Failure to communicate

I know I should get over it, but I never cease to be amused/dismayed by the people who make comments about a book that don’t even relate to the book in question. Case in point: Someone commented that my recent book from O’Reilly, Practical Electronics: Components and Techniques, didn’t have the information that they wanted regarding “…an example of how to interface a simple serial circuit with a USB port and read data…”

For one thing, it’s not trivial to interface a simple serial port to a USB I/O channel–additional hardware is required. There are some chips available, like those from FTDI, that do this, and these are mentioned in the book in the USB section. A quick look at the vendor’s web site would show how it is used. And then there is the issue of complexity. USB is not a simple protocol. If the person who made that statement wanted to just solder a few wires to a USB connector and jam them into a standard serial port, well, sorry, you can’t get there from here that way.

What I really think it boils down to is something I’ve been cranky about for quite a while: No one reads the preface!

From talking to other authors I know I’m not alone in my frustration with this, so I’m not just referring to my own books here. This applies to any technical book ever written, or ever to be written.

Like most technical writers I go to great pains to make the preface as explicit as possible regarding who the book is written for (the intended audience), how it is organized, and what it does, and does not, cover. If I’m assuming that my readers already know what voltage is, this is where I’ll state that. If I don’t assume that the readers know anything, then I’ll state that, too.

And, lastly, there are those people who seem to intentionally avoid the preface and evaluate an author’s work solely on the basis of their own presumptions, preconceptions, and assumed expertise. For example, one person left a particularly nasty review, which I thought was intentionally malicious. In addition to being plain nasty, it was also untrue. It might have applied to some book, somewhere, but it didn’t apply to my book.

The point of all this crankiness (and there is a point to it) is this: Please, respect the time and effort that an author put into creating a book. Read the preface. Even if you don’t like the book, it still took somewhere between 6 to 18 months out of someone’s life to create it. It’s hard work. If you don’t believe me, try writing your own book. If you read the preface and you still don’t like it, well then that’s fine. At least you have some rational reasons for not liking it.

If you liked the book, then please, make the author happy and leave a good review for them. If you didn’t like it, then at least spell out why and offer some suggestions for how they could make it better. There’s always the chance that a second edition will come out, and you may have helped make the world a slightly better place.

One last parting thought: When you look at the review comments left on Amazon, B&N, O’Reilly, or any place that offers  books, you will see reviews ranging from glowing 4 and 5 ratings, to the 1 star equivalent of a fresh poop in the middle of the living room. That applies to every book sold–no author can please everyone. But consider this: You won’t see any 1 or 2 star nasty dumps from other published authors. We generally have more respect for ourselves, and other writers, than that. We try to offer constructive, not destructive, criticism, at least most of the time.

If you found this interesting, you might also want to check out my post on dealing with reviews over on The Wind Muse.

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