Re: Famous Technical Writers?

Subject: Re: Famous Technical Writers?
From: "Elna Tymes" <etymes -at- lts -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 1999 21:58:16 -0800

Debbie Packer wrote:

> That was my first reaction as well. I sat in the floor of Books-A-Million
> for over an hour several months ago trying to find what I thought was the
> best overall HTML book. I came away with a monster of a book called
> Mastering HTML 4.0. It wasn't until I got it home that I realized that it
> was written by Eric and Deborah.

As the author or coauthor of 33 published books on software (most of them done
during the 80's) I can tell you that "fame" in technical writing is fleeting.
Two of mine were best-sellers at the time, and made me a fair amount of money.
But the shelf-life of a computer book is about a year and a half and after
that, the book is mostly recycling fodder. So any "fame" the author gets as a
result of writing a best-seller is usually very short-lived and based almost
exclusively on how well the book sold. And because most software books ride
the coat-tails of whatever product they're explaining, the success of the book
- and hence the success of any particular technical book author - depends to
some degree on the success of the underlying product.

As for books written about subjects of interest to technical writers, I suspect
you'll find that even such well-known figures in the technical writing
community as Hackos and Horton don't really create "best-sellers," and that
their fame, such as it is, is limited to a small, specialized set of people.
If, on the other hand, you write the first of the Dummies books, you become
famous (for a short while) among other book writers, agents, and software book
publishers. I doubt too many people now remember who wrote that first Dummies
book, even though it made quite a splash at the time.

The original question, asked probably quite innocently, was whether any of us
knew anyone who'd become famous by being a technical writer. If one measures
fame as lasting more than 10 years, I doubt there are any "famous" technical
writers. Most of the writers here, for instance, don't even know who Yourdon
is, and I suspect even more don't remember who wrote the first books explaining
the internet.

My point is that one doesn't get famous writing technical books, largely
because the underlying technology changes so fast these days. There are a
number of writers who've become famous because they turned their technical
writing skills into writing fiction that sold well - Amy Tan, Jean Auel, and
many others that have been mentioned earlier today are examples. But those
people didn't become famous BECAUSE they wrote technical material.

Besides, I'll take a healthy checking account over fame any day of the week.
You can't spend fame at the grocery store.

Elna Tymes
Los Trancos Systems

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