Should we call it “Learning Perl 5”

Should we re-title Learning Perl to Learning Perl 5 for the next edition? How much of a fuss would we cause?

Our trick is to position our book for the major version of Perl that most everyone uses (Perl 5) next to the same sort of book for the mostly different language with the same name (Perl 6).

Up until now, we distinguished the version of the thing called “Perl” in a ribbon on the edge of the book. But, this thing called “Perl 6” is out there and it’s not an upgrade to Perl 5 (unless you think of Perl as an upgrade to awk). The books aren’t going to be compatible and we don’t want people to buy the wrong book.

For most people using Perl as part of their job, they want the current track and not the Perl 6 one. However, at the same time, they aren’t going to realize the difference and go for the highest number.

Who has some good advice for us? We have a Survey Monkey survey (which might show up embedded right under this), or you can leave a comment.

The survey is closed with an overwhelming cry for renaming the book.

Learning Perl, 6th Edition is available!

After the long slog toward putting an outline into full paragraphs and paragraphs into book form, the day every author thinks may never happen passes by with almost no fanfare: the first day that people can actually trade money for the months of work. That day was sometime last week for Learning Perl, 6th Edition.

Of course, the authors know the publication schedule. That is, the editors tell them the schedule and the authors immediately ignore it. It’s full of all sorts of deadlines, and most of them aren’t really for the author. We meet an intermediate milestone and the editors then take the book away from us. As Lorne Michaels, producer of Saturday Night Live, says, roughly, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30”. Even if he doesn’t say it, it sounds true enough.

A book project, like a software project, can almost always be better. Give an author more time and you get more chapters, longer chapters, and no book. I can fiddle with it forever, but that doesn’t do anyone any good. The editor is the person who can figure out that’s it’s done because he doesn’t have his head in the book all day long. He sees the whole forest even if I might be lost in the woods of a single chapter.

After I turn in the book, there is usually despair and relief at the same time. It’s mostly a fait accompli once the editor takes control, but I always wish I just had another week. How many times have you heard that? How many times have you said that? After a couple of weeks, I forget that I wrote the book. I block it out of my mind, wondering why I have so much free time all of a sudden. How did that happen?

But then, with no warning other than the production schedule I ignored a long time ago, the book is there, ink on paper, in people’s hands, and I’m reminded that I did something. That something lets people comment on what I did, through book reviews but more often, errata. Indeed, the first hint that I had of my book in the wild was an errata report.

As the palettes of dead-tree books make it to the major distribution centers, Amazon and the other book sellers with catalog and shelf the books. They will robotically pick the book when you order it online, and in a couple of days you’ll have the first printing. As you are reading that and making comments, we’ll be working behind the scenes to fix typos and other minor errors for the second printing, and I’ll be on to working on the next book.

Learning Perl Turn-in day

I have to turn in Learning Perl, 6th Edition today so it can enter “production”. This is when the O’Reilly staff essentially take the book away from me, turn off my repo access so I don’t keep fiddling, and make the book look great.

As part of that, the editor reads over the book , although there aren’t any surprises because we’ve talked about everything I was doing along the way. The graphic designers turn my crude conceptions of the figures and turn them into nice looking figures, an indexer creates the index, and many other things. This is when O’Reilly knows they have a book to sell and can start planning for its print run and delivery to bookstores.

On my side, this is where I take a break from thinking about the book for several weeks so I can forget about how hard it is to pull something like this together. The next time I think about the book is when O’Reilly sends me the “QC1 proof”, which should be close to the final form save some minor corrections and typesetting adjustments.

Basic books sell better

When I posted my Perl plans for 2011, Robert asked me why Mastering Perl might not have another print edition. It’s mostly due to the sales for advanced books. I don’t think this is really about Perl or the topic involved. Take any topic and specialize it more and more. You cut down on your audience each time because fewer and fewer people want to follow you along. Most people get by just fine with the basics in Learning Perl.

Normalized print book sales of the my Perl books

All the numbers are normalized to the Learning Perl sales in the last quarter of 2009, and the Y axis is logarithmic.

Most authors would like to have the sales of Intermediate Perl. We’re fortunate to have the sales of Learning Perl that let it go on to a fifth edition.