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. :-)

27 Replies to “The WordPress Bible: A Writing Redux”

  1. I really really wish we’d had more time to talk. :) This is an excellent post, and I can’t wait to read the result of all this crazy hard work.

    From the outside watching, I didn’t know how you could do it either.

  2. I saw you tweet this link out as I am literally sitting in a coffee shop in Cleveland writing my book. Very timely. Thanks for posting this. While my book is still in progress, I do have a couple of points to share.

    1. An agent is not needed in my opinion.
    2. Yes, the environment in which you can/need to write is very important. I like writing in loud public places. I can drown out the noise and focus. I get inspiration too from the hustle and bustle.
    3. Every editor I’ve ever worked with has made my work so much better. From magazines, to online pubs, to speeches/scripts. I imagine my team at Wiley will do the same as they did for you.

    Congrats on the book Aaron. I look forward to reading it.

    1. On agents, I’m a huge fan. I end up doing 100 hours less work, and typically end up getting 10-15% more money in the end. It’s a no brainer for me. That is, assuming you have a GOOD agent.

      Also, that’s assuming you don’t have existing solid relationships with publishers, or publishers aren’t already bidding on you. If either situation is true, an agent is just superfluous and a middle man.

  3. Congratulations on finishing the book! For tech books, I’d add finding a good technical editor to the list. I picked one the second time around on Learning Joomla Extension Development; it made all the difference.

    1. Right. Agreed. I pretty much told Wiley that I wanted Mark tech editing and I wouldn’t be satisfied with anyone else and find a way to get it done. And they did. :-)

  4. Great post Aaron! I’m actually in the final 25% of Professional WordPress so I feel your pain haha. You’ve got some great tips in here that I plan to reference during this final push and the editing phase. It is definitely a challenge to write a book, but I know the end result will justify it all!

    Looking forward to picking up a copy of the WP Bible when it’s released!

  5. Excellent, informative post, Aaron. I figured writing a book would be a torturous process, and you confirmed it :) No doubt you enjoyed it in the sense that it can bring a sense of pride, though. Looking forward to reading it.

  6. I’d recommend against ignoring the style guide. Each book series (if you’re writing in a series such as Wiley’s Bible series) has a particular style that the publisher expects. Ignoring the stylesheet itself also puts more work on your editor, and you really want them focused on improving the work.

    I recently finished a Dummies book for Wiley, and really wish I’d spent more time reviewing the guide. (What I really wish was that I would have got the first couple of edits back before I finished writing, then I could have corrected my mistakes) Most of the work I had to do was along the lines of “convert this to a numbered series of steps” — all things I would have known if I’d read the style guide more closely.

    +1 on the “have an agent”… On both my books my agent has negotiated an increase that was greater than their fee, and in the latest case, more than earned their pay after some co-author deals went south. Plus, my agency has got me into writing for various companies that pay a lot more than books!

    1. I’ll agree with what I think Aaron’s saying, which is don’t let the style guide get in the way, especially early on. I did this too, but what tends to end up happening is that the style guide becomes second nature after a few chapters… so going back and fixing it later is much faster than trying to nail every element the first time around.

    2. My experience (after reviewing other titles for my publisher), is that style guides are not 100% enforced anyway. While my book was pretty close to what they asked for, many of their other titles have completely different tones of voice, flow, etc…

  7. Great post, I always appreciate hearing the real stories behind writing books (especially big complex technical books like this).

  8. Aaron, congrats on your success. I’ve known you for awhile, and I can’t wait to pick up a copy of your book. I just wish somehow I could get you to sign a copy for me too. In any case, I’ll be happy knowing WordPress better, and the man who has spent a long time using it as his creative outlet.

    Many happy returns!

    David Nick

  9. Aaron,

    We couldn’t thank you enough for the hard work you did complete for us at Navstar. We are very happy with the final product of helping us realize our external vision of our internal enterprise 2.0 ways. Social Media is a big part of that and choosing WordPress as our CMS tool for our site was a purposeful decision.

    We also plan to be relocating our HQ soon and doing so, one of the things I am planning to institute is a library, in which we plan to have a copy of your book. At your release, we hope to get a signed copy — saying we knew you when…

  10. Aaron, just a huge congrats! I know it’s weird to say, but I’m proud of you. I actually remember writing Blog Marketing and trying to vent to you about it, and you trying to understand, cause I could have written the exact same post…

    Writing a book is a “good” experience, but most authors end up leaving it burnt out (I’ve talked to 3 this week). It’s totally worth it, especially for consulting/speaking, but it really does suck your soul dry and it tkaes awhile to recover.

    Good luck on the recovery mate, and see you at southby!

    1. I don’t know that I was burned out. I was numb, but not burned out. And I’ve bounced back. I should have added another tip: Know what energizes you and embrace that.

  11. Congratulations! My personal site uses WP so I can’t wait to buy the book.

    I wrote a book also – a murder-mystery called Murder in Ocean Hall – and this part of your post really rang true with me:

    “Figure out the environment and mode you need to be in to effectively write.”

    For me, it was sitting in a coffee shop, which was away from the distractions of home and allowed me to focus. It was like my office, the place I commuted to when I had to write.

  12. Congrats on the book. With WP updating and changing so often I can only imagine that writing a WP Bible is as frustrating as it is rewarding. I can’t wait to pick up a copy.

  13. Congrats, Aaron. As someone who has written four books and is also a full-time editor with Addison-Wesley, your words of wisdom are spot on. (Well, maybe with the exception of needing an agent.)

    Starting with an outline of what you think the Table of Contents should look like is always the best approach to take. It gives you a structure and framework to start with, and that will **always** change some along the way. Even with the best intentions, you never know how much or how long something will take until you’re knee-deep in it. Plan for the best and be prepared to adjust the outline when you need to.

    The other bit of advice I like to give my authors is to NEVER submit a chapter right after you’ve finished writing it. When you finish a chapter, close the file, close your laptop, and go do something else for 24 hours. Go for a ride/run/swim/bowling. Get a good night’s sleep (for once in the past week). Then go back and read that chapter with a clear head. You’ll be amazed at what you find you want to change. Then submit the chapter.

    Writing should be fun, and I’m glad to hear you’ve recovered already from writing your book. It’s a big accomplishment; congrats!


  14. Excellent post, and what a gigantic mountain you have climbed, this seems very impressive. It also must be a great composition because you have a great editor behind you as well. I am excited to learn more and checkout the book at Barnes and Noble. Great work Aaron, your website and creations are truly impressive.

  15. Great post Aaron – although I think I’ve just been talked out of writing a book!

    Looking forward to reading yours though – thanks for taking the time and effort to write it.


  16. What a massive undertaking! Great job Aaron, I don’t think I could have had the patience and work ethic to complete a book of this magnitude. I am truly impressed and will definitely pick up a copy.

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