Writing a book?

After reading How Much Have I Earned From My Book Sales? (and how consultants really earn money from books), I decided to look into what it would take to write a book about my experience as a community manager at Stack Overflow. The good news is I already have a lot of words written:

jericson.github.io % find _posts -name \*.md | xargs -n 1 perl -ne 'if ($i > 1) { print } else { /^---/ && $i++ }' | wc
   25996  218661 1455411

That’s 218,661 words just in blog posts. A Google search suggests this is between 3 to 4 books-worth. Not all of these would fit the topic and they’d need to be edited to fit the book format. Still, it’s an encouraging place to start. Self-publishing seems streamlined via Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and I’m confident I can use Pandoc to convert my Markdown files to the EPUB file format. Easy, right?

There’s a lot hiding in the phrase “edited to fit the book format”. When I told my wife about converting blog posts into a book, she pointed out that I use a lot of links. I’m really aggressive with linking (see the previous paragraph) because it saves so much time setting context. Instead of explaining something with words, I can vaguely point at it with a link. That’s not great for a book, even if you are reading on your phone. So I’ll need to decide how much of that context I need and write it up.

And then there are the hundreds of other details such as:

  • deciding on a title
  • creating an attractive cover
  • vetting any images I use to be sure I have the rights to publish
  • picking out fonts
  • things I haven’t even thought of yet

Back in 2007 I typeset The Light Princess. Since it’s public domain, I decided to publish a paperback version via KDP. It’s being reviewed now so I might have a book I’ve published (but obviously not written) in a few days. That should give me an idea of how it’ll go self-publishing a book I’ve written myself.

When we produced the books from Mi Yodeya content, I found that most of the work went into (1) curating and organizing (more about that below) and (2) evaluating and adjusting for the new context – not just dealing with links, but also setting other context that would have been obvious to our community members but not to somebody who picked up our guide to the high holy days in a synagogue. Passing references, jargon, in-jokes, links… all had to be handled.

But bigger than that was my (1) above – the initial curation of what should go in in the first place – which questions, which answers, which additions from comments – and how to organize it all in the book. We made that a community effort, and we got a lot of benefit on our first book (the haggadah companion) by having a structure to fit into already rather than having to decide ourselves what the “chapters” should be.

These projects were deeply rewarding for me. I hope your book is as rewarding for you too! You didn’t write about curation and organization, and I think that’s where a fair chunk of your time will go.

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My first chapter was somewhat easy since I knew how I wanted to start, but how I want to proceed is much harder. Yesterday I remembered a post that would be even better for my first chapter so I can’t make progress without disrupting the web I’d already laid out. Still, it was fun to remember things that seem so long ago and noticing that they are more relevant than ever.

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