Writing - Thoughts once done

31 August 2012

Since Accessibility Handbook was released, I've had a lot of people asking me about what it was like to write a book. My response is somewhat disjointed. It's awesome! It's the most pain I've willingly inflicted on myself! It made me more confident! It made me think I was a nobody!

So, here's the long of it.

The pitch

You would think this is the hard part. I was nervous as hell before I made my pitch. All I could think of was every article I ever read about the elevator pitch. You have thirty seconds to share your awesome idea! GO!

Pitching a book isn't like that, though (at least, not in my experience). My first editor, Julie Steele, approached me about writing after I snarked about a poorly written technical book on Twitter. I had no ideas at our first meeting. I just knew what I could write about. Happily, she knew the potential interest in those markets and helped me focus on one of the topics.

After our talk, I wrote up an outline and sent that to her. Not long after, I had contracts in my hand to sign and a book to write.

Writing: the easy stuff

Starting a book was incredibly easy for me. I love writing. I already had an outline, so all I had to do was follow my original plan. I sat down every day, and for an hour or so, I wrote, spilling out everything I had learned about accessibility onto the page.

This part of the process is energizing. The words flow. You can write when tired, when tipsy, when distracted, and still, they come out. Writers block is a myth! You watch your page count go up, and you start wondering if maybe you can submit the book early.

Then, you trip over a section where your knowledge is a bit sketchier...

The first hurdle (I'm learning SO MUCH!)

The first time I hit this, it was a minor thing. I ran into a few sites dedicated to Dyslexia and web design, and realized I'd left them out. No big. I researched a bit, and the recommendations were consistent across the board.

I found it fascinating, and burbled to anyone who would listen about how much you learn while writing a book. It's awesome! I love learning, and I love writing, and now omigod I could do BOTH at the SAME TIME. Life is good.

The second hurdle (The reality check)

After writing for a while, I came across a topic that I was completely unschooled in: WAI-ARIA. I knew about it, of course, but I'd never used it. How hard could it be, though? I'd just read up on it and include it in a section again!

Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

ARIA was much harder to research. Parts of it are easy. Parts of it are not. Some bits stand on their own. Some need Javascript and CSS to work. There are books written on this thing I wanted to do one tiny section on.

I freaked the hell out.

Impostor syndrome (I'M A HACK!!!)

This hit me hard. Who was I to write a book about 508 and accessibility? There were people who had been doing this since 508c was written!

I re-read my old chapters. They were terrible. Was English my second language or something? Did I have a stroke that wiped out my ability to write coherently? What the hell was wrong with me?!

I couldn't touch the book for a while. I didn't like to think about it. I was going to fail. I just knew it.

What kicked me in my rear was an email from my second editor, asking if we needed to put the book on hold. It took all my strength to write back: No. I am finishing this book if it kills me.

Who was I to write a book on accessibility? I was one of the few people that would put her butt in a chair and get it done, that's who.

The final stretch (All side projects go to hell)

I didn't intentionally drop my side-projects. I just didn't have the energy to even consider them. My Roguelike languished. My blog stopped. A few projects that I had just started outlining never made it to the next stage. I dropped out of social circles.

My weekends were often reduced to me writing on the book all weekend, with breaks for food and forced socialization. I did it, though. I finished the book and handed it over to my editor.

Tech readers (I'm a hack, redux)

My editor handed the book over to my tech readers. I had found them through a call-to-arms on Twitter and G+, so they were all friends, and I already knew they were all highly competent.

That was the longest wait of my life. I knew they were going to return the book with scathing remarks. Gah! She's a hack! I can't believe O'Reilly is considering publishing this pile! Un-followed!

That didn't happen.

They read it, and came back with corrections... and praise. Lots of it. I was stunned. Maybe I'm not a hack after all! I probably read their comments at least once every few days when I started to get nervous and backslide.


With my next book, I swear, I'm considering hiring someone to make all the changes from the tech readers. Oh, I should review each change? Yeah, I thought that the first week. Oh, is that the rule for commas? Hm. I don't think so. I'm going to go look that one up.

By week two, had one of them asked me to replace all occurrences of 'accessibility' with 'elephant', I would have done it. Editing is mind-numbing.


Finally, it was done. I was done! I could stop looking at the manuscript and have a life again!



That was when the production editors get a hold of you. You have one last chance to review your book before it goes to print. They go over it with a fine tooth comb. Figures are redrawn for different formats. This took me about two weeks of back and forth. Not as bad as the editing phase, but don't think that you're free just because they have your manuscript.

The long wait

And then, silence. Your book moves through the wyrding ways of your publishing house. I had a page on O'Reilly, but all it said was that the book was available for pre-order.

I didn't learn my book was for sale through my editor. No, this is where being part of an international social group comes in handy. A friend in Israel alerted me through Twitter, congratulating me on the book being published. I figured he'd found the pre-order page... And imagine my shock when I saw that it was now for sale.

I squealed, then spent the rest of the day in a highly manic state. It was out! It was published! I was an Author now! If you had bad news to deliver (and I did get some that day), that was the day that it didn't phase me for a second.

Lessons Learned

Next time, I'm going to learn to shut down projects gracefully by scheduling my crunch time. The next book is in the works, and I've already decided to go quiet from December to January. That's where all my wiggle room is built in, and chances are I'll be body-slamming the walls of said room.

Also, I know to look for the crisis of faith. It's apparently rather common with writers. Agatha Christie had them for each book, and she wrote approximately a million books. Each time, she got through it and finished the book. My husband knows to look for it, and I know to drop the 'everything is fine' act and actually speak up about what I'm going through. The book probably would have been out in June, had I not spent so long freaking out.

Outlines are awesome. I'd love to see if I could use one for a fiction book.

And the last lesson learned? I really, really love writing. Being published only makes me love it more.


Related tags: 508 writing


1 Ian Witham says...

Hi Katie. Congrats on the book. Glad to see that you've started a new roguelike project and that you had a (really) good reason for hitting pause on the other one. I was starting to think that I had killed your other roguelike with all my pull requests :-(

Posted at 9:05 p.m. on September 16, 2012

2 Matt Deboard says...

Katie, found your book through your article on accessibility on 21times.org. I left a comment over there but wanted to make sure you saw it, so I'm cross-posting here.


Katie, thanks for this. We're in the process of making some necessary changes to our product to enhance accessibility. Since we are in the education sector, it's a very important issue for us. I just bought a copy of your book; already in chapter 1 it's touching on some of the issues we've been puzzling through. Thanks again.

Posted at 11:36 a.m. on October 4, 2012

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