Category Archives: The Book

Are References Necessary in Non-Fiction Books?

A few people have asked me if I intend to include references in my book.  References are common in non-fiction books and usually take the form of a superscript number at the end of a sentence which links to a numbered list at the foot of the page, end of the chapter or back of the book containing the references to the source material.

Personally, I find references of this kind very annoying when reading a book.  They are difficult to ignore but severely interrupt the flow of the text when followed.  I appreciate that they are necessary for academic publications, but are they really necessary for books aimed at a more general readership?  Few non-academic readers will want to check out a reference and those who do can easily look it up on the Web.  References shouldn’t be required in order to support the author’s credibility, as the publisher will have made sure that the author knows his or her subject thoroughly before agreeing to publish the book in the first place.

If you look at the sample chapters of my own book, you will see that I’ve taken a slightly different approach.  At the end of each chapter there is a section entitled Further Reading which lists a selection of the source material for that chapter plus any related publications which may be of interest.  Any readers who want to delve deeper into the subject can do so by obtaining copies of this material, much of which can be found on the Web.

Of course, a publisher may take a different view and insist that I include full references for every scrap of source material used in the book.  I hope this won’t be the case but I guess it would be a small price to pay for the privilege of having my book published!

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The Self-Publishing Dilemma

Progress on my book has been slow but steady over the past few months with the result that Chapter 12 is now nearing completion.  That leaves only one more chapter remaining plus some tidying up to be done as a result of writing several chapters out of sequence, so I’ve been thinking recently about what to do with the book once it is finished.  The feedback I’ve received on the sample chapters suggests that there is a market for such a book, but what would be the best way of reaching this market?

There appear to be three options available.  These are (in descending order of difficulty):-

  1. Securing a publishing deal with a book publisher.
  2. Self-publishing the book.
  3. Putting the entire book up on the Web as a free download.

With the first two options, there is also a decision to be made on whether to go for a traditional printed book or an eBook, or possibly both.  A book on a technology-related subject may be more attractive as an eBook given that people who are interested in reading about technology are also likely to be keen users of technology.  However, I’d like to include plenty of illustrations in my book and there are currently issues with the use of illustrations in eBooks due to the way in which eBook readers dynamically reformat the pages in order to accommodate different display screen resolutions.

Given my chances of landing a publishing deal with no track record whatsoever, I’m tempted to go down the self-publishing route.  However, to do this properly will involve considerable time and expense, with little prospect of a return on this investment as my book is likely to be lost amongst the competition unless I can find a way of getting it noticed.  Unfortunately, the level of competition is formidable, with more than 2 million eBooks currently available in the Amazon Kindle store alone.

The Web is awash with sites offering advice for unpublished authors, but most of these focus on fiction rather than non-fiction and the two categories are sufficiently different that much of the advice does not apply.  Therefore, if there are any non-fiction authors out there who would be willing to share their publishing experiences, good or bad, I would be keen to hear from you.

Of course, I don’t need to make a decision on this anytime soon.  With a busy day job and other commitments, it’s likely to take me some time to complete the book.  The later chapters have taken longer to write due to the larger amounts of primary source material to digest, so on this basis I probably have another 9 months or so before I’ll actually have something worth publishing.

Sample Chapter Added

I’ve now added a sample chapter from the book in PDF format which can be accessed by clicking on the Download button on the ‘Sample Chapter’ page. I chose Chapter 1 (Computer Prehistory – Calculating Machines) as, unlike later chapters, it doesn’t rely on other chapters to set the scene and can be read as a standalone work.

As the title suggests, this chapter covers the earliest efforts to mechanise calculation, from the calculating aids of John Napier through the mechanical calculators of Schickard, Pascal and Leibniz to the incredible engines of Charles Babbage.  To put these into context and provide a more rounded picture, it also covers the advances in engineering technology or ‘building blocks’ which facilitated the development of such machines.

Like many good stories, there are also elements of mystery. These include the discovery of a mysterious object in an ancient shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900, which changed our perception of mechanical technology in the ancient world, and the role of the great Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, who may or may not have been responsible for the first design for a calculating machine.

Feedback would be much appreciated but please note that the text has not yet benefited from the attention of a professional editor so don’t be too surprised if you spot the occasional typo or grammatical howler.