A Blog Not Limited

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So, I Wrote a Book: Microformats Made Simple

Oct 19, 2009

Published in

Amazon: Microformats Made Simple

Seven months ago, I posted the first article in this series, announcing that I had gotten a book deal. I was thrilled and excited for the new adventure. During the months of writing and editing, the thrill and excitement faded; replaced by stress, frustration and a growing realization that writing a book just isn't something that I would ever do again.

Now, about a month out from completing the book, my emotions have shifted yet again. The stress is slowly oozing from my body, the frustration is becoming just a memory and I'm starting to feel a small spark of excitement again as Microformats Made Simple is officially on sale!

And this blog series is officially at its conclusion. I have some final thoughts on my experience to share (and record for posterity and the needed reminder to myself to never do this again). But before I dive into all that, how about I give you an idea of what to expect … you know, in case you are on the fence about buying the book.

Rough Cuts

If you aren't sure if Microformats Made Simple is worth your hard-earned money, you can get a preview thanks to Peachpit's Rough Cuts program. From here, you can read excerpts from all chapters, purchase hard-copy and PDF versions of the book and even offer feedback and comments.

The site isn't the most usable or accessible site ever, but if you want to set your eyes on actual copy before buying, this is where to go.

Table of Contents

You can see the entire table of contents on Amazon and Rough Cuts, but let me break it down for you a bit more:

Chapter 1: Introduction
In chapter one, I define microformats, discuss semantics and The Semantic Web, and detail the history of microformats. I also write about some of the challenges that microformats have faced (accessibility, usability, etc.) and how these challenges are being (have been) addressed by recent developments like the value-class pattern. Of course, I also outline all the benefits of microformats. And, lastly, I explain why I wanted to write a book about microformats.
Chapter 2: XOXO
Chapter two lays the foundation for the structure of the rest of the chapters. I first define the XOXO microformat, then I explain the syntax. Next, I provide examples of the XOXO microformat using POSH.
Chapter 3: rel & rev
In chapter three, I cover most of the link-based microformats: rel-home, rel-tag, rel-license, rel-nofollow, rel-directory, rel-enclosure, rel-payment and VoteLinks. And just as in chapter 2, I define each, detail the syntax and provide POSH examples.
Chapter 4: XFN
I continue with link-based microformats in chapter 4 with a discussion of XFN. I explain the syntax, as well as the meaning of the different social values. And, again, I provide POSH examples of XFN in action.
Chapter 5: xFolk
Chapter five takes us into the first of the compound microformats I cover: xFolk. The format is the same: I define xFolk, explain the syntax and provide POSH examples. I also discuss combining microformats.
Chapter 6: hCard
In chapter six, I focus on hCard. First, defining the microformat, its benefits and its syntax. Then I provide several different POSH examples of hCard for people, for organizations and for named places.
Chapter 7: hCalendar
Chapter seven's focus is hCalendar: what it is, what the benefits are, how to publish it. POSH examples in this chapter range from single events to a two-day conference.
Chapter 8: hResume
I explain the hResume microformat in chapter eight, defining it and explaining the benefits. Of course, I cover the syntax and give two POSH examples: a short–n–sweet resumé and a more detailed, complex resumé.
Chapter 9: hAtom
I discuss the hAtom microformat for syndicated content in chapter nine. No change to the format. First the definition, then the benefits, then some lovely POSH examples of publishing hAtom in a single blog post and in a news article archive.
Chapter 10: hReview
Chapter 10 is the last chapter where I focus on a single microformat. This time, it is hReview for web reviews. And, again, I start with the definition, then the benefits, then POSH examples.
Chapter 11: hAudio, hRecipe, hProduct, hMedia
Chapter 11 is my last chapter focusing on microformats and this time, I quickly cover four drafts: hAudio, hRecipe, hProduct and hMedia. This chapter was a last-minute effort to save on page count. We condensed four chapters into one, which meant the coverage of these four microformats isn't as detailed as previous microformats. I do define each and explain the syntax. However, I provide just one POSH example for each, rather than several different examples of how the microformats could be published. I feel confident I get the core information across, but I can admit that I wish I had been able to stick to the original plan of detailing each of these in its own chapter.
Chapter 12: CSS
Chapter 12 is a 180-degree departure from all previous chapters. In this one, I provide CSS for some of the POSH examples in previous chapters. I do not explain CSS. I do not go into much detail about browser inconsistencies. I don't even explain the logic of the CSS I used. I simply wanted to demonstrate that using microformats does not prohibit a designer from styling their content any way his or her heart desires. It is really to prove a point, rather than teach CSS. Although I do hope it serves as some inspiration. The POSH examples I style in this chapter are XFN, VoteLinks, hCard, hCalendar, hAtom and hRecipe.

Sidebar Goodies

As much as I love microformats, I did get severely burnt out on the topic as I was writing this book. So one of my absolute favorite distractions from the topic were my sidebars. The majority of the chapters have at least one sidebar, some have two or three. And this is where I would talk about concepts, markup and other elements associated (sometimes loosely) with microformats.

Some of the sidebar topics you'll find are:

  • Choosing the right list element (<ol>, <ul>, <dl>)
  • Logical and physical URLs
  • Data recovery and Ma.gnolia
  • <abbr> and <acronym>
  • Writing accessible <table>s
  • Syndication formats

Friendly, Approchable & Attempting–to–Be–Funny

My writing style is, as my copyeditor described it, "bloggish." It reads a lot like a really long blog post. It is informal, conversational and friendly. And I try to sprinkle in bits of tongue–in–cheek humor.

I am by no one's definition a comedian. On a good day, I'm slightly amusing. On a bad day, I just embarrass myself. But I wanted to make this book interesting to read. And even I can admit that microformats aren't the sexiest of topics. So, I tried my best to be funny (ahem, amusing). I hope that when someone is reading, they come across one of my quips and chuckle … and then continue reading with a smile on their face.

I also tried very hard to write in simple terms with simple language. I wanted the book to read as if I was having a conversation with the reader. I didn't want to talk over anyone's head. I don't need to feel that I'm the smartest person in the world. I just want to pique a reader's interest in microformats by talking about them in a way that truly demonstrates their simplicity and ease–of–use.

I feel confident I achieved those goals. And I feel confident that, if you buy the book, you will chuckle … if only at my pathetic attempts at humor.

Lessons Learned

That's really all I've got in me to convince you to go out and get yourself a copy of Microformats Made Simple. I'm not a marketer. I suck at self-promotion. I can just tell you what I did and hope that is intriguing enough for you.

Now it is time to turn to the self-indulgent part of this post, where I sum up my experiences writing the book. Since I've pretty much done that during the previous four articles, what I offer now is what I learned along the way. This, as I mentioned, is primarily a reminder to myself in case I'm ever asked to write a book again. But I do hope some of what I learned will be helpful to other authors.

Negotiate on the Contract

I was advised to get an agent to look at my contract and I didn't take that advice. I didn't have a lawyer look at it either. I didn't even take a super good look at it myself. I was a first-time-author sucker.

I now know that the timeline I agreed to was far, far too short. I also wish I had stipulated that a technical editor had to be formally signed to the book much sooner. I also wish I could've had more design input sooner.

I have no idea if adding these changes to the contract would've meant I lost the deal. I don't even know what the process for getting those changes in would've been, or what it would've meant in terms of cost and resources.

What I do know is that some of the most frustrating and upsetting parts of writing this book had more to do with dealing with the publisher than it did actually writing. If that could've been better, perhaps my feelings about writing the book and working with Peachpit would be better too.

Design Input

While the end result of the book design is far better than I expected, the stress surrounding the design of the book was unexpected and could've been avoided if I had provided much more information about what I wanted the book to look like … both the cover and interior design.

If you have something in mind for the cover, have it at the ready at the very beginning of the writing process. Mock something up even. Be specific about colors, fonts, imagery. Know how you want sidebars and screen prints to appear.

This doesn't mean the publisher will use all of your input. But I really had no right to complain about the design, because I didn't give the designer any specifics to work with.

Don't Assume Anything

Don't assume the publisher is working tirelessly on your little book to get a copyeditor in place in a timely fashion. Or a technical editor. Your book is one of many. And if you are a first-time author, there is no track record to encourage them to bust ass on your behalf.

Also don't assume you will find out when your book is available for pre-order or even official sale. I found out from Twitter that my book went on pre-sale and again, today, that it was officially on sale. In fact, haven't heard a single word from my editor or publisher in about a month.

Don't assume that your editor or anyone you are working with from the publisher is your friend. They aren't. Their goal is to get the book published on time and to make a profit. They don't want to hold your hand if you have questions during the 11th hour. They don't want to listen to your frustrations about the process just because you weren't expecting certain things to happen.

They are there to do their job. You are there to do yours. Take your frustrations, worries, complaints to a friend or loved one who will listen and be supportive. Because your editor may not be.

Don't assume that everything that seems to go wrong is actually going wrong. There are bumps in all roads and book publishing is filled with potholes. Accept it for what it is and just focus on the writing. The rest of it is truly beyond your control.

Find Constructive Outlets for Stress

I gained a whopping 10 pounds during the writing of this book. I also started smoking again (I quit in January 2007) very heavily. And I cut back on my daily walks and trips to the gym.

I pretty much let everything in my life that was healthy slide. I can admit now it was a sort of "Poor me. I'm so stressed. I think I'll have that entire pan of brownies because I deserve it for being so stressed." Pathetic and sad, but true.

If I had instead maintained my active lifestyle and maybe increased my kickboxing sessions and walks, perhaps the stress would've been less because I would be actually taking care of myself.

Unfortunately, I chose the opposite and am paying for it now as I try to drop the "book weight" and get back to the gym. I am pleased to report that I haven't had a cigarette in six weeks.

But my choices definitely made things worse, not better. And I'm kinda hating hindsight right now.

Expect Change

I'm not the best at dealing with change gracefully. But I have learned that "going with the flow" is the only way to write a book. Especially a technical book. Especially one about the web.

If you are in the industry, you know that things on the web change quickly. And if you are writing about a topic that is subject to such change, you may need to make lots of edits and rewrites.

I started writing the book in April, and shortly after that, the value-class pattern became official. That meant a ton of rewrites to my first chapter, as well as chapter six. Shortly after that, Google announced Rich Snippets. Again, more edits and definitely more stress.

And then there were changes to the profile URIs on the Microformats Wiki, which affected almost every single chapter. Then there were page count issues, which meant changes to the original table of contents and the last few chapters. And then changes with the design. And changes with the schedule.

But this is just the way it is. The only thing to do is accept and adapt the best you can. Which I tried to do, and think I was relatively successful at.

And that's all I have for now — and probably forever — as far as Microformats Made Simple is concerned.

I don't regret it one bit, but I do regret some of my choices (or non-choices) along the way. But that is life … the best part of life, in fact. I do feel I learned a lot about myself and how I deal with things. That is definitely going to serve me well as I get older and take on new challenges.

Now, Go Buy My Book!

If you buy my book (and I really hope you do), I sincerely hope you like it. Even more, I hope it inspires passion about semantic markup and microformats.

Once you've had a chance to read it, let me know what you think. Send me a note on Twitter. Shoot me an .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Write a review on Amazon or your blog. Good, bad or indifferent, I would love to know your opinion.

And, with that, all that is left is to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the support over the past months! As challenging as it was, I don't even want to imagine how bad things could've been if I didn't have all my friends and supporters backing me every step of the way.

HTML5 Cookbook

Interested in HTML5?
Get the Cookbook!

I was a contributing author for HTML5 Cookbook, available for sale on Amazon! Get yours now! (I hear chapters 1, 4 and 5 are particularly good.)

P.S. Don't forget my book Microformats Made Simple is still for sale!


Share the Love

Tom's Gravatar

Tom opines:


Congratulations Emily :)

Tim Kadlec's Gravatar

Tim Kadlec opines:


Congrats on getting the book completed! As much work as it was, imagine how cool it’ll feel to walk through a bookstore and see your book on the shelf.

Again, thanks for being so transparent with the entire process. It was interesting to hear about the experience in such an open manner.

Guess it’s time I head over to Amazon and get my order placed.

Sean's Gravatar

Sean opines:


Congrats on finishing the book. Will buy a copy as soon as I get some spare cash.

Michael Montgomery's Gravatar

Michael Montgomery opines:


Congratulations, Emily! I’m excited to read your book.

(Hope you succeed and “Find Constructive Outlets for Stress”)

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The Coolest Person I Know

Emily Lewis

Yeah, that would be me: .

I'm a freelance web designer of the standardista variety, which means I get excited about things like valid POSH, microformats and accessibility. I ply my trade from my one-person design studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA.

A Blog Not Limited is my personal blog where I pontificate about web design, web standards, semantics and whatever else strikes my fancy. Head on over to Emily Lewis Design if you'd like to see my work or, even better, hire me.


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