Book Publishing Dilemma, Input Requested

For about a decade now, my ColdFusion Web Application Construction Kit has been the de facto standard used by virtually all new ColdFusion developers, and by many who want to brush up their skills as ColdFusion is updated and enhanced. This book (and its Advanced sequel) in many ways helped define ColdFusion, played an important role in the growth and evolution of the product. Over the years I’ve pulled in respected, trusted, and well-known ColdFusion developers to help with the books (most notably Ray Camden who assumed the role of co-lead author on the most recent CFWACK, and who will be doing so again for the next edition). I am genuinely humbled at how important these books have become to the ColdFusion universe, and honored by how many of you have relied on these books to do what you do.
But now I am faced with dilemma, and I’d love any and all input.
Here’s the deal. The books have grown to be huge. We started with a single volume in ColdFusion 2 and 3 days, and quickly had to move to two volumes as of ColdFusion 4. And then two volumes were not enough, so we tried moving the language reference appendixes to a dedicated little third volume in ColdFusion 5 (a decision that did not go over well with most readers, although some loved it and have asked for that book to be revised and updated). For ColdFusion 6 and 7 we put the appendixes back into the book, and thus had no choice but to remove some lesser used chapters, and also made the very painful decision to make some chapters only available electronically (as PDFs on the accompanying CD).
But now things have gotten worse. The books are now several thousands pages combined (taking into account CFWACK and CFADV as well as all of the electronic chapters). And as I work on the Scorpio updates (Scorpio has so many new features that there are lots of updates, and even more new chapters needed) it is becoming apparent that page count is going to be a massive problem. Consider the following:

  • We’ve reached about the maximum page count that can be physically bound as a single volume.
  • Printing costs industry wide have gone up. I have fought hard against book price increases before, but I am being told that there is no way we can continue to print books of this size at the current price.
  • And, as already stated, I really don’t like electronic only chapters. I am fine with chapters being made available in print AND electronic, heck, I’d like for the whole book to be made available as an e-book on the CD. But I don’t like electronic chapters in lieu of printed chapters.

So, what to do?

  • We can eliminate the language reference appendixes (tags, functions, Verity language, etc.). Those ran about 400 pages in CFWCK7, and will be even bigger in the Scorpio edition. We can consider making those electronic chapters, or perhaps try a separate reference volume as we did back in CF5 days. My big concern with this one is that many users tell me that these are the most used parts of the books, and I regularly see copies with colored tabs and the like plastered all over these sections.
  • We can make additional chapters electronic only. Deciding which ones to pick is painful and never what all users will want. Plus, as already said, I really don’t like this idea.
  • Some users have asked me to do away with the intro material, the first several hundred pages of CFWACK. And the truth is, for all but new readers, those are unnecessary. But, at the same time, I get several e-mails every single week from readers thanking me for just those chapters, in particular the ones that explain basic relational database theory and review SQL language basics.
  • For ColdFusion 7 I had chatted with the publisher about breaking the books into three volumes. That would solve lots of problems by allowing us to create three thinner books with a greater total page count. But, three thinner books will cost readers more than two thicker books, and so I decided not to go with this idea because I felt guilty charging readers more money (especially those who only buy CFWACK who would now need to buy two books to replace it).

As you can see, we have no great ideas, just lots of imperfect options. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. If any of these ideas make sense, tell me. If any are flat out wrong, tell me that too. And if you have other ideas we’ve not thought of, please share those as well.

115 responses to “Book Publishing Dilemma, Input Requested”

  1. Ray Champagne Avatar
    Ray Champagne

    Just thinking out loud here, but why not have two books, one strictly being a CFML reference manual, and the other the book itself?
    The reference I use all the time, but the book itself I use rarely, unless I am exploring a topic that I previously haven’t used before. It would be nice to have a handy reference separate from the book. And while the livedocs are nice, I prefer a manual – they are just more convenient, IMO.
    And cost? Pfft. These are the tools of the trade. It’s necessary. Mechanics don’t complain about the price of tools, if they make their job easier, they suck it up and buy them.
    I wonder if you could offer the above as a package with one price?

  2. Ian Skinner Avatar
    Ian Skinner

    I wouldn’t dismiss the three volume solution so easily.
    I think I like the idea of an introduction, intermediate and advance titles. Among the several advantages I see is that they may not need to be updated on exactly the same time schedule. I can imagine, based solely on my personal view point, that the introduction book can be written in less ColdFusion version specific language. I don’t see the basics of ColdFusion having changed that much through the last several versions. I started with 4.5 and my <cfquery…>, <cfoutput…> and other basics have not changed much as I have learned my way through 5, 6.x, and 7.x versions.
    If these titles where organized correctly I could see a new developer starting with the basic title, then over time getting the intermediate and advanced. Then from that point on, not needing to replace all three titles every version.

  3. Teddy R Payne Avatar
    Teddy R Payne

    I have purchasing the CFWACK for some time now. Orange Whip Studios will never be a more memoriable company.
    I would be willing to advocate the idea of just having two books. If you keep the nature of the Beginner and Advanced book, I think it makes only sense to me to have a companion CD to both volumes. These CDs would be the e-reference of the language references and additional supporting material.
    I am also a proponent of O’Reilly Safari Books online. If the publisher offered a reduced cost of the PDF version, I would purchase that as well.
    I tend to program on my laptop all of the place and copying and pasting code samples is typically better for me isntead of ready a hard copy.
    PDFs provide a very easy way of bookmarking and searching for topics more than sticky little red tabs on a bound book.
    Plus, I have a flash drive with PDFs on it for when I am offline.
    So in short, I would suggest that you offer a hybrid on the book with an avenue for the eletronic only crowd.

  4. Ian Skinner Avatar
    Ian Skinner

    Another thought, re separating out the syntax reference.
    Is it permissible to consider printing this as a separate volume that is sold with the main book. I buy lots of ‘books’ for personal and professional reasons that consist of two or more volumes bundled together.

  5. Josh Nathanson Avatar
    Josh Nathanson

    I still have my Allaire CF 4.5 manuals on the shelf, I kind of liked how it was broken into four separate volumes. I have CF7 WACK and it’s too big and heavy to take anywhere, such as on a plane or whatever. So I support the idea of separate volumes even if the price is higher.

  6. Luc Avatar

    About more than 3 books. Like a series… with each book (booklet) focusing on very specific tasks.
    will cost a bit more but can serve as a great reference library

  7. Dan Skaggs Avatar
    Dan Skaggs

    First of all thanks for all the work on these books over the years. I have a complete set dating back to when I started on CF 4.5. Alas, with my current job, all those books are useless to me now as I travel every week for my job. I’ve wished for a PDF version of the books for quite a while so that I could carry the info with me (obviously lugging both books to the airport every week is out of the question).
    Just my 2c worth.

  8. Andy Matthews Avatar
    Andy Matthews

    I have the WACK, but won it in a contest. I AM, however, one of those people you mentioned who absolutely LOVES the CF5 reference book. I literally carry it with me everywhere I go. It’s gotten used less now since I discovered but it’s still important to me. While I think having the reference available in printed form would be really important, I’d be okay leaving it out in favor of an online reference. As long as it was REALLY easy to use and search that is.

  9. charlie griefer Avatar
    charlie griefer

    i agree with Luc.
    i’ve always thought a series of books, each very specialized and very focused, would do well. let’s say i just want to brush up on cfscript. or regular expressions (in CF). or complex variables. or persistent variables (application/session/client).
    this thought actually came about when the CFMX Bible was released. not knocking the book at all…i think it’s a great book and i recommend it to folks to this day. one of the things i actually like about it is that it’s very all-encompassing. very much so. but i’ve heard criticism that having so much in a single book made it overwhelming to some. i heard people say "if i to learn about _____, i’ll buy a book about _____".
    but as i heard that argument, it occurred to me that there wasn’t a book just on _______.
    so maybe there should be?

  10. Dave Cordes Avatar
    Dave Cordes

    Personally I never use my books anymore, I just go to when I have a question. I think once you are comfortable with ColdFusion in general that’s what most people do. But that’s not a fact, just my opinion. Therefore a downloadable version or online version would work quite well for me. Having a 1,000 page book just doesn’t make sense.

  11. Bruce Avatar

    Please go to three volumes. Your books are well worth the price. I used them almost every day and it is much quicker to pickup the book, then to load a CD and find the PDF and open the PDF.

  12. Steve Bryant Avatar
    Steve Bryant

    I’ll echo the thought about more specialization.
    CFWACK is a great book. Whenever I talk to people about learning ColdFusion, I direct them to that book. I suspect others do as well. To that end, it makes sense that it remain an introductory book. Tag/function references as well as basics of HTTP and SQL are handy for this book.
    As to "advanced" topics, I liken this to advanced university study. A Phd candidate doesn’t just get "advanced" in their topic, they get specialized. It would be nice to have a books performance, security, graphing/reporting, xml, etc.
    For myself, I always have a debate about the new books. I don’t care pay for a rehash of the basics, but there are usually a few new features that I would like to read about as I try them out. If more, smaller, books were available for that I would really love it.

  13. Rick Mason Avatar
    Rick Mason

    I would recommend keeping CFWACK and the advanced book. Then add a third book with just the language reference – perhaps with more code examples. I know that I would have no problem buying all three :<).

  14. Molly Avatar

    Given Ben’s statement: " . . . . Scorpio has so many new features that there are lots of updates, and even more new chapters needed . .. " and the WACK’s weighty size already . . . I really like the idea of an introduction, intermediate and advance titles to split up the weight . . . I traveled extensively nationwide wth my first WACK best friend for about two years. . .and the weight/size was an issue . . . would have paid more for the separate volumes as it would have allowed me to travel only with the volumeI needed at the time
    I am also a supporter of the "separating out the syntax reference" concept. . . which would then bring the grand total to four books. I no longer travel with my WACK friend. . . but would definitely welcome the opportunity to travel with a syntax reference volume.

  15. Sam Farmer Avatar
    Sam Farmer

    More books, more books, more books!
    Seriously, there is a shortage of CF books already and it can only help to have more IMO. My wife recently bought WACK but got frustrated by the introductory chapters because she already knew some of it. I think she really started reading at chapter 8. I would suggest making the introductory section in its own book and calling it "Intro to Web Applications" something with a potential broad range.

  16. Derek P. Avatar
    Derek P.

    Let me start off by saying, these books changed my life and gave me the career that I have now…I am eternally grateful for stumbling across such a great opportunity that you provided to me; I owe my successes as a CF developer to you my friend :). (still gonna buy you dinner one of these days!).
    Anyhow, I think you should split the book up into volumes. I don’t see myself buying CFWACK because I am not the novice I used to be, but I do want a book on the new features found in scorpio..So perhaps release a novice/intermediate/advanced series? and maybe an even smaller volume for each release that talks about all the new features and stuff.
    Just throwin ideas out there! Hey, if you need any help writing the next book…I’ll have to check my schedule, but I am sure I can pencil you in 😛

  17. Doug Hughes Avatar
    Doug Hughes

    Ben – Do what MS does for a lot of their sets of books: Make a boxed set. You buy it and you get three books shrink wrapped in one box. Make it a "bookshelf", not a book or two or three.
    I suppose you could also sell them all individually too.
    And yea, books are a part of the business. A reasonable price is a reasonable price. Do what’s best, even if it’s a bit more spendy.
    Lastly, you might experiment with three versions: a box set, the three books sold separately and a download-only electronic versions.

  18. Dennis Spaag Avatar
    Dennis Spaag

    I too am for removing the syntax reference and also not publishing the reference at all – the online reference being more than adequate. Also, CF ide’s generally provide good tag/function insight and help when learning. I also think that it would be best to keep it to two books if at all possible. Perhaps just an appendix with pointers to online or other print resources for specialized topics. Also, I like the idea that purchasers of the print volumes could get free downloads of bonus chapters in PDF.

  19. Sam Mitchell Avatar
    Sam Mitchell

    I think three books is the way to go. Your books are the definitive resource and if I have to pay an extra 10-20 dollars then that’s what I have to do. I’d rather have all the information at my fingertips than on CD. That’s my 2c.

  20. Brian Rinaldi Avatar
    Brian Rinaldi

    Here’s the thing about the money Ben. Several years ago there were a number of CF books you could find on the shelf of most book stores. Several general all-purpose like the CFWACK/Advanced books or CFMX Bible and some more specialized like your Reality CFMX series, Building a Content Management System with CFMX or Java for CF Developers. Look at the bookstore shelf today and you don’t see that proliferation of CF books anymore. In fact, in most cases, it is just CFWACK/Advanced (sometimes no Advanced even).
    My point is, I bought many of those books previously whereas now there are not so many books to buy. So, even if you made 4 books I am likely spending less than I used to on CF books. It is also important to keep in mind that if your books are two of the only options for printed material about CF, then more content is better and possibly specializing the books as well.
    So, I agree with you on the PDFs, they never get read unless you specifically need something in there (and for all the effort that it probably takes to write this seems like a waste). I’d say, go 3 or 4 volumes if you want; get all the material in and if necessary supplement it online.
    Also the language references seem a bit silly to me for the space since they are accessible online and you can get them straight from Adobe if you want them printed.
    Sorry for the lengthy response.

  21. Dan Sorensen Avatar
    Dan Sorensen

    I use as my command reference everyday, rather than the book. (I wish it was a little faster to load…) So I wouldn’t mind an electronic command reference if it was easily searchable.
    If it were three volumes, I’d repurchase the advanced volume (hopefully focusing on some great new Scorpio features) and maybe the command reference.
    I think the intro/beginner volume is essential, but I agree with Ian that it wouldn’t need to be updated as often if it covered the basics and maybe some best practices.
    Maybe the electronic command reference CD could be included with all volumes.

  22. gabriel bulfon Avatar
    gabriel bulfon

    I am think that removing the syntax reference is the best choice.

  23. Rick Root Avatar
    Rick Root

    I’d personally like to see the 400 pages of reference materials extracted out into its own book.

  24. Nick Kwiatkowski Avatar
    Nick Kwiatkowski

    I am in favor of a Beginner’s book, Intermediate topics, and Advanced Topics. The beginner’s book should be the smallest, as not to intimidate the new users.

  25. Ed Northby Avatar
    Ed Northby

    I’d really like to see a nice big reference manual with 1-3 samples for each reference item. As for the application, migration, administration and dev guides, perhapse including them as PDFs on a disk inside the all-mighty Reference manual. I love the quick searchability that PDFs offer and I love having a reference guide on my desk. For me this really seems like an answer that could make most everyone happy. I’d even go as far as also offering the reference manual as a PDF on the same disk. That way all books are included and the reference manual is in both formats. PRESTO! Everyone is happy!

  26. Ben Forta Avatar
    Ben Forta

    Wow, thanks for so many responses guys, much appreciated, and keep it coming.
    For those of you that want 3 volumes (an intro, basic, and advanced), where would you want the referance appendixes? Intro? Basic? Or a seperate volume (which would then make it 4 volumes!)?
    Keep the ideas coming. I’m going to have a chat with my publisher about this next week, and your feedback is invaluable.
    — Ben

  27. Ryan Favro Avatar
    Ryan Favro

    I agree with Doug, perhaps add a payment plan option to accomodate the increased price (joking). Or if you buy the book get a discount on your next cf lisence.

  28. Craig Avatar

    Drop the reference guide. It’s nice to have everything in one manual, but if it’s all too big, then I want the "Ben-and-Ray"isms….the Obi-Wan Kenobi stuff that teaches improved methods and the tricks that only come with buckets of experience. The reference stuff I can hit the Adobe site to get.

  29. Ian Skinner Avatar
    Ian Skinner

    As an advocate of the three levels, I can see the reference as a forth volume.
    I imagine this has an advantage that this could probably be the most frequently updated and repurchased volume. How one programs well is relatively slow to change, the tools one can use changes very quickly.
    I could see that this could be an electronic and|or on-line and|or print volume.
    I could see it in ALL volumes, but my tree hugger side cringes at this thought.

  30. David Betz Avatar
    David Betz

    My vote would be for 4 volumes (at least). Keep the reference separate. You would only have to buy the volumes you needed/wanted, and I personally wouldn’t complain about price. These books are priceless! The boxed set is an interesting idea as well.
    I could be wrong, but I’d bet there is at least some correlation between the people who do and do not like or use online/electronic documentation and their ages. I find myself constantly printing out pages from PDFs, and the printed books you got when you registered CFMX are full of those tabs and stickies you mentioned.

  31. Brad Haas Avatar
    Brad Haas

    Here’s another thought. What if you continue on with CFWACK and CFADV. Take the reference material out of these books and then publish a 3rd book that covers what’s new in CF8 and also contains the reference material.
    The removal of the reference section from the the first two books would let you cover new techniques in CF8 and by creating a third book would let long time developers find out about just the new stuff and serve as a reference. Of course you could always include the reference material on a CD with the new CFWACK book so that people wouldn’t be forced to buy book 3 unless they wanted to.

  32. Steve Bryant Avatar
    Steve Bryant

    I’ll add this about the reference appendix:
    In 1999, Allaire put out a "Quick Reference Guide to CFML" (not sure if this is what you were referencing earlier). It was 30 pages and spiral bound measuring 4" by 9".
    Despite being well out of date, I still keep it in my laptop bag, primarily because it is such a small, handy reference. When I forget a simple matter of syntax and don’t have an internet connection (it does happen), that can prove to be quite handy.

  33. Adam Lehman Avatar
    Adam Lehman

    I vote for breaking out the language reference to it’s own book, much like the "Actionscript Dictionary’ series.

  34. John Wise Avatar
    John Wise

    I’m all in favor of additional books, as long as there are corresponding PDFs to go with each. An option to purchase just the PDFs would be great as well.
    I find it *much* easier to search for something in a PDF than a book when I’m working on my laptop.

  35. Jo Ellen Avatar
    Jo Ellen

    Does anyone know who published Kathy Ireland’s books?

  36. Lola LB Avatar
    Lola LB

    First of all, let me say that I love your books – I have the CF7 version and keep these next to my bed for nighttime reading (yes, I have other books for nighttime reading but I like to have something geeky when I’m in the mood) and the previous version boxed up for my next office location.
    I’d go with the 3 volume, even 4 volume option. I’ve printed out some of the extra chapters on the CD to keep in my notebook. Yes, I probably killed a few trees by doing so, but I just like to have something in my hand when I read. Make it so that these 3/4 volumes could stand on their own if I only needed the reference section, or just the volume that covered the new stuff in Scorpio, whatever. Of course, I’m going to end up buying all of these volumes, in any case (especially when there are discoount deals to be found here and there).
    And as others have pointed out, there’s a definite void when it comes to books having to do with ColdFusion. I’ve posted a couple times on Tim O’Reilly when he posts his book market surveys and asked why doesn’t O’Reilly have up-to-date books, and his response was along the line of "the statistics gathered show that there’s a very low number of programmers using CF, so it’s not worthwhile anymore to publish CF books anymore". The second edition of "Programming ColdFusion MX" only covers MX 6.1 and we know how much’s changed since that version.
    Oh, another suggestion – for those of us who don’t use Access and have MySQL installed along with CF on our Mac laptops, how about a MySQL version of the ows database?

  37. Jeff Chastain Avatar
    Jeff Chastain

    I personally would like to see more books available in electronic format. I am on the road most of the time and carrying around my bookshelf is not an option. Having books available on a flash drive or my laptop is great and searching is much faster and easier. Add to this the fact that PDFs don’t cost much to replicate and I would buy a lot more books.

  38. Mike Henke Avatar
    Mike Henke

    I like the idea of a series. My suggestion would be like the Pragmatic Starter Kit Series.

  39. Alan Dix Avatar
    Alan Dix

    Ben, smaller, more mobile books and PDF’s. For sure.

  40. Doug B Avatar
    Doug B

    I also am one who would not dismiss three books in place of the two current ones. The way I would work it is to have a book for the novice user to learn the things needed to get started with Coldfusion. The next book would be for the daily (Intermediate) coldfusion user which would include not only the reference but also the nitty gritty of lists, cfc’s, functions etc..etc..The third book would be the advanced book designed for those who have a thorough understanding of Coldfusion and would like to advance their skill set into other areas IE: Flex integration, XML, WDDX etc. I know the goal is to sell books, and therefore believe that only a limited number of "beginner" and advanced books would need to be published, with the brunt of the publishing done in the intermediate (Daily) user book. Anyways, I hope this helps in the decision making process. Good luck Ben!!
    Doug B.

  41. Tony K Avatar
    Tony K

    Multiple volumes is the way to go. And the reference should be its own volume. You did that around CF5 and I love that book. And don’t be limited by 3, go for 4 or 5. People will buy what they need. And it is easier for me to buy three $20 books than one $60 book.

  42. Patrick McElhaney Avatar
    Patrick McElhaney

    CD or paper: why can’t we have both?
    I think you should sell CFWACK, the advanced book(s), and the reference as separate volumes.
    You should put the reference on the CD that comes with the other books.
    You should put some or all of the advanced content on the CD that comes with CFWACK.
    You might put part or all of CFWACK on the CD with the advanced books.

  43. Doug B. Avatar
    Doug B.

    I am kinda recending my previos post. I like the idea of 4 books that Ben mentioned!! I think that would be the best and only way to go. Split off the reference material into it’s own book and then do the beginner/intermediate/advanced.
    Doug B.

  44. Sam Mitchell Avatar
    Sam Mitchell

    I like the idea of 4 volumes (beginner, intermediated, advanced, and reference). I’d gladly pay for the box set. IMHO the benefits of smaller more specialized books far outweighs that of their counterparts.

  45. Sid Wing Avatar
    Sid Wing

    I can say that WACK is a staple in my library and I always make my new programmers purchase a copy as well… 4 volumes is not a problem. Matter of fact, that would be great because then the company can purchase as programmers progress,

  46. Philippe Maitre Avatar
    Philippe Maitre

    I would love 4 separate volumes, as outlined earlier by others, available individually or as a discounted box set.
    I personally hate having to tote around huge 1,000+ page books, so having the CFWACK broken out into smaller separate volumes would be well worth the extra money. (I also like the idea of having all of the content in hard-copy format.)

  47. DK Avatar

    I’d like to see the reference section pushed into its own book then the rest divided up as it makes sense. The regular and advanced setup seems to work well so far. That would bring it to 3 volumes.
    Once I’ve read the book, myself, I typically just crack open the reference unless I’m specifically searching for an example of something…. even then I would probably look online first. This way the reference manual would be readily accessible and not so big to lug around.

  48. Rick Avatar

    I like the idea of 4 books too, sold separately and bundled together (I’d buy the bundle for sure). I’m less concerned about the price than I am about getting everything in printed form in a book that is manageable in size.
    I think having the language reference separate is a good idea no what way you go. I tend not to use it in the books currently because it’s too awkward to get at but a smaller book would be excellent.
    I hate PDF only chapters. I know there is good stuff in the last books that I never looked at because it was on a CD.
    I also like the idea of a beginner only book. I’m constantly trying to convince students that CF is a good alternative to PHP for them and having a smaller (ie. less scary) book to get started with would be a major boon.

  49. Bill Gordon Avatar
    Bill Gordon

    I vote for 3 volumes. The books are great. I would buy them at almost any cost.

  50. Jeff Epstein Avatar
    Jeff Epstein

    First, thank you for soliciting our input!
    I am strongly in the three-volume camp, but also for splitting up the reference material accordingly…CFML is now far too big to digest in a single gulp. No one book can serve both newbies and advanced developers. In the real world, you have different CF coders at different levels…nobody I know walks out of training and starts cranking CFCs. Have a "basic" edition WITH a reference section for all the basic CFML (I/O, formatting, list, loops, etc.) Advanced or Power CFML (CFCs, UDF, XML, objects, all else) with that refernce material, and a CF8 only edition with all the Scorpio stuff. (You could also have a fourth volume: all the reference material in one place.)
    Make them different colors, different levels, and – although you did not ask for this part – it is time to split up the Certification as well. Do the whole thing like we do in ham radio: Technician class, General class, and Extra class. Give out dog yummies for advancing from level to level.
    <cfset cents = "02">

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