What follows is the most common flow of email conversations with readers. If you have a different question, you can ask in the comments in the bottom of this page. You could also try email, but I’m bad at email. Try Twitter instead, I’m much better in a quick format.
- You: You write good stuff.
Me: Thank you, I appreciate it. That’s always nice to hear. It’s awesome to know that my work helps other people. That thought keeps me going.
- You: When will your revise your tech book X?
Me: When I have sufficient time and attention.
- You: What are you writing now?
Me: Check the front page of my fiction or nonfiction site for my current project.
- You: Why do you still use a publisher? Authors no longer need middlemen between them and their audience.
Me: Different books need different support structures. I’m both self-published and traditionally published. I’ll use both again, depending on the book, the audience, and the business requirements.
- You: What do you think of your nonfiction publisher, No Starch Press?
Me:No Starch Press is the kind of publisher that existed before the big companies bought up the publishing industry. They’re small. They’re nimble. Every book receives the attention it needs to be successful. Any employee who lasts longer than 60 days is completely awesome. They are open to suggestions. Their contract is better than any other tech publisher contract I’ve ever seen, and their royalty rates are the best in the business (if you choose to receive high royalty rates, which you should–remember, advances are advances against expected royalties). They’re like a small brewery that’s been in existence for twenty years; they know their business and they still give a damn. If you want to write a technology book, I highly recommend them, even if you’ve never published a book before. And if you email me to ask “no, really, privately, just between us, what do you think?” I will refer you here. (Or just delete your email, because you’re obviously not listening to me.)
- You: What tools do you use to write?
Me: Microsoft Word. To format print books for self-publishing, I use InDesign. I format ebooks with Jutoh (nonfiction) and Vellum (fiction). My main desktop runs whatever I’m writing about, FreeBSD at the moment. I have a Windows laptop for InDesign and Microsoft Office.
- You: “Microsoft Office? InDesign?” Really?
Me: Yep. Many publishers, publishing tools, and self-pub platforms expect bug-for-bug compatibility with Microsoft Word. While LibreOffice is good enough for novels, using a product other than Word for complex documents gives iffy results.
Can LibreOffice produce a nice looking ebook? Sure.
Can LibreOffice produce a nice looking ebook that survives going through dozens of different ebook retailers in dozens of countries, many of them using back-end software that expects to see Microsoft-specific gunk somewhere in the file? Not reliably. And a 1% error rate means that I spend hours of my time troubleshooting an ebook problem that only shows up in one title for readers in Farawayistan. And then some other retailer changes their back end, and I do it all again. Worse, it’s work that I’m not interested in and don’t want to do.
With every title I publish, that risk increases. As of 2017, I self-published over 50 titles in print and ebook. That’s a whole different scale than the folks with a handful of titles or who only sell in a subset of stores.
Bug-for-bug compatibility with MS Word and InDesign are essential. I wish it wasn’t. But the business reality is, LibreOffice gets me reader complaints. Word doesn’t. LaTeX gives me interoperability problems. InDesign doesn’t.
- You: But LibreOffice/LaTeX/other free solution!
Me: Look, I’ve been doing this for over twenty years. I know this business and the technology. Do you think I like being stuck in Microsoft-Adobe Hell? And you know what makes it worse, is some random dude (because it’s always a man, always) on the Internet telling me I’m wrong. It’s like going up to one of the OpenBSD folks and questioning their basic commitment to secure software.
I use BSD as a desktop. No, not TrueOS, not macOS. Raw OpenBSD or FreeBSD. I can make LaTeX and LibreOffice work just fine. Other industry folks can’t work with it.
If I pointed you to this FAQ, it means: I am done being civil on this topic. Further discussion will be counterproductive. Please drop it before I block you, because not only do I lack time, energy, and desire to educate you on the elementary basics of my chosen profession, I also don’t owe you that explanation.
- You: What’s your secret to writing so many books in a year?
Me: The number of hours I spend at my desk, writing. That’s the entire secret. Also, you’re wrong.
I can write tech books at about 500 words per hour, and fiction at about 1000 words per hour. If I split working full time evenly between the two, I should have ten novels (1 million words) and ten Mastery (or two Absolute) books per year (500,000 words). But let’s be generous, and say self-employment sucks up half of my time, what with paperwork and doing my own book layouts and such. I’m still slow and lazy.
- You: Why aren’t your books in Kindle Unlimited?
Me: Because KU is an actively terrible business decision, unless you’re a short-term thinker. I will not participate in that program as it is structured now.
- You: Will you please call it GNU/Linux?
- You: Call it GNU/Linux or else!
Me: Fine. Do you prefer Debian Else, or Red Hat Else?
- You: Are you looking for work?
- You: Will you write something for me or my organization?
- You: Will you write something on topic X?
Me: Probably not.
- You: Any chance of a new Absolute OpenBSD?
Me: You’ll know I’m planning AO3e when I publish several small OpenBSD books in succession, much as I did with the FreeBSD Mastery books and AF3e.
- You: Why do you waste your time writing fiction, when I’ll pay you for your next tech book?
Me: I enjoy writing fiction. Why don’t you stop doing what you love in favor of things I’ll pay you for? Plus, when I write only nonfiction my writing speed drops precipitously. Switching between them keeps my mind relaxed and eager for work.
- You: Why do you waste your time writing tech books, when I’ll pay you for your next novel?
Me: I like eating, clean clothes, and heat in the winter. Should my novels take off and meet those needs, I’ll reconsider.
- You: What are you writing after the books you’ve announced?
Me: Whichever project looks most ripe when I’m ready to start.
- You: Do your books have DRM?
Me: No. Because DRM is stupid.
- You: Are you available to speak about our event?
Me: Maybe. It must be an event that interests me, meaning something in literature or open source technology. See my travel and conference policy for details.
- You: How can I get a signed book?
Me: By showing up at an event I’m at. I’m almost always at semibug, Penguicon, and BSDCan. Once or twice a year, MUG asks me to speak. Or you can hang around the Roseville, Michigan Costco for a couple weeks; I’ll probably show up.
- You: You sell ebooks directly, why not sell signed print books?
Me: Because that would take time and attention away from my writing. If I ever hit the point where I need to hire
a lickspittlean assistant, I’d reconsider. A real direct sales operation requires sales tax.
- You: Can I have an account on blackhelicopters.org?
Me: No. Blackhelicopters.org is my private playground and I make no guarantees about its uptime, downtime, or naptime.
- You: Can I have an account on michaelwlucas.com, michaelwarrenlucas.com, or mwl.io?
Me: No. These are my professional domain, and I treat it as such.
- You: What do you look like?
Me: This. For the record, that is my happy face.
- You: Please help me me promote my cool new project.
Me: My time is completely occupied doing things important to me. I have no spare capacity for new projects.
- You: Please help me promote my new commercial venture that competes with free software you’ve written about.
- You: Will you read something I wrote and tell me what you think?
- You: I have a great idea for a book! I’ll give you the idea, you can write the book, and we’ll split the money.
Me: I have an even more awesome idea! Keep your idea, write your own book, and keep all the money.
- You: I have a great idea for a book, but asking you to write it would be unfair. Would you co-author with me?
Me: Thanks, but no. I don’t play well with others, and I have all the work I can possibly handle right now. I tried this once. It turned into two books. They were excellent books, but very time-consuming.
- You: Will you write for free?
Me: Sure. Check out my blog, or my occasional bits for other sites such as undeadly.org or the FreeBSD Journal.
- You: No, I mean, will you write for me for free?
Me: No. I’m sorry, that’s weak. Hell, NO. Why would I write for anyone for free, when people are willing to pay me? If you think about asking anyway, go read my response letter and save me the trouble of deleting your mail.
- You: I’ll pay in advertising space?
Me: How about you pay me what you charge for that amount of advertising space?
- You: But I’ll pay in exposure!
Me: People die of exposure.
- You: Will you ghost-write/work for hire for my cool project?
- You: But I’ll pay you to ghost/WFH on my cool project!
Me: Not enough. Not nearly enough. As of 2017, you’d have to offer six figures for me to idly contemplate the idea before telling you no. I have more writing that I want to do than I have lifetime to write in, and writing your project would mean sacrificing something I want to work on.
- You: But money!
Me: If money was my goal, I’d be back as a full-time IT guy. I could triple my income with a phone call and get my choice of work conditions.
- You: But that’s not fair!
Me: Well, then, I guess it sucks to be you.
- You: Do you believe in ghosts?
- You: But you say elsewhere that you live in a haunted house!
Me: I used to live in a haunted house, but moved out. Not because of the ghosts, but because of the living.
- You: Will you write something about your haunted house?
Me: I have. Figuring out which tale is about the haunted house is your problem.
- You: What is your opinion on X?
Me: My opinions are my own. I publish those that I believe are both coherent and well thought out. I will not defend an opinion in email unless I have argued cogently for it elsewhere. And that argument will have to stand on its own. While I might publish a followup at some point, I will not defend my writing.
Oh, you literally mean X? It’s fine, if you have OpenBSD’s cwm(1). Avoid KDE, Gnome, FVWM, or other bloated window managers.