Androids: The New Edition(s)
Same book, with new publishers, new markets, and new formats
When Androids: The Team That Built the Android Operating System first came out in August of 2021, it was self-published, via Amazon’s KDP print-on-demand service. I had spent time looking for a “real” publisher (also an agent, which tends to be the way you get to publishers), but that didn’t pan out after significant attempts.
For example, I spent a good chunk of time creating a thorough “query” packet required by one agent, complete with outline, sample chapters, marketing plan, and more. I sent it in via their website and… crickets. Nothing. Nada. Not even a receipt acknowledgement, much less a personal or even form-letter rejection.
I finally realized that I had a full-time job, and spending a lot of time finding a publisher for a book whose profits would all be donated to charity didn’t make sense.
Meanwhile, I really liked the story of Android that the book is about (otherwise, why did I write it?) and I wanted other people to enjoy it as well. So I self-published it, because that was clearly going to be faster and easier than wading my way through the mysteries of the publishing world.
Truth be told*, I really like the print-on-demand (POD) self-publishing option. For one thing, it allows someone like me to get something out there to a potential audience without figuring out the shadow world of publishing houses and agents. It also results in a lot more, um, stuff that maybe shouldn’t be published, because it’s just as easy to distribute unedited drafts as it is to put out something that’s ready for a wide audience of readers. But POD opens up that market to a much larger set of writers than was previously possible. Formerly, writers would have to navigate the publishing world to have their books see the light of day. Or, if they were brave and perhaps financially foolish, they could find someone to print their life’s work, spinning up a run of a few hundred copies, most of which would end up sitting in a warehouse collecting dust instead of royalties.
* “Truth be told” is a weird phrase. It’s one of those things that you say without thinking about it. Then you realize what came out of your mouth, or your typing fingers, and you wonder why that arcane phrasing ever made its way into our common sayings.
Along came print-on-demand publishing, with publishers like Amazon, Lulu, and IngramSpark enabling books to be published and sold, one by one. And now authors like me could publish everything from humor books** (which wouldn’t otherwise be printed or read by anyone) to donut poetry, instead of having these thoughts languish somewhere in a drawer, awaiting the eventual arrival of the next generation at the house years later to toss it all in the bin.
** I read an interview with a book agent years ago. They were asked, “How does someone get the opportunity to publish a humor book?” The answer, from the agent: “Be famous.” What a depressing answer, to an aspiring humor writer. But he wasn’t wrong. Who would buy humor from someone they’ve never heard of? Roughly nobody, according to my humor book sales reports.
In the case of Androids, I pursued it more as a “real book,” hiring a professional editor and an interior/cover designer to make it as polished as a self-published book could be. And with that, I launched the printed version on Amazon and the eBook on several online stores, happy to see the story finally available for an audience that I thought would find it interesting.
Nevertheless***, I never stopped wanting a real publisher for my Androids book. In particular, I knew that while I was able to appeal to a reasonable market of Android developers through my contacts and following in that world, I couldn’t reach a broader community of non-programmers on my own. I specifically wrote the book for a larger, more general audience of people beyond the community of Android, or even general software, developers. Sure, we in that community might find the description of how the pieces of the OS were developed and fit together more interesting than someone not working in the field. But the overall story of how and why the product managed to succeed, or the team dynamics that made it happen, or the tale of how a software product comes into being, were, I thought, worthy of readers outside our programmer cubbyhole.
*** “Nevertheless” is another weird phrase, masquerading as a single word. It’s like someone decided it looked odd, so they just removed the spaces and declared it an official word.
So I contacted a couple of publishers directly, essentially using the now-published (and selling!) book as a calling card. One of the publishers in particular, No Starch Press, was very easy to talk to and (given the traction the book had on Amazon from the early days) interested. No Starch Press focuses almost exclusively on tech-related books, which was not where I was aiming (see above; it’s not a technical book, but rather a story about a technical project). But they distribute through Penguin, which has a much larger reach outside of the tech sections of book stores.
In any case, we figured it all out, they developed their own edition (minor tweaks on mine, mostly stylistic, plus more fun illustrations from my friend and colleague Daniel Sandler), and the new version was finally available on their site last month and more widely (in various online stores, and even in physical bookstores!) this month. Now we will both discover whether the book has an audience outside of Android developers.
Meanwhile, I was also contacted out of the blue by Tantor Media, an audiobook publisher. They were interested in the audiobook rights. I’m not sure how they found out about it (I assume Amazon provides sales metrics to publishers, and the early numbers from the self-published edition were interesting enough for them to ask. Either that or maybe they’re Android developers). I was already thinking of doing an audiobook project on my own, so it made sense to work with Tantor on it. (This project ended up being a lot more effort and time than I expected; maybe I’ll post something on that later). This audiobook was released just this past week; you can find it on Tantor, audiobooks.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.
It’s been a long journey (five years next month since the first interview that started it all), and it’s not quite over yet. I have a couple of book talks coming up at local area bookstores in the next few weeks, and will continue posting thoughts about the Android story (or meta stories, including publishing details like this piece). But it’s good to finally have publishers to handle the details of distributing it and (more importantly) to get the story out to a wider audience than I could manage on my own.****
**** Now that it’s mostly “done” I just have to figure out what to do with all this spare time. Maybe I’ll need to write another book…