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The traditional print publishing industry requires long production cycles before any book or publication can see print. This situation has become more acute for authors like myself who publish books on annual software releases. I hope to use this blog to publish information, updates, addenda, ruminations, and other "mid-cycle" missives. I hope you enjoy it.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

CAD Book Process continued

In the last post, I defined the various players in the process. I would like to now go into a little more detail on what happens at each stage. There are basically four phases from my point of view:

  1. Planning - Decide what to write, plan it, scheme it, dream it, talk it up.
  2. Writing/Production - This is where the work gets done.
  3. Waiting - That very L O N G period of time between which I have finished all my files and sent them to the publisher and I wait for an actual printed book to appear on my door step.
  4. Sales - The very S H O R T period of time where the book actually has any viable sales (due completely to the very short release cycles of current Autodesk software).

Planning looks something like this:

Mid-winter rolls around and the publisher and I begin discussing the new titles for the coming year. I have been blessed with titles that sell well enough for the publisher to be interested in regular updates. So, they usually offer to renew my contract. On occasion however, we have a title that has not lived up to expectations and the publisher declines to renew. This was the case with The Advanced Implementation Guide for ADT. (Reviews and feedback for the book were strong, but there were just not enough sales to justify regular editions).
Once we decide what title (or titles) we will tackle this year, we settle on any new contract terms, add an addendum to the contract, both sign and then off we go. The person who handles these details has the title of "Acquisitions Editor." I have had a few of these in my time. My current one is top notch. She is the very attentive and interested in top quality work.

During planning discussion, I have usually been exploring the alpha and beta releases of the software. I also talk to folks I know at the mother ship (Autodesk) and begin inquiring as to what is new and cool in the coming release. I am interested for two reasons: I want to know what features we have to look forward to as any user would, but the more important reason from a book-writing perspective is planning how much work the update will be.
Based on what I learn about new features, I begin planning chapter by chapter what will have to change in the book. This is still pretty high level, but for example, in the 2010 releases, I knew that the new ribbon interface was the biggie, so that means complete re-write of the UI chapters and all new screen captures throughout the book. This last one is huge. I am responsible for writing the copy, capturing all the screens and/or providing other "art" as appropriate and producing the dataset files for the back-of-book CD ROM. Capturing images and preparing datasets takes much more time that the actual writing does. So this release cycle is a bit of a challenge. I have a spreadsheet that I made to plan all of this. I try to list each item separately and track roughly what percentage is complete as I go. It works pretty well, but is not perfect.

Planning is a good first step, but you cannot really say you are writing a book until you start writing. Writing is done in "extracted word docs" from the publisher. These are Microsoft Word files that have been generated from the final proof files of the last edition. The compositor works in page layout software. So they have to take the final proofs from the last edition, pull all the text back into a Word doc and make sure all the formatting is correct.
We use the "Track Changes" feature in Word to do all the updating. Turn on Track Changes and begin making edits. All insertions and deletions are tracked by word and color-coded by user name. I make all of my edits to the chapter and they show up in a single color. This allows the Tech Editor to see what was changed comparred to what came from the previous edition. This makes it easier for them to focus on the new content. When I get the files back from the editors, I use the review changes feature to accept or reject the changes.
If you have never used Track Changes in Word, it is pretty useful. I woudl be happy to post a tutorial on it here if anyone is interested.

Well, that is it for today. I need to get back to writing. Next time I will elaborate on the flow to the tech and copy editors. I also plan to post a sample from the manuscript for Mastering Revit Architecture. I should have that posted soon.

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