Math is hard? Writing is harder…

I’ve finally had a chance to recover from EPUB 3 Best Practices now, so figured it’s time to talk a bit about it. But don’t worry, I’m not going to flog the book. Everyone’s quite adept at deciding for themselves what they want to read.

I wrote on LinkedIn back when it came out in January that it was a long time coming, so I thought I’d pick up on that as a real first post for the site. The writing process actually began for me back in the summer of 2011, when I was asked to write the introductory piece What is EPUB 3? When I think that it was a year and a half from that piece being released to the release of the best practices guide, it would have taken less time to have a kid, which I happen to have coming soon, too. (There’s my shameless plug for the post.)

We were in the middle of a quiet time for comments on the EPUB specs at the time of the What Is piece, and O’Reilly were interested in putting out an informational short about the pending specification. I suppose as editor I was seen as the logical fit to fill that role. I didn’t press for a reason, as I wasn’t complaining (to say the least) when Bill and Markus asked me if I’d be available to put something together.

Like many a tech geek, there’s a special place in my heart for O’Reilly books. Long before EPUB or accessibility became a focus of my life, back when I was quickly boring of editorial work and looking to get more into the data side of publishing, the O’Reilly Perl books were what got me on my way. Reading them was like getting an audience with the luminaries in the field.

I was devouring programming books of all kind back then, but O’Reilly were the king of the heap. To suddenly find myself in a position where I was going to have my name attached to one of the vaunted “animal covers” was humbling. I don’t think I’d ever pictured writing technical books back when I was working my way through undergrad English courses, but the pride when I finally saw my name on that book was no less than it would have been had it been any other genre.

That was the high point of my writing “career” to date. If you’ve never written a book before, I can only equate it to your first time at another act: messier than you expect, unsure of yourself the whole time, but looking back the thrill is never quite the same again! Writing is more of a chore now, and publishers are just publishers again. Sigh.

My next writing gig in the path to the best practices guide would be Accessible EPUB 3. This one was only to be a preview chapter, but was easily the most stressful piece I’ve ever written. What Is was just a topical review of EPUB, so if it failed or flopped it would only be an indictment of my ability to write something interesting. Writing about accessibility, for what would inevitably be read by DAISY Consortium members among other accessibility experts, was to put whatever reputation I had on the line.

When writing for others, as I was doing with that piece, you also carry the burden of not wanting to disappoint them, or give the impression that they failed in charging you with the task. Fortunately, I had access to many experienced and intelligent people, all of whom you can find listed in the front of that book.

When that piece came out, there was still a thrill, but also a lot of anxiety. I barely slept the first night, worried the geeks of the world would take to the review channels to trash the book. It didn’t happen, of course; your fears are rarely ever realized. Looking back now, I’m probably most proud of that work because of all the work that went into it.

We then hit a lull, as 2012 was a hectic time for everyone, and we were rounding up contributors to flesh out the book. I was charged with a number of content chapters, but we also were able to get some very bright minds in EPUB to detail specifics. Rather than rehash what Liza Daly has already written, I’ll just point you to her blog for a recap. We got the book out in time for a TOC launch, and all was good in the world!

To wrap up a long story, though, I learned a lot about myself through the process. You come to realize the fallibility of your presumed knowledge when faced with a broad reading audience, for example. You’ll inevitably get something wrong somewhere, so you can only hope your mistakes are small!

I also realized how much I like being able to share the knowledge I’ve accumulated, and that’ll be one of my goals with this blog. EPUB is a means of getting information quickly, easily and accessibly to readers. There’s no value to be gained if we lock away production information.

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