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How long does it take to write a book

A number of people have asked me how long it took to write my book, and how much of that time was spent on the actual writing. Luckily I’d thought it would be interesting to know that myself, so I recorded my time from the very beginning of the project. Thank you to Peter Maddox for helping me to turn my dry figures into a pretty chart!

The time tracking starts from mid May 2011, when I began planning the book in earnest. I stopped tracking my time in mid February 2012, when the book became available on Amazon and B&N. The figures include only the work I did myself. Other people put a significant amount of time into the book too. In particular, Richard Hamilton at XML Press did the copy editing and publishing of the book, the illustrator created the cover image and the five images that introduce the parts of the book, and six people worked on the technical review. It would be interesting to know the total time spent by all of us, but I don’t have that information.

Summarising the time I spent on the book

Elapsed time: 9 months
Total time spent on the book: 620 hours
Number of hours spent actually developing content (words and diagrams): 376 hours

So, the time spent developing content was approximately 60% of the total time. I wonder if that’s about average?

Assuming a 5-day week of 8 hours flat-out per day, 620 hours would have taken 16 weeks. That’s approximately 4 months. I did it all while holding down a full-time job – an exciting and challenging one, at that. So, I spent all weekends, all public holidays, and a number of days of my annual leave, on the book. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed it, except that I have a wonderful family who supported me all the way. And it was worth it!

Time per task

This chart shows the number of hours spent per week, on each task. The vertical axis shows the number of hours. The horizontal axis shows a nine-month period by week, from mid May 2011 to mid February 2012. The colours show the different tasks, with a colour-coded key running along the top of the chart.

I’ve totalled the hours per week, since that seems a logical boundary and makes a nice smooth chart. (A daily chart is interesting but very spiky. A monthly chart does not have enough detail.)

Here’s a bit more information about each of the task types. I’ve rounded the figures to the nearest hour in this list:

  • Preparation (39 hours): Choose a publisher. Prepare and discuss the initial outline with the publisher.
  • Writing (376 hours): Map out the structure of a chapter, write it, do my own review, draw any diagrams necessary, develop test data and take screenshots – everything that goes into developing the content.
  • Administrative and technical tasks (66 hours): Sort out the IRS, set up the technical environment, correspond with various people.
  • Design (12 hours): Liaise with the publisher and illustrator about the illustrations, book cover, and other design matters.
  • Technical review comments (34 hours): Discuss and incorporate feedback from the technical reviewers.
  • Promotion (23 hours): Write blog posts, tweet, plan webinars, liaise with companies who may buy the book in bulk. This encompasses just the work done before publication. Promotion ramps up significantly after publication, and is not shown here.
  • Index, captions, footnotes (36 hours): Develop the index for the book, add the image and table captions, and formalise the footnotes.
  • Copy editing and final proofs (35 hours): Incorporate feedback from the copy editor, and review the final proofs and galleys.

The book

Of course, the amount of time it takes to write a book depends on a number of things, including the size and nature of the book. Here are the vital statistics of my book.

Title: Confluence, Tech Comm, Chocolate: A wiki as platform extraordinaire for technical communication

Available: and Barnes & Noble

Publisher: XML Press

Illustrator: Ryan Maddox

Number of pages: 488

Number of words: Approximately 130,000 (excluding the table of contents and the index)

Number of diagrams: I created 11 diagrams to illustrate various concepts. (These are in addition to the drawings created by the illustrator, and a large number of screenshots.)

Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.4 x 1.1 inches

Nature of the book: Technical – see the outline of the book

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