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Tips for authors by authors

Here, we are sharing the tips from published Packt authors. We hope that the experiences of our "old" authors will help you in making the exercise of writing a book more effective and a fun filled experience.

Writing a book is not an easy job but if you have something interesting to say about a subject, it's what you really want -Don't hesitate! Just go for it!

Victor Fernandez de Alba, author of Plone 3 Intranets book.

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Apart from the review process of Packt Publishing, I asked some colleagues of mine to review some chapters. I found their feedback very valuable and it helped to further improve the quality of the book. (This does not mean the Packt reviews were less valuable, it just turns out that the more people review a chapter, the more suggestions for improvement you get.)

Another tip is specific for open source projects. I found out that contacting the lead developers of a project can result in a lot of valuable information. I was able to put a lot of information about a not-yet-released version of MyFaces ExtVal in my book, thanks to my contacts with the lead developer of that project. This makes my book the first MyFaces book covering ExtVal and provides the ExtVal community with lots of step-by-step guides for common use cases of ExtVal. Clearly a win-win situation!

Bart Kummel, author of Apache MyFaces 1.2 Web Application Development book
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Jot down the ideas before you lose them forever!

Edmund Tan, author of .NET Compact Framework 3.5 Data Driven Applications

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Make it the first thing you do in the morning. Schedule a set amount of time to work on the book each week and compare at the end of the week if the alloted time is keeping you on schedule. Don't worry about writing perfectly in the first draft, just get the words out on paper. If your book involves coding, start early on the code and expect that the coding is going to take more time than you think it will.

Jonathan Moore, co-author of Moodle 1.9 Extension Development

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1.Having an outline written for each chapter before starting on the chapter is really helpful.
2.Take a lot of screenshots, and have a good way of organizing them.
3.Set aside many small blocks of time to work on the book. If you put it off, you will regret it.
4.Stay in communication with your Packt contacts. If you are falling behind, need more time, or have a question, contact them right away so they know where you are at.

April Hodge Silver, co-author of Wordpress 2.7 Complete 2nd Edition

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Please get familiar with the templates of the book outline up front. This would save a huge amount of time.

Xuekun Kou, author of GlassFish Administration
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  • Be prepared to put the time in, you need to be committed and focused to write a book and it will inevitably take more time than you expect.
  • Remember to factor in research time when doing the outline and timescale.
  • Be prepared to make compromises, you need to work for both the publisher and the reader.
  • Have a clear aim and don’t forget it! This is probably the single most important thing, you will not create a good book if you keep moving the goal posts.
  • Include the reader, don’t speak at the reader include them in the text, use “we” instead of “I”. It makes a surprising difference.
  • Ask your family before committing; they will need to support you through the writing process.

    Keith Pope, author of Zend Framework 1.8 Web Application Development.
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  • Start with the big ideas, then fill in the gaps.
  • Make sure there’s a total agreement and understanding about the tone, composition and structure of the chapters.
    It’s too easy to waste time because of misunderstandings.
  • Make sure you try out everything you write about.
  • Get as much feedback from testers as possible and make sure you include it in your book. It’s too easy to make
    assumptions about what readers might know or understand.
  • Write in a down-to-earth style.
  • Make it as practical as possible.

    Jeff Stanford, author of Moodle 1.9 for Second Language Teaching.

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    For technical books you need to take the time. This includes time to learn the tools you are writing about, learn about how users might want to use the tools, and then make sure to take the time to write it well. And then of course, read and revise. Reviewers and editors will provide you with feedback and suggestions –this will make your work better. So take all the suggestions that you can and incorporate them.

    Bethany Hiitola, author of Getting started with Audacity 1.3.

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    Don't be shy to ask questions to the Packt team while writing the book-they are very good and responsive and they will help you to write every piece of the book in the best way for the readers.

    Demetrio Filocamo, author of JBoss RichFaces 3.3.
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    Spend all the time and effort you can when writing the Table of Contents, keeping in mind that it’s the foundation of your book; you need to have an utterly clear and concise idea of the subjects you’re going to include in it. Oh, and don’t you ever forget to read David Barnes's blog! It’s full of excellent tips and suggestions for tech book authors.

    Alfonso Romero, author of Apache Roller 4.0 - Beginner's Guide.
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    The best tip I can offer to authors is to be realistic with the timeline of the book. If you have a full-time job and family obligations, it’s important to evaluate the time you’ll have for the book-writing process. Ask yourself how long you think it will take you to write the book. Take that number and multiply it by three. That’s how long it will take, if not more.

    Also, I’ve found that in order to write a book well, you should be surrounded with the subject you’re writing about. You have to live and breathe it for the entire duration of the book-writing process. Make it a habit to read about the subject daily and keep up with news and updates.

    Jacob Gube, author of MooTools 1.2 Beginner's Guide.

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    I’d like to stress the importance of setting a good outline where all chapters are well balanced as it concerns the amount of information covered. This will make it easier to distribute your effort as a writer and will make it easier to follow for readers.

    Francesco Marchioni, author of JBoss AS 5 Development.

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    If you are writing a technical book, think about the skills you are teaching, rather than the knowledge you are imparting. Then think about some educational tasks that would epitomize those skills. Also, think "what's the first thing a reader will want to learn here". Then keep adding to it in a way that will make sense to them, always teaching them progressively more useful skills. Writing in the way I've outlined is generally easier too. You rarely get that "how on earth am I going to explain that" feeling, because the chapter flow means that you are
    always presenting the reader with the information that, if they were there, they'd be asking for. You know what
    they want to find out next, and you tell them.

    Munwar Shariff, author of Alfresco 3 Enterprise Content Management.

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    Make a list of the things you want to get across to your reader and keep it near the screen as you write – it’ll
    help keep you focused!

    Richard Carter, author of Magento 1.3 Theme Design
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    Be organized and set goals. For example, Monday’s goal: write 6 pages, and so on.

    Jean Baptiste Jung, author of Wordpress 2.7 Cookbook.

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    Some of your best writing occurs when you’re not actively engaged in writing. Always have a pen available to jot own ideas as they occur; you never know when you’ll solve a nagging problem or craft the phrase that clearly explains a concept. Also, the best way to meet your deadline is to start writing. Words are cheap and you can discard them as easily as you write them, so write everything you can think of. Edit later.

    Michael Badger, author of Scratch 1.4 Beginner's Guide.

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    If you are writing about software or an operating system, definitely have some sort of virtualization capabilities
    at your disposal for grabbing screen shots and being able to back-track. Make sure you backup your work. And lastly, maintain some sort of habit with your writing times.

    Michael Picher, author of Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0.
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  • Do three drafts, but do it by editing over each. The first is a dump from the brain…just write. In the second,
    look at the order you’ve done things in, such as reader activity steps, and tweak. In the third step, look at it
    from a reader’s viewpoint, much like making tweaks to the user experience on a web page
  • For PC users- use OpenOffice…it’s MUCH better at restoring documents if your machine hangs or you lose power
  • Buy a USB “key” that you can set up to automatically backup your documents when you plug it in
  • The PRINT SCREEN key makes a screen capture. Then you can paste it into an image editor or whatever. Firefox also
    has an add-on that gives you a one-click screen capture.

    J. Ayen Green, author of Drupal 6 content administration.
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    Writing a book successfully and on-time requires writing consistently, support from your family and a good
    partnership with the staff of the publisher. Without all these factors the book will not be easily born.
    If you want to be certain of reaching your own goals, invest the required time in creating a thoroughly researched and detailed proposal.

    Alan Mark Berg, author of Sakai Courseware Management: The Official Guide

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    Do not over burden yourself with writing and deadlines. Just relax and don’t lose focus even if you face any obstacles or compromise on your free time because at the end of it everything is worth when you see your book in the stores.

    Satish Kore, author of Flex 3 with Java.

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    Decide the technology on which you plan to write your book on and be confident in all areas of your chosen topic, finalizing the style and flow you will adopt throughout the book. Be determined, confident, focused and never give up at any cost at any time. Keep it simple, short and sweet for the reader.

    Vivek Thangaswamy, author of VSTO 3.0 for Office 2007 Programming

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  • Writing a book will give you satisfaction and credibility.
  • You will face challenges. Don't stop. Keep writing.
  • Focus on what your reader expects, and how you can create tangible results for them.
  • Provide practical information first, theory later.
  • Follow your Editor's advice!
  • Read David Barnes' blog: http://davidbarneswork.posterous.com

    Nirav Mehta, author of Mobile Web Development and Choosing an Open Source CMS: Beginner's Guide.

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    Contact Packt at the beginning! Don’t just begin writing and make finding a publisher a next priority. The
    acquisition editors at Packt are familiar with writing books and you are probably not. They help you a lot! Also,
    regularly make backups of your work and keep older versions as sometimes you may want to use a previously removed
    paragraph in another chapter for instance.

    Maarten Balliauw, author of ASP.NET MVC 1.0 Quickly.
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    Keep it simple! Don’t use a paragraph when a sentence will suffice. Try to inject some humor into your writing
    every now and then and use frequent examples to illustrate what you mean. Clear screenshots are vitally important as is a sense of achievement at the end of each chapter.

    Mary Cooch, author of Moodle 1.9 For Teaching 7-14 Year Olds: Beginners Guide.

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    Get a good plan at the beginning and stick to it! Writing a book can be a very enjoyable experience but you’ve got to have a detailed plan on what’s going into each chapter and how they all relate to each other.

    David Salter, author of Seam 2.x Web Development.
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    An author has to understand that the staff at Packt are there to help and they will provide you with the necessary ideas and advice to help you create a really unique book. The schedule is very important, because there are a lot of different people from Acquisition Editors to Reviewers, waiting for your work in order to read it and give you feedback. Hence, if you do not keep to the schedule, you will be affecting their schedules.

    Gaston C Hillar, author of C# 2008 and 2005 Threaded Programming: Beginner's Guide.

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    Instead of just digging into the writing phase of the book, I really benefited by doing hyper-outlining ahead of time. The pace of this book was aggressive (a new chapter every three weeks), so I typically spent 1 week or so doing deep research into the given chapter, plotting my demonstrations and then spent multiple days writing up very detailed outlines for each chapter. This helped prevent writers block since I had all my chapter headings, subheadings and content summaries before I really sat down to write. The core writing phase of each chapter was fairly quick as a result.

    Richard Seroter, author of SOA Patterns with BizTalk Server 2009.