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The WordPress Bible: A Writing Redux

Back in July, I noted that I had accepted and was beginning the process of writing The WordPress Bible for Wiley Publishing. You can read that post here.

It’s now November and almost everything is in the bag for me. I’ve written the book with an average of 20-30 pages per chapter. I’ve gone through Author Review (A.R.), more commonly called “editing”. I’ve taken screenshots. Wrote code. Sifted through pages and pages that have so many changes, from three different editors, that the page appears to bleed. I’ve survived. Sometimes barely. I want to talk about the process of writing that book.

Writing a book is as much mental as it is emotional. Everyday, you evaluate what you have to get done, how much time you have to get it done, and consider the tone and voice in which it is written. I noted in my announcement that I would take on extra work to compensate for the lack of full-time pay the advance money would turn out to be. This became the most difficult part of the process, as it would turn out.

Early on, I spent a tremendous amount of time being very precise and intentional in how I wrote. It was a very slow process but I was pacing myself. I had 4 deadlines at 25% increments that were a month apart (except the last one). I could afford to be deliberate and intentional and pace myself. I had nine chapters to write in 30 days. Done. The first deadline was no problem, but it was a definite time investment.

The second deadline approached in late August. It was the 50% deadline and nine more chapters were due. By this time, I was heavily invested in the two client projects – a corporate redevelopment of Navstar, a federal IT service provider in Northern Virginia and TheCityFix, a WordPress MU/BuddyPress-based project for EMBARQ, a major non-profit in DC. Both of these projects were lagging behind as I went about being meticulous about my book. So when the 50% deadline came, I had my chapters but I was delayed on my clients.

Putting the book on the back-burner at the beginning of the 75% deadline, I spent time catching up on client work. As a week turned into two, and then three and I had not been able to start on the 75% deadline, I had mornings where I would have nervous and mental breakdowns in the shower. I had no idea how I could do it all. I was under intense pressure to do and I simply did not know if I could do it. I hid it well, but exactly one week before I had to have another nine chapters turned in, I began that process of writing those nine chapters. I told my clients I was unavailable. I locked myself away for 12-16 hour writing marathons. At 8pm on the day of my 75% deadline, I turned in my last chapter – a marathon effort that began 7 days before. I headed to the bar for a beer.

We got started on the process late, so although Wiley agreed to push back the 25%, 50% and 75% deadlines to compensate, the final deadline had to stay fixed at October 14. Two and a half weeks. I took a bit of time off to go back to client work because I knew I’d be going to Orlando to keynote IZEAFest, and had intentionally took advantage of the group rate that IZEA had negotiated to get a few extra days in sunny Florida. In theory, I could write the rest of the book by the pool and enjoy the sun. Good idea, but then the wifi was ridiculously poor and I lost six days in the two and a half weeks I had to finish things up.

I came back from Orlando looking at the same situation I had with my 75% deadline – 8 days to go, 9 chapters to write. Up until this point, I had made every deadline even if I was unofficially granted a few extra days here or there if I needed it. I never took those extensions. My editor was firm on the 100% deadline though. It must be done. (She ended up giving slightly in the end but I couldn’t take her up on that because I was leaving for Vegas and Blog World Expo on the day of my final deadline. There was no way to be in Vegas and take advantage of a few more days to write!)

Miraculously, as I flew at 37,000 feet on Virgin America en route to Blog World Expo, I was submitting my final chapter and screenshots. Thank God for wireless internet on flights! I made it. Done. Complete. Breathe.

When I got back from Vegas, however, my editor told me she needed me to rewrite a chapter (or significant portions of the chapter). Sighing heavily, I did just that addressing the areas of concern she had. Then the deluge of chapters began floating back to me for A.R. I had to sort through every single chapter, rewriting some portions, approving code changes from Mark Jaquith, my technical editor, wording and grammatical changes from my copy editor and other generalized suggestions and changes from my lead editor.

I was told that the edit process is grueling. That it is painful. That I better have thick skin. I went into A.R. expecting the worst. Fortunately, it was a fairly painless process. Perhaps after the marathon sprints and my inherent instinct to trust the people around me to make me look good, I rolled with the process. These people make me look good! While I accepted almost every suggestion from all three editors, there were times I vetoed. As the author, I have that prerogative to a point. Generally, however, I trust these people to help me through. It was not as bad as I expected.

Emotionally, I was numb. The book took a toll on me. In most ways, the toll is good. In other ways, perhaps not so much. I still will have to proofread the final product in December and will have a week to do so, but this process is all but over. However, I’m still numb. Does a man achieving what seemed so difficult to do give him an emotional outbreak, as we see when sports teams win the big championship, or does it make us look at life a little more soberly and say, “Wow… I did that. Crazy. Now what?” For me, I think it’s the latter.

From a business perspective, The Navstar project has been wrapped up for almost two months now. TheCityFix is all but wrapped up. When you’re writing, you don’t have time for business development. So now I’ve hit the reset button and rebuilding again. The buzz around the book has already generated enough leads that I don’t think I’ll be hurting for work.

From a book perspective, I can’t wait for this thing to come out. It is available on Amazon on February 15th and you can preorder it now. There will be a book launch in Baltimore and Washington, likely. I will undoubtedly be traveling to many WordCamps next year, including our own WordCamp Mid-Atlantic (which I co-organize). Next time I write a book, however, I will write it about something I want to write about and not something I’m qualified to write about. (kidding).

To aspiring writers, I say:

  • Find your groove early. Don’t waste time on stylesheets (every publisher provides a style guide). That’s what the editor is for.
  • Roadmap your book so it’s on paper. Most publishers will require a table of contents before you start. It’s for your good as well as theirs.
  • Have thick skin during the editing process. Your editors don’t hate you even if their markup seems like they do. They have your best interest in mind.
  • Have an agent! The agent is there to help navigate through the business process. Sure, they take 10-15% off the top, but they can often get you more money and more concessions. It’s sort of like don’t ever go to court without a lawyer.
  • Write because you want to write. You’ll never make it rich on writing (unless you’re Thomas Friedman, and even then, you’re probably making money from speaking engagements because of your writing).
  • Figure out the environment and mode you need to be in to effectively write.
  • If you need to stop because you’re mentally exhausted, stop… because you’re mentally exhausted. It doesn’t help your writing to be doing so in a robotic, bleary eyed way.
  • Most of all, have fun! Writing a book is a hard process, but so rewarding. If you treat it like work, it will be work. If you treat it as a way to channel your energies, you’ll have more fun doing it. :-)

 

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Writing "The WordPress Bible"

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

That’s how the process of coming to be the newest author for Wiley Publishing seems to have gone, even though the initial contact was only in late April.

Back then, I received a mysterious email in my inbox asking if I would be interested in writing The WordPress Bible. Fascinated, I immediately responded back and the conversation began.

We have had an agreement in principle for several weeks and now that the contract is official, I feel comfortable talking publicly about the deal – though the details of the deal will remain undisclosed.

I’m excited about writing this book. As many of you who have been with me for these more than five years know, I began the process of writing a book with my friend and colleague Jeremy Wright back in 2005. Honestly, I don’t think either of our hearts were in that book and we amicably agreed with the publisher that we wouldn’t complete that project. Sort of a shame in itself, but all for the better.

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That project gave me a little window into the life of an author. Overcoming writers block. Roadmapping chapters. Communication at all time with project editors. Stylesheets. Deadlines. All that jazz.

At that time, I was much less mature as a writer so it was a huge challenge to write effectively and for an audience. At that time, I was a much more free-spirited author writing often elaborate (and possibly poetic) prose which might not have been the right fit for a book of that nature. Today, I still am the best damned writer around (kidding) but know when to turn it on and off and how to write an effective 4000 word article or a 140 character tweet.

Today, I approach The WordPress Bible with some fear and trepidation. Currently, the book is marked at around a cool 700 pages. And oh yes, it has to be done in October. Yikes!

What this effectively means is that for the next four months, I will be spending monumental amounts of time doing nothing but writing. I’m considering disappearing to the mountains once a month for 3-4 days just to write.

During the process, I am going to continue to work with my clients to deliver valuable WordPress solutions for their businesses. In the past week, I have secured 3 more clients that I will be able to work with over the next few months.

I want to thank Stephanie McComb at Wiley for believing in me and reaching out to me in April. This will be a great addition to the Bible series. I also want to thank Lynn Haller from Studio B for helping me through the process and running valuable interference during the negotiations. Anyone looking to write a book should reach out to her to represent you. Authors should usually have agents and she’s a great agent.

I can’t wait for this book to hit the shelf. It’s going to be an invaluable resource for WordPress users, themers and developers of all range of skills and will be a “must order”.

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Now is Gone is Here

Good friend of mine and sometimes-columnist here at Technosailor, Geoff Livingston, is celebrating the launch of Now is Gone, the book he’s been working on for quite some time (it also has a blog associated with it as any good new media book does). Now is Gone is described as a “Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs” based on his own knowledge and experience running a social media-oriented PR firm.

So, Geoff is a friend of mine but I told him I’d give him an honest review of this book, and honest review I will do. Overall, the book is brilliant. I’m glad this is not “yet another book on blogging”. It doesn’t provide a how to. It doesn’t provide options for choosing your platform or describe how to subscribe to RSS.

It’s obvious that this book was written mostly for executives. This is not a bad thing as Executives are the ones steering companies and the reality is that if companies don’t embrace social media, they will be left behind. It is presented in a very philosophical way, describing the challenges that companies face today when it comes to the social media landscape, brand management and public relations. The simple message is, “Hey guys, you need to get what is going on today and you need to do it fast because Now is Gone”.

The book starts with an intro from Brian Solis who you may remember was a member of the PR Roundtable discussion hosted here in November, 2007. I love Brian, but the foreword was too lengthy and off-putting. As a reader, I wanted to get into the meat of the book and it seemed to take awhile to get to that point.

Geoff makes some common sense analogies between social media mirroring real life. It stood out to me that people do not like to be controlled but they will allow themselves to be influenced – as long as you don’t try to control them! His 5 steps to the basis of an effective social media message could probably be broken out further, but were effective for the book:

  1. Giving Up Control of the Message
  2. Participating in a Community
  3. Is Your Community Social Media Savvy?
  4. Dedicating the Resources
  5. Ethics and Transparency

This book as a whole is a slam dunk, effectively communicating a message that is very much needed and, is very timely at a time where companies are embarrassing themselves more than ever in their engagement with social media. In that way, this book could not be more timely.

I would suggest for the next book, however, (There will be another one, right Geoff? :) ) that fewer callouts be used. It seems that call outs were half the book and if that was the intention, you might as well have made them part of the book. :) That’s a minor point though.

Bottom line… 4 out of 5 stars (does that mean anything anymore?). Job well done. Go buy Now is Gone (aff) today.

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