(Warning, minimal Perl content.)
I started writing more fiction in 2004. In mid-November, I began what would become a full-length novel. From a creative point of view, my goal was simply to complete it. After a year of working off and on (and co-writing Perl Testing as well), I had a reasonable draft.
I set the book aside for a while, having achieved my first goal.
Sometime during the writing of Perl Hacks, I thought about the novel again. Perhaps the necessary discipline of needing to write something every day helps me get in the writing state of mind, while writing a lot of non-fiction makes me want to write something else to unwind. With plenty of suggestions especially from my friends Esther and kudra, I finally produced a publishable draft early in 2007.
That was a nice secondary goal to reach.
Allison and I had done some research on lightweight publishing during the same time period, and realized that it's possible to publish a book for under a thousand dollars of actual cash investment. (I don't want to think about my investment of time.) The costs go down substantially for subsequent books -- under $500, I believe, for a fourth or fifth book, and perhaps slightly less. Of course, there's a slightly higher per-unit printing cost for various interesting reasons, but you don't end up with stacks of boxes of books you have to sell and then ship sitting in your garage. Mine's already full of TPF shirts anyway.
There's nothing like running an actual experiment to find holes in your thought experiment, and we just happened to have a publishable manuscript sitting around, so I revised a couple of tools I used on my recent technical books and we invested some money in developing a nice LaTeX stylesheet and, well, now the novel's in print.
I haven't said much about this before, unless you managed to buttonhole me at a conference this summer, but my friend Jim asked a question a couple of weeks ago and I've been thinking about this ever since. "How are you marketing the book," he asked. A couple of weeks later, my friend Lisa asked the same question.
Word of mouth is great, but you have to find people with the right words in their mouths somehow, or else sit around and wait for them to find you. Also, if your goal is to spend as little actual cash as possible, taking out a full-page ad in a magazine isn't really going to fly. I haven't ruled out pestering the local newspapers to talk my way into an interview, but I haven't done that yet.
Again, this project met my artistic and creative goals a long, long time ago. Still, as an experiment, it's imporant to explore all of the options a small publisher has for working on the cheap. O'Reilly always makes a sample chapter available, so today I extracted one of my favorite sections of the book and turned it into a freely-redistributable PDF. I used a CC license such that you're more than welcome to share the excerpt far and wide, as long as the attribution remains.
I chose a different pen name for this book, mostly because I didn't know how seriously anyone would take a novel without a more realistic-sounding name. Don't worry about that.
At some point in the future, I can see myself releasing the entire novel under a CC license. I might even publish the Subversion repository which contains every edit I made; that would be an interesting source of information for literary archivists. (At least, I'd like to see such a thing from other authors.)