Tim O’Reilly

Editorial Philosophy

An archive, in reverse chronological order, of essays, interviews, and talks relating to O’Reilly’s editorial philosophy.

Get Your Hands Dirty! — January 2005. Hackers of all stripes refuse to just take what they’re given. They’re driven to remake it, and getting there is more than half the fun. In the latest O’Reilly catalog, Tim writes about the host of new books and products within that celebrate the hacker impulse. We’ve got the information you need to hack, remix, and master technology at home and at work. So go on, get your hands dirty!

Pick the Hat to Fit the Head — October 2004. Larry Wall once said, “Information wants to be valuable,” and the form in which information is presented contributes to that value. At O’Reilly Media, we offer a variety of ways to get your technical information. Tim O’Reilly talks about it in his quarterly letter for the O’Reilly Catalog.

Right of First Refusal Clauses in Book Contracts — January 2004. One of our editors wrote to our internal editors list an impassioned email about right of first refusal clauses. I agree with him that RoFR clauses are pernicious, and I challenge publishers who use them to justify the practice, if they can. Meanwhile, my advice to publishers is, if you want to keep your authors, treat them well, and sell lots of copies of their books. Locking them up by contract is not the way to go.

Thoughts on the Success of Google Hacks — July 2003. Google Hacks rocketed to the top of the bestseller charts as soon as it was published in February, and has stayed there ever since. Obviously, the success of the book is more than anything a testament to the success of Google itself. But it’s also a sign of the times.

The New Era of Pervasive Computing — May 2003. The era of the personal computer is over. We are entering the pervasive computing era, where dozens or hundreds of specialized access devices suck services from the emergent global network computer. At O’Reilly, we’re working hard to prepare you for that future, as you take the tools we teach you about and use them to invent it, in a virtuous circle.

Writers as evangelists? — June 2000. A posting to the StudioB mailing list about whether writers need to remain “objective” in computer books or can act as technology evangelists.

Ultimately, people buy computer books for substance, not enthusiasm. So regardless of whether you are an true believer and evangelist or simply a hired professional, it’s your ability to figure out what the reader needs to know, your ability to walk ahead of him on the path he’s treading, find the muddy spots and the tigers, as well as the vista points off the main trail, that is going to make the reader come back for more. A good book is a good book. No amount of passion will turn a piece of fluff into a useful book, but your enthusiasm, and yes, your evangelism for a technology you believe in, can turn a good book into a great one.

Telling the Truth — An Ask Tim response from June 1999:

I heard a cute story from one of our bookstores: a Microsoft Press representative told them that O’Reilly had an “unfair competitive advantage over Microsoft, because we could tell the truth about their products.” Because it’s Microsoft, whom everyone loves to bash, we can all chuckle and leave it to that. But I think there’s more to this story than that.
One of the reasons that I started O’Reilly was because as a tech writer doing contract work for companies, I couldn’t always tell the truth. I’d want to write about bugs and problems so I could offer workarounds, and the company would say “you can’t say that about our product!“ So when we started publishing our own books, I made that a centerpiece of our philosophy.

In a Nutshell Advice — September 1997. A document Troy Mott assembled from email messages that I’d sent to various authors over the previous three months. It summarizes some of my thoughts about how to develop an “in a Nutshell” style reference book.

Many topics that seem too thin can in fact become an In a Nutshell book if one thinks about the ripples that spread out from a rock tossed into a pond. In a similar fashion, a topic can broaden itself out into concentric rings of associated information that is needed by the user and is thus very valuable.