Book Fair, 23 June 2018

I’ll be at the Scriptorium Book Fest in Troy, Michigan this coming Saturday. No, my name’s not on the official list there at the bottom, but I’m a late addition.

The Book Fest features a few dozen local authors, all of us available for discussion, photos, and general abuse. We’ll all have copies of our books.

If you’re in Metro Detroit, come by and find your new favorite book.

Now, back to writing git sync murder and FreeBSD Mastery: Jails

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 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.

My Penguicon 2018 Schedule

Putting everything together, this is what talks I’ll be in this year at Penguicon. All the slots are an hour long unless specified.


  • 5 PM: LN2 Ice Cream
  • 8 PM: The Internet Before the Web (panel)


  • 9 AM: BSD Operating Systems in 2018 (talk)
  • 10 AM: LN2 Purple Haze Ice Cream (2 hours)
  • Noon: Large Scale SSH: Keys and Certificates (talk)
  • 1 PM: Senior Sysadmin Panel
  • 3 PM: Writing Groups (panel)
  • 4 PM: Reading (in the Writer’s Block)
  • 6 PM: Writing Productivity (panel)
  • 7 PM: Critiquing without Alienating the Writer (panel)
  • 8 PM: Making a Living as a Midlist Writer


  • 11AM: LN2 Brunch Ice Cream
  • 2 PM: Social Media Marketing

    It appears that I’m a sysadmin for half the con, and then a writer for the other half. That’s just the way I like things.

    Also, I must commend this year’s Penguicon schedulers. For the first time ever, my talks do not overlap the LN2 ice cream sessions. This could not have been easy to achieve, and I sincerely appreciate their efforts to accommodate my personality defects quirks.

    See y’all four weekends from now!

  • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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 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.


    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.


    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?)


    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.


    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.