Writing Yet Another Book

by | June 15th, 2007

WritingYes it is true, I have been busy writing another book for the past few months. Actually I am always writing a book it would seem, but this is not a new edition nor is it one of my long running book projects for my undergraduate courses. This is a real soon-to-be-published collection of paper entitled Ajax: The Complete Reference. My new book is yet another entry in the phone book sized category of technical books. The topic of Ajax has been near and dear to my heart for sometime now well before its naming. I had written about it before in the last edition of my JavaScript book calling it “Remote Scripting” well before Jesse James Garrett had come up with the pithy name for the idea. I was pretty late to the party myself as plenty of articles and names had come before such as RIAs and inner browsing. The point being is that Ajax really isn’t that new but reasonable technical data about or even a clear understanding of what the idea means, is. So the need for the book…

I will be posting pretty frequently this summer with snippets of the findings in the book and there are a lot of them. Some of my “discoveries” are down right surprising if you follow Ajax, others will seem to just put a finer point on things, and others maybe just explain it in an easier to consume fashion. Yet before getting to that I want to take the time to present some points on writing books in case you want to pursue one yourself.

  • First off, if you want to write a book, think twice. Books are large efforts that last a long time and they won’t make you rich. They are not extended blog posts, they are all-consuming time vortexes that will chew up writers and spit them out. I should know, I have written a few now and each time I forget just how much work they are. The money you make on a book can be good; I have had a few successes myself but generally it is simply not that lucrative. You’ve been warned if that was your motivator.
  • Second, don’t overestimate what you know. When it comes to JavaScript I actually do know a lot – ten years of teaching, a few books, lots of consulting, expert witness in court cases about it, etc. – quite frankly, I feel there are not that many scores of people who know more than I do (I should hope so considering the time put in!). That said, I still don’t know enough to just whip out a book with ease. There are always details and lots of them. Few people read specifications character for character or know every little quirk, but to write a good book you often have to do just that.
  • Third, don’t trust your sources. Now I will tell you I consume *everything* on a subject I can get my hands on when writing a book- this of course relates to the previous point. However, you will find that data often can’t be trusted. Many authors both online and off I’m sorry to say, simply copy each other in terms of ideas. Even more don’t even bother to test the ideas they are putting forward. Every tech book I have researched for I have seen examples of misinformation, but when prepping for this book I have reached an all time high in my experience. Ideas that are assumed gospel truth about Ajax are just plain wrong if you do the tests. Trust and verify really does have merit as an idea if you are going to write something of value.
  • Finally, be reasonable with yourself. Your book will not be perfect, no book is. Cynical readers and authors alike can debunk any book by finding small mistakes. Your goal is to simply present as much factually correct information that you possibly can and be satisfied with your own efforts.

So a few basic points to consider before diving into a book project. Of course point zero probably ought to be you better like to write. Even if you are an avid blogger, if you’ve never written a book, you’ll likely under-appreciate just how much writing it is. Good blogging can be tough no doubt, but the effort is more like running sprints everyday. Writing a massive book well, to use a running analogy, it’s like the Badwater Ultra.

[photo under CC by flickr user tnarik]


Thomas Powell is a long-time web industry veteran, as well as the founder and CEO of PINT.