As I had written in the past, we had an unexpected round of reviews that delayed the book for a short while. This major review had targeted three primary goals including the better flow of content, audience level adjustment, applying the latest changes in the final version of ASP.NET MVC 1.0.
But during that round of reviews, I noticed that despite the effort that we (as authors, editors, and reviewers) put into a book, our readers don’t have a good clue to choose the most appropriate title for them specifically when it comes to some big publishers like Wiley/Wrox that publish a series of books for a single topic. We try hard to meet the criteria of that specific series, but our readers don’t know much about them when choosing a book. At least this is my impression based on what I’ve seen on the community. Therefore, I decided to write a post and explain some stuff about Wrox book series and the area that they target, but per a recommendation by Simone, I waited until we get closer to the release date of the book, so we can spread the word about this stuff.
Of course, what I write is based on my experience in writing four titles for Wiley/Wrox and technical editing of a book, what I’ve read in the guidelines for each book series, and all my conversations with editors regarding this matter. Doubtlessly, Jim Minatel would be the best person to explain the criteria for Wrox series, and I wish he leaves his comments for what I write here.
Some big publishers like Wiley have several brands in different fields of science and technology, and try to have a specialized team to focus on the specific topic for specific audience. The main Wiley brand for programming and software development topics is Wrox which is very well-known among .NET, Java, PHP, Ruby on Rails, and other communities.
Wrox has some principles to meet the quality and marketing both, and one of their main strategies to achieve these goals is to have book series in which they publish books for a specific target audience and purpose. There are some advantages for this such as allowing the reader to read the most appropriate content for its level and purpose to meet the quality goals, and helping Wiley to centralize its power and effort on different titles for an estimated sales and revenue to meet the marketing goals.
Wrox has published several titles in some series such as Beginning, Professional, Problem-Design-Solution, Programmer’s Reference, and Expert One-to-One. There are also some titles that don’t belong to a specific series that are usually discussing very specific and marginal topics that don’t have the potential to be distributed under a series. Also recently Wrox has published some electronic formats of short books for smaller discussions called Wrox Blox.
As many of you know, some other publishers have similar strategies as well, and they should have their own criteria and guidelines, but most of these guidelines should share many things in common.
Here I give a perspective about this and talk about different book series published by Wrox. There are some guidelines for each series that are shared with authors that explain the goals of each series in details, but I couldn’t find them on a public link to share.
Based on what I’ve seen in the past years, one of the main sources of negative reviews for a book is the lack of knowledge and background in the audience level of that specific title. I have read many reviews in which reviewer has complained about the higher or lower level of content than what he or she has expected from the book. For many circumstances, authors are not responsible for this because I’ve seen that the reader has mistaken to choose that title to read for his or her purpose and level. Of course, I don’t deny the fact that for some titles authors haven’t met the audience level very well.
So it’s very important to know the audience level and purpose of a book specifically in the field of programming and more specifically when it’s published by some publishers like Wiley/Wrox. You can find such information from the book series guidelines as well as the back cover description and introduction section of the book. One of the negative points about Wrox books that I’ve tried to resolve in my titles is the uselessness of Introduction section for many books where author can clarify his audience and purpose to a great extent.
Unfortunately, the main criteria for many readers to choose a book at bookstore is the name of the technology, the name of the author, and sweetness of the book series. I explain each one further.
Some readers are going to learn a technology, but don’t have the necessary background to learn it, and basically they need to read some other titles in order to get started with that technology. In many cases, they ignore this fact and go for the more famous topic which in turn significantly reduces the usefulness of that title for them. So as they can’t understand many parts of the content, they get a false impression about the book. For example, I’ve seen many developers who want to start development with ASP.NET and it’s obvious that they need to know about C# or VB as well as a database technology (preferrably SQL Server). But as ASP.NET has a big name, they go directly and pick an ASP.NET title and can’t get much out of it!
For some other titles, the name of the author and his reputation has a significant amount on the sales of the book. Publishers consider this in their contracts and starting their projects as well. But in my honest opinion this is a very wrong strategy especially when you’re buying a book! The fame and technical level of an author cannot guarantee the quality and usefulness of the book. Even if the book is written very well, the level may not be appropriate for you.
The last parameter is the sweetness of the book series name which means that the higher the level of the series is, the better it is for some readers even if they don’t have that level of experience and knowledge! Some readers regret to read a Beginning book because they think that it disturbs their reputation and level! Many of the readers think that a Professional book is for a professional developer and a Beginning book is for a beginner developer, so it’s difficult for them to read a Beginning book!
It’s All About Usefulness
The other point to mention is that whole the leveling thing is about the better usefulness of the title for the reader. Even if you pick an advanced book and don’t have the necessary background, you’ll get something out of it, especially with Wrox series because authors try to give some background information for many sections of their book. Some readers may choose a Professional series book and learn much about it, but they could get more if they had read a Beginning series. I want to say that sometimes you even may not notice the difference, but choosing the most appropriate book can improve your knowledge.
The Beginning book series targets principles and concepts and relies on a practical approach to expand them. The primary goal of the Beginner series is to get a newbie in a technology or someone with less amount of experience and train him to become a medium-level developer ready to face with real-world problems.
The main approach is to discuss concepts and principles in good details and expand them with rudimentary examples. Discussion of techniques, hacks, and advanced topics is limited to those that are common in daily development, and other techniques are not covered.
This series which is the most well-known series published by Wrox tries to get a developer with a good level of knowledge in a technology and teach him more professional topics to face with professional projects in commercial development. While there may be some short discussions about basic concepts and prerequisites, these books generally rely on more professional examples and the relationship of a technology with others such as the relationship between ASP.NET with database technologies or XML.
You have to note that a Professional book doesn’t teach everything about a technology even in a professional level, and its target is training the developer not acting as a reference.
Besides, it’s worth mentioning that the criteria and level of Professional series books varies significantly by technology that they discuss. For instance, my Professional Visual Studio Extensibility book was targeting a level higher than mastering Visual Studio to extend it, and the criteria was a little different from the general one that I mentioned above.
Neither the Beginning series, nor the Professional books can effectively train a developer to solve a whole problem with a comprehensive technology. There are some comprehensive technologies and topics such as ASP.NET WebForms or ASP.NET MVC that are built to allow developers to build a a solution. Abovementioned series lack a good training to teach developers the whole development cycle for a real world project with a technology. We all know that this is a common problem for many developers who cannot build projects from the beginning to the end.
Problem-Design-Solution targets this area to fill in this gap, and uses real world case studies with side-discussions to relate the concepts and techniques to real world solutions.
As I said, none of the previous book series can act as a comprehensive reference for a technology or topic, but some programmers need such details, so Programmer’s Reference provides such thorough information for you. Although these titles are usually lengthy, they don’t go over details and discussions.
The most advanced series that targets very high level of discussions is Expert One-to-One that is not as common as other series. As the name suggests, it targets more experienced developers to teach them some stuff that can’t be covered in other titles. The goals and audience level of these books varies from title to title, and I haven’t seen a consistency except the one in the audience level and the coverage of advanced topics.
Finally, I have some recommendations for you when picking a technical programming book from a bookstore:
- Know the prerequisites for the technology and learn them first.
- Read the back cover description and preface/introduction sections of the book carefully.
- Try to learn about the guidelines for each book series and choose the most relevant one.
- Do not rely much on the reputation of the authors. Many of the less-known authors have written the best books.
- Even the blatant success of a book and several positives reviews can’t guarantee its usefulness for you. But some useful reviews can give you good clues about the level and quality of a book.