In a couple of days, my book “CSS 3 Pratique de Design Web” (CSS 3 Practicing Web Design) will be on sale. It has been a one-year road to get there, and one hell of a journey so I thought I’d relate it to you in case you find yourself in my position.
Stating the obvious
Let me start with a couple of things I should have told myself more often during this journey.
- You cannot update a book. If you screw up, that’s too bad because there are 2500 copies out there. Don’t worry, you’ll update it next year.
- A book is not a 5 minutes read. It should make sense and be accessible from the beginning to the end. If it’s annoying, readers won’t go through it; they’ll just throw it away.
- A book is not free. People pay for it. And they don’t buy it in order to have something to do in the train; they want to learn from it.
I should have kept this in mind during those months, and so should you if you happen to write a book yourself.
You will run out of time
The first thing I can tell is that you will run out of time, I guarantee it. And this, no matter how long your editor gives you to write your book. There is never enough time, because it is never finished.
Trust me, you will always find things to improve. I found myself writing new sections and examples a couple of hours before handing the book back to the editor. And if I had a couple of extra days, I’d have spent those until I needed three more…
Our work is never over. — Daft Punk, Harder Better Faster Stronger
The last revision I made of the book, just before it went to press, involved not less than 250 editions. There is no such thing as “too much proofreading”, or even “too much work” on such a colossal project. You could work on it forever.
My advice would be: plan well, and start early. Don’t be like "6 months is huge, I have plenty of time". When the due date comes closer, you’ll regreat not having spent more time on your work before.
You will get sick and tired of your work
I spent the last week reading what I wrote over and over to make sure it was okay. I’ve read the whole book from A to Z at least 5 times, and I’ve spent countless hours on some sections (hey Grid Layout fucker). I was sick and tired of reading my own write-ups and I think it’s perfectly normal after months of working on the same thing.
At some point, you’ll get paranoid about what you come up with. “What if it sounds dull? What if it makes no sense? What if it’s not interesting enough?”.
It’s okay. Keep in mind people won’t be reading your book over and over again, and most of them will go pretty quickly through it, not paying extra attention to every single word. Don’t put too much on yourself.
It’s not all fun
When Eyrolles came to me asking if I would like to write a book, I was like “yeeepeee! it’s like a really long article!”. I thought I would just have to sit in front on the keyboard, unleash the beast and be done with 300 pages of writing.
Nope. It doesn’t work like this. There is the fun part: writing content. And there is all the boring stuff that comes with: taking screenshots, indexing everything, making sure content flows correctly…
Also you have to make sure people are okay with you using their work in your book. Cool demo? Make sure the author is okay. Beautiful photo? Ask the photographer if he’s cool with you using it. This is not fun, this is annoying. But it has to be done.
You’ll need help
Writing a book is a colossal task. Don’t think you’ll be able to manage it all by yourself from A to Z without any external help. You won’t.
Asking for help is not weakness, it’s perfectly normal. Also, asking for help doesn’t devalue your work whatsoever (as long as you don’t ask someone to do all the work for you, which would obviously be stupid).
Not sure of something? Ask someone to review it. Need some information? Ask on Twitter. Need a piece of advice regarding something specific? Find an expert on the topic and ask them. They will feel flattered, you will have your information: win/win.
When you come close to the end, ask someone to proof-read the whole book (yes, it takes some time). I had the amazing opportunity to have Raphaël Goetter, Geoffrey Crofte and Thomas Zilliox reading the whole thing. It surely helped a lot having something well tied and finished.
Having a much better taste for design than me, I asked my girlfriend to review all the images from the book, making sure the screenshots were actually appealing.
Long story short, have your work reviewed. It will pay.
Keep calm and keep working
About two months after we launched the project, I started getting anxious. Sleep started to elude me and I had trouble chilling. I had already some solid bases for my book, yet I was entering a phase where everything was started but nothing was finished. It was scary as shit.
After a couple of weeks and with the deadline coming closer, as suprising as it may be, I started feeling more peaceful. I got more and more comfident in my work, feeling like I was actually building something good. This wasn’t scary anymore, it was exciting.
Even during my last week, I wasn’t stressed. I worked 5 hours every night after my 8-hours day, and spent 30 hours proofreading everything during the last week-end, without feeling a tiny bit anxious. At some point, stress doesn’t bring anything good to the game anymore.
Use your stress to get your shit done, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Just keep calm and keep working. Soon enough, there won’t be anxiety anymore. Soon enough, there will be a book waiting for you. :)