people have bought it.

The release announcement? Completely sincere.

While I normally don’t solicit release day reviews, this time I did. Because if I’m releasing a book on ed, on 1 April, I want it to make a splash. There’s a lovely review from NixCraft. Peter Hansteen and Justin Sherrill gave their thoughts. Print sponsor Stefan Johnson also wrote a review, but I didn’t arrange that in advance; he just liked the book. In the interest of fairness, I should also point out this scathing review that appeared as a guest post on Dan Langille’s blog. (I know that last guy. He’s been trying to get me to play in freeway traffic for years.)

Since releasing that book, a few men have contacted me saying that while they usually like my work, the existence of the Manly McManface edition has prompted them to donate to men’s rights organizations. A few have declared that they pirated the book and then donated to said MRA organizations. To them I say:

Thank you for demonstrating my point. The Manly McManface edition was created just for you.

For 1 April: #mwlSecretBook reveal!

So, I wrote a book. And I didn’t tell people what it is.

The book is now out. You can buy it.

And it has an authentic, legit blurb from Ken Thompson, co-creator of Unix.

Explaining why I did it this way takes a little bit of context.

First:

People have sent me all kinds of guesses for the book topic. Some of you have guessed correctly. I haven’t told anyone that they’re correct, though. You people are perfectly capable of launching a dictionary attack on me, so the only answer I could give is “no.”

Mind you, some of those “nos” have been carefully phrased so that you’d interpret them as a “no,” when really they’re a “maaaaybe” or even a “yes, but I’m not going to admit it.” If someone guessed correctly I used answers like “I wish,” the unspoken second half is “and I’m self-publishing, so I have the power to make my wishes come true.” Or perhaps “I long to one day be sufficiently knowledgeable to write this book.” Technically accurate but certainly misleading statements.

I’m prepared to hide wildly behind those technicalities.

Second:

I’ve thought for a while that there’s space in the market for even smaller books than my usual Mastery titles. This is a test run of producing such a book. It’s half the size of my sudo, Tarsnap, and DNSSEC books for a reason. It’s also less expensive.

Third:

As I was writing up my 2017 year-end review I realized that the next book I wrote would be the 13th Mastery book. 13 is my lucky number, because what other number could be? I’d like to write four tech books this year, so that’s one every three months.

Looking at the calendar, I realized that quarterly releases would put me at April First.

Could I write and release the 13th Mastery book as an April Fool’s prank?

Except have it not be a prank? Have it be a serious tech book, on a real program, that solves actual problems in the real world?

Maybe.

Maybe I could. Three months for writing, tech review, copyedit, and production is danged aggressive, but it should be doable. And nothing concentrates my mind like an unbreakable deadline and the looming possibility of public humiliation.

I warned the sponsors. Dozens of you sponsored anyway. I’m torn between apologizing and posting an “I told you so” GIF.

Fourth:

Every so often, I get a cluster of emails complaining about my using both male and female third person pronouns in my tech books. Either women don’t belong in tech, or shouldn’t be in tech. A few offer arguments that “he” is gender-neutral in English. All of these emails include misogynistic statements of one form or another.

These emails arrive in groups. I hear nothing for months, and then four or five appear in the space of twenty-four hours. I suspect that my work comes up on some MRA message board or IRC channel and a few of the people hanging out there decide to present their case.

Overwhelmingly, these messages display the combination of sloppy logic and total lack of understanding of human nature that seems to be a hallmark of a certain fringe of techies. Indeed, they show a failure to understand what it means to be human, or what it means to live in a liberal society.

I delete these messages as soon as I realize what they’re about. Most often, I don’t make it past the first paragraph. (Many times the email is thousands of words in a single paragraph, and I wouldn’t finish reading that anyway.) I do offer an answer in my blog, but this project game me an opportunity to respond more… usefully.

So, for the record: I mix male and female pronouns for a reason. Women are a thing.

I also use the singular they. It’s been valid since Shakespeare’s day, and it’s a pronoun for some people. If you think the singular they is ruining our language, you’re wrong; English was ruined long before you or I got here. (It’s fine for you to not like that pronoun, but that’s your taste. I write my books to my taste. My taste includes the panoramic, painful panoply of our abominable tongue.)

If we had different pronouns for different races, I’d use them.

If we had different pronouns for different faiths, I’d use them too.

Tech is a diverse field and needs to become more diverse. Doing otherwise is disrespectful, dehumanizing, and a shameful waste of human potential. (Go read your Adam Smith, and not just the libertarian-friendly bits about the awesomeness of the free market.)

Everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in books. When writing fiction I work to make my female characters just as utterly screwed-up or as completely pig-headed and smart as my male characters. I can’t imagine doing otherwise in nonfiction.

Does this make me a feminist? To the people who write these emails, certainly. But a proper feminist would hear me saying “women are a thing” and tell me that “women are not things.” Like “firewall,” I’m not sure what the word “feminist” means today. I want to see female schmucks promoted just as quickly as male schmucks. I want everybody, including women, to no longer need to fear verbal or physical assault. If that’s your definition of feminist, fine, slap it on me. I’m gonna keep doing my thing.

Fifth:

Writing is a business.

I’m a businessman.

And if there’s a market, I should serve it.

#mwlSecretBook comes in two editions. They’re differentiated by third person singular pronouns. Any third person singular pronouns that appear in the standard edition, for normal people, are feminine. Any third person singular pronouns in the special “Manly McManface” edition are masculine. That’s a much smaller market, however, so the Manly McManface edition is much more expensive, because economics.

(Remember, book 13. 1 April. When else could I do this?)

Sixth:

Soroptimist International of Grosse Pointe does a lot of work in the Detroit area. They raise money for women’s scholarships. They fight human trafficking. They support domestic violence shelters that help hundreds of women a year. My wife is a member. These ladies work damn hard.

For each copy of the Manly McManface edition sold, print or ebook, I will donate one dollar to SIGP.

Should you buy that expensive edition to make me donate money? Nah. It’s more effective for you to donate directly. You should only buy that edition if you’re too weak to tolerate women existing in your life.

Seventh:

Presented for your consideration, at long last: (drum roll) (more drum roll) (eye roll) (blare of trumpets) #mwlSecretBook! (fireworks) (children’s chorus) (shrieks of disappointment)

It’s available in ebook as I publish this blog post. Print will be coming in the next couple of days.

PS: I moderate comments with a heavy hand. If you’re offended that I created a book just for you, chances are I’ll either delete your comment or mock you.

On Sponsor Gifts

(Posted so I can refer to it later.)

Last week, Liz and I converted this:

into this:

Note the little stack of customs forms off to the side. It’s like I’ve learned a lesson from standing at the post office counter filling out those stupid forms. Sponsors should get their books soon.

This seems like an apropos moment to talk about what I do for print sponsors. I say I send them “a gift,” but what does that really mean? The obvious thing to ship them is a copy of the book I’ve written. Flat-out selling print books online has tax implications, though.

Sponsors might have guessed that they’d get a copy of the book. But I shipped them the hardcover, which isn’t my usual practice.

That’s because I send sponsors a gift. As it’s a gift, I get to choose what I send. I want to send them something nice, to encourage them to sponsor another book. It makes no sense for me to send a sponsor a Singing Wedgie-O-Gram. (Well, maybe a couple sponsors. You know who you are.)

The poor bastards who bought into my scam–er, sponsored my untitled book–have no idea what’s coming. As of right now, their sensible guesses are woefully incomplete.

Future books? They might get a copy of the book. They might get book plus something. They might just get the something. Folks who sponsor the jails book might get a cake with a file in it. Who knows?

It’s a gift. It’s my job to make that gift worthwhile.

And to amuse myself. Because otherwise, what’s the point?

“SSH Mastery, 2nd ed” in hardcover

I’ve been publishing books for about a quarter century now. At long last, one of my books is out in hardcover. With a dust jacket and everything. Introducing the newest version of SSH Mastery.

Why produce this book in hardcover?

First, because I need to know how to do it. Self-pub hardcover books are a different beast than paperbacks. One day I’ll have a serious need for hardcovers. That’s not the time to learn how to create them. I’ll need those skills in advance.

And second, because I wanted to. Because how cool is this?

Hardcovers are not cheap. This book retails for $39.99. Much like paperback print on demand, I expect the price to drop with time.

In theory, the hardcover will withstand more abuse than a paperback. I love theories. They make spending forty bucks on a book you can get for ten in ebook sound sensible.

I’ve ordered a case of hardbacks, as gifts for the fine folks who sponsored this book.

Also, this book uses my own ISBN, 978-1-64235-022-7. As I have very few combination book nerd/tech nerd readers, let me explain the joke: this is ISBN 22 out of my block of 1000, 978-1-64235-022-7. You have my permission to roll your eyes now.

As I don’t expect anyone to actually purchase the hardcover edition, I let myself have fun with it. The dust jacket is very BOFH, and contains Extra Rat.