Two and a half months ago, the Smashing Book 2 was released. For us, a small independent publisher, it was a big deal, because this ambitious project on which we had been working since July 2010 was also very important for Smashing Magazine. We spent a tremendous amount of time and effort on the little and big details of the book. It was very important for us to get it right this time: to create an outstanding, high-quality book and provide outstanding, high-quality service to our readers.
In this post, we’d like to provide some insight into the book’s production that we have gained during the process. And if you haven’t purchased the book yet, maybe you’ll want to buy more printed Smashing Books.
Creating a Valuable, Timeless Product
So how difficult is it to actually publish a book? We devoted a whole chapter in the Smashing Book 2 to this question, but essentially it boils down to the question of how ambitious you are. It was important for us to create a product that would meet our high personal and professional expectations. Not only did we want to meet our regular requirements for quality, but we wanted to reach a new level, new kind of quality. We wanted readers to develop an emotional attachment to the product, triggered by the thoroughness of our work and its usefulness.
From the very beginning, we wanted the book to be a remarkable, timeless product, something that every designer or developer would love holding in their hands and something that everybody could learn a lot from; the readers should have this feeling even years after having read the book. For this reason, our ultimate goal for this little project of ours was to produce content of the highest practical value. Hence, we spent a tremendous amount of time carefully discussing the scope of the book and selecting potential co-authors and reviewers.
Creating a remarkable product is perhaps a matter of picking the right battles and winning the right ones. We had to compromise. All the time. And it was damn hard. We had to dismiss some excellent ideas that just wouldn’t work in the book (for example, because they were too closely related to ideas that were already covered). We had to leave out some excellent chapters because they literally wouldn’t fit in the book (which had to be 360 pages; otherwise, we would have had to increase shipping costs to cover the increased costs). We had to keep challenging our own views and the views of our authors in order to produce comprehensive, bulletproof and objective pieces.
It was important for us to make the book affordable for everybody, no matter where they live in the world. So, we settled on a very affordable price ($29.90 + $3.50 for worldwide airmail shipping to every country), even though production costs kept increasing with every new feature (solid binding, bookmark, hard cover, improved paper quality). The production costs were a very important factor, but they had to be carefully considered and adjusted to help us reach our ultimate goal.
Creating Something We Would Be Proud Of
What was crucial for us was to create something that we could really be proud of. Yet, even in the worst scenario, we also wanted to cover our costs, so we had to be reasonable in our pricing decisions. We didn’t want to increase the price over the Smashing Book 1, but we wanted the Smashing Book 2 to be better in every aspect. To make the book a bit more attractive, we lowered the shipping costs and decided on airmail shipping only. From a financial perspective, it wasn’t very beneficial because we ship from Berlin, Germany, and shipping costs here are horrendous. But accessibility of the book was important from the beginning, so we did it this way and never doubted our decision. We’ve learned that consistency and persistence are invaluable assets in creating quality work. The traits are demanding and merciless, but they keep you afloat when so many difficult decisions and temptations can blow away your vision of the product.
In our early preparations, we thoroughly analyzed the criticisms of buyers of the Smashing Book 1. For that first book, in the first edition, the binding was poor, the layout overly simplistic, and the font size too small. Also, there were obvious errors in the table of contents (ouch!), and shipping took too long. We solved all of that with the Smashing Book 2. We addressed every one of these criticisms and made sure that our second go round would be better. We decided on stitched binding; we paid attention to the layout and font size; we proofread every chapter multiple times; and we changed the shipping terms. We listened to our customers and listened carefully. We just couldn’t afford to make the same mistakes again. (By the way, the second edition of the Smashing Book 1, which we sell now, doesn’t have these problems any longer).
In other words, the effort we put into our little project was enormous. We were demanding and ambitious. Chapters were heavily edited and rewritten to improve their quality. Authors were mercilessly asked to rewrite whole sections and take new screenshots. In the end, every draft of every chapter was reviewed at least three times. Being aware of our responsibility to our readers, we researched every chapter extensively to make sure that all of the facts were straight and that current best practices were followed. We advocated for best design and coding practices and sought to protect the interests of our users. For every chapter, we had technical reviewers provide feedback and suggest improvements and additions.
Image credit: pchee
High Quality Takes a Lot of Time
Once the book was written, we read it all over twice to correct typos and other mistakes. We checked for consistency in footnotes and image captions. We double checked the quality of images. And we manually checked every single link in the book. Of course, the more perfect you want the result to be, the more you work on it, and the more mistakes you add while fixing other mistakes. So, admittedly, we probably did miss a couple of typos, but hopefully there aren’t too many of them. We wanted to make the book as perfect as possible, no matter what.
And it took time. A lot of time, actually. The first drafts of chapters were submitted in early August, and the final proof of the book was ready in late November. In between were many hours of research, editing, writing and exchanging lengthy emails. Most of the credit goes to our truly remarkable co-authors: passionate, talented professionals who were always glad to accept our challenges, do more work, invest more time and make their chapters a little better.
Surprisingly, the main challenge was not editing at all. It was communication and coordination. Overall, 39 people were involved in the project: writers, editors, reviewers, proofreaders, designers, developers, marketing managers, printing experts, support team. And because most of us were working outside the main office, communication took place via either Skype or email (occasional in-person meetings took place, too). Communication turned out to be quite an overhead; we didn’t see it coming. But book production isn’t an easy process, and if you are working with external co-authors, then the complexity of the work tends to drastically increase with every new author.
We learned that good results require good preparation. And so we signed contracts with each author and contributor to the book to ensure timely delivery. 50% of the payment was paid up front after the contract was signed. We didn’t want to miss deadlines and compromise the schedule, as we did too generously with the first book (which was a big issue back then). We also had a detailed spreadsheet that helped us track the progress of every chapter and make sure that we are right on track.
(Image credit: admartinator.de)
In the end, though, producing Smashing Book 2 was an extremely rewarding and special experience. Not only did we learn a lot about book publishing along the way, but we actually managed to create what we wanted to do in the first place. We proved to ourselves and to our dear customers that we can do it properly on our own. We are very proud of the result. We love Smashing Book 2 because it is exactly what we wanted it to be. And apparently quite a lot of owners of the book love it, too. We’ve picked a couple of recent testimonials on Twitter. Thank you very much for your support!
- “The @smashingmag book #2 is on my desk. Fantastic to see small publishers doing such a fabulous job!” — Andy Clarke
- “Reading brand-new The Smashing Book 2 - packed with amazing info - well done to all involved!” — Russ Weakley
- “The Smashing Book 2 arrived. Quality looks much better than the 1st.” — Veerle Pieters
- “Smashing Book 2 is on its way. Looks like @smashingmag has done a great job. I love the honesty about #1’s shortcomings.” — Elliot Jay Stocks
- “Smashing Book chapter 1, The Principles of Great Graphic Design: Extremely well written and I learnt a lot. Recommended for web designers.” Tom Kenny
- “Most books on any topic these days are filled with 10 or 15 pages of good content and the rest is fluff and filler. This book is good content from cover to cover.” — John McDuffie
- “From what I read while I was on vacation, it’s very good. In fact, I think it’s an essential primer for those entering our field. You guys did a great job selecting articles and making sure they tell a cohesive story. Bravo.” — Andrew Maier from UXBooth.com
- “Just got the new @smashingmag book as a gift! Really nice + outstanding content! A good addition to our library in the agency.” — Khaled Ouanes
- “The quality of this one is fantastic. Can’t wait to read it.” — Chris Shiflett
- “The information in @smashingmag Smashing Book 2 is more relevant than anything in my overpriced textbooks. Totally worth it.” — Drew Hansen
- “The Smashing Book 2 is really refreshing. A great alternative to the plethora of CSS3 and HTML5 books I’ve recently read.” — Simon Leadbetter
- “Treasure trove of best practices, practical insight and rich visual inspiration for modern web design.” — Brainpickings
Bonus: A New Free Chapter Of The Book
Of course, the Smashing Book 2 is still available for purchase. If you need an appetizer for the book, below are two free chapters of the Smashing Book 2 (Chapter 1 was released a couple of months ago). You can download them in PDF.
- Visible vs. Invisible Design (free PDF) by Francisco Inchauste
- Red Flags (Warning Signs) in Web Development (free PDF) by Christian Heilmann
Image credit: matkovsy
Selected Reviews of the Smashing Book 2
- Webdesign Tutsplus: Review: The Smashing Book 2 A book about reinforcing good design principles certainly isn’t revolutionary, but having a book that does so while addressing web designers as an audience is something that doesn’t come along nearly often enough. What’s better is that these are all topics that any designer can’t possibly get enough of.
- Review: The Smashing Book #2 “The topics discussed are given in a practical manner with plenty of eye-candy graphics. I think the audience for the book is of course those that are fans of Smashing Magazine as well as web designers and front-end developers who are looking for practical guidance.”
- Design Shack: Book Review: Smashing Book 2 The physical feel of the book is wonderful: a hard cover, high-quality printing, stitched binding, and a funky orange bookmark all contribute to an enjoyable read. It’s not surprising to hear that Smashing Magazine are only offering the printed copy of the book (you won’t find an eBook version anywhere).
- Colorlovers: Review: The Smashing Book #2 I do find that this book is something I will be keeping on my desk for some time to reference and re-reference when my mind is fogged or fighting to go a direction my gut knows I shouldn’t.
Reviews in Other Languages
- Reseña: The Smashing Book #2
- Anmeldelse: The Smashing Book 2
- The Smashing Book: warto bylo czekac
- The Smashing Book #2: jeszcze lepsza od pierwszej
- Rezension: Smashing Book #2
- Smashing Book 2 Kurzreview
Author Christoph Kolb with his copy. He wrote the chapter “Game Design Techniques Applied to UX Design.”
Buy Both Smashing Books for a Special Price!
There still remain copies of the Smashing Book 1 in stock. So, we’d like to offer a Smashing Book bundle of both printed books for a special price. Get both books (Smashing Book 1 (Second Edition) and Smashing Book 2) for $49.80. Please note that you will still have to pay $5,- for shipping (we ship via airmail only, worldwide). If you don’t have these books yet or are looking for a valuable present for a designer or developer, here’s your opportunity.
Thank you for your support. Let us know what you think about the Smashing Book 2 in the comments to this article!