Getting Started with Writing a Technical ebook

The early release of my ebook Juggling JSON with jq comes out tomorrow! However this post is more about the process of writing the book itself.

Getting started on an technical ebook, (such as Juggling JSON with jq), requires a bit of upfront setup. On the ebook side, I decided to go the route of writing the book in Markdown, and generating the various formats using Sphinx. While I feel most comfortable using Markdown, and yet Sphinx uses reStructedText by default. So I had to coax Sphinx to accept Markdown by using a project called m2r. Generating the PDF version of the ebook took a bit to get working. Sphinx uses LaTeX to generate PDFs, and LaTeX while powerful can be clunky to work with. I wrapped everything up with an invoke script, and now I can quickly generating new versions of ebook in the various formats I want to support.

Something unique to writing technical books, is the need to have actual working examples. You can learn by reading, but working through exercises and examples re-enforces that learning. In the case of Unjumbling JSON with jq, I needed an example REST API that readers play with. I searched for some nice open APIs, but nothing seemed very compelling. Many of the open APIs require some form of user registration and non-trivial authentication method that would complicate the examples in the book. So I setup a simple demo API for the book. Thankfully with Docker and Flask, that isn’t a particularly daunting task. (Dockerizing most of my webapps definitely made my live easier overall.)

Finally using Gumroad made marketing and selling the book a lot more approachable. Getting everything setup for e-commerce is a daunting job, if you plan on doing it yourself. Thankfully for ebooks, and similar digital products, Gumroad solves most of the problems one can encounter. I definitely recommend using them if you are planning to do something similar.