Sorry folks, book publishers don't know Apple's plans
I've been working on a book for the next version of iPhoto for a while now. I have some friends who have been working on a book for the next version of iWork since last August, too. Matter of fact, my iPhoto book has a publishing date of March 31, 2013. These books are being written for Pearson, the largest publisher in the world. I also have a book in the works about iOS 7 with another publisher. That is scheduled to be published on October 7, 2013.
I know, it's going to be an exciting year for Apple software releases, right? Maybe a lot of you hope I'll leak what the big new features of the next version of iPhoto will include or how my friends are enjoying playing around with the beta of the soon-to-be new version of iWork '13 and iOS 7? I could probably sell those secrets for thousands of dollars (or maybe millions if I can get Samsung interested!) The only problem is that I, nor my friends, nor my publishers have any proof that these products are actually real. We've never seen a beta. We've never been told by Apple that these are going to be released.
I'm writing this article because time and time again I see it reported that some tech site has found evidence of a book about an unreleased Apple hardware or software product has been prematurely listed on Amazon. The tech site takes this as proof and pretty soon other tech sites are reporting on this "evidence." The book has a release date and ISBN after all. It must be real.
No. I can tell you with absolutely certainty that these prematurely leaked books are never signs of any upcoming Apple products.
"But then how can you be writing a book on the next version of iPhoto," you might ask?
The answer is, while I am writing a book on the next version of iPhoto (right now the the publisher and I are calling it iPhoto X), I'm actually writing a book on the current iPhoto '11. Then, when Apple actually unveils the next version of iPhoto, I'll spend 2-3 weeks learning all the new features, update the manuscript, and hopefully have it on store shelves within 4-5 weeks of the new version being released.
This is what publishers of all consumer technology books do. Publishing is a very competitive world. Consumer tech books particularly, besides having a lot of competition, have a relatively short shelf life. A book on the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 is only sellable until the next iPhone and the next iOS. So it's to the publisher's advantage to get a book out on a piece of software or hardware as close to the actual release date of that product as possible.
Since Apple never releases betas of their desktop apps, authors like me begin writing the books on the (hopefully) upcoming software so we can have the book as completed as possible when the new version does actually come out. Writing a tech book takes a lot of work from a lot of people -- not just the author. After I finish the first draft of a manuscript, my primary editor needs to look it over and suggest corrections and/or changes if necessary. Then the developmental editor has a go at it. Then the technical editor takes a look and does the same. After that I take another look, make any changes, and then it's back to my primary editor, developmental editor, and the technical editor again. If everyone is happy then the manuscript goes to the copy editor and finally back to me. That doesn't even include the art director who needs to set and proof the images in a book (and with a tech book you have a lot of images).
If a publisher would wait to commission a tech book on a product until the day it was actually announced, that book wouldn't hit shelves for probably 5 to 6 months. That's a lot of lost sales. So it's very practical for publishers to do it the way they do: commission and write the book before any announcement, make sure that book is as good as it can be, and then update it when the new product actually comes out. This way benefits readers and stockholders alike as the readers are sure to get a completed, technically accurate, knowledgable book since the publisher and author can spend more time writing the new bits instead of rushing to get the whole book out quickly. The stockholders in the publisher are sure to get a steady stream of sellable books while the subject is still relevant.
Of course, both I and my publisher are hedging our bets. A new iWork '12 didn't come out in 2012, so my friends writing that book have a great manuscript on iWork '09. But they can't do anything with it until they can update it with iWork's new features when the new version actually ships. That means the authors won't be making any royalties for a long while on a work that has been virtually completed. Another danger is that you write a book on the next version of a product based on its current iteration, but then the next version of the product turns out to be radically different. Then most of your work would have been for nothing, and you need to start all over. However, since this rarely happens (although it did from iMovie HD to iMovie '08) it's usually in the publisher's interest to bet a product won't be radically different because the extra five months of sales that you would need to sacrifice to wait for certainty would cost you a lot.
Now about those Amazon leaks. In order to get a publishing contract finalized between an author and a publisher, among other things, you need a title, a release date, and an ISBN. Publishers usually plan their book release schedules a year in advance so they have a reasonable idea where their sales are going to come from. Once your contract is finalized, your as-yet-to-be-written book is then entered into the publisher's database. Occasionally these databases will be sent to Amazon or other distributors where the books will be listed. I'm sure by March you'll see my upcoming book on iOS 7 show up on some international Amazon site. It'll probably have an October publishing date. Again, this means nothing. My now titled iPhoto X book (last year it was titled iPhoto '12 -- and then that never actually shipped. Bummer.) will probably show up too. It'll even have a cover. I've seen it. Of course this cover is just a placeholder showing the current iPhoto so the art team can get as much of the book finished now as possible. But these dates especially are flexible and aren't there based on any input from Apple or knowledge about its plans. They're there for contractual and scheduling purposes only and can (and will, frequently) change.
So don't get too excited from now on when you see books for unannounced Apple products "leaked" on Amazon. Sure, I guess it is possible (anything is, right?) that Apple decided to break with protocol and give some lucky author and publisher an advanced copy of some software so they could write a book on it. But you need to ask yourself, why would they do this? What's in it for Apple? Apple doesn't get a cut of books sales about their products (unless it's on the iBookstore -- but even cuts of fiction books go to Apple then). And as Apple's help info always goes live online when a new product ships, they don't need the help of third-parties educating customers the day a product goes live.
So sorry to squelch the hopes of those of you who always get excited about these book leaks, but at the very least I hope this clarification will save some tech journalists unneeded keystrokes typing up a story that wasn't.