At SXSW last year I met Michael Nolan – senior acquisitions editor for Peachpit Press – and pitched him my idea for the book Building Findable Websites. Almost one year later the book is in print and on its way to a bookstore near you. This book has occupied the bulk of my time for the past year, which is why my blog has been sorely neglected. Thanks for sticking around even when things went quiet.
Now that the manuscript has been transformed into a glossy cover-wrapped volume, I thought I’d share with you my experience. I’ve often wondered what it’s like to devote yourself to a single topic for such an extended period of time, and how the publishing process works. It’s something that is often romanticized as an extended, solitary expedition into deep, meaningful thoughts. Although there’s a bit of romance inÂ theÂ writing process, there’s also a lot of research, attention to form and continuity, second guessing of yourself, and old fashioned hard work along the way.
As a teacher for nearly a decade, I’ve become accustomed to reading my student’s faces to determine whether or not I’m making any sense. Writing doesn’t afford this luxury. For months on end I wrote and wrote sometimes wondering if my extensive passages would provide enough information to the reader to help them grasp my point, or maybe I was getting too detailed which could beÂ patronizingÂ and slow. Of course, my editors Jeff Riley, and Jonathan Snook helped me answer these internal questions along the way, but the feedback loop is a lotÂ differentÂ than explaining something in person and changing tack immediately when you see your message isn’t hitting its mark.Â Somewhere along the way I got over the second guessing and plowed ahead. After chapter 3 I felt like I had found my stride, and the overall structure of the book started to become more apparent.
The Process of Publishing and the People Involved
There were a lot of people involved in the publishing process – a whole team, in fact. As the acquisitions editor, Michael Nolan received my written proposal for the book and a sample chapter then presented it to a board of publishing gurus at Peachpit who evaluated its relevance to the target audience, looked at other books that already explored similar topics, and made a final decision on whether or not to publish it. This was a pretty slow process. I submitted the proposal in April then bit my nails until late July when the official green light was handed down. The writing process didn’t start until August of 2007 -six months after my initial conversation with Michael. After the proposal was accepted Michael acted as the project manager for the book, coordinating the entire team.
Jeff Riley was my development editor. His job was to provide feedback on the form and structure of my writing. He evaluated all formatting for consistency, passed each chapter on to Jonathan Snook the technical editor who evaluated all code and techy concepts, then passed the combined edits and feedback to me. I then made the requested changes or decided to stick to my guns at times and leave things as they were. My changes went back to Jeff for another pass and prep for the production team who handled the formatting and layout.
While I was writing, the design team was working on the page layout and various elements that would be included in each chapter. They used a sample chapter to design the treatments for tables, figures, captions, tips, and various sidebar elements. This was shared with me for feedback, and revised one more time before placing the manuscript into the page templates.Kate Reber – the production editor – coordinated all of the pre-press production of the book. Once she had all of the content into the design we went through each chapter three times to tweak the layout and catch any oversights. A proof reader also went through the entire book a few times again checking for errata and inconsistencies. I’m not sure how many times we all read the book, but I think I read through each page about 8 to 10 times. I think I could now recite it from cove to cover.
A Little Overzealous – Too Many Chapters
I had a lot to say on the subject of findability, so much so that I wrote 5 chapters too many to fit in the book. I started to get nervous about the length in October, and by December we realized that there was roughly 106 pages too many. I felt like I was lopping limbs off of my first born as we excised chapters to make the target length, but luckily all of this content is published on the book’s companion website http://buildingfindablewebsites.com as free PDF downloads. Although these chapters aren’t in print, they’re not lost.
It’s extremely satisfying to wrap up such a long, intense process and hold the final product in your hands. I hope this book achieves my original goal – to create a better awareness of findability and its close relationship to web standards best practices. You can join the findability discussion in the Facebok group.
If you are going to be at SXSW this year or any of the other conferences where I’ll be speaking, please do introduce yourself. I’d love to hear your perspective on the book.