A Blog Not Limited

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So I’m Writing A Book, Part 3: The Questionnaire, The Templates & Getting Started

Jul 01, 2009

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I can't believe it is July already. Which means I've been writing my book for three months now. That's even more astounding to me than how quickly those past three months have flown by.

July 1 also means that I have under two months to finish said book. While I would've figured that would have me even more stressed than I've been, I'm actually just relieved. It is almost over. I can do anything for seven weeks.

You may be sensing that my book writing experience hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns. And you'd be correct. Since my last update on the book process, it has been a bit of a roller coaster. But before I delve into those highs and lows, I do want to continue with this series and fill you in on more of the process (and help my ever-suffering memory).

Author Questionnaire

After signing the contract, one of the first things I had to complete was Peachpit's author questionnaire. This is a document that Peachpit's sales and marketing folks use as the basis for any and all promotion for the book. Some of the questions I had to answer were:

  • My name as I'd like it to appear on the book, as well as my contact details
  • Ideas for cover artwork
  • Book highlights and benefits to the reader
  • Ideas for publicizing the book
  • Details about competition for the book
  • Details about the audience for the book

Now, the basic stuff, like my name and contact information, was easy. I do know my own name and address. But some of the rest of it, I was at a loss. I mean, as a first-time author, I don't have any clue as to how the book should be publicized. I also didn't have much to offer in terms of suggestions for the book cover. Of course, this created a sense of "what the hell am I doing?" … Not really the best place to be in mentally before starting to write.

Still, I managed to answer everything and make a few suggestions that didn't suck complete ass (I keep telling myself):

  • For the cover artwork, I suggested including the microformats logo but in a fashion different from John Allsop's book. I also suggested simple, friendly typography to support the simple, friendly tone of the book. Finally, I suggested including some code snippets. What they end up doing with all of this, still remains to be seen.
  • For highlights and reader benefits, I listed:
    • Includes practical markup examples for a wide range of web content
    • Demonstrates the benefits of microformats, including semantics, standards, SEO and extensible data publishing, as well as the challenges like accessibility and usability
    • Covers all approved microformats specifications and drafts
  • Regarding the audience, I offered this warm–and–fuzzy: "People at every level of the experience spectrum can benefit by learning about microformats, however the information is so basic even beginners can understand and implement."

I've no doubt what I submitted was "meh." Nothing great. Nothing I think that they will actually use. And that's cool with me. I hate marketing, and I really think the people who are good at it should handle it, not me.

Still, it is worth noting that completing the questionnaire made everything seem real. It was a sharp slap in the face that I signed a book deal and I had to get cracking on the writing.

Guidelines & Templates

Yet before I could start writing, I had to familiarize myself with all of Peachpit's guidelines and templates.

Screen Captures

As I quickly learned, there is some "science" involved in creating screen captures for print. First, I had to be sure I used the same computer for all of my screen captures. This meant, unfortunately, I had to use my PC, since Internet Explorer enters the picture on occasion in my book and I don't have it running on my Mac.

Using the PC, though, I also had to make sure anti-aliasing (ClearType) was turned off. Yeah, that didn't sound too great to me either. But apparently, anti-aliasing results in what Peachpit terms "fuzzy" text in screen captures. Oh well.

I also had to change setting to reduce moiré in scroll bars. To this day, I still don't know what the fuck moiré is (I'm too lazy to look it up), but I changed my PC settings per their guidelines nonetheless.

My book is black and white, and so are all my screen captures (part of the deal; I had no say in this). As such, I had to save all screen captures as grayscale 4-bit TIFFs. And I had to follow Peachpit's required naming conventions for files, with the chapter number and image number.

All in all, rather painless. And my book doesn't have a whole hell of a lot of screen captures. The focus is on microformats and markup, so screen captures don't play a major role.

Chapter Styles

Peachpit also has a style guide authors must follow for their chapters. It is a pretty simple style guide with rules for formatting headings and subheadings, screen capture captions, code snippets and other text.

To my utter disappointment, though, the template with all of these style requirements is in Word. And even worse, this template doesn't work right in Word for my Mac. So, I quickly realized that my book would be written on my PC. Not really the best news of the day.

And Word gets wonky with the template after I reach a certain file size. The styles for Peachpit stop working on occasion, forcing me to close and restart Word (which is excellent when I'm really in the zone).

Not surprisingly, Word has crashed on me at least five times while writing. Fortunately, after the first Blue Screen of Death, I started also saving my files to my personal Dropbox as a quick–and–dirty back up system (told you I was lazy), so I haven't lost too much when these crashes occur.

But, the styles themselves are pretty cool. It is nice to see my writing formatted in a way that makes it look "bookish." And I love my Mac more than ever before.

Getting Started … With Writer's Block

I've been writing on this blog for over a year now, and my first career was in writing. I've never had writer's block … until I started writing this book.

When I sat down to start chapter 1, I stared at my computer … and stared and stared. Nothing was coming to me. Which was a shock: I know a fair amount about microformats, I'd been blogging about them for months, I knew why I wanted to write the book. But I couldn't seem to get started.

After several hours of staring at the computer and getting increasingly freaked out that I was in over my head, I realized what the problem was. It wasn't that I didn't know my subject or how to write about it. It was that I felt unqualified to be writing a book.

To me, a book is different from this blog. Writing for this book is different than the writing I've done for anything. Not in terms of words or grammar or even the subject matter, but in terms of what it means.

Ever since the opportunity presented itself, I've viewed this book as something that could seriously help my career. Something that will give me credibility in the field and open new doors for me. So when I tried to start writing, that was all I could think about, except I was starting to think about it in terms of failure.

If I failed with the book, then what does that do to my career and reputation? What if I get something wrong? What if I really don't know what I'm talking about?

This was my writer's block. I knew what I wanted to say but I was starting to think I wasn't qualified to say it. Once I realized this, I realized I had to get over myself and just get the shit done. So I did.

That's not to say these anxieties and fears haven't plagued me (non-stop) over the past three months. They have. I just recognized them for what they are. And I realize that even if I do fail with this book, I've given it (and will continue to give it) the best I am capable of. I can't do any more than that. If my best isn't good enough, that isn't my problem.

Deadlines Suck

As I mentioned in the last article of this series, I agreed to submit a new chapter every seven days. While we were in the negotiation stage, this deadline schedule seemed fine to me. I didn't have a point of reference, though, and I had no idea how much time writing would take … especially while working full time, co-managing Webuquerque and helping the Albuquerque web community, and trying to have a social life.

A month into writing, I was beyond stressed. We had major projects going on at work, I had agreed to give several presentations and I was working until midnight most nights to get chapters done. I had over-extended myself and was drowning. Suffice it to say, seven days just wasn't enough.

So I talked to one of my editors, Wendy Sharp, and we worked out a new deadline schedule. I now have 10 days to turn in chapters. Three extra days doesn't sound like much, but it makes a huge difference. This new schedule, though, meant some potential adjustments to my table of contents.

Originally, I had proposed 15 chapters: one chapter for every microformat, an introduction, a conclusion and a chapter on CSS. With the modified deadline schedule (and concerns we may be going over the 336 page count), Wendy suggested we combine two or three microformats into one chapter with fewer examples for each.

As yet, we haven't formalized these changes. Wendy is still waiting to see how the book lays out in design and what the current page count is, and I'm going to try to bang out one or two chapters faster than the 10-day turnaround (despite my stress level and general feeling of being overwhelmed). The goal is to get the final manuscript submitted by the original due date of August 24. I hope we make it, because I don't want to work past that date.

Current Status

So far, I've completed eight chapters. And I have to admit I'm proud of that accomplishment. At the same time, though, it hasn't been all fun and games.

As I mentioned, writer's block is a downer. Especially when it is due to personal insecurities that continue to haunt me. But it is what it is, and I've gotten past it (the writer's block, not the insecurities).

Aside from the writer's block, though, I've been particularly frustrated with Peachpit's editor process. I wasn't assigned any editors until about six weeks into writing. This totally sucked. I felt like I was writing in a vacuum. I wasn't getting any feedback, and I was getting increasingly worried I wasn't doing things correctly.

I did finally get editors. Wendy is my development editor. She's my point person for questions and concerns about the book, Peachpit, publishing, etc. Jacqueline Aaron is my copy editor responsible for spelling, grammar, consistency of tone and all that stuff.

Sadly, I still do not have a technical editor. I can't tell you how frustratedpissed I am about this. It is the technical accuracy of the book, not my spelling or grammar, that is most important to me. And I just don't understand why Peachpit has yet to get this final piece in place.

The only other sucky part of writing this book is my lack of enjoyment. I really believed when I signed the deal, that writing this book would be the best experience of my professional life. I couldn't have been more wrong. Between the deadlines, juggling responsibilities, writer's block and personal doubts, I haven't enjoyed writing the book.

Don't misunderstand me, though, I'm glad I got the opportunity. I'm glad I took the opportunity. And I'm hopeful that when it is done and published, all of my frustrations and challenges will be but distant memories. As of right now, though, I just want it to be over. Trust me, I wish I could say it were different.

In Part Four

By the time I get around to the fourth article in this series, I hope to have my technical editor. So I plan to talk about the editorial process with Wendy, Jacqueline and the soon–to–be–named technical editor.

And if my timing is right, I should be able to tell you how things are progressing with the book cover and design.

Until then, I'll keep chugging along with the book. Keep your fingers crossed I don't go insane.

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

Tim Kadlec's Gravatar

Tim Kadlec opines:


Thanks for being so candid about the entire process Emily.

I’m very interested myself in writing a book or two eventually, and getting to hear the process you’re going through has been very interesting. Particularly since it sounds like a lot of your worries about the process are very similar to my own.

And don’t worry, I would imagine the feeling of satisfaction when you see your book in print will be worth all the stress.

Chris Cressman's Gravatar

Chris Cressman opines:


This is a great series Emily. I know there are so many in the web industry that want to get more involved with speaking and book writing and your blog has been a really informative and inspirational resource. Thank you, and I can’t wait to read your book :)

Michael Kozakewich's Gravatar

Michael Kozakewich opines:


Do you ever find yourself, at the end of a blog post, worrying about how much time you just spent typing out the post?

Emily's Gravatar

Emily responds:


@Tim and @Chris - Thanks so much. I’m really pleased to hear that you are getting something from this series.

And, Chris, I see you live near Doylestown? Small world! I went to college with some buddies from Doylestown and used to visit during the summers and catch Wineskin shows.

@Michael - Nope ;)

Chris Cressman's Gravatar

Chris Cressman opines:


@Emily - That’s pretty cool that you’ve been to Doylestown. I used to work there and I live nearby. Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard of Wineskin before, but I checked out their site and they sound pretty good. I’ll have to get to one of their shows sometime.

Kristin's Gravatar

Kristin opines:


I had a very similar situation to your’s, I was approached by a publisher, went through the throws of contract negotiation (I did go with an agent though, so that wasn’t so bad), and I just signed the contract for book due in 9 months from now. It’s on a totally different topic, but the feelings are the same. I’ve been writing about craft for 3 years now. Yet facing just the simple annotated outline I’m frozen every time I sit down at my computer.

It’s the same thing, that fear of failure because “this will help me be more legit” instead of just enjoying the process. Thanks for sharing your experience, it’s encouraged me get started on this beast. No more excuses :)

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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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