Published vs Self-Published

Dear all,

I was approached by a publisher who wants to “take over” my Erlang/Elixir book and while making a decision I would like to ask the following questions:

  • Is it important for developers to have a printed book - even if it is quickly outdated in our fast moving technical world?
  • If you would likely buy a printed book, are you happy with black and white listings and images or would you prefer colored ones like in an ebook?
  • More generally, do you think/feel a published book is of better quality than a self-published book?

Thanks for all the answers in advance!



Hello :slight_smile:
Firstly, thanks for the educational input for erlang/elixir newcomers, developers and everyone else!
Speaking my personal opinion from a perspective of a student.

  1. I have couple of printed books, and perhaps for someone with permanent place to live it’s nice to own and collect books for personal bookshelf, but for me they’re just weight (but i sill love 'em and have to carry with me anywhere i move :smiley: ) . All in all, digital version is a must have for me.
  2. I have a stereotype that if a book is available online for free (and perhaps has a printed version which is not free) this is a self-published book for me. Free and quality knowledge - I’m definitely biased towards it and think that is what i call better quality.

Sorry for kinda vague response and may be i’m even not in your TA… :confused:
Still, good luck with your decision!

I don’t really care if book is self published or not. I don’t buy printed books no more, but only because I enjoy having kindle in my backpack than few Kg of books. B&W images are Ok, but still i prefer listings with keywords etc. in different colors.

The most crucial part for book is a good editor. Editor is like 50% of book success. Editor that has no trouble with telling the author that some parts of books might be incomprehensible or plain boring to part of the audience. A good book will pull in reader. I as a reader want to carve for next chapter, I want to be interested enough to experiment on my own and search internet to understand better whats under the hood, although it’s not needed for my day to day work. And with a good Editor you as an Author have much greater chance to achieve that. And… most self-published books don’t have good editors :frowning: (Most, not all)

  1. Not anymore, I don’t buy them. I have a use for a few of them (they sit below my monitor moving it up) but I never open them anymore.
  2. No. I don’t think they are. Quite paradox is that I am more eager to buy self-published book, but generally the publishers bring great value in form of text corrections I think. Some self-published books (from my friends for Arkency are good example) are great content but the form/language makes them totally painful to read. This rarely happens with books published by a publishing house.

Generally the books I am most happy with are:

  • published as e-book
  • with optional option to get printed copy
  • with option to download updates

the last point is very important for me. I mean the updates as in “for elixri 1.0” -> “for elixir 1.1” -> “for elixir 1.3” -> “for elixir 3.0”. I hate to pay multiple times for virtually the same book that only had minor updates.

Firstly, well done!!

Is it important for developers to have a printed book - even if it is quickly outdated in our fast moving technical world?

For me, no - I read all of my books on the Kindle now.

More generally, do you think/feel a published book is of better quality than a self-published book?

Usually, yes. Professionally editing and guidance can make a huge difference.

For you I would want to know:

  • Who is the publisher? (Some I would be more inclined to go with than others)
  • What are they offering? (Will they go through the book and edit?)

If it’s a respected tech publisher and they will help professionally edit the content then I think it makes a lot of sense. I feel you will sell a lot more via such a publisher than going alone :slight_smile:


I have no experience with publishing process itself, so I can only speak from a reader’s / developer’s perspective.

I do not use printed books to learn programming anymore. As you’ve mentioned, they do get quickly outdated and using online ‘erratas’ in case of errors in paper versions is something especially painful for me :wink: So I definitely care more for an e-book that may be easily updated. Also it is nice to have access to free updates for minor changes and at least a nice discount for new editions.

As for b&w vs. color, it really annoys me when grayscale printscreens of poor quality are used to ilustrate some concepts (this is also something I encountered only in old printed versions). I think colored high-quality illustrations and code listings are the way to go, especially in an e-book where one can zoom-in for finer details.

Congratulations on your book and good luck with publishing :slight_smile:

I don’t use printed books anymore.

Me ebooks sites:

I like updates for free :slight_smile:
I like colors specially for code - syntax highlighting . Example

For self-publish check

  1. I’m the strange one. I like printed books, especially technical books. The only thing preventing me from purchasing your book is that I can’t get a hard copy. If I can I must have missed it, please link :slight_smile: Sure printed books go out of date, but by the time they do I’m either heavily involved in the community and get my updates from the source or I have forgotten about it.

  2. Black and white is perfectly fine for a technical book.

  3. I judge books solely on their topic and how well reviewed they are. The publisher does not make a difference to me.


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I have only got E-Books for the past… probably two decades now (yes they existed back then), but I still have a large book shelf with a few hundred books of various material, but none that I’ve bought for a long long time now. My E-Book ‘collection’ is quite extensive though. ^.^

However, an editor to review can be worth it. But giving up a lot of rights to your book just to get it physical, eh I’m unsure about that one…

  1. Hire a freelance editor for quality.
  2. Publish your book online via something like Leanpub.
  3. Use a ‘Print on Demand’ service, like Blurb, for those people who want physical books.

The benefit of this method is that people don’t need to wait for a “second edition”. They can just print, on demand, the latest version at any time. Also, you would keep all rights.

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I don’t have experience in self-publishing, but based on my single stunt with Manning, I have a strong feeling that EiA is much better book due to their involvement.

In particular, Manning provided great editors, reviewers, copywriters, and proofers, and all of these people caught many issues at different levels. With self publishing you either need to hire these people, or otherwise try to do the job yourself. Therefore it’s more likely that (all other things being equal), a self-published book will to some extent be of lesser quality. However, if you are able to find good editors and reviewers, that doesn’t have to be the case.

Another possible benefit is that a publisher might give the book a wider visibility. Also, I feel that some people are likely to buy a book from a respected publisher, than from a lesser known author, because a publisher maintains a certain quality standard.

As a downside, if you sign with the publisher, you might end up losing the ownership of the work. In other words, the script now belongs to the publisher, and if at some point you want to leave, they can carry on without you.

They also have a big influence on how the content has to look like. You still get a lot of freedom, but not 100% you’d have if you were self-publishing.

Another possible downside is tooling. If the internal toolchain of the publisher is bad (perhaps because of legacy reasons), then it becomes harder write the book and to update it later. Manning used to be notorious for that. It’s been more than a year since I worked with them, so maybe something has improved, although I have some doubts :slight_smile: Also, when it comes to Manning - due to their toolchain, syntax highlighting was not possible at the time I was writing the book. So that’s another possible issue (depending on the publisher of course).

And of course, a publisher will take some cut of sales, possibly way more than 50%.

So there are pros/cons for both approaches. I’m personally very happy that I’ve done my first book for Manning. The product is much better owing to their involvement, and I’d recommend anyone to write the first book for some publisher. That being said, if I’m ever going to write another book, I’ll strongly consider self-publishing it. It will require more work, and some financial investment, but I feel the final product could be better, I would have a full creative control over it, and I’d end up owning the product completely.


I really hope you would consider writing another book and/or doing a video series, I think crowdfunding is a very strong option in your case too so no financial investment would be needed :).

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Aside from PragProg, I haven’t seen a publisher that makes it easy to update books/ebooks for new syntax or breaking changes in the language. If you self published or did LeanPub, it would be extremely easy to update, which I find is an important part of programming books.

I read ebooks whenever possible, but this only works for books that are read ftom back-to-back. Most technical books are supposed to (also) work as a reference. Ebooks are hard to use as a reference as you can only ever see one page at a time, and scrolling back-and-forth is usually difficult.

I love papper references. In my opinion, black-and-white is completely acceptable, as long as the images in the book were black-and-white from the get-go; changing a colour image to greyscale frequently makes it hard to read or understand because multiple hues become the same shade of grey.

Do you mean reading them in a Kindle or similar? If so, I agree. That said, I only read ebooks in PDF format—I hate EPUB and MOBI. As long as the PDF is well formatted, I can jump through sections pretty quickly, though I’ll admit I don’t use books as references very often—I write down notes and use docs more than I revisit books.

Yeah I do not read from any apps or such annoyances, my preferred ‘ebook’ format is HTML, with links, images, and everything perfectly (sadly few ebooks have been released so well made as this…). Otherwise I use pdf with split-views and lots of Ctrl+F’ing if the need arises.

FWIW the default version of reading in LeanPub is a webpage you can search in/interact like usual.

I read pretty much everything on the Kindle - e-ink devices are much better/easier to read on than ‘retina burning’ LCD screens. Flicker at 60hz while not obvious to the eye, is fatiguing to the brain as well.

I highly recommend a Kindle :003:

Also a quick note for those who use ‘daytime/nighttime’ apps that change the hue of your screen at different times of the day - ditch them! Instead, turn the brightness (not contrast) down on your monitor or better still get your screen calibrated. Brightness is often turned high for screens to look good in stores and impress people. Your eyes will thank you for turning it down!

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Hear hear, this is why I use a nice glowing plasma screen. TFT LCD’s are not clear at all to me, though I hear they are better now, I still prefer my plasma screen. ^.^

And I do actually have an E-Ink device at home, one of those newer Nook things, remarkably clear and its battery life is outstanding (it is recharged every few weeks), but still not would I would use for tech docs since when I read those I am programming at the same time to give things a try. :wink:

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Plasmas were great (tho still not good for long use/reading - the brightness remember! But still better than LCDs).

I love my Kindle - I’m usually reading on my bed and have my laptop handy in case I want to try something out or want to see a code example on a bigger screen. I would argue you are more likely to absorb material on a Kindle than an LCD screen too - because your brain doesn’t have to work so hard.

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