A few years back I wrote a technical book for Australian publisher, SitePoint. The book was a fast introduction to building websites using the Ruby on Rails framework. It was to be part of their ‘Jump Start’ series of books.
Who are SitePoint?
SitePoint formed in 1999. Their mission was to provide an ever-growing set of resources for web developers. They have a readership of more than 10 million and add new “learning hubs” as the web itself evolves.
I was already writing articles for SitePoint at that time. So, when their request came for a writer to take on the “Jump Start Rails” project I jumped at the chance to write it.
The book brief
The book was to form part of the SitePoint “Jump Start” series. These books cover a wide range of web design and development topics. You can read each book in a weekend and run at about 150 pages long. The idea is that you start and finish a web project using the book.
The web development framework, Ruby on Rails, was about to see a major version release. SitePoint wanted the book in time for the release. That way, they would be one of the first book publishers to cover the latest version of the framework.
Rails 4 was not released at that point. So, the book manuscript used beta versions of the framework. That became an interesting challenge as features changed during the writing process.
The writing process
The first goal was to build the web application that readers should have been able to produce. The build itself went through several iterations because the framework itself was updating.
With the finished project in mind, I wrote the main chapter sequence first. Then, agreed it with the technical reviewer from SitePoint. That led to some interesting conversations about the direction of the book.
My focus was on the fact that you should have been able to build the web application described in a weekend. And that was without being a Rails expert. This was a beginners book, after all.
Since the book is technical by nature, I kept the tone as light as possible. The narrative has many code examples. There were also plenty of screen-shots and diagrams. So maintaining a logical flow was important.
I also tutored a digital course to support the release of the book. The course was video-based and showed me building the web application. There were pieces to camera as well, where I could explain some of the technicalities.
I finished both projects in time for the release of Rails 4. SitePoint promoted the book and the course to their readership. They did this in the weeks before the release, both were well received.
The course saw a rapid subscription rate for the first few weeks and the book sold steadily too.
The book sold after its release on Amazon too.
Benefits for SitePoint
SitePoint were fast becoming the place for web developers to go for information. The book (and the course) served to strengthen that position.
Also, Ruby on Rails is one of the more technical web development platforms. So, it was important for SitePoint to get an offering out in that topic area.