Publishers: I'm not going to write or review a book on Hadoop for you

This is another of my stock responses, to go with those on LI connection requests and recruiters. This one is for publishers, with a special callout to Packt Publishing:
  1. I agree, I have the knowledge and skills to write an excellent book on Hadoop.
  2. I have no motivation to do so.
  3. I wouldn't publish it through your tier-2 publishing house anyway.
  4. I will not review any of your books as it is not worth my time
Therapy By Inkie

Amazon's Print on Demand (HP WebPress!) services appear to have brought some new players to the publishing market, ones with no upfront investment in paying for an initial print run. This lets them get authors to write books and, after a bit of reviewing, stick it up for sale -with no risk.  As a result, the have clearly commission-based "author executives" who waste their life scanning LI for people with Hadoop in their resume then effectively spamming them.

Every so often , an email hits one of my inboxes noting that I work on Hadoop and wondering if I am interested in writing a book for their -invariably unknown- publishing house.

From: Parita Khedekar <paritak@packtpub.com>
Date: 22 January 2013 12:02
Subject: [Steve], Author a "Big Data Analytics with R and Hadoop" book for Packt.
To: stevel
Hi Steve,

My name is Parita Khedekar and I am an Author Relationship Executive for Packt Publishing. We specialize in publishing IT related books, e-books, and articles that have been written by experts in the field.

We are currently looking out for prospective authors to write our book related to Big Data:

Big Data Analytics with R and Hadoop  aimed at Data Analysts and Scientists using Hadoop who need to take advantage of the R integration in their projects.
Scaling Big Data with Hadoop and Solr aimed at Solr developers who want to know how to leverage the flexible search functionality of Apache Solr and the Big Data processing of Apache Hadoop, to create the indexes for both general search and augmented data analytics.

Given your experience with this technology, I was wondering if you would be interested in authoring either of this titles.

Looking forward to hear from you and do let me know if you have any queries or doubts.


Parita Khedekar
Author Relationship Executive
PACKT Publishing

The answer to this is, "no", for the following reason: I have already written a successful book on an open source project.

I know precisely how much effort it takes to update a good book: a lot. A book on software is effectively a software artefact, code that is required to work, along with consistent documentation. The more ambitious the first edition, the higher the maintenance costs- unless it has somehow been designed for maintenance up front.

Writing a paper of 10 pages can be done in under a week, revisions included. A chapter of 20 pages doesn't take two weeks, it takes 3-4. A book of 10 chapters doesn't take 10 * 3 weeks, it takes months more. Books, like software, are not O(n) products.

I know precisely how rapidly a book on a poplar open source project goes out of date: at the release rate of the software. Whereas a book on a closed source product, say MS Office 2010, is entirely in sync with the product for its entire lifespan, a book on an OSS app ages visibly With every release. This increases pressure for timely updates.

I know the ROI issues with writing a book, namely how many hours it takes, and how much you get in return: no much per hour of work. I also know that publishers don't have to care about how many hours the authors put in, as long as they meet their deadlines. Their ROI equations are based in cost of post-authoring actions: review management, typesetting and printing.  With print on demand, printing risk is eliminated, leaving only typesetting and reviewing. Skip quality typesetting and get reviewers to work  for free and you have no costs other than some minion to track the authoring process.

I also know -and this is relevant to anyone going "hey, how would you like to write a book"- multiple publishers. As well as Manning Press, people in O'Reilly. Both are brands with reputations for quality books.

So, for anyone inviting me to take up the opportunity to write a book on Hadoop for them:
 go away.

Regarding reviewing, it adds more work to my life for no benefit. Usually the reward is a PDF or hardcopy of the book. But consider this, a PDF costs the publishers $0, so you are being paid $0/hour. Even if you get the hardcopy, a $30 book would cost $15 to print -for a 2h review you are being paid $7.50. I consider my time more valuable than this.

There is one exception, If the book is by someone I know or work with, I may be able to put aside the time to do the reviewing -such people can contact me direct

Therapy By Inkie

Finally, the author talent acquisitions team should take the same advice as recruiters: do your research.

Take this approach

From: Anish Sukumaran <anishs@packtpub.com>
Date: 15 July 2013 12:32
Subject: [Steve], Author a 110 page book 'Apache ZooKeeper Administrator's Guide ' for Packt Publishing
To: stevel@hortonworks.com

Hello Steve,

My name is Anish and I am an Author Acquisition Executive at Packt Publishing. Packt is a rapidly growing, dedicated IT book Publishing firm and has rolled out more than thousand books on various titles till date.

Packt is now planning to publish a book titled as 'Apache ZooKeeper Administrator's Guide ' which would be a 110 page micro book and in the process of seeking potential authors to work on it , I also came across your Presentations on Slideshare. it is evident that you have a commendable experience and knowledge in this area.

It would be my pleasure to invite you to write this book for us.

Do let me know your decision and also if you have any queries, I will be happy to answer them.

Looking forward to hear from you.

Kind regards,
Anish Sukumaran
Author Acquisition Executive
PACKT Publishing
MSN: anishs@packtpub.com

This "Author Acquisition Executive"  has been delving though slide share, looking at the presentations to see if they could identify possible authors, before approaching them.

Yet clearly, they have failed to do two things

1. Look up some internal spreadsheet of people who have already turned down a publishing opportunity with the publisher.

2. Go to Amazon and enter my name -because if they had done so they'd know I was already an author, perfectly capable of getting a book published by a quality publisher if I so chose to sit down and write one. Therefore I was already doing it for some other publishing house, or I was not in the mood to destroy all my free time for the next 12 months to write one.

Henceforth anyone spamming me with an publishing opportunity from a near-unknown Print on Demand shop will not only get sent this link, their approach will be added and ridiculed.

(photos: Therapy  by Inkie, commissioned piece for the hairdressers by the Highbury Vaults, captured at sunset)


  1. That's if they even send you a copy of the book. Packt contacted me to do a book review as it was being written for their Network Analysis and Visualization with Gephi in return for sending me a hard copy of the book and an e-book of my choice, think I got either? of course not, think they respond to my repeated emails? Of course not, wish I just simply used my noogin and googled them before I accepted, now I foolishly wasted my time to help them for nothing.

  2. So glad I did a quick google of packt, after an email arrived in my inbox regarding publishing a book for them.

    thanks for the heads up steve!

  3. I'm with Michael above. I googled "packt publishing complaints" and saw this. The letter they sent me was identical to the one they sent you. Looks automated to me.
    The only way this would be remotely worth it would be to churn out some garbage in the least amount of time possible (they were only asking for something like 350 words for the "book").

  4. I am lost for words. You've basically summed up everything I wanted to say regarding Packt. Clean cut, to the point and hellishly truthful.

  5. Thanks for posting this. At first I was super flattered then I found this article. I mean I guess they're making money their amazon books have decent reviews so I didn't think anything of it. Like you said: its 0 return doing work for folks you don't even know.

  6. My review of a recent Packt book includes some general comments about their business model that you might find interesting.


  7. I have mixed feelings about them. I DO agree that they are a somewhat poor quality publisher and I do not like some of their methods. However, they have some books (poorly edited and short as they may be) on particularly obscure topics. I'm not sure some of their books would exist without them, and they have attracted a few VERY talented authors on occasion. I don't think they should continue exactly as they have, but what I can state solidly is that they occupy a niche of tech publishing that I don't want to go away.

  8. I was also approached by someone from Packt. I think it was regarding Python microservices. I gave an honest, cordial reply that it sounded interesting but with really young children it wasn't realistic.

    I got a reply:

    "No worries, I completely understand your situation and I know its really for you to spend time with your kids. :)"

    I don't know about you, but I found this a bit on the snarky side. This killed any interest I might have had in working with Packt.

    1. Well, maybe you were reading too much into it. Who knows. I guess it can't be fun as the author recruitment team.


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