William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Stand by!

My book is coming!

It’s almost there, so let me tell you how modern math publishing works these days.

The author of course writes the work, and we all do it in a typesetting language called Latex (some just use Tex). Google it. It’s not different in spirit from web pages, which are content surrounded by “markup code” that tells the words where to go.

We can extend the analogy. Web pages are written in a markup code which is further subject to cascading style sheet rules. The style sheet rules say how big headlines are, what background images to use, and so on. In Latex, these are called class files (or “.cls” files).

Point of all this is that we write the words and math and the publisher provides us with a class file that does all the typesetting for them. Builds the Table of Contents, numbers all the pages and formulas, lays the footnotes properly, and so on, all automatically. Latex is sweet and orders of magnitude better than other word processing programs, such as MS Word.

But, unless you are a really famous author (not me), you are even given the privilege of writing your own Index! So, in math/physics/etc. books written with Latex, there is nothing for the publisher to do. They don’t even—again, unless you are famous—provide any direct copy editing. They let the authors do that, too.

Since I’m doing everything, I decided, a la Tufte1, to bring out the book myself. Most of the copies I sell will be to the students who are forced—er, elect—to take my class. This way I can keep the price way down.

When I was a visiting professor at CMU, the textbook cost, if you bought the “Solutions Pack” and “Calculator Guide” (or whatever it was called), was well north of $100. 100 bucks! That’s nuts. Mine will be $24.95.

The rest is done automatically, including uploading the text and sending it to printers, everything is actually pretty quick. The real time is in getting the book out to the distribution channels. So while my book will be available first from the publisher’s site, it will take from 1 to 2 months to show up on Amazon.com etc.

What do you do if you can’t wait? You can check out this book. My attempt at inserting skepticism into a strange field.

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1 Tufte does statistical graphics. If you haven’t seen his work, you should. His books, which are famous, are also non-traditional since there are, unfortunately, few statistical graphics courses at colleges. Still, he’s done OK with the books.

13 Comments

  1. I will be ordering soon. Thanks for the update.

    As I was searching for your book publisher, I ran across this:

    http://www.responsivesystems.com/papers/misc/Using%20Averages%20for%20Performance%20Prediction.pdf

    If you are familiar with it do you have any comment? I thought the “Flaw of Averages” pun was good.

  2. Briggs

    October 28, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Bruce,

    No, I haven’t see that before, but it’s pretty good.

    And Pliny was wrong.

  3. How much of the $24.95 goes to your pocket? (If that’s not too nosy)

  4. Briggs

    October 28, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Bishop,

    Don’t worry about being nosy; I’m not shy.

    About 4 and a half bucks. Publisher gets about a buck and a half, two bucks for profit, printer/production/publisher gets about 9 and a half. Amazon, or whomever, gets the rest. Plus tax.

    I figure, with the ~30 copies or so that I expect to sell, it’ll work out to about 10 cents an hour. So much for minimum wage!

  5. Matt, remember this word for your next book: Framemaker.

    But, very very unfortunately, you can’t do it on a Mac any more. Unless, like me, you have a G5 running System 9. And, I continue to see nothing whatsoever wrong with System 9 šŸ™‚

  6. Was it Tufte that suggested that the first look at data should be on a graph that has no scales or labels?

    Or, did I make that up?

  7. Briggs

    October 28, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Dan,

    Framemaker? No WSYWIG for me, thanks. I like coding. Vastly easier, and you don’t have to continually worry about how things look.

    Not sure about your source. Sounds plausible. Could be Bill Cleveland, too. Or even Tukey.

  8. Matt, it’s clear to me that you haven’t been correctly introduced to Framemaker. It’s claim to fame, among many many others, is that you don’t have to continually worry about how things look. Set it up once and you’re done. And it easily handles enormous files and books.

    When the whole Tex / LaTex thing started I said, I’m not going to learn yet another computer language, and besides this will be another one of the many computer language passing fads.

    When Wall Street recovers, or my personal Bailout check arrives, whichever comes first, I’ll be a customer.

  9. Briggs

    October 28, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Dan,

    You gotta love the price of Latex/Tex.

    And it makes numbers look pretty.

  10. Tufte was an inspiration. I have sent 5 of my folks to his workshop. His books are beautifully produced.

    After his workshop we were able to redesign a standard report that took 37 pages down to a 20 page report by following a few simple principles.
    1) Dwell time is the secret – how do you make the representation of the information interesting enough that people will actually study the data.
    2) Get rid of anything that does not have information content.

    The first means that you can reject the mantra of more white space, more white space – as long as the image is intriguing and not overwhelming. Tufte uses the density of information on the sports page to make this point.

    How we used the later principle was simply to represent the end of a bar in a bar chart with an icon, which in turn allowed us to increase the number of bars without visually overwhelming the reader non-informative pixels. Since we had before and after users of the old and new reports we have a pretty solid basis to say it works.

    We could have done more but are limited to what we can trick Crystal Reports into allowing us to do. Please let me know if you can recommend a better automated reporting tool that has better graphic capabilities.

  11. How much is the vanity publishing setting you back?

  12. Briggs

    November 2, 2008 at 4:16 am

    TCO,

    Not a dime.

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