Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Year of Writing Moodle 1.9 Extension Development - Part 1

Part 1: Getting a Book Deal
This is the first of a four part series on my experiences writing my first book, Moodle 1.9 Extension Development. The book was co-authored by Mike Churchward. The four parts are detailed below:

  • Part 1: Getting a book deal
  • Part 2: Writing the first half
  • Part 3: Writing the last half
  • Part 4: Post writing production

I can remember wanting to write a book since I was twelve years old, just shortly after discovering Tolkien. So when the opportunity came to write a book in an area where I had some expertise, I felt I had to take it, regardless of whether it made sense with my schedule. I first worked with Packt Publishing (http://packtpub.com) on the second edition of William Rice's Moodle book. I served as a reviewer for some of the more technical sections. Early in 2009, Packt contacted us to see if we might be interested in writing a book on Moodle development.

Is this the Right Book?
I think I could have written a book on Moodle Administration in my sleep, but that wasn't the book we were offered (in fact that book had already been written). You often have to stretch outside your comfort zone in this life to get what you want.  I had a lot of development experience and I had a lot of Moodle experience. But I really didn't have a lot of Moodle coding experience. I had primarily worked at Remote-Learner (http://remote-learner.net) to create our hosting and support groups and later as a project manager for development projects. I had a very good grasp of what Moodle could do out of the box, the overall methods for customizing, and what did and did not require changing core Moodle to accomplish. However, I did not have a lot of on the ground coding experience inside of Moodle. Thankfully, my writing partner, Mike Churchward had this in spades. Long story short, Mike Churchward and I had both wanted to write a book since we were kids and we agreed to enter discussions with Packt.

Writing a Book Outline and Schedule
It ended up being a very long 3 month process working out the details of what would go into the book, how long the book would be, and what schedule it would be written under. Packt provided a very detailed guide to writing a book outline along with samples. We had a pretty good idea of what topics we wanted to include from many years of doing custom development for Moodle. Our biggest challenge was figuring out how many pages each chapter should take and a realistic schedule for completing the writing. Mike and I were both juggling very tight time commitments with a growing Remote-Learner. These may seem like minor details to be stuck on for months on end, but writing a technical book is ultimately a business and the economics of the book are tightly tied to its size and delivery date.

We were really stuck for a while. Packt helped us out with a few guidelines. They had in mind a book no larger than 250 pages of content and that most writers can complete 8 pages per week. I went to a few other books on Moodle from my bookshelf and reviewed chapter sizes for some common topics. As a result we came up with two chapter sizes: 16 page chapters for simpler topics and 24 page chapters for more complex topics. From here the outline came together pretty quickly. We padded the schedule just a bit for some extra cushion just in case work got too crazy -- and it did. If you ever find yourself in this situation here is my advice. Try to get your outline done quickly so you have more time to actually write!

In the next article in this series, I will cover writing the first chapters of the book.

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