Writing a book by competition

By Simon St. Laurent
May 19, 2009

Over the years, O'Reilly has published books created in a wide variety of different ways, but this week we're trying something new: writing a book through a competition.

Programming competitions, of course, are pretty common. I participated in some in middle school, but they've evolved a long way since then. We're working with TopCoder, "the world's largest community of competitive software developers", with more than 200,000 members. They've been building software though competition for a wide variety of customers, taking a very different approach from the usual single team model. It's not just throwing problems out to a crowd to get free answers, either - they pay winners in cash, not just thank-yous.

While many of our books have been collaborative, bringing together the efforts of many authors, they have historically had a lead author making all of the decisions about what fits and what might not fit. Submissions for books tend to be by invitation, not through open calls for participation. (Our conferences, of course, do have large open calls for proposals.)

For our first time out, we've taken kind of a recursive approach. We're asking TopCoder participants to create a book about how to participate in TopCoder contests, the TopCoder Cookbook. Cookbooks are a natural fit for books with multiple authors, as each recipe can be fairly self-contained, sequence is less critical, and there's room for a wide range of subjects and levels related to a given topic.

We just opened the competition yesterday, so it's still pretty quiet, but you can see the first round of what we're up to, at the TopCoder Cookbook forum between now and June 3rd. I'll be at the TopCoder Open Finals June 1st through 4th to talk about the project, and I'll be writing more about it as the competition develops.

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