Joomla! Explained and Why Writing a Book is So Hard

Phew. Joomla! Explained is finally out.

If you’ve written a book, you know how I feel. Phrases like “piece of cake” and “walk in the park” aren’t involved.

Why Is Writing a Book So Difficult (Particularly for Web People)?

    1. Print. Oh man, the boot was on the other foot this time. If you’re a web designer, you’ve had a requests like these: “I’d like the image to be 5.4 cm high”  “I have this pixel-perfect magazine ad that want translated into a website”. I’ve been guilty in the past of making light fun of print designers who try to tackle website. Oh man, the boot was firmly on the other foot this time. I had a lot of ideas of how the book should be laid out from a tear-out handout to an almost-blank splash page for each chapter (an idea taken from Steve Krug). Now I was the noob. Everything was foreign from dealing with Word documents to formatting to image numbering. My editors did a great job of steering me gently away from my wackier ideas and producing a good output at the end. I now have a LOT more respect for print designers.
    2. Iteration. As web designers we’re so used to iterating that anything is really hard. After years of making small incremental improvements to everything, it’s really confusing to now have to produce a piece of work that’s perfect first-time and can’t be tweaked later.
    3. 450 pages?? Books requires radically different skills and thought processes those we use every day. Twitter? 140 characters? A blog or forum post? 500 words. Even a university dissertation? 150 pages. 450 pages is hard to conceive and plan for. It’s certainly hard to write that much and write it accurately. It’s really like running a marathon – way outside the range of things that people normally do.
    4. Rewriting. I was such a noob that I really didn’t know how to approach the book. I re-wrote it at least three times and went through around 30 different tables of contents.
    5. Joomla 1.6. The book started in late 2009 but really didn’t start to fall into place until Joomla 1.6 reached Release Candidate versions and things were stable enough to commit to screenshots and content/

    Why Write a Book?

    Quite a few people warned me against writing a Joomla book over the years. Barrie North coined the term YAJBB (Yet Another Joomla Beginner Book) and it neatly summed up why I didn’t want to write one: it’s been done so many times already. Then there’s the book-writing process itself: low-pay, long hours and little reward. Most of my friends who wrote books said they got no royalties at all: only ancillary benefits such as being able to raise their rates.

    In the end I decided to write it for two reasons:

    • The offer was from the Joomla Press (a portion of the money goes back to Joomla).
    • It finally felt like I had something different to offer in a book.

    What’s Different In This Book?

    The book is based squarely on my experiences as a teacher (we’re closing in on 300 public classes and well over 100 private classes). I can sum up what I’ve learned in one word:


    Building CMS websites is not a straightforward task. Everything from adding content to menus to extensions requires multiple steps.

    • Want to add set up a contact form? That’s around dozen clicks.
    • What to add an article that’s categorized and visible via the menu? That’s around a dozen clicks.

    Why is WordPress generally easier to use? Because those tasks take less clicks.
    Why is Drupal generally harder to use? Because those tasks take more clicks.

    It’s not easy for users to remember what or where to click and each additional click is an opportunity to get lost or click the wrong thing.

    So the book is entirely based on workflows.

    • Want to add a contact form? Want to add an article? Both of those are dealt with using the CASh workflow: Categorize > Add > Show. In Joomla 1.5, this was the famous SCAM (Section > Category > Add > Menu). However, this really helps. Lots of users would start with the menu links because that’s how Dreamweaver works. Lots of users would Categorize and Add and then wonder why they couldn’t see their new content. Workflows hold their hand and guide them through the process.
    • Want to add an extension? Research > Download > Upload > Modules > Modify. Lots of users would forget to do their research at the beginning or to move their modules around at the end. Workflows hold their hand and guide them through the process.
    • Want to build a whole site? Installation > Content > Extensions > Templates. Lots of users would start with the design of their site and then  wonder why building a site was so hard. We found in our classes that we really had to stress to people that they couldn’t reasonably design their site without any content or any extensions. Web designers routinely used to design site and then wait months for the client to send the content. That doesn’t work well in Joomla or indeed any CMS. Workflows provide reassurance and hep with best practices.

    So that’s they key thing that’s different about Joomla Explained. Almost every chapter and every task in the book is accompanied by a workflow.

    If you want to read more on this, I’d recommend reading The Checklist Manifesto. It explains how people have to remember so many things in the modern world that they routinely screw up. The author explains how everyone from pilots to doctors to people building skyscrapers use checklists / workflows to minimize errors when there’s so much to remember.

    Who is the Book For?

    Joomla! Explained is aimed squarely at non-technical users. There are about two lines of code in the whole book and those don’t have to be used.

    In the introduction I mention that I wrote the book for my Dad. I firmly believe that Joomla should be easy enough for anyone to learn. If my Dad can use Joomla, so can you and your family.

    Want a Review Copy for You or Your Joomla Event?

    If you write a blog post on the the book, or if you want a copy to give away at your Joomla Day or Joomla User Group, drop me a line via this Google Docs form.

    Thanks and if you’ve written a book, find me at an event and I’ll buy you a beer. I’m sure we’ll both agree that having written a book is much better than writing a book.

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