Choosing to Write a Book

I’ve often joked that, at conferences, you can’t trip and not fall into a group of published authors. From O’Reilly, to Rosenfeld, to A Book Apart, and self publishing it’s easy to think that in order to succeed, one needs to publish a book. It’s easy to think that after X number of years in the industry, we are expected to publish.

This could not be further from the truth. I’m fortunate to be among O’Reily’s list of authors. I don’t take this for granted, and I realize it was part circumstance that got me the opportunity.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from writing the book they are passionate about. Instead, I want to offer are some user-centered principles to ask before getting into the process.

Who are you writing the book for?

Are you writing the book for yourself, or for an audience?

Writing a book for yourself might mean you want to organize your thoughts, or validate something you hold true. These are both valuable reasons to write. I challenge you if it is worth the time, headache, and hassle of a book. Even the quickest professional authors I know take close to a year to publish (from first outline to print-in-hand).

Think if a series of blog posts or a presentation is a better place to start.

If you are writing for an audience, make sure to be very clear who that audience is. Using a product-design approach, if the target user group is everyone, then the product serves nobody. UX Research is geared towards newer professionals, and Collaborative Improv is targeted towards product teams.

What is the Purpose of the Book?

What purpose or goal does the book have? Does that purpose primarily serve yourself or an external audience?

I won’t lie that an attraction to writing UX Research was to have my name on an industry title. It has landed me a few speaking engagements but let’s be honest, nobody gets rich writing a desk reference (I certainly haven’t). Writing a book solely for your own gain is not a reason not to write a book.

So more than individual gain, Brad and I reflected on what was missing when we started in the industry. We wanted to offer that tool, and we identified how-to guides and tools.

To that point, I feel we achieved success with UX Research. One student offered the following feedback to me (edited for privacy) “The (school) program teaches us how to connect the dots between design and development, which naturally requires a lot of research; however, we never really discuss UX research specifically or the common tools and practices used. It hasn’t been particularly easy to find any entry-level resources that explain things thoroughly, so having your book is a major benefit. Much appreciated!”

So what is the Purpose, or Goal of your book? What is your Vision Statement? Make sure you write something that keeps the audience front and center.

“UX Research is a handy guide for new practitioners to gain immediate understanding of UX research techniques, tools, and approaches. “

“Collaborative improv offers product teams a vocabulary and lens to support each other’s work and break down historical barriers based on discipline or role. “

Is A Book Really Needed?

Competitive Analysis

Every publisher I’ve spoken with requires a list of similar books – your competition – before signing you to get started. Do your due diligence. See who else is out there and make sure you are filling a need. It’s OK if you’re writing a book on Information Architecture and the Polar Bear book exists. Just know what differentiates your perspective.

The Right Tool for the Job

Books are great but as mentioned can take at least a year to draft, edit, and publish. If this seems like a lot of time, it is. Can you share your thoughts through blog posts, medium articles, or recordings? There are a lot of ways to monetize content beyond publishing, and I’d hypothesize some of them are much more lucrative than writing a book.

In Conclusion

I think writing is a great way to become an expert on something. Nothing challenges your assumptions and knowledge quite as much as peer review. I don’t want to discourage anyone from writing.

In a world where it is very easy to add more material to the world, I simply ask that we all take a moment to reflect “why are we doing this”, “what do we hope to gain from it”, “what do we hope to give from it” and “is this method or tool the best approach“.

I welcome your thoughts.

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