Another Chapter Done

I revise book number 59 or 60 — I’ve lost count again.

These days, I’m hard at work on a revision to my Microsoft Word for Macintosh book. Officially titled Microsoft Word 2004 for Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide, the book covers the latest and greatest version of Word for Macintosh.

The book I’m revising (which covers Word v. X) is only about 300 pages long. It has a companion book that covers more advanced features. For this edition, I’m rolling the two books into one big fat book. That’s what I did earlier in the year for the Windows version of the book (which covers Word 2003). That book is 450+ pages long.

Revisions are not as easy as they sound. Books in the Visual QuickStart Guide series are extremely screenshot-intensive, with 3-6 images per page (on average). The tiniest little change in Word’s interface requires that any screenshot of that interface element must be redone. Since Microsoft changed the way the ruler looks, for example, any screenshot that includes the ruler — basically any shot of a screenful of text — must be redone. Rather than try to determine what elements have changed and run the risk of missing something, I just redo every single screenshot in the book.

Of course, not only do I write the book, but I lay out its pages using InDesign software. When I’m done with a chapter, I create a PDF and e-mail it to my copy and production editors. They print out the pages, mark them up, and mail them back to me. I then make changes as they requested, finalize the files, and send them to the production person on CD or via FTP. The book is in print 3-4 weeks later. The whole process, from my start to book in stores usually takes 6 to 8 weeks. But as soon as I’m finished with one book and have taken a week or two off to clear my head, I’m starting work on the next book.

I’ve got revisions down to a science. For this book, I’m starting with the InDesign files for the Windows version of the book, which has most of the content I need, organized in the right order. I’ve printed out an outline of that book’s contents with a few Macintosh-only features inserted in the appropriate areas. For example, Chapter 13 will be a brand new chapter covering Word’s NoteBook Layout View feature. Then I open a chapter file and go through it, page by page. I edit the text for correct Mac OS terminology and instructions. I replace the screenshots, removing some completely while adding new ones. I modify all the figure references and caption numbers as needed. (This is, by far, the most tedious part of the revision job.) When I’m done, I have a finished chapter, all ready for review and edit.

I try to knock off a chapter a day. Sometimes, when the chapter is short, that’s easy. Yesterday’s chapter was only 20 pages. But Wednesday’s chapter was 28 pages. That may not seem like a big difference, but it is. This will be a 20-chapter book, so I’ll have it done in 20 working days. If I get two short chapters in a row, I’ll try to do them both in one day to speed things up.

The deadline for this book is roughly around Thanksgiving time. I’d like to get it done sooner, since I have out-of-town guests coming in that week. More important, my Mac OS X book is due for revision shortly. That book takes priority over all others. If it’s ready for revision before I’m done with Word, Word will go on the back burner until I’m done.

I wrote somewhere that I sometimes feel like a machine. When I work on revisions like this one, I do. But I’m a well-oiled machine with the parts worn in just right to get the job done smoothly.

What do you think?