SocialRadar’s VP of Engineering, Victor Quinn, recently wrote a book and had some thoughts to share. He is a programmer, technology leader, legal scholar, writer, husband, and now, a published author. Quinn details the process that turned a blog post he wrote in 2011 into his new book “Getting Started with tmux.”
This book, as its title would imply, is a getting started book for tmux, a command line program which can allow a single terminal to act as many. This book is targeted at anyone who is a developer, devops engineer, or other professional who spends any amount of time in a terminal.
I wanted to take some time and document the process so others thinking about doing the same can have an idea of what the process is like.
My blog post
Back in 2011, I was using GNU Screen (another terminal multiplexer program like tmux).
As I often do, I documented my process learning tmux in case it would be useful to anyone else and published it on my personal blog.
Between now and then often referred to it if I forgot how to do something with tmux.
Over the years it has been rather well trafficked and has actually become one of the top results on Google for “tmux tutorial”
I was contacted by an acquisition editor from Packt Publishing who had read the blog post I had written back in 2011.
She wanted to know if I was interested in expanding my blog post into a book. I was cautious at this point but very interested!
I have been writing regularly for awhile1 and always wanted to get something published so this request came at exactly the right time.
Before I would agree to do anything though, I wanted to do my due diligence and ensure this was legit. It seemed a bit too good to be true that someone was reaching out to me about writing! I had used books from Packt Publishing in the course of my own learning of technology, but, as a security conscious person, I wanted to ensure this person contacting me actually worked for them and was for real.
So I did some research on the acquisition editor that contacted me, the company, what other authors had to say about writing with them and so on.
It all sounded good so I told them I wanted to go forward with it!
After I agreed it was a go, I had to submit a synopsis of the book along with a list of the chapters, their titles, and summaries of each chapter.
This was basically the planning stage where I tried to map out what all I was going to talk about. I found it a bit tricky to estimate the number of pages for each chapter. I used a combination of research done on some other technical books I had read from Packt to get a feel for their relative chapter length and my own intuition to figure out a page length for each chapter.
It surprised me at the end how accurate I was with the topics and lengths of the chapters!
After submitting this summary and having it approved by Packt, we signed the contract. Huzzah! I was going to be a published author!
Now it was time to start writing. As the proverb says, a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and I had to start with a single chapter.
Honestly, this first chapter was the most fun for me to write. I had decided early on that I would take the reader on a journey of sorts, showing off the various cool things tmux can do before digging in to the nitty gritty details. I wanted the reader to finish the first chapter and think “Wow, am I glad I got this book, there is so much cool stuff I can do! Let’s keep going!”
I like to think it came out in the finished product the way I had envisioned, but I won’t know until someone who hasn’t used tmux goes through it and tell me.
If you have read this first chapter, please shoot me an email or a tweet and let me know, I’d love your feedback!
This first chapter is actually available on the book website as the Free Sample
After finishing this first chapter, I was off and rolling! Now all I had to do was write another 120 some-odd pages! I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel a bit daunting, but I was ready for the challenge!
The Revision Process
I kept chugging over the next month and a half or so, using my nights and weekends to churn out new content.
As I was completing the first drafts of my chapters, the content editor was reviewing them and returning them with useful comments and suggestions. Things overlapped a bit so I was submitting a second draft of the earlier chapters around the same time I was submitting the first draft of the later ones.
After this, came a relatively quiet period for a month or two while they sent my work out to technical reviewers to get their comments and ensure the technical accuracy of my work.
When I got the chapters back again, each one included inline comments from the half dozen or so technical reviewers that went through the chapter and offered their feedback.
The technical reviewers are other folks just like me, well versed in the subject and able to give feedback. Their feedback was AMAZING!
I wish I could take each and every one of them out for a beer. (if any of you happen to read this and bump into me anywhere, beer is on me!)
I suppose I should have expected this, but it was far and away the most beneficial and useful part of the writing process. I incorporated a bunch of their feedback which really took my book to another level.
This lesson about the immense value of feedback from peers is one I will remember for the rest of my life.
Finishing it up
It took me a fairly long time to incorporate all of their feedback because it was a bit like sitting in a room listening to 6 people offer suggestions all at once. Sometimes their suggestions even conflicted!
But once I got through it all, I had what I thought was an excellent finished product.
I had a last chance at revision before the book went to some finishing editors and was published.
Throughout the writing process, everything was all written in Microsoft Word with a Packt Publishing template which formatted things so they would be publishable, but at the end of the day it just looked like a Word document.
The first time I got a PDF of the first chapter looking like an actual book, I was blown away. This was actually happening! It’s going to be a real book! I felt extremely proud.
From beginning to end, this whole process took about 6 months with the work happening in bursts.
When all was said and done and I received a printed copy of my book, it was surreal.
Definitely one of the most accomplished moments of my life. Being able to hold it in my hand, flip through it, see my name on the front, it was awesome.
Overall, it was quite an interesting and eye opening process. I would recommend it to almost anyone who has the opportunity. The writing process was great and I feel good having a piece of my writing published that can showcase.
Thank you to all the folks at Packt Publishing. I’d list your names but I will not to protect your privacy. Your assistance helped me immensely throughout this whole process.
Thank you to the technical reviewers. As I mentioned above your assistance was invaluable!
Thank you to my amazing wife Susan for putting up with me writing a book on nights and weekends while working startup hours at SocialRadar!
Thank you to my parents, for raising me with the ever inquisitive drive to learn more and build things.
And last, thank you to every one of my family and friends who have “liked” my posts about the book, commented positively on my posts about it, shared my links about the book, talked to me about it, and so on. That kind of support is extremely valuable and I’m lucky to have it! And I apologize if you feel sad that I kept you in the dark until I was done, that’s just how I roll 😉
You can check out and order the book from Packt Publishing here.
1. Though I’m writing constantly, I only publicly publish a small subset of what I write. I try to allow anything I write to sit for at least a day before I publish it to ensure it’s good. Often after that day passes I decide it’s not terribly useful or good and keep it private. However, whenever I finish something others may find useful I do my best to polish and publish it!