It’s a Book!

Happy New Year!

A funny thing happened on my way to inbox 0 last week: I wrote a book in 4 days.

I didn’t mean to. And actually it’s not true to say that I wrote it in just 4 days. I assembled it in 4 days; I wrote it over 15 years. Allow me to present There’s Always a Duck, now available on Leanpub.

To fully explain, I need to back up a step.

Last Thursday I learned that Laurent Bossavit, who I admire tremendously, had published a work-in-progress book, The Leprechauns of Software Engineering, on Leanpub. Leanpub is a relatively new service designed to make it easy to publish before your book is complete so you can get feedback while you write. Their motto is “publish early, publish often.”

So I immediately purchased Laurent’s book. I found it to be a delightful read. In it he chronicles his attempts to track down the source of some of our most cherished beliefs: the cost of change curve, 10x productivity differential between star programmers and average programmers, etc.

Laurent’s current draft is 79 pages with many more sections outlined. And the nice thing about the way Leanpub works is that Laurent can keep writing, and I can re-download the book any time. Further, Laurent can notify everyone who bought the book when he’s made a substantial addition. I’m really looking forward to future drafts.

Since I hadn’t heard of Leanpub before, I was intrigued. I’ve investigated various other self-publishing channels including CreateSpace and SmashWords. But Leanpub seemed different. So I watched their introductory video, an XtraNormal animated short. Within a minute I was laughing out loud. 2 minutes into the 10 minute video I made myself a Leanpub account.

Leanpub made it absurdly easy to turn my blog into a book. They imported my content from my RSS feed and converted it from HTML into Markdown (the markup language they use for publishing). They put the resulting manuscript into a DropBox folder. I already use DropBox, so getting set up was absolutely trivial.

The result: within a few minutes of signing up, I had a 300 page book of my blog posts organized chronologically.

I started sifting through the content, deciding what would go into a book and rearranging the posts into chapters by topic. By Thursday evening I had a draft.

On Friday I had every intention of attending to my backlog of To Dos. But the book called to me. “I’ll just make a few tweaks,” I told myself.

As I continued arranging the content, I realized that some of my older content hadn’t been imported. Some of it was still on my blog but just wasn’t in the RSS feed. I manually pulled in a handful of older posts that I wanted to include in the book.

But I realized some of my oldest content was missing from my blog. Then I remembered that I’d purged all the really old content from my site and I discovered that I didn’t have backups. Whoops!

Down the rabbit hole I went, digging up all my old stuff from The Internet Wayback Machine.

By this time I was feeling guilty about how much time I was spending on an unscheduled project. Thanks to Leanpub’s book announcement page and a few tweets, I had 30 people who had signed up to be notified when the book went live by Friday afternoon. I resolved to hold off on working on the book until at least 50 people indicated interest. So I set the book aside and worked on an overdue client proposal.

My resolution lasted all of 12 hours. Saturday morning found me hunkered over my keyboard, selecting and arranging content. By late Saturday night the book had come together into a cohesive draft. It just needed a good cover, a little more new prose, and another editing pass. I went to sleep at 1AM, tired but happy.

I awoke Sunday possessed with the idea of finishing. It was just SOOOO close. So I spent most of Sunday polishing the final bits.

The cover took a little longer than I had anticipated. I knew I had the perfect picture for it, a picture I took of a heated duck pond in front of the Finlandia concert hall in Helsinki during winter. But I couldn’t find the picture. My husband saved me: he found a copy of it on one of our old backup drives. Then I had to figure out how to reduce the image size so that a 500K download didn’t balloon to 4MB just for the pretty cover shot.

Despite the delays, it all came together within a few hours and I hit “Publish” on Sunday around 3PM.

So that’s how I published a book in 4 days.

Of course the marvelous thing about Leanpub is that while I’ve published, I can also update. I can fix mistakes (I’ve found a couple small wording glitches already). And I can even add entirely new content. So hitting Publish wasn’t much more nervewracking than publishing a blog post.

And yet it was.

This is a BOOK. An actual honest to goodness BOOK. The running joke between me and my friends for years has been “How’s that book coming?” I’ve been working on various books off and on for years. I’ve abandoned most of those projects. So this is a momentous occasion. Even if it is a self-published eBook, it’s still an important step.

Now that I’ve gotten the first one done, there will be more. I suspect that 2012 will be my year of publishing. I have other things in the works that I’m not ready to talk about yet.

2012 is off to a great start!


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7 Responses to It’s a Book!

  1. TestSheepNZ January 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    Great post. I can’t wait to download it myself – waiting until next week.

    And your posts on this have kind of encouraged me to have a go at this myself later. Mainly cos I like to play.

  2. Phil Kirkham January 10, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    From the other side of the fence – read your tweet about you thinking of writing a book, signed up to encourage you to do so and Sunday I was reading it. That is cool, talk about reacting to audience feedback 🙂

    Looking forward to reading more in 2012

  3. YvesHanoulle January 11, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    So your first resolution of 2012 is Done.
    What’s next On your list?

  4. Jesús Omar Navarro January 18, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    Nice book! I downloaded both your sample and Laurent´s. It encourages me to keep on writing on that spanish testing blog and publish somewhere down the line. I have a couple more publishing ideas, but my biggest passion is testing.

    Congratulations again on your book. You´ve made me, like always, laugh and ponder. Looking forward to the next books out of your blog.

  5. Samantha Laing January 20, 2012 at 9:40 am #

    You are an inspiration! Well done and congratulations 🙂

  6. Erik January 24, 2012 at 6:33 pm #

    That’s pretty awesome. Thanks for the post and the link to leanpub – I think that I could assemble a few different themes of my blog posts into their own little books. It’s nice to know there’s something that makes it so easy.

    I downloaded your sample as well and plan to read through it over the next week or so.


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