If there is one thing that Booki is known for, it is the Book Sprint. This is what happens when a group of talented and highly motivated people are brought together to create or revise a book in just one week. A woman who used to sit in the next office over from me at work participated in one of these. She had become something of an expert on customizing CiviCRM, software used to do contact management for non-profits. She had installed the software for her own Synagogue and had developed modifications to handle the Hebrew calendar, among other things. This work had come to the attention of the developers of CiviCRM and she was invited to Lake Tahoe for a week to work on updating the manual. The developers had gotten a grant to do this work so her travel expenses were paid and she was put up at someone’s home for the week. It was a good experience for her.
I, too have worked on books using Booki, three of them in fact, but my own experiences are much different than a Book Sprint. Since my second book is on creating, finding, publishing, and using e-books I had occasion to describe Booki in that book as a possible tool for creating e-books. In that chapter I said my books were created as more of a Slog than a Sprint. Adam Hyde (Booki project manager), read that chapter and asked me to write a post about “Book Slogs”. Of perhaps I should say “Book Slogs(R)”.
If “Book Slog” is going to catch on as terminology we’ll need to define it. Basically a “Book Slog” is everything that a “Book Sprint” is not. For example:
- The book will, of necessity, take more than a week to write. More than likely it will take months, and will involve much research. The main author will end up knowing much more after finishing the book than he did when he began it.
- The book will have one main author, who will do most of the actual writing.
- The book may or may not have other contributors.
- The contributions of others may be informal.
- Other contributors will not be as highly motivated as the main author, or may have their own motivations that are not the same as the main author.
- The contributors will likely never meet face to face.
In other words, a Book Slog is pretty much the normal way of writing a book. One could imagine Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Mike Huckabee getting together to write an American History textbook in a week long Book Sprint. I wish I could stop imagining it. I would guess, though, that in the world of free textbooks there will be more Slogs than Sprints.
The question is, does Booki have anything to offer the Slogger? Based on my own experiences, I would have to say it does.
The interesting think about Booki is that anyone who wishes to can look over your shoulder as you work. This may not sound like an advantage, but it can be. I had an interesting experience on my second book, “E-Book Enlightenment”. After writing a few chapters I had them published on the FLOSS Manuals website. Shortly afterwards I received an email from someone at OLPC France. They were working on their own e-book project for children in Madagascar, and they were using my still unfinished book as a reference on how to create e-books in various formats. They were having some difficulties creating the DjVu format which I was able to help them with.
If you actually ask for feedback Booki is even better. You don’t need to have a finished book to do it, either, just enough chapters to convince people that there will be a finished book at some point. If you have that you can convince people that you aren’t wasting their time, and if they know that and possibly that you won’t be making any money on the book you’ll be surprised at how helpful people can be.
My first book was about writing computer programs for the One Laptop Per Child project. I knew a bit about the subject before I began the book, but the subject really demanded that I learn more. I got a great deal of help on setting up test environments, writing programs that can be used by multiple users, recommending development tools, etc. because people could see my book in progress any time they wished to. My second book on e-books needed research on copyrights, building a book scanner, converting page images to text, and many other topics, and I got lots of help there too.
You can have actual co-authors and still have a Slog. With my second book I actually looked for co-authors. The Rural Design Collective in Oregon has done work in the past for the Internet Archive, one of the best sources for free e-books. I approached one of them that I had worked with in the past on an OLPC project and asked if she’d like to contribute.
The RDC has a summer mentoring program that awards scholarships to talented students who are interested in careers in website design, etc. The students work on a project for the summer. The RDC decided that working on my second book would be their summer project.
This seemed like it was too good to be true, and in some ways it was. People would be paid to work on my book, and it wouldn’t cost me anything. That much was true. We discussed ideas of what kind of contribution these students could provide, and we had lots of ideas. I wanted Macintosh screenshots for my book and they had a Mac. I was hoping that the students would try out my instructions and give feedback. We thought maybe some students could try and build a book scanner and report on the experience.
The goal of the RDC was to give the students a learning experience; helping my book was of necessity a secondary goal to that. In the end, it came down to the interests of the students. There ended up being two mentees, one a talented artist who ended up doing original art for the book and the other who did work on style sheets for the bound and printed version. Both of these things had been afterthoughts in the first book. The cover image had just been a screen grab of some icons, and I used the default style sheet for creating the PDF to send to Lulu. However, my review copy of the first book convinced me of the importance of good style sheets and cover art, and for the final bound and printed version we’ll be reworking both. The art for the second book turned out quite well. You can check it out here:
E-Book Enlightenment: Reading And Leading With One Laptop Per Child
The RDC itself also provided content for the book, which was a description of software they had created for publishing e-books, and they may provide more content in the future. The summer project will be over soon, but they may do another one in the fall.
There is a quote of Antoine de Saint-Exuprey that I heard in a keynote speech recently that applies to collaboration:
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
This fits in well with my experience making these books. You can try to drum up people and talk about what tasks need to be done, but in the end the best thing you can do is to try and make them want the book to exist as much as you do. If you can do that collaboration may follow.
My third book is actually a translation of my first book into Spanish. This was needed because some of the most successful work One Laptop Per Child has done has been in South America. Technically, there was no need for me to be involved in this at all. Anyone who wishes to may translate any FLOSS Manual without the blessing or active participation of the author. I pointed this out on the mailing list where the suggestion for a Spanish translation had come up, and briefly described what it would take to get the translation set up. Several people offered to work on the translation but days went by and nobody had started one. I would guess the reason would be that whoever starts a book owns it in some sense and could be blamed for it failing. I decided to step up and start the translation myself.
The problem with me being in charge of this translation is that I don’t speak Spanish. I had taken French for several years with no lasting effect, but no Spanish.
Anyway, the project got set up on the translation server and I checked it over. It turns out that the translation version of Booki lets you see the original text on the left side of the page while you enter your translation on the right. I informed the mailing list that the project was set up, gave them the URL, and described what they’d have to do. I set up the project so I would get emails whenever anyone updated the book. One woman translated a few paragraphs, then days went by and nothing more happened.
This actually helped. It is probably less scary to correct a bad translation than to be responsible for making a good one. A retired teacher who is fluent in Spanish started making corrections and she contacted native speakers that she knew and sent emails to mailing lists and others started doing work on it too. Progress has been slow but steady. Every few days I get an email telling me that someone has made more corrections and what chapter has been corrected. It is surprising just how many people have been willing to get an account and post corrections. The retired teacher seems to be doing most of the work, and I suggested that she add her bio to the “About The Authors” chapter.
Writing books is hard work, and while I can’t say that Booki makes it any easier, it does improve the experience and give you ways to interact with collaborators and your target audience that can improve the final product. If the book you want to write looks like more of a Slog than a Sprint, give it a try!