An Author’s Perspective
Working on large book projects is something I’ve had occasion to do a lot over the last 25 or so years (yikes!) The Office 365 for IT Pros book is unique not only because it gets monthly updates, but also because of the way we do annual revisions.
Here’s how the sausage gets made.
First, let’s talk about the schedule. We release each year’s edition at the beginning of July. That’s a hard deadline that we’ve all agreed to. So starting in March-ish, we meet as an editorial team to decide whether we need any structural changes to the whole book. This usually results in some good-natured argument because even with a 1200+ page book we can’t cover everything that Microsoft does. We have to choose what to include and what to skip. In past years, we’ve had these discussions at the MVP Summit in Redmond. Unfortunately, you all know why that wasn’t possible this year!
When Microsoft adds a major new workload or feature, that’s a good candidate for inclusion. If they deprecate or replace something, that’s a good candidate for a drop. But sometimes we have to make judgment calls. For example, the Exchange ActiveSync coverage from the clients chapters was relegated to the 2021 companion volume because in a world that has Intune and M365 MDM, it’s just not that important any more. We went through a similar process when Exchange Unified Messaging died its sad and undeserved death.
Multiple Author Perspectives
Where things get interesting is that each author has a unique perspective on which parts of Microsoft 365 are most important, yet we’re all battling to keep the book to a reasonable size for readers. I might argue for adding or removing coverage in someone else’s chapter, and vice versa, and all those arguments have to be managed. Tony is a firm but fair arbiter when we disagree over how much coverage to give any particular topic.
(side note: of course, since the book is really a two-volume book, and purchasers get both together, we get to keep interesting or useful material that’s not quite ready to be cut without adding unwanted bulk to the main book– something impossible to do with dead-tree books.)
Oh, yes– we also choose a title and a cover photo. But you’ll have to wait to see those, I think…. we have to keep some surprises.
Working on Chapters
So.. after we make the team decision on how the book should be structured, each of us goes off to work on the individual chapters we own. Each author has a free hand to decide what topics to cover in their chapters and how they’re structured. We work together to ensure smooth coverage; for example, in the clients chapter I talk about the importance of split tunnels for VPN connectivity, and Stale’s coverage of split tunneling builds on mine to flesh out more details in his chapters on Teams.
One of the big parts of the annual revision is improving the organization and structure. For example, the clients chapter for 2021 is completely restructured top-to-bottom, and the Intune chapter is too, to make them easier to read and more clear—and also to make it easier to add new content in the future. Because we update the text monthly, we often say things like “In November 2019, Microsoft changed the XYZ feature to accept Twinkies as payment” so that readers will notice the latest changes. By the following summer, that reference a) probably seems dated and b) is probably wrong because Microsoft changed things four more times since the original version. The annual refresh is a good time for us to clean up outdated dates and refresh the text to keep it relevant and technically correct.
The Goodness of a Technical Edit
Once each refreshed chapter is done (including new screenshots, line art, PowerShell code samples, and so on), it goes to our technical editor, Vasil Michev.
Vasil is too smart to waste time on Twitter, so he may not see me say this, but he has maybe the most critical job in the whole book: looking for errors, omissions, or problems with the text as written. Of course, each author is ultimately responsible for their own mistakes but Vasil does a superb job of finding small, and occasionally large, problems so we can fix them before print.
After the tech edit pass, the author gets the chapter back with embedded comments, which we then have to handle by fixing mistakes or typos, clarifying things, and so on. This is no different than any document editing you may ever have done. Depending on the size of the changes, this may be a simple matter of fixing a few typos or writing a chunk of new material to ensure coverage of something important.
At that point, the chapter is “done”. I put “done” in quotes because Microsoft is always changing the service, and just because we think the chapter is done at any point in time doesn’t mean that we can ignore Microsoft updates. It’s common for us to be making last-minute changes up until the day of the book’s release, although we try not to overdo it because of the overhead involved in building the complete book each time a chapter changes.
Tools We Use
As you might expect, we use the tools we write about– we use Teams as our operating environment, Planner to track task assignments, and so on. In fact, nearly the only parts of the book’s production and workflow that don’t depend on Microsoft are this blog (powered by WordPress) and our storefront, powered by Gumroad. This process is complicated a little by the fact that many of us are using pre-production releases of various Microsoft services, so we run into bugs, incomplete features, and so on more than you’d expect in a typical deployment… but that’s all part of testing and learning the service well enough to be able to write about it.
Towards the 2021 Edition
I’m excited about the 2021 edition, and we have a lot of interesting and useful new material in this edition. Just in my own chapters, here’s a partial list: better coverage of the Office Client Policy service, coverage of split tunneling for VPNs, more depth on how to manage Microsoft 365 using Endpoint Manager, an introduction to Azure Cloud Shell, a brand-new chapter on adoption, and coverage of the new Exchange PowerShell v2 cmdlets). To help you get the best possible value, we’re running a special promotion: buy the 2020 edition now and you’ll get the 2021 edition at no extra cost. As always, we’re looking out for previous buyers too– if you already bought the 2020 edition, we’ll be offering a solid discount on purchase of the upgrade to 2021.
We appreciate the support we have had from our subscribers and hope that you will continue that support with Office 365 for IT Pros 2021 edition!