Questions about my book publishing: How did I write and publish your first book?

Since the release of my first book, a lot of people have emailed me with questions about how I wrote the book, how I got started, etc. I've posted answers to some of the questions here.

Since the release of my first book, a lot of people have emailed me with questions about how I wrote the book, how I got started, etc. I've posted answers to some of the questions here.


Why did you decide to write a book?

Even before I started the book, I had been working with Citrix technologies for several years. I felt (and still feel today) that server-based computing has a place in every organization. (I'm not talking about 100% adoption, but, that every organization has some difficult problems that this technology can solve). Whenever I went to client sites, they always asked me if I could recommend any good books. Unfortunately, I felt that most of the existing books were nothing but a rehash of the Citrix instruction manual, and they were all about the old version of Citrix (1.8). After thinking about things, I decided that I would be able to offer my own perspective on how I think a Citrix MetaFrame XP design should be approached, so I went for it. Plus, I felt I could use the extra money. (Also see the question "Why did you decide to self-publish this book?")

How long did it take you to write this book?

I started writing the first book (Published February 2002) in April 2001. At that point, I had no idea how long it would take. (In fact, I initially figured that I would send it to the printer that July—a mere four months after I started writing.)

I didn't end up sending the book to the printer until mid-January 2002. (In other words, the book took me nine months to write.) I had a "day job" at a consulting company for most of that time, so my writing was on evenings and weekends.

Why did you publish the book yourself instead of using "real" publisher?

To me, it seems like the commercial publishing industry is a racket (kind of like the music industry). For years, you had to play by their rules if you wanted to get your books to your readers. However, technology has changed that (like it has to so many other industries).

As you'll see in further down this page, anyone with a $1000 computer and $1000 in software can produce content that can be printed by a book manufacturer and sold at

Of course, I personally consider Publishing Group a "real" publisher. In actuality, I'm just some dude with some computer software and a desire to put my thoughts on paper. That being said, there were two primary reasons that I deciding to self-publish my books: money and creative control.

From the money standpoint, commercial publishers usually offer computer book authors about $1.00 royalty per copy sold. Of course they take care of the production, editing, cover, marketing, logistics, and distribution. But still, to me, $1.00 seems kind of weak on a $50 book. Since Citrix is a fairly niche/geek topic, I figured that word of mouth would be my biggest marketing component. I also figured that if my book was of high quality and received good reviews, it would sell well regardless of who published it.

From the creative control standpoint, there are a lot of things that I hate about "other" computer books. (See the complete list here.)
So, that being said, I decided to self-publish my books so that I could avoid the 10 points listed above.

How did you set yourself up as a publisher?

Becoming a publisher is like starting a business—there's no "official" process or anything that you need to go through. All you have to do is write a book and find someone to manufacture it for you. However, if you want to sell your book in stores (or on, then you need to obtain an ISBN number. Like everything else in the Internet age, all you need to get ISBN numbers is a web browser and a credit card. There is one international agency, available online here, that is responsible for handing out ISBN numbers. I chose to buy a block of 10 ISBN numbers (the smallest amount) for about US$250.

Another nice thing about getting ISBN numbers is that you automatically have access to the books-in-print database. This is the database that practically every bookstore and library in the world use when someone comes in looking for a book. You can't view the data in the books-in-print database unless you buy a subscription (which is very expensive). However, as a purchaser of ISBN numbers, you can access this website to enter information about your books. That way, the books-in-print database always contains accurate information about your books.

As for the barcode on the back of the book, it's just the ISBN number wrapped in some extra characters (which together are called an EAN number). In my case, I just use this EAN generator that I found on the Internet and a website that generates Postscript images of the barcode based on an EAN number.

What software applications do you use to write and publish your books?

I write the text in Microsoft Word. For me, I make each chapter a separate document. I do the page layout in Adobe PageMaker. Once I have a chapter complete in Word, I do a CTRL+A to highlight the entire document and then I paste it into Notepad. From there, I do another CTRL+A to highlight the entire document and I paste the content into PageMaker. By pasting through Notepad, I am able to strip away all of the weird formatting that Word uses that confuses PageMaker. Once the pure text is in PageMaker, I go through the chapter and apply all of the text formatting (headings, bullets, lists, etc.).

For the diagrams, I usually use Visio (since my diagrams are always network drawings instead of screenshots). Once I have a drawing finalized in Visio, I save it as a WMF file (Windows MetaFile). I import the WMF files directly into PageMaker after I have the text laid out. According to the printer, a lot of people use TIFs or something like that for their drawings. I personally like WMFs since they're extremely small (in terms of file size) and they are vector-based for infinite resolution.

When I'm done, I end up with a folder full of PageMaker files—one file for each chapter. I create a separate PageMaker document for the frontmatter (copyright pages, table of contents, etc) and the backmatter (index, appendixes). I use PageMaker's "book" functions to update page numbers across all pages in all documents, including the table of contents and the index.

As for the cover, I do all the layout in Corel Draw. I've used Corel Draw for years (ever since version 3), and I know it really well. Unfortunately, Corel Draw is not a "real" graphics program, and the book printers won't print anything from a Corel Draw file. Because of this, after my cover layout is complete in Corel Draw, I import the cover file into Macromedia Freehand. I clean up everything in Freehand, make sure that all my colors are CMYK instead of RGB, and print out a sample cover on my inkjet printer. For color matching, I bought this book on It's basically a book of color swatches printed on a commercial printer. It allows me to find the colors that I want to use and enter them into the computer without having to worry about how they'll look when they're printed.

Once all my files are finalized, it's time to send them to the printer. Believe it or not, the printer prints the book based on a special PDF file. (Long past are the days of "camera ready" artwork.) Before I send them the PDF, I get the "PPD" files from the book printer. These files contain special instructions for PageMaker so that PageMaker's output is a perfect match for their printing presses. I use PageMaker's printing functionality to generate a 2400dpi Postscript file based on my printer's PPD files. Then, I use Adobe Acrobat Distiller to generate a PDF from the Postscript file.

How did you get the book printed?

I use an outsourced contract book printer (UGI in Mattoon, IL), just like all the large book publishers including Sybex, New Riders, and Sams. I send UGI the materials for my book (and a large check), and a few weeks later they send me a truckload of books. I used to send out requests for quotes to several printers, but UGI has handled my last four printings, and I've been extremely happy with them.

Once I have the final PDF and the cover files for the printer, I burn them to a CD (along with all the original PageMaker files and WMF images, just in case). I also print out a hard copy of the entire book (nothing special, just a regular laser printout). I cram everything into a FedEx box along with my check for the first 1/3 of the printing costs and send it on its way to the printer.

In about two weeks, I receive the "blueline" proofs. Basically, this gives me one last chance to review everything before the book production begins. After receiving my package, the printer takes my PDF and makes printing plates that will be used on the printing press. The blueline proof is a single copy of my book's pages sent to me after the printing plates are made but before they are used on the press. Assuming all goes well, my books arrive by semi truck a few weeks after I've approved the blueline.

How did you learn about self-publishing?

I learned just about everything from reading "The Self-Publishing Manual," by Dan Poynter. I highly recommend it. You should also check out his website.

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Excellent information on how to self-produce a book. It was very helpful.
Very concise and useful information for first time writers. Thanks much! Just one thing - when you mention the sources of some of the things, it would be great if you can provide their links as well! Thanks!:)
When will the next book be released?
I am from Singapore, working at

I am thinking of self publishing as it is very difficult to get a publisher. I appreciate your report on how you did it.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge to everybody.

Please let us know why you did not use PageMaker, instead of going through Word, Notepad and then PageMaker to format your files. It will be hard to duplicate your feat as one has to master Notepad and conversions to Pagemaker.
Pagemaker is good for layouts, but not for text editing. Word has a much better and easier to use spell checker, and Word is much easier for actually working with and editing and flowing text.