all 35 comments

[–]jakkarthHas a cool flair[🍰] 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today :)

What does a book editor do, exactly? Can you give us some insight into what a typical day looks like for you?

With the growing ubiquity of 3d printing, cheap electronics and so on, what kind of trends do you see in the making community in general? How do you see the maker movement fitting in with the overall concept of DIY as a whole?

For the TMA part, I've been getting back into amateur rocketry this year. I've been designing 3d parts and electronics to do flight telemetry that I look forward to trying out this summer. I guess that's what I'd like to see next: rockets! Making your own engines, design considerations, electronics for payloads (think accelerometer, 1080p video, streaming data mid-flight to a laptop), and the roles of old and new materials (eg considerations when 3d printing nose cones). That's my vote.

[–]MakeEditor[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

To answer your middle question: I think we're seeing the "elbow" of the exponential curve of more people wanting a life that isn't "always on". I actually saw an ad for a vacation resort that bragged that they do NOT have cell phone service. When something like that is a selling point, things are changing.

So we're getting more requests for books on woodworking, leatherworking, and such. People are loath to completely give up the advantages of technology, but they want to be comfortable shutting it all down every so often.

[–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (1 child)

A book editor is just like any other editor, only with more pages. I am probably an average-level Maker; we hope our authors are much more than averge at whatever they're writing about. So I read through each chapter of the book manuscript as it comes in, serving almost as a surrogate audience member. If I don't understand what the author is saying, chances are neither will the average reader. Then I work with the author to make that section clearer, so that even I can understand it. Then we go on to the next section.

This happens a lot because of the way human knowledge works: if you're an expert in something, that skill has become so ingrained within you that you can't remember what it was like not to know how to do this. So an author's first draft might read "chamfer the two ends and then save the dimensions as a Python tuple", without ever explaining what chamfering and tuples are. Part of my job is to determine if the average reader can be expected to know what chamfering and Python tuples are; if not, we've got to be sure to explain each object.

As for rockets, we've already released the encompassing Make: Rockets by Mike Westerfield, and this November he'll have Make:High Power Rockets in stores!

[–]jakkarthHas a cool flair[🍰] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

If I don't understand what the author is saying, chances are neither will the average reader. Then I work with the author to make that section clearer

This honestly sounds a lot like being a reddit moderator :)

you can't remember what it was like not to know how to do this

This has bitten me a few times. I didn't realize the role of the editor included the surrogate audience member, which is a really neat way to phrase that (have you considered a career in literature?)

I'm not sure how I missed Make: Rockets, I'll definitely take a look at that, and I'll keep an eye out for HIGHPOWER because, you know, zoom. Yeah.

Thanks so much!

[–]sfa1500 2 points3 points  (4 children)

Hi Patrick,

I use to write some long facebook posts back in College that were advice for freshmen that took off and became a bit of a hit around campus and even with my old high school friends at their colleges. I was wondering what advice you had for someone wanting to write a book that never has and how to go about getting it out there? I know your specialty is in publishing content about "making", but I guess that publishing this college advice book is the thing that I want to "make."


[–]MakeEditor[S] 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Ask a Make book editor about how to make a book! This is so meta!

My earlier answer has practical information for approaching any publisher.

As for the actual writing, I tell all my authors, and my friends (and myself, when I'm writing) the same thing: "Two Pages a Day". That seems to be the demarcation line: if you can produce two publishable pages per day, every day, for X number of months, you can write a book. Want to write a 300 page book? You can do it in five months at two pages a day.

What I've found just from experience is that if an author can't produce two pages a day, they're very likely not going to finish writing their book at all. One page per day rarely cuts it.

[–]jakkarthHas a cool flair[🍰] 1 point2 points  (1 child)

How long do pros consider a page to be? Can I do it in courier new at 18pt with triple line spacing and extra wide margins?

[–]MakeEditor[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Figure a page = 300 words and you can't go wrong.

[–]sfa1500 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Hey thanks so much for the reply! I think that is an excellent idea and rule to keep by, and I appreciate the links to some ideas.

If you're still around and I can get a second reply by luck. With all your experience in the publications you have done can you give any advice on how best a writer doing a college life guide, which draws some parallels to a how to guide, in a way that doesnt lose peoples attention.

[–]zoopdeezoop 2 points3 points  (5 children)

Thanks for your time today!

1) How do you and your team approach writing how-to books when hardware and software change so quickly? This seems particularly tricky with electronics, programming, and digital fabrication. Are the books updated regularly, or is it more about keeping the instructions general enough to continue to apply even if the tools change? If the latter, does this limit the audience at all? (because the reader would need to figure out some steps on their own, which might be hard for kids or beginners).

2) What does the process of proposing and writing a book typically look like, particularly for first-time authors?

[–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (3 children)

Part 2) I wanted this to be its own separate answer. Suppose you're an expert on a new single board computer, or an expert in woodworking or some other skill, and you want to write a book on that topic. Call it X. Ideally, you'd look us up on Amazon, and our own book page, to see if we've already done a book on subject X. If we haven't, that's good: email us with a very short proposal: "I want to write a book about X" Then include a few sentences about why we should publish a book about X, and why you're the person to write about X for us. Make us as excited as you are to do this book.

If we've already done a book on X, your task is harder, but not impossible. Let us know what new insights you can bring to X that weren't in the first book. Make us even more excited than we were about the first book. It's a long shot that we'd do such a book, but it has happened.

I promise you that we read every submission -- believe me, we'd hate to miss the next big thing -- but I admit sometimes our rejection process can take a while to write back.

IF we respond that we'd like to see more, we'll ask for a more detailed outline of the book, as well as a single sample chapter, by a certain date. This is the reality of the publishing business -- few people know how really hard it is to write a book. If you can't get an outline and a chapter in by a deadline, that doesn't speak well to your chances of finishing an entire book by a deadline. (Ask me how I know this! Bitter experience, that's how I know this!) On the other hand, if you can produce a workable outline and a publishable chapter by the deadline, we may very well kiss your feet. Metaphorically, that is.

PM me for the email address.

[–]zoopdeezoop 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Thank you! PMed you. One more question, asking here because I think it might be helpful to others as well: what is the typical timeline for the writing and editing process? I imagine it depends somewhat on the topic.

[–]MakeEditor[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Deciding on a timeline comes in the third exchange we have with the author, which is the negotiation round. We like to estimate that a writer will finish approximately two pages per day. So if you and we agree that yours is a 150 page book, we'll ask if you can have it in three months. If you can convince us you need more time -- a lot of our project-based books require building a lot of stuff from scratch -- we'll work with that.

[–]MakeEditor[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Part 1) We frequently update our best selling books: Getting Started with (GSW) Raspberry Pi just had its 3rd edition, GSW Arduino is gearing up for a 4th edition, and so on. Other books are just the luck of the draw -- not every new board is going to be the "Arduino-killer", and books based on those boards sell as many as they're ever going to sell, and then they wither away. Fortunately for us, things like basic electronics -- resistors, capacitors, transistors, etc -- are pretty evergreen; they'll be valid far into the future, and need only minimal updating. And things like woodworking and leatherworking are eternal!

[–]gtj 2 points3 points  (1 child)

What's your guys' most successful book? Least successful? And what was your favorite to work on personally?

[–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I don't have the actual numbers in front of me, but I think that Make:Electronics has done very well. Which makes sense; it's platform-independent, sticking to the basics like resistors, capacitors, and the like.

My personal favorite is one I'm doing right now -- the third edition of Tom Igoe's Making Things Talk. It's just above the level I'm comfortable with, so it's really made me stretch. And it's taught me a lot about node.js and Bluetooth and UDP and all sorts of things. Tom's a professor at NYU ITP, and the book will be out in time for the start of school in September.

[–]LetsGo 0 points1 point  (1 child)

What would be your response to an intelligent yet cynical, jaded teen whom adults are trying to motivate about STEM through exposure to your books but who says, whatever, that's just a bunch of toy stuff.

[–]MakeEditor[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I was that intelligent, cynical teen. The only thing that worked for me was either to (1) find someone I respected immensely who was not my parents or teacher, and have them try to get my interest, or (2) tell me something like "I understand if it's too difficult for you". That always got me going, and my parents used it a lot. Say... do you think they had me figured out?????

[–]HareuhalPM me penguin pics 0 points1 point  (4 children)

Hey Patrick, thanks for the AMA.

What was your favorite part of working on the drone book? Did you get to do the projects yourself, or did you just edit the stuff other people did?

[–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (3 children)

Of course, I loved actually building the drone! As I said before, I'm sort of an average DIYer, so if I had trouble building it -- which I did -- probably other people would have trouble as well. That led the author and me to rewrite that whole section, almost from scratch, which made for a much better book.

[–]HareuhalPM me penguin pics 0 points1 point  (2 children)

That led the author and me to rewrite that whole section, almost from scratch, which made for a much better book.

That's actually really neat. To add on to that, are there any times you've had to edit / rewrite a book in a way that you wish you didn't?

For example, were there any times that you knew the published version was not nearly as good as the original version?

[–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Did we ever make a book worse than it was when originally handed in? I hope not!

In all seriousness, all I want to do is to produce the absolute best books we can. So we work very closely with the author, and we make sure that everyone agrees that all changes are for the better.

[–]HareuhalPM me penguin pics 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Makes sense! Thanks for the answer. I think with the popularity you guys have you're doing a great job.

[–]MakeEditor[S] 4 points5 points  (7 children)

If I may be permitted to turn the tables on this AMA for a bit, I'd really like to hear from you. Are there any specific books you'd like to read from us? Any topics we should be covering but we're not?

[–][deleted]  (3 children)


    [–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (2 children)

    Yes, more woodworking books. Particularly for intermediate skill levels and those of us who don't have access to a shop.

    We are definitely doing more woodworking books in the future. For now, take a look at Make: Tools: How They Work and How to Use Them, which might be just what you're looking for.

    [–][deleted]  (1 child)


      [–]MakeEditor[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      I didn't realize Make: Tools had woodworking projects in it. I have it on my Amazon list only because I saw that Charles Platt had a new book

      Yep, it's Charles's "breakout" book into a new topic.

      [–]sfa1500 0 points1 point  (2 children)

      Honestly I think a book series on tools, how to's, and common fixes that every homeowner should know so they don't waste unnecessary money on a laborer to do it.

      For example: I work for a municipality and I cant explain the amount of times I get a call asking how to turn the water to the house off, and after explaining the entirely easy process I hear them say that they will just call a plumber.

      [–]MakeEditor[S] 1 point2 points  (1 child)

      That's a great idea, thank you!!! I know that's a book I need!

      [–]sfa1500 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      I'll take 30 cents of each copy sold, thank you! Kidding of course I wish that was a thing.

      I have a bunch of people aged 25-30 as friends who are buying their first houses now and having never apparently learned minor DIY skills or tips from their parents they feel they have to call someone to do everything.

      [–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      I've worked with authors that do self publishing before in the past. (Never a publisher that aids with the marketing efforts of a book.) I'm an illustrator and designer. This day in age with so many items on the market and formats (ebooks vs traditional), I've seen how competitive it is for these self published authors to get their produced items sold. Also many books seem to depreciate with time from being outdated, while classics remain as such. Two authors wrote historic books and had gift shop buyers prior to manufacturing, so they seemed to do well. Another followed the STEM bandwagon and they've had the toughest time with sales and distribution.

      Can you tell me a bit about your experiences with seeing end results and profits or losses for your industry so I can gain another perspective than my own experience :) I believe working with a company on the marketing to have a much stronger ROI unless you self publish with a buyer contract in the forefront. Thank you!

      [–]cat_attack_ 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      Sorry I'm so late to this AMA, and I hope you see this at some point! Anyway, I love what you guys at Make are doing- from the books, to the Makerfaires, etc.

      Anyway, if you can say, are there any Make books in the pipeline right now that you're really excited about? I'm also curious about which book has been your favorite, or the most helpful to you, personally?


      [–]floridaengineering 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      Hello Patrick, I really enjoy the MAKE! Magazines and have been to 3 MakerFaires (Detroit 2x, Orlando 1x). My question is if in a book/magazine you could include a promotional item that is useful? Somewhat like what the MagPi did with the Pi Zero. It could become more like a kit, and could make it more marketable to the public.

      [–]staplesearch 0 points1 point  (0 children)

      I like to start an AMA informative website based on film and related topics. I need few suggestions. Will you please?