I am a CS student at 4th year in my university. I have done a lot of real-world projects, worked as a freelancer for many years, and have released a lot of software in use by thousands of people. I believe I have good experience about topics which I am interested in.

My question is about whether writing a book about those topics and publishing it in my name would be a good idea? I heard that whatever undergrads write in Academia is not considered reliable/trustworthy. And that even if the thing you write was actually very good, people would still not rely on it. Is this is true?

Is there a possible way to publish a book as an undergraduate student? I would like to write the book now because I feel it is so needed by my local community (non-English). We have a very limited number of books in this field. And I don't think I'll have the same amount of time as when I graduate.

  • 9
    Raffi Grinberg's The Real Analysis Lifesaver, published in 2017 by Princeton University Press and which is essentially his 2012 undergraduate senior thesis at Princeton, seems relevant to what you're asking about. I'm sure there are many other examples, but this came to my mind because I recently purchased the book. – Dave L Renfro Dec 18 '17 at 17:24
  • 13
    @DaveLRenfro If I was tutoring for a class on real analysis I would probably advise my students against buying such a book. – Pedro Tamaroff Dec 19 '17 at 2:21
  • 7
    In the worst case you got a lot of training for your next book. So, go for it. :) – Trilarion Dec 19 '17 at 8:24
  • 1
    "Is this is true?" – If it is, then it's time to turn the tides. – MC Emperor Dec 19 '17 at 10:57
  • 5
    @Cronex No. I scanned the book before posting that comment. – Pedro Tamaroff Dec 20 '17 at 14:46

Go for it, and see whether you can get one of your professors to do a technical review. That technical review, acknowledged in the preface, will lend weight to your book. If you have professors who speak your language, think about co-authors.

Do not, however, expect to make money. Only blockbuster textbooks make significant money for their authors. Also, beware vanity publishing, where you pay the publisher rather than the reverse.

If you write the book, Amazon will let you make it available free or very cheap. (That's true for English language books; you'll need to check about other languages.)

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    Amazon / Createspace is a good option for those who want to publish a vanity project or any project that a publisher won't pick up, much cheaper to start out than vanity publishing createspace.com – JimLohse Dec 19 '17 at 1:31
  • 1
    Createspace no longer exists as a separate entity, having been rolled into Kindle Direct Publishing. Amazon remains the easiest way to get a paperback or eBook "out there." A search on "Kindle direct supported languages" will provide information for languages other than English. – Bob Brown Jul 26 at 16:05

IMHO, it doesn't matter whether you are an undergrad or a professor when it comes to writing books; what matters is whether the material you would like to share has some value for readers. If you strongly and rationally believe in your book idea, approach book publishers with a comprehensive book proposal.

Some considerations:

  • Objective Be clear about the motivation and objective behind writing the book. Do you want to share knowledge in a systematic manner and/or you want to make money. Be aware that books will not earn you a lot of money unless it becomes a blockbuster.

  • Time/Effort Book writing is a long and demanding process. Do you have sufficient time to work on it (considering you are a student presently)?

  • Skills Assess your skills. Assuming you know technical stuff, can you express your thoughts decently in words. If you are writing, for example, blogs that are received well by your target audience, you should be fine.

  • Market research Carry out some market research. Try to state in words what your book will provide which is not really provided by the existing books.

| improve this answer | |
  • 7
    And, as a converse to point 3, if you're not yet writing a blog but you have a bunch of material that you think will be relevant to your target audience, then that is an excellent way to start. This will (i) help you practice writing, (ii) allow you to gauge your audience's reaction to your writing and the material, (iii) make it much easier to show a publisher that there is a market for the book, (iv) get you name recognition, making easier for the book to find its mark, (v) provide a good basis of material that can then be incorporated into the book, (cont.) – E.P. Dec 19 '17 at 8:43
  • 3
    and (vi) possibly be more useful as a long-lasting resource CV-wise than the book itself, particularly if you can build it into "I run one of the main programming blogs in X language". That makes it a win-win-win-win-win-win situation, no? (Keep in mind these types of considerations, of course, but if done with appropriate care it can work well.) – E.P. Dec 19 '17 at 8:46

Other answers have touched upon this a bit, but I think it matters greatly whether you self-publish or not. If you can get your book published by a reputable press, then it will surely help you. If you self-publish then it could hurt you by making you seem naive about academic publishing and making you seem overly egotistical if the book isn’t high quality. Whether this will be the perception will depend a lot on whether there is original content and if that original content is seen as having value — but if you can’t get published by a reputable publisher the assumption will (rightly or wrongly) likely be that the book lacks such value. If there is original research that is publishable, but maybe not a whole book’s worth, you might be better served by submitting an article to a journal/conference.

However, it sounds like your main motive is to make existing material available to audiences who speak a different language. If that is the case then being fairly conservative with what you write, making it more a textbook than a research manuscript, can help you (assuming it’s done reasonably well). What I would do in such a situation is to list it in your CV under “service to the profession”. This will avoid giving the impression that you take it to be serious original research (assuming it isn’t), and show that you care about making the relevant knowledge more easily accessible to speakers of the relevant language. In such a case, though, it might also make sense to simply produce a translation of the sort of work you think is lacking (with permission of the author and publisher, of course).

| improve this answer | |

I would like to write the book now because I feel it is so needed by my local community (non-English).

On the one hand, if you write an original text it seems somewhat limiting to do it for the sole purpose of helping your native language speakers. On the other hand, if you're not writing a book on an original idea (i.e., a more general textbook) then it seems like translating existing publications, with all of the different revisions they've had by now, would be best.

| improve this answer | |
  • I wouldn't recommend that. Translating is harder than simply knowing both languages, and I'd strongly recommend translation classes prior to attempting such a project. I'd also recommend a lawyer to deal with the copyright process as you need permission to mess with someone else's work, at least in most cases. And that legality mess is why it's generally more feasible to reinvent the wheel. – Christopher Dec 20 '17 at 1:50
  • @Christopher in some cases there are good “open source” textbooks, often having developed from lecture notes, that a professor makes freely available and can get to be widely used. In such cases you’d only have to contact the author for permission. As long as you promise to make the translation freely available, I’d expect most of these authors would agree. Of course, your points about the difficulty of translation still hold. But, assuming OP has learned the subject from (lets assume) English source material, and they’re competent enough to write a book on it in in their native language,... – Dennis Dec 20 '17 at 3:15
  • ...I’d think they’d be able to produce a decent, if not 100% faithful translation. Or does that strike you as overly optimistic? – Dennis Dec 20 '17 at 3:16

I used to work in publishing so I'll add my perspective. If I'm less sure about certain things, I'll say so.

First: why do you want to write a book? If it's for academic reasons (as in, help you find a PhD, etc), I'm not sure how much publishing a book will actually help your career. It certainly can't hurt, and will probably help, but exactly how much it will help I don't know. If it helps only a little it might not be worth doing - you could spend the time on another research project for example and that would directly help you if you continue on the academic path.

If you're doing this for financial reasons then I must say that you're not likely to make a lot of money. A lot depends on what type of book you write, but for monographs, don't expect to make more than a couple of thousand USD at best. If you write a textbook and it sells really well, then you can make some real money, but the odds of that happening are very low because the prestige of the author is a key factor in how well a textbook does. The same goes for popular-level books. I can practically guarantee that a book written by Stephen Hawking will sell well no matter what the topic is or even how well it's written, but the same probably doesn't apply to you. As an order of magnitude estimate, you might expect to sell ~500 copies of such a book.

Finally if you're doing this for altruistic reasons then there's really nothing stopping you. Do whatever makes you happy!

Second: about whether or not a major commercial publishing house is likely to agree to publish your book, as I mentioned, a key factor in how well a book does is the identity of the author. A lot of buyers will only buy a book if the author is an expert. A commercial publishing house is likely to decline immediately unless you have the credentials to back up whatever you're writing. This is conditional on what you're writing about - e.g. if you're writing a GRE solutions manual and you've been accepted by Harvard as a PhD student, then you have the credentials to write the book. It sounds like you're writing a book intended for CS academics however, in which case an undergraduate degree isn't impressive. You write that you've done a lot of real world projects as well as written code used by thousands of people. That sounds like you got substantial work experience before or during undergraduate studies. If you have held senior positions at major companies, then they might be willing.

Real life example: once my former publisher was approached by several undergraduates with a book proposal. We refused, unless their professor was willing to put his name on it, and we also wanted their professor as the first author. It wasn't fair since the professor wrote virtually nothing in the book, but it's what we requested. If you do take up such an option then you can expect a royalty rate of ~10% of net sales receipts.

You'll probably have a better chance with university presses, since university presses aren't as focused on making a profit. If your university has a university press, that's the first publisher I'd approach.

Third: self-publishing. If you self-publish, you'll have to do everything yourself (or engage a freelancer). It's not just writing - you have to do the typesetting, design the book cover, design the title pages, liaise with the printers, and finally talk to booksellers to get them to sell your book. It is a substantial amount of work. Are you sure you want to do this? (See what I wrote above about simply doing another research project)

Having said that, self-publishing also gives you flexibility because you can put in as much time or as little time as you want. A commercial publisher will go through the book and correct typographical errors (e.g. changing >> to ≫). If you don't care about that you can just leave it. A commercial publisher might advertise the book in flyers sent to university libraries worldwide; if you don't care you could also just send the book to Amazon and leave it at that. Of course, the more time you put in the more copies of the book you'll sell.

Finally if you do decide to go ahead, then the thing to do is to go to the publisher's website and look for a book proposal form. An example from Springer: https://www.springer.com/gp/authors-editors/book-authors-editors. You'll need basic details - the title of your book, the estimated number of pages, the table of contents, and so on. You'll also need your CV, and probably a sample chapter as well. Depending on whether the publisher gets formal peer review for the proposal, it can be up to 2 months before you hear back. Peer review for books is similar to that for journal articles, except the reviewer probably doesn't have your entire manuscript and will make general comments instead (e.g. "I think you should focus on this topic, one chapter isn't enough"). If the publisher is willing, they'll prepare a contract for you. Once that's signed, you're good to go.

| improve this answer | |

Go for it! I'm puzzled you have the time to do it.

Don't expect the academic community to embrace your work, as academia is about novel research as opposite to actually popularizing well established knowledge. The fact you are a CS student and not an institute director doesn't make any difference for the casual reader.

Writing in a language other than English will significantly reduce your reader base.

Writing is a skill: more you exercise it, better becomes your writing. Even as an exercise, writing a book is good.

Don't expect a large financial reward out of this task.

Of course you shall publish in your name.

Start a draft and contact an editor, see their feedback. Going self publishing route is not an option, except you do it to feed your own ego of being published, or you have some experience of book marketing. Also, being accepted by an editor gives you a valuable feedback, reinforcing that your vision is valid. The editor shall not ask any up-front money from you, but shall offer you a low margin (10-15%) of sales. Do not accept anything outside this arrangement. The commercial risk belongs entirely to the editor.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.