The why and how of writing a book

I’ve been asked a few times, why did you write this book? And often it’s paired with, how did you write this book? I think I answer both questions in this interview I just completed with Emmelyn Wang on the site. Here’s an excerpt, but you can click through to read more.

STC Austin: In addition to your love of reading books and your desire to teach/learn, what other motivations compelled you to author Conversation and  Community: The Social Web for Documentation?

Anne Gentle: I felt compelled to write this book to capture this point in time – a time when user-created content is getting enough notice for Time magazine to name the person of the year “You.” As a wiki writer working on the open source education projects for One Laptop per Child and SugarLabs, I was seeing technical writing in a new light and I wanted to chronicle my experiences. Writing content that could be commented on and edited by other community members was different from a traditional technical writing role. Writing blog entries as a technical writer representing BMC Software was also rather unusual at the time I was doing it, in fall of 2005. We were working on the site because of a belief in the Cluetrain Manifesto.

Often I outlined or wrote sections of the book rather than write a blog entry twice a week. Little by little it formed into a book, with the help of Kelly Holcomb, my good friend and editor who would read the sections, ask questions to fill in the gaps, and stitch it together. I also am in debt to the writing communities and writers that gave me the experiences from which I gathered tales as examples. I wanted it to be in book format to reach a different audience than my typical blog readers. I wanted the book format to give more credibility to the premise that the social web is important enough that just another blog writing about it wasn’t enough, that the value here was enough for a publisher to invest in it. XML Press is the perfect publisher for that, because it provides content that helps technical communicators be more effective in their work and value proposition. What better value proposition can we provide than to get closer to our customers, understanding their needs and responding to them quickly.

Read more…


  • Patty Blount
    August 13, 2009 - 10:08 am | Permalink

    Anne, just got my copy and am about halfway through. Well done! Thanks for your insightful advice that – for the first time – helped me understand the technical writer’s place in Web 2.0. As my company embarks on initiatives to “think outside the book”, I discovered while reading your book that I’ve not been thinking about social media in the right manner.

    I’ve been trying to identify ways I can use social network sites to DELIVER documentation (much like Sarah’s Twitter as Release Notes Medium post)…but now understand social media is about user engagement. It’s not “delivery” at all, it’s exchange. Now I understand why you called the book Conversation and Community.

    Our first step is to find out where our audience is and listen to what they’re saying. Thanks again.

    Patty B.

  • August 13, 2009 - 10:39 pm | Permalink

    Patty, what a wonderful comment! Thank you so much for describing your “ah-ha” moments while reading my book. I love it! Keep me posted as you find out more about your users.

    I do want to write more posts with specific “listening” ideas and how-to, but here’s one from the past that you might like.
    Find your user’s vocabulary and use his or her key terms as keywords –

    Keep thinking outside the book and let me know how it goes. 🙂

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