I spent a few days during Christmas break to map out my 2019 – goals, dreams, hopes, ambitions, and fears. I also read – a lot. Perhaps not enough to claim I’m an avid reader, but enough to make my Kindle sweat when I download more books from Amazon. I love reading ebooks, printed books as well as whitepapers that I sometimes print myself. I’m terrible with audiobooks, as I seem to like the act of reading too much.
I’ve written 7 or maybe 8 books during my professional career. Admittedly, I should’ve and could’ve written thrice as many, but I was a slow starter. While getting my latest book ready for publishing in late 2017, I had a chance to talk about books and book publishing with several people in Europe and the US. This is one of the benefits of attending conferences either as an attendee or speaker – you get to meet people, and you always learn tons without realizing it at first.
Several people mentioned to me that there is no intrinsic value in writing books anymore. Not enough incentive to actually sit down and write for tens or hundreds of hours, and not enough audience to go through the painful and painstaking process of publishing. When would I casually mention that I was, actually, writing a technical book, I could see a bewildered look on their face, “wtf? why would you do that?” Apparently, everyone and their parents are reading blogs, tweets, or watching podcasts, and nobody reads anymore.
Well, you’re reading this now.
My point is, that writing a book seems to serve several purposes.
For me, these are:
- It forces me to research my subject matter and makes me better at what I do
- Writing something that is printed on dead trees forces me to avoid phrases like “last week when the new version was released” and hopefully makes the book more ageless and thus useful
- Books are better business cards than business cards
- I have to focus and concentrate on a singular topic and project for a longer time than putting together a podcast or a video – this hopefully produces more thought-out content and is more valuable
- Readers can more easily skip to the content they find most valuable and are not forced to suffer a long video with forced ads or skim the audio transcript for “the good bits.”
- There’s something to be said about a book that is concise, thoughtfully written, and goes straight to the point – as opposed to dozens of blog articles that regurgitate the same old stuff you’ve seen dozens of times. Not all books hit this mark, but many do.
Is writing books a valuable use of one’s time? Perhaps, but not always.
I’ve now started to write my next book, and I’m in the early planning stages of another book. Both hopefully out during 2019. I haven’t estimated the effort I need to put into these two books, but it’s probably around 300 hours each. That’s roughly 4-6 months per book.
Perhaps putting the same amount of effort into something else might yield more or better results. I’m not sure what that would be. For sure, it isn’t internal company blogs or Teams announcements as the audience is limited and often very narrow. Tweets seem like an interesting proposition, but I’m not fully sold on the usability of getting likes. Not much happens after the 100th, like on a tweet.
When I visit larger events and conferences, especially in the US, there’s often a small gadget and merchandise store for attendees. Typically on the expo floor. One of the busiest corners has always been the books section. Granted, these are often discounted so that it might explain some of the enthusiasm. But I fail to believe that people would buy a book to get an autograph from the author. For me, books offer a splendid way to digest a vast amount of information in a condensed format at my own pace.
So, next time you’re wondering whether you should buy, lend or download a book – do it.
We, the authors, thank you for that.
I work with Azure and frequently write about my experiences. I’m a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, ex-MSFT. Based in Helsinki, Finland.