On writing Mac OS Visual QuickStart Guides

Sometimes I feel like a machine.

Pardon me, but I’m about 2/3 of the way through the largest Visual QuickStart Guide I’ve ever written. This is book #55 and the sixth or seventh (I’ve lost count) edition of my bestselling Mac OS VQS for Peachpit Press.

The first edition covered Mac OS 8, years ago, and it was an instant bestseller. People were hungry for books about the new Mac OS software and mine was the only book available at Macworld Expo (although in limited quantities) when the software went on sale. It was three weeks before the second book came out. That was a nice competitive advantage.

The book went through some changes throughout the year. It got fatter and fatter with every edition until we decided to split it into two books, a Visual QuickStart Guide (VQS) and a Visual QuickPro Guide (VQP). The VQS got skinny all of a sudden, then started to fatten up again. The Mac OS X 10.2 edition is about 370 pages and the corresponding VQP is about 350.

Simple math should have told me that when we recombined the two books into one big fat VQS, the resulting book would be VERY FAT. I’m estimating about 650 pages right now. I was wondering a while ago why this book was taking me so long. It’s because I’m really writing two books that’ll fit between one set of covers.

And I do feel like a machine. I have the VQS thing down to a science. Two computers, one to work with the software on (an eMac “test mule”) and one to write on (a G4 “production machine”). A network connection dumping screenshots into my production machine. InDesign and Photoshop running all the time. Templates, libraries, style sheets. I can produce a page from scratch in about 30 minutes (if I don’t have to take time to figure out what I’m doing) and can revise a page in about 15. I’m a machine.

And I’m very tired. Burned out. Sick of taking screenshots and laying out captions and callouts.

I start work at 6 or 7 AM and work until I’m done with whatever I’m working on. Sometimes that means working until 6 or 7 PM. That’s a long day. But most days, I quit by 4 PM. Then I go home and try not to think about computers.

But I do admit that I still get a thrill out of seeing a good book in print. A “good book” is a book that I feel that I’ve done my best on. This book will be a good book. Well, at 650+ pages, it’ll probably be a GREAT book. And a real bargain for readers.

More another time. I’m going home.

What do you think?