A Blog Not Limited

to web design, standards & semantics

So I'm Writing A Book, Part 4: The Editorial Process & Design

Sep 30, 2009

Published in

As I write this very sentence, I am writing without stress. Without looming deadlines. Without anything more to do with the book. Yep. I'm done!

Which means it is time to finish up this book writing series.

In the first three articles, I explained everything from how I got the opportunity to the proposal to the contract to the actual writing. Now it is time to dive into the editorial process. I'll also give you a sneak peak of the book design (you're welcome).

Without further ado …

The Editorial Side

For my book, there were four "phases" of editing:

  1. Copyediting
  2. Technical editing/review
  3. First pass editing
  4. Second pass editing

And from what my development editor, Wendy Sharp, tells me, this is pretty much standard.


The copyediting phase was relatively painless. It primarily involves checking for spelling, punctuation, casing (according to Peachpit's style guide), verb tense, etc. And, because I was an editor for many years before getting into the web, there wasn't a ton of copyediting that had to be done. Yes, I'm that good.

But I'm far from perfect and the copyeditor also checks to make sure what I've written actually makes sense, so there were copyedits in many chapters. Especially the first five. Why? Because I didn't get assigned a copyeditor until about six weeks into writing.

Each week, I would complete a chapter, send it to Wendy and get started on the next one, all the while waiting for feedback. Waiting and waiting and waiting … I can't begin to tell you how frustrating this was.

As a first-time author, I wasn't sure if what I was writing was readable, informative, had the right tone, lots of things like that. Like I said in part 3, I was suffering from low confidence about my ability to take on this huge project. And I was really looking for someone else's input. Not getting any input from anyone for the first five chapters was horrible. And it only contributed to my ever-increasing stress and confidence issues.

Finally, I was assigned Jacqueline Aaron as my copyeditor. It was sort of strange in that I never had any direct contact with Jacqueline. I just sent Wendy the chapters, she sent them to Jacqueline, and Jacqueline sent them back to Wendy. Wendy would then go through Jacqueline's edits, make her own comments and then send the edits to me.

My Role

Once I got the edited chapters back from Wendy, it was my responsibility to review everything she and Jacqueline had done. Sometimes they made word changes that altered the context, so I would re-work those edits to incorporate their concerns without changing the meaning of my writing. Sometimes they just made comments for me to clarify sections, which I would do. Sometimes I noticed edits that were confusing to me, so I would make comments on those.

After I did my review and editing, I'd send the chapter back to Wendy. If I had comments or questions, she would address them directly to me in an email. And that was that.

Screen shot of edited chapter in Word with tracking changes on

All of the edits, comments, etc. as displayed in Word with "Track Changes" on.

The only thing worth commenting on about the process itself is the actual notes and edits in each chapter. As I've mentioned, I had to use Word in order to make use of Peachpit style templates. Edits and comments were done using Word's "Track Changes" and "Insert Comment" functionality. If you've ever worked with a large document that has a bunch of comments and tracked changes, then you may be familiar with the Blue Screen of Death. This is not fun at all.

Also, when there are a ton of comments and edits that you need to see ("Final Showing Markup"), looking at the page becomes a headache. Comments from Jacqueline. Comments from Wendy. Edits from both. Then add in my own. It was a hot mess that made editing, at least for me, more challenging and time-consuming.

It's the Little Things

When I got my first edited chapter back, there were so many edits. But they were mostly little things. Little things that would've been nice to have been aware of while writing those first chapters, but still minor. Things like:

  • Peachpit likes "web site" to be one word, as in "website."
  • Peachpit likes "web" to be capitalized (though my editors changed this mid-way through the book).
  • Certain heading levels are supposed to be in sentence case, while others should be in title case.
  • Peachpit doesn't like random italicizing or use of quote marks, but I do that a lot as part of my writing style.
  • I use AP style in my writing. Peachpit doesn't. Which means punctuation differences like how em dashes appear (without any spaces) and the use of commas in a series (included before the concluding "and").

So, because I never got any feedback in that first chapter, the little "errors" like these were all over my first five chapters. A bit frustrating for a perfectionist like me, but really not a big deal.

Fucking Foulmouthed Me

The only other issue when I got that first chapter back had to do with my language. Now, if you read this blog regularly, follow me on Twitter or have ever had a conversation with me, you know that I like "colorful" language. And in my first chapter, I referred to IE as a "piece–of–shit".

Well, you can't say "shit" in a Peachpit book. In fact, Wendy informed me that I couldn't use any of the words you can't say on TV (AKA my hero George Carlin's seven dirty words).

While you may think this threw a wrench into my writing style or approach, you'd be wrong. Yes, I'm colorful with my language but I also realized that my book is written for an audience that may not appreciate my word choices. I never planned to fill my book with "shit," "piss," "fuck," "cunt," "cocksucker," "motherfucker" or "tits."

But, when referencing IE, "piece–of–shit" just seemed so appropriate. Yet, Wendy and Jacqueline wanted to change it to "infamous." Yeah, doesn't have the same effect. So, I suggested "crap" and that was okayed.

And, thankfully, that was the only hurdle (if you can even call it that) I had to get past in the copyediting phase.

Technical Review

Once the copyediting phase was completed, the next step was technical review. And, once again, I played the waiting game … and became even more frustrated with the process.

Back in March, when I attended SXSW (and before the book contract was signed), I had the pleasure of meeting Tantek Çelik. And he graciously offered to do the technical editing for the book. I was beyond stoked, as was Wendy. Yet it took almost five months before Peachpit was able to ink a deal with him … four months of writing … 10 chapters …

Frustrated doesn't even cover it. While I did have input from copyediting — which was truly nice because I felt like I wasn't entirely alone in this effort — technical accuracy was paramount for me. So not having a technical editor for the overwhelming majority of my writing was … well, I don't think a single word exists for how I felt. Anxious, panicked, frustrated, angry, nervous … all in increasing amounts as time went on.

Finally, Wendy informed me Tantek was officially on board and had my first five chapters in hand. It was a couple more weeks until I got the first chapter back from him (via Wendy). Before I even peeked at it, Wendy told me that some of his edits/comments were his opinion and it was up to me, as the author, to say "yay" or "nay."

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but it took me a week to look at Tantek's edits. I was convinced that he hated it and none of what he read was good. And I just wasn't prepared to face that.

Of course, I'm a total pussy and a total idiot. When I did finally go over his edits, I was ridiculously relieved. Everything Tantek suggested was useful and his changes were relatively minor. Mountains out of molehills. It's my speciality.

After the first chapter, his suggestions and changes became fewer and fewer. A huge relief to me, because that signaled that I was on track technically with the book. Adding to that relief, Tantek contacted me to inform me how much he enjoyed my writing style and was glad to be involved. Getting that high praise felt like I won the lottery. And it gave me a much-needed boost to finish the last chapters.

Too Many Cooks

My only complaint about the technical editing phase is that for several of the later chapters, Wendy skipped my role in the copyediting phase. She simply sent the copyedited chapters directly to Tantek. That meant I never saw any copyedits until after Tantek did his technical review. So, when the chapters came to me, I was doing double-duty: checking Jacqueline and Wendy's edits and comments, and reviewing Tantek's additions.

Remember how I said all the change tracking in Word was challenging. Well, for those chapters it was a nightmare. And it bugged me that Tantek had to review content that I hadn't yet approved all the copyedits for. Seemed backwards. Was backwards.

And it made the last few weeks of working on the book pure hell. While I had finished writing, I now was under the gun to go over all of the copy and technical edits and do re-writes in a very short period of time. And I thought the writing deadlines were bad …

First Pass

For first-pass editing, Wendy sent all of the chapters that had completed the first two editorial phases to production. Production then put all the content into the design templates and generated PDFs of each chapter, as well as the cover, acknowledgements and table of contents. These PDFs accept edits and comments directly in the file. And that was my responsibility: Review each PDF, making note of errors, inconsistencies and the like. And do it all in less than a week.

Since this was my first time actually seeing what the book would look like, I decided I would change my editing style a bit. Rather than edit directly on my computers, I printed out every single one of those fucking PDFs (definitely killed a few trees in the process). And then I went old-school, making my edits directly on the printed copies. After several rounds of this for each PDF, I would make the edits directly in the file.

While I'm a huge fan of efficiency and this method definitely added some time to the process, I feel like I did my best editing and review during first pass. I think the combination of all the comments and edits in the Word documents plus reading content formatted for print on screen, just make editing more difficult for me. But editing the printed copies … it actually felt good, which was a nice change of pace for how I felt most of the time while writing the book.

Page Count Issues

During first pass, Wendy discovered that we were under page count (originally 336 pages). I was shocked. Why? Because back when I was writing chapter 8, Wendy informed me that I was going over page count and to take that into account. Which I did. Chapters 8, 9 and 10 are much shorter than I had originally intended, with fewer markup examples and less sidebar-type content.

But even those shortened chapters wasn't enough. By the time I was mid-way through chapter 9, Wendy informed me we would have to cut some of the originally proposed chapters and reorganize the table of contents. At this point, I can honestly say, I didn't care. I was exhausted and just wanted the book done. Fewer chapters meant less work.

So, Wendy and I decided to combine four chapters into one and keep it at a short length. I was fine with that, until I started working on that combined chapter (chapter 11, by the way). I quickly realized that the format I'd been following for all previous chapters wouldn't work. I also started worrying that readers would sense that this chapter was "off" and rushed. Kind of like a Stephen King ending.

But there wasn't anything I could do other than accept it for what it was.

So, when I found out during first pass that I was now under page count, I wanted to scream. It was too late for me to go back to the chapters I had shortened and add stuff. It was too late to split chapter 11 back into the original chapters. It was just not the right time to be finding that shit out.

Ultimately, Wendy decided we would drop the page count of the book from 336 to 312, which is some magic number tied to how they actually produce the book. Something about page signatures and the printing press. Wendy felt positive about it. I no longer had the energy to feel anything.

Second Pass

Which brings me to second pass, which is the very last chance to make any changes to the book. Actually, "changes" isn't the right word. In second pass, you can fix errors. That would be a minor typo, a misspelled word, maybe a first-pass change that was overlooked. That's it. And you can't make any changes that would affect page count.

In fact, part of me debated even skipping a look at second pass. I mean, if it was just to correct very minor errors, then was it even worth my time? Wendy was checking to make sure all the first-pass changes were addressed, and I was severely burnt out.

But Wendy was able to give me about a week to go over second pass, so I did it. And I really only looked to ensure my first-pass changes made it in. I didn't invest any other energy into it. Was this good? Bad? No fucking clue. And even though it is now a week after I handed over my second-pass changes, I'm still burnt out and I don't really care at this point.

And that was the editorial process. Deeply frustrating for me at times. Sometimes difficult to juggle while also writing.

I have no idea if what I experienced is normal. I'm almost afraid to ask, because if it wasn't normal, that would just piss me off even further. If it was, it just gives me yet another reason to never write a book again.

The Design Side

As I mentioned in part 3, one of the first things I did for Peachpit was to complete their Author Questionnaire, which includes one question about the book cover and design: "Do you have any comments regarding the cover artwork for your book?" That's it.

And, as I also mentioned, when I completed that questionnaire, I didn't have any idea what the book should look like. I simply offered a few suggestions, such as including the microformats logo, using a "friendly" font and color and maybe including some code snippets.

From my perspective at the time, Peachpit had book designers on staff who had far more experience than I … why should I meddle in their work?

So when mid-July rolled around and Wendy sent me a sample chapter PDF that showed the book's interior design, I didn't have too many expectations. However, even limited expectations couldn't have prepared me for the utter disappointment I felt when I looked at that PDF.

Initial design interior for Microformats Made Simple

Initial design for chapter introduction pages

What I first noticed was some strange Tron-like graphic used on the chapter intro pages. In red. Deep, bloody red. I didn't know what the fuck it was. It just looked to me like somebody decided to practice with the Bézier pen in Photoshop. Amateurish and completely out of any context with my book.

As I continued to go through the sample chapter, I continued to be disappointed. First, red was the color used throughout. Generally speaking, I like red. But I don't like it in a tech book. Makes me intuitively percieve alarm. It is an assaulting color. And my book is supposed to be friendly, simple and approchable. I didn't feel that red was the color choice to reflect that.

Initial design of sidebards in Microformats Made Simple

Arrow icon in initial sidebar design

Then it was the use of completely pointless arrow things on the chapter intro pages and sidebars. Not only were they just plain ugly, but they were unnecessary. Why add ugly unless there is some point? I didn't see a point, and I felt like these arrows only made things seem even more disconnected than the Tron graphic.

Then it was the line length, which appeared far too short to me. This resulted in most of my code snippets being less than readable and a huge gutter.

And then, and then, and then. I just kept finding things I didn't like. And I got increasingly upset because I had been told from the outset that I would have very little (if any) say about the book design. Further, Wendy had warned me that the design I was looking at was close to final.

So, I bitched on Twitter. Cried to myself. Whined to my friends. And then sent Wendy a list of everything I didn't like about the design, crossing my fingers that at least one or two of my points would be considered.

To my amazement, Wendy reported back to me that the designer had decided to make a number of changes based on my list 'o complaints:

  • Change the color from red to green
  • Drop the arrow icons
  • Add rounded corners to the sidebar borders
  • Increase line length
  • Incorporate the microformats logo/icon

And she informed me that this was, basically, a miracle.

Wendy also explained to me what the hell that Tron graphic was: leaves. Yeah. I didn't get that either. Especially in red. So, I was still very concerned about that particular design element but didn't want to push my luck any further.

By the time I recieved my first pass PDFs, the book interior design had been modified and the cover was done. I hadn't yet seen the cover, but Wendy told me it was that Tron-leaf graphic. I wasn't really looking forward to seeing it.

Initial design of Microformats Made Simple cover

Initial cover design

But when I did, it finally made sense. The graphic on the cover actually looks like leaves, as it spans the front and back. Also, the designer had added code snippets to the leaves themselves, along the "veins." So, at least I now felt comfortable that the graphic wasn't entirely shit.

And, as for the leaves, Wendy explained to me (far too late), they represent growth and "reaching out." I can dig that. I feel like learning something new (microformats) is growth and the microformats community works tirelessly to reach out to people. All good.

While I still am not a fan of the red and green together on the cover, the design is starting to grow on me. Now that I can actually see that the graphic is leaves, and that the interior color has been changed to green, the rest of it matters very little to me. Plus, I'm starting to like that the cover is white and simplistic.

I certainly have no intention of writing a book again. But if you do, may I recommend that you come to the table prepared with specifics about design. I would even suggest mocking up a design and providing that. Design is not the purview of the author, but if you can get your input in early, you may have more say than I did.

What's Next

So far, I've covered all of the major phases of my own book writing experience. I've also done a fair bit of bitching and venting. I really just wanted to document everything for myself, so if I'm ever asked to write another book, I will have something to reference and remind me what the past five months have been like. And I do hope by sharing this, maybe it will prove useful to another aspiring author.

But I'm not quite done. In the next and final article in this series, I'll let you know what you can expect from the book: my writing style, types of code examples, the final table of contents. And, knowing myself as I do, I'll probably conclude the whole shebang with some final thoughts.

In the meantime, you can pre-order Microformats Made Simple from Amazon (yes, that's an affiliate link) and/or you can get an early preview of the book in Rough Cuts.

HTML5 Cookbook

Interested in HTML5?
Get the Cookbook!

I was a contributing author for HTML5 Cookbook, available for sale on Amazon! Get yours now! (I hear chapters 1, 4 and 5 are particularly good.)

P.S. Don't forget my book Microformats Made Simple is still for sale!


Share the Love

Wendy Sharp's Gravatar

Wendy Sharp opines:


I’m almost sorry to tell you this (now, I mean, I wish I’d told you months ago!) but in Word you can choose which comments you want to see. From the Reviewing toolbar, choose the Show drop-down and turn off formatting and insertions and deletions. Also, you can view comments by reviewer so see only the selected comments of whichever reviewer you’re looking at. It does make complicated documents a lot easier to look at.

I’m sorry you found the experience so frustrating but it’s a great book and I’m glad you’re warming up to the design!

Chris Pederick's Gravatar

Chris Pederick opines:


Fascinating insights, Emily.

Although I have to say I am a little disappointed to hear there will be no use of “cunt” in the book. I’ll probably just imagine you when reading the book and add in my own profanity!

Emily's Gravatar

Emily responds:


@Wendy - Yes, would’ve been nice to know that, but I think I still would’ve had all comments turned on so I could get the full context. Oh well. And I, too, am happy I’m warming up to the design.

@Chris - LOL ...

Turismo Ibiza's Gravatar

Turismo Ibiza opines:


I work in a print designers. Probably the change in style was a miracle. But surely the designers used words like “shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker” ... Very good.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

The Coolest Person I Know

Emily Lewis

Yeah, that would be me: .

I'm a freelance web designer of the standardista variety, which means I get excited about things like valid POSH, microformats and accessibility. I ply my trade from my one-person design studio in Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106 USA.

A Blog Not Limited is my personal blog where I pontificate about web design, web standards, semantics and whatever else strikes my fancy. Head on over to Emily Lewis Design if you'd like to see my work or, even better, hire me.


I Tweet, Therefore I Am

Follow @emilylewis on Twitter!