How I got into the writing business, part 2

In part 1, I started talking about how I got into the writing business. Part 1 ended with me having written a couple of non-Windows-related books (including this) and contributing to several Windows-oriented books (like this). I began to wonder if it made sense for me to get an agent, so I started talking to David Rogelberg, the owner of StudioB. He offered me the tempting possibility of being able to write for O’Reilly, something I had always wanted to do. I signed on as a StudioB client and, true to his word, David got me in touch with O’Reilly about writing a book on programming for the Palm Pilot.

Of course, I didn’t know anything about programming for the Pilot, but I wasn’t about to let a minor technicality stop me.

What did stop me was a communications mixup between Robert Denn, my editor at O’Reilly, and another ORA editor who shall remain nameless. This other editor had signed Rhodes and McKeehan– the experts who had written a book on Newton development too– to write a Palm programming book. That left them in the position of having two PalmOS books under contract, only one of which would be written by, y’know, people who knew what they were doing.

Robert offered to let me write a book on another topic. In fact, he even gave me my pick of topics. I wish I could say that I jumped at the chance to write about Exchange, but I didn’t. I had to be more-or-less bullied into it my my agent, who realized the long-term potential of working in the Exchange market. I didn’t know anything about Exchange either, but I was quickly determined to learn, given that I had just signed a contract to write about it. I started joining every Exchange-related mailing list in sight, printed out all the product documentation, and set up Exchange using Virtual PC on my Powerbook. (Yes, that’s right; my O’Reilly Exchange book was written on a Mac– a trend which continues to this day).

I learned sooooo much from the folks on the swynk Exchange list. Not only were there rock stars like Andy Webb, Missy Koslosky, and Ed Crowley there; there were also a ton of Exchange developers. Just to cite one example, one of the primary perpetrators of the Exchange 5.5 MTA was on the list, as was Laurion Burchall, one of the key ESE developers. Everyone on the list was super generous with their time and knowledge, and it didn’t take me long to get up to speed. (My first “live” exposure to the community, though, was attending the 1998 MEC. I was there when Tony Redmond made his famous “I’ll pass on the clap” remark, and I heard Pierre Bijaoui explain that the average human has one breast and one testicle!)

Coincidentally, at about the same time I got a call from O’Reilly: Windows NT Pro magazine was looking for someone to write a regular Exchange column. Was I interested? You bet I was! I started writing it in September of 1998 and it’s been in print ever since, although it’s morphed into a few different forms.

All this time I was still holding down a real job at LJL Enterprises, writing crypto code on the Mac. Eventually my agent brought me an offer that was too good to refuse: Ford Motor Company wanted someone to write a book about their CAD system. I gave my two weeks’ notice, set up my home office, and got ready to hang out my own shingle as a full-time author. That’s when the real adventures started…

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3 Comments

Filed under General Stuff, Musings

3 responses to “How I got into the writing business, part 2

  1. Thanks for writing this Paul, it’s quite interesting. Is there going to be a part 3? 🙂
    -Jeremy

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, Jeremy. Yes, there are more parts on the way!

  3. Great, glad to hear it! I was talking with Tim about the subject after your first part; technical writing is definitely something I’m thinking about pursuing in 2010.