business

I Quit My Book Contract

You have to know when to quit. That is what I told myself last week as I sent a email to my editor that effectively ended my book contract that I negotiated last year. The book that I had been planning toiling under for the past three months is now toast. Why?

The first red flag popped up in February when I wrote the post Should You Write a Tech Book? My intention for this post was to give a behind the scenes view on what it was like to get published by a major industry player. It was meant to be an exciting pseudo-narrative, the kind of post I personally eat up as a reader. What I ended up with was far from an exciting endorsement of the tech publishing industry. I could not find one truly positive thing to say about my experience publishing five books and working on a sixth.

In fact, in the post I recommend that you don’t try to publish a tech book. Yet, in March I continued on and got my first three chapters out to my publisher. I wrote before work. I wrote after work. I wrote on the weekends and during lunch. It was a grind.

During this I slowly realized that I didn’t believe in the project anymore. I realized that I myself would never buy a book like this and that this format was just really bad in terms of communicating code. Honestly, while there are some worthwhile tech books, most should not have been published.

I pushed through this resistance still, but as other projects began to suffer and as my personal life started to become neglected I kept going back to that article. Why was I really doing this project? By the end of March, the reason was simply because I had agreed to do it. But, it was clear that the book was just not worth my time. For all the reasons I outline in the article. No financial upside. No professional upside. And finally, the nail in the coffin: I don’t believe that it was a worthwhile project.

A Teachable Moment

You need to have the guts to make uncomfortable decisions in business, even if you are afraid that it will look bad. That is the teachable moment here. I knew by mid-March, deep inside, that I didn’t want to continue in this project but I was so afraid of looking like a failure that I kept on.

But, then I remembered that at one time, when I owned a business, that I had to make tough decisions every day. The bottom line is that this was my choice and mine to make. Decisive action is important. Continuing on in a bad project means that time and energy will not be used in a good project.

2 Comments

  • Emin Mehmet Yusuf

    Dear Mr. Campbell, I am sorry to read about your professional writing experience. I read / studied one of your books which I thoroughly enjoyed. In my humble belief it filled a very important niche. It was “Learn RStudio IDE: Quick, Effective, and Productive Data Science”. The book walked me through a large area and exposed me to a range of concepts which would maybe take me years to discover on my own. I did take extensive notes to make this journey easier for other readers. There were a number of errors that made progress not as easy at times. I would like to send these notes to you, that is if you are interested.
    I am sorry to write this note here, as I could not find an e-mail address for you, or for the book, nor a place to report for errata. Thank you for your work, and I wish the best for you.

    • Matt Campbell

      Thank you for that and I’m glad that the RStudio book helped you. If you have something already prepared that you would like to send you can send that to matt [at] mattjcamp.com. So but to be clear, I don’t have much control over that book at this point so it’s not likely that I would be able to publish any errata that you have found. This is part of what has frustrated me about publishing in the traditional sense – once you send off a draft your work is essentially out of your control. So, if you already had something feel free to send it along, but I would not invest more time into that work (unless it is to help your team). Thanks again for the comment.

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Matt is the author of five Apress books including Learn RStudio IDE, Quick, Effective, and Productive Data Science, Objective-C Recipes, Swift Quick Syntax Reference, Objective-C Quick Reference, and the upcoming Pro Data Visualization with R and JavaScript. He has over 20 years of experience in technology, psychometrics, and data analytics working in major higher education institutions such as The College Board and Educational Testing Service. He has earned a Master’s degree in Information Systems Management and a Bachelor’s degree in Quantitative Psychology.