Why I Turned Down a Book Contract

A few weeks ago, I received an email that I assumed was a phishing email from a publishing company. In it, I was approached about writing a book on the Raspberry Pi for the 7-12 year old audience. I forwarded it on to my partner, who informed me it was not phishing but in fact a legitimate publisher with books he had actually read.

This should be my dream opportunity.

After several days of back-and-forth email negotiation, a review of the sample contract (which was mostly filled with blanks and placeholders), and an examination of the financial gains and expenses, I came to accept that there were dozens of red flags for me. While I would love to be publishing a book on Raspberry Pi right now, and while I have the time and energy to commit fully to writing a book at this time, I couldn't accept the opportunity.

Trusting your gut is more important than any opportunity.

There were many things about being approached for this project that I found incredible, and that informed me I'm doing the right work in the world. I was considered for my experience and expertise on this subject, as well as my writing skill. I have been working very hard to create the RubyPi curriculum, and this work has slowly trickled into the Open Source communities I'm working with. I also have a background in publishing, which is both a blessing and a curse since it caused me to understand more clearly the terms set out in the contract (which was my biggest hang-up).

Not only was the contract detrimental to me as an author, but it made working within the Open Source community seem moot, as it prevented me from future writing on the subjects I'd be covering in the book. Given that the book is slated to cover Raspberry Pi and using it with kids (particularly 7-12 years old), and that the focus of my work with RubyPi is for kids ages 5-15, the biggest red flag to me was this clause, and it's impact on all future work. I can't lock myself into one project and not be able to share the content in the future. It is both counter to my work as a writer developing programming curriculum, and as a contributor to the Open Source community.

There were other, smaller reasons for me turning down the contract, but these are the biggest. I'm not willing to sacrifice my work as a writer, programmer, teacher, and contributor to a community about which I care deeply. Yes, I'd love to be writing a book about the Raspberry Pi and developing projects for kids to tackle. Yes, I'd love to have that book published by a major publisher and give it access to a market I couldn't dream of getting on my own. But it's not worth sacrificing my ability to share the work, the knowledge and learning, for the sake of a book contract.

My dedication to free and open access to knowledge about programming and my commitment to creating a learning environment with little-to-no economic restrictions is firm.

I'm curious: have you been approached to publish on a topic you feel strongly about, but been concerned by the restrictions it places on your work? How have you handled these situations?

PS: If there is anyone out there who wants to help support this work, and continue the dream of building the RubyPi curriculum, please let me know. I'd love to connect with you!