What I Learned From Writing a Book

I recently had my first book, Mobile Prototyping With Axure 7, published in the US and UK. It was both a fantastic and trying effort, but also a great learning experience. So I wanted to share a few thoughts aspiring writers should take into account before jumping in. I wish I’d known all of these before starting, but I guess that’s why experience is the best teacher.

  • Be passionate about your subject matter. You’re going to spend a lot of time with this material, and I mean a lot, so you better love it.
  • However much time you think it will take, double or triple it. Organizing your ideas, writing, editing, and collaborating with reviewers is very time and labor intensive.
  • Don’t do it for the money. Writing a book targeted at user experience professionals is pursuing a niche audience. Plan on keeping your day job.
  • Have something unique you want to share. In a world full of books, blogs, tutorial websites, and online magazines, just one more book that covers no new ground is not likely to get much attention.
  • Have a purpose for your book. Maybe you want to start a conversation on a new topic or add a new point of view on an existing one. In my case, I was motivated by wanting to write the book I wish I had on my desk the day I started working in mobile design. That focus will help you organize your content and flow, and serves as a reminder for why you undertook the effort. This is really helpful at 2 AM when you’re finalizing yet another chapter revision.
  • Be prepared to make sacrifices. Now matter what you think, you will be trading personal and family time to get it done.
  • Make sure you are honest with family and loved ones about the time commitment involved. It will take more time than you expect so it’s better to prepare people so they know why you are always so busy for a few months.
  • Learn to negotiate. If the publisher offers you five free copies, tell them you want 15. If they are that interested in you as an author, things like that are a small cost of doing business for them.
  • Line up some good friends and colleagues who are willing to review draft chapters before you submit them. I can’t count the times that a fresh pair of eyes raised valid questions and provided invaluable feedback. And show your appreciation for their effort. Buy them a few drinks or take them to lunch; just do something to show you value and appreciate their help.
  • And remember your real priorities. Don’t let publishing deadlines dominate your life. Find a cadence that works for you and still let’s you have a life. And be up-front with the publisher on this. If the proposed schedule sounds like too much to maintain some semblance of work/life balance, tell them you need more time. If they absolutely refuse, let them find someone else. Chances are if they think you are the right author they will be willing to work with your schedule as long as this is raised early in the negotiation phase. Where it gets tricky is trying to change the schedule after a contract has been signed because they have started to make commitments to printers and resellers, and changes to these can have a financial impact to their business plans. Get the schedule worked out as soon as possible.

Having gone through this experience once I will definitely make some changes to my approach next time. But with a little knowledge and some good friends to guide and support you, the experience can be quite amazing. Especially when it all comes together and the printed copy is in your hands and on the market.