19 May 2020
19 May 2020

Blogging and writing for the tech professional

I’m Kathi Kellenberger. I’m the editor of Simple Talk, a DevOps Advocate, and a Microsoft Data Platform MVP. Probably the most important thing to know about me is that I’m a lifelong learner and a teacher. I love learning new things and I love sharing what I’ve learned with others. So that’s really what I think is my mission in life.

So are you a writer? Have you written anything? Do you want to? The aim of this post is to help you.

A lot of you will have probably have written documentation, although I suspect not many will have written books because that’s kind of thing people have on their bucket list. It does raise the question, though, about why you would want to write in the first place when, for the most part, you won’t make a lot of money from it. I think there are five reasons:

  • Establish your brand
  • MVP/SQL celebrity
  • Career opportunities
  • Give something back to the community
  • Learn more

Each is as important as the other, but I personally think giving back to the community is the most valuable.

Let’s start with blogging

So how do you get started writing? I would suggest that if you haven’t really written before, start with a blog post about a problem you’ve solved or something you’ve learned that could help somebody else. That’s how I got started. It wasn’t really blogging, it was an article, but I had a problem at work and I said ‘Wow, other people might have this same problem so I’m going to write about it and see if I can help them.’

That said, let’s talk a bit about blogging because it’s now the first step for a lot of people. So there are free sites where you can set up a blog like WordPress and they’re relatively easy to use, even for a newbie. They even give you a domain address, but it will have their own domain in the address – something like: www.YourName.wordpress.com. However, you can register a domain name like mine, www.AuntKathiSQL.com, which is really inexpensive and upgrade your WordPress subscription to access better design tools for about $100 a year. Sites like SQLServerCentral also allow you to place blog posts and there’s kind of an advantage to that, because there are a lot of eyes on the sites already.

However you start blogging, make sure you promote your posts on social media so that people know about them. And be sure to check with your company about anything you plan to publish as a blog post, an article, or whatever. You may have rules in your company, that say things have to be cleared by a legal department first.

Let’s move onto articles

The cool thing about blogging is that you’re in control and nobody is going to tell you what you can and can’t write about or subject it to a tech review. Articles are the next step up and they’re a little different. They’re often reviewed and somebody may vet that any code samples you include work correctly. The advantages are that sometimes you get paid, you can turn a presentation into an article relatively easily, and articles can lead to a book.

Four places I know of that publish articles are Simple Talk, SQLServerCentral, MSSQLTips, and Database Journal.

For Simple Talk, I make sure that articles are technically correct and I work on the grammar and that type of thing to get them into a polished state. On SQLServerCentral, my colleague Steve Jones also edits contributions, and you’ll need to check on the way MSSQLTips and Database Journal currently work with authors.

What about books?

So how do you get involved with book projects if that’s what you want to do? I’d suggest starting with blog posts and articles first, so that you have some content out there that people can see. After that, it’s often about networking.

I was at a SQL Saturday a few years ago, and at the time I was working on the second edition of my book, Expert T-SQL Window Functions in SQL Server. I ran into Ed Pollack and he told me about a presentation he had on using windows functions to analyze baseball data going back over a hundred years. I loved it, so I asked him to contribute a chapter to my book about it.

So just networking with others at events like SQL Saturday and PASS Summit and on platforms like Twitter might get you involved with a book. I had no plans originally to bring Ed Pollack in but I’m sure glad that I did.

Remember too that it’s easier to start with one or two chapters of a book instead of being the main author. I do know some people who were the lead author on their first book but it’s a big thing to try to accomplish.

If you get a book contract with a publisher like Apress or Wrox, the way it works is that they may come up with an amount, like $1,000 as an advance, which you receive when you get the book done. It’s an advance on the royalties – the small percentage of the price you actually earn as the author, and it may take several years for the publisher to recoup it.

If you go with a publisher there are lots of advantages. There will probably be a project manager in charge, along with editors and tech reviewers, and artists and typographers who take your Word document and turn it into something beautiful. They also take care of marketing and publicity, and they’ll produce different formats of the book, from the printed version to a Kindle edition.

Taking the self-publishing route

Another thing you can do is self-publish. This time, you’re in charge of everything, but you also have to figure it all out. You may also need some cash up front to pay for services like tech reviews, copy editing, and any graphics you need.

I’ve heard platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing are pretty easy to work with, and you might make some money along the way. A friend of mine wrote a series of blog posts about SSIS, for example, collected them in one document, put it in the format he needed and published them as a book. What’s interesting here is that he used the comments section on his blog as the tech review for each post and revised them before publishing. He’s made around $5,000 over the years, so it is an option.

Writing tips and tools

As for writing itself, there are a few pointers I can pass along. I have a paid subscription with Grammarly, for example, but you can also use it for free. Grammarly will give you suggestions and correct your grammar which can help, but do check every change because it can do goofy things when it doesn’t understand the context of what you’re writing about. If you’re writing about windows functions, for example, it will tell you to start using words instead of ‘function’ that don’t mean anything close.

Other than that, there are five tips about writing that I give to everyone:

  • Avoid choppy, short sentences
  • Avoid long, run-on sentences
  • Avoid using the same word multiple times in a sentence or paragraph
  • Avoid switching voice or tense
  • Articles and book chapters are more formal than presentations or blog posts

One last thing I really encourage is that when you write something, don’t publish it or turn it in right away. Instead, wait a couple of days, then go back and re-read it with new eyes. It will feel like somebody else wrote it, at least it does for me, and mistakes will pop out.

Why not write for Simple Talk?

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about … writing. If you’d like to write for Simple Talk, you have some experience blogging or writing articles, and you’re a Friend of Redgate or a current author will refer you, get in touch with me. We’re always looking for new authors and although I can’t guarantee that you will be published, we do pay for submissions that are published.

This post is an edited version of a webinar session from Redgate Streamed, which presented a range of content of interest to IT Managers and developers. You can still catch up on all of the webinars, free, by visiting Redgate Streamed online.

 

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