Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Year of Writing Moodle 1.9 Extension Development - Part 4

Part 4: Post Writing Production
This is the final 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 lied to myself and I knew I was doing it while I was doing it. I told myself, "if I can just finish the writing, the time commitment will go down and my life will become somewhat normal again." I had a suspicion that this wasn't the case, but it did help me get through that last push during the holidays. I think in fact that I ended up spending more time per week in editing and reviewing than during the writing. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I ended up writing some new sections from the feedback during editing. I could have said no to this, but I really wanted to have a quality book when we were done.

Technical and editorial review
We sometimes received notes just from Packt editors and sometimes we received a combined set of notes from both the editors and our technical reviewers. We got many requests to clarify small sections of text, to add new sections, and for more screen shots. An interesting note on the publishing process, while the author knows a bit of the economics of the book in terms of target page counts, etc., technical reviewers are just given a book description and the chapters. This gives a very different perspective and made it really clear that 250+ pages covers the core concepts, but that we could easily write 500 pages to make a comprehensive work on Moodle development.

Kudos to Anthony Burrow for doing such a great job with the technical review. I don't think I know a nicer, more generous person than Anthony. Anthony you are a kind soul!

Most chapters ended up with 2-3 drafts before being submitted for copy editing. Some of the early chapters had as many as 5 or 6 drafts. Packt has a very specific naming convention for drafts that helped keep track.

This process took about 2 months.

Too many pages!
Midway through the process our editor noticed that every chapter we submitted was growing in size from the original draft. We had quickly burnt through an extra 25 approved pages and needed to cut 6 pages. On top of this, I still had requests from an unedited chapter to add at least one major new section and more screen shots. It was decided the only solution was to cut the last chapter from the print version of the book and make it available for free download. This was a confusing time, but eventually we got through it and ended up with a better book as a result. Packt encouraged us to add anything we needed for the book to be really great. In fact, at the last minute before publication, our editor was able to get approval for the extra pages to include the final chapter in the printed book.

Code Review / Copy Edit
The final stage of production was copy editing and code review. We worked with a couple of great guys named Chris and Hitesh.  They were equally conversant with chasing dangling participles as they were at parsing PHP code! What a cool and unusual combination of skills. This team performed fixes to word usage, punctuation, code formatting, and installed every bit of code from the book and tested it. I actually received back some notes like "we had to edit line X of the sample to get our test environment to match your screen shot." I was simply blown away.

This part of the process went pretty quickly, typically 45 minutes to an hour per chapter. The exception was one code sample I decided needed to be re-written to fix an issue with the user interface. Major thanks to this editorial team. They really made us look good.

It's Done!
It's been a long and challenging year, but a growing year. I would recommend to anyone who, like myself, always wanted to write a book, to take the opportunity if presented. Or even better, decide today to make your own opportunity.

    1 comment:

    1. Very nice story. Adventurous I may say. You really did a job well done. Everything is really worth it right.