ADVICE FOR HOPEFUL SOFTWARE SUPERSTARS
ANYONE caught giving away the trade secrets of an industry would normally be regarded with suspicion by co-workers in that field. The culprit in this case, A J Harding with his book Writing Software For Profit, is, however, likely to be blessed by colleagues in the software industry and amateur programmers who want to get their ideas into the shops.
The book, published by Virgin Books, not only shows how to approach the business side of the operation - going to software houses, writing specific application programs and dealing with income tax - but also describes the ideas behind the industry, which types of programs are likely to be accepted and how to go about writing them.
The advice given is that of a software publisher as Harding knows the business inside out. He has been in it six years as director of a software house.
The first section of the book describes the industry, how it has grown and the type of people who are involved in it. It covers mostly the upper, business, end of the market but the innovations shown by Tandy and Commodore are equally true of the smaller outfits attached to the home market.
Harding explains that professional authors write for chips and not for specific machines. In that way one program can be adapted for a wide variety of micros which contain the same chip. For instance, a game written for the 6502 could be easily run on the BBC Micro and the Commodore range of machines. A Z80 game could be transported across a wide variety of machines including Spectrum and Colour Genie.
The next section, choosing a subject, expands on the theme of machine popularity. Harding lists the types of programs which companies will accept and stresses that you should pick companies carefully.
Programs on the list include arcade, adventure, board, utility and simple account software. Each category has a section to itself in which the author explains the area and the pitfalls involved in it. He defines an adventure as a puzzle in which "certain actions have to be carried out in a chronological order". Harding goes on to explore some of the aspects which should be incorporated in adventures, such as syntax decoders, and how they have been used in famous programs such as those written by Scott Adams.
It is a change to find an author who talks about software writing as a business and not as an art form. His message is clear. Good software makes big bucks. Creativity is a consideration, but as in any other business money has to be a prime concern or you will be bankrupt before your first program has been accepted.
Harding's reasons for writing such a book, to help programmers get the most out of publishers when he runs such a company, might be regarded as suspect. The reverse is true, however, for two reasons. Publishers will welcome the book because it shows programmers what a company requires for a quick turnover of material. Gone will be the days of endless dross sent through the post on bad-quality tape or as listings.
For the programmer the book provides all the answers. It might deter some from writing software but those are likely to be the ones who demand attention for their masterpieces which are sent in as miles of computer printer listing. As the book says, computers mean business.