Sunday, 10 July 2016

Agile 101: How to write an Agile book

Yes, you can also write a book in an Agile manner. Not only software can be created this way. All these Agile things can be applied to a myriad of fields, not only to technology. In this chapter I will tell you how I used this work philosophy to write the book that you have before you:

Focus on what’s important, delete the non-essentials

Nowadays books—especially technical books—are going through the same phenomenon as CDs did a few years ago. You bought a CD only because you had heard that song on the radio, but, how could a CD have less than 20 songs (and cost less than 20 dollars)?

It had to be filled up with something. Maybe the last few songs did not have the same quality as the two or three first hits in the disc? Well, it was necessary to justify the price, to pad it a little. This could make you hate the author for those last three songs in a duet with Tom Jones or the techno-pop version of their first hit.

The same can happen with books. We feel better if our book is 500 pages long, and we write it for two years but, at what cost to you, the writer? And for the reader who buys it? Probably that reader is only interested in the chapters on Agile quotes or about Scrum’s advantages.

Something of the sort happened to me while I wrote this book. It had very few pages and I was tempted to add some filler chapters. They weren’t really as interesting as the rest and they weren’t as close to the main subject of the book. I ended up taking them out. The first version of the book was about 67 pages long, but I chose to keep it that way instead of having readers think that the book was too long or too boring.

Real artists ship!

This expression, attributed to Steve Jobs refers to the fact that real artists are not constantly re-thinking their work until they have the perfect painting or the perfect sculpture. They ship their works, put them up for sale, and then see what the market is really interested in.

Have you written a tutorial on how to install Pentaho? A Wordpress configuration manual? What are they doing in a drawer? Get a cover (there are hundreds of websites for that), format it, write an attractive description, and put it up for sale at Amazon’s KDP, at iTunes or wherever you want.

It is only 30 pages long? Well, then sell it for one or two dollars. If you sell a few you’ll get a return for the 20 or so hours that it took you. Also, you’ll have learned lots of things about digital marketing, sales, royalties…and also about which kinds of subjects sell books and which don’t.

Perfection is a vertical asymptote

No matter how much you try to write the perfect book, with the perfect cover, with the exact price to maximise sales and no typos… you won’t be able to do it. Perfection is a vertical asymptote (sorry again, Math 101 Calculus).

The better you try to make it, the higher the cost will be for you. When you’ve put an enormous amount of hours into it, putting in another enormous amount won’t get you any closer to getting a bestseller.

When I put the book up for sale, I realized from the first opinions on the book that users thought it would be a Scrum manual. I had to learn from that and change the description to make it clearer. Small changes in the description had very high impact on sales.

In the same way, when I updated the book to its second cover, sales increased by 30%. Sadly it went further down when I changed it to the third cover. It was more expensive, and in my opinion prettier, but apparently Amazon’s users didn’t like it.

Your leads will tell you if they find the content, the cover or the subject interesting or not. You can think it over again and again, but until the book is not in the virtual shelves you won’t know what works and what doesn’t. Avoid the paralysis that sets in with perfectionism and don’t overthink it. Put your book up for sale and let them decide (remember, real artists ship!).

You can find texts like this and many other about how to manage agile projects in my book Agile 101: Practical Project Management (available on Amazon).

Translation by Begoña Martínez. You can also find her on her LinkedIn profile. Proofreading by David Nesbitt.

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