Data Points: What it’s like to write a book

Mar 25, 2013

As the publication of Data Points nears, I’m excited to hold it in my hands just like I was the first time. It feels weird to say that. In college, a 5-page report seemed like too much to handle, and I would hunt for fonts that took the most space and fiddled with margins to produce more pages, without making it look like I did. I guess a lot can happen in 10 years. Heck, a lot can happen in a few months.

I think the difference is that now I’m writing about something that’s interesting to me — topics that I immerse myself in for fun — which makes the book-writing process fun.

Sure, it can be challenging at times, but in the best way possible. Here’s my experience with Data Points.

Early stages

The book-writing process is slow at first. You brainstorm, plan what to write about and how you want to write it, and eventually put together a rough outline with deadlines (that will change as you write). I scribbled a lot in notebooks, walked around the neighborhood, went on aimless drives, and sometimes just laid on the floor to organize my thoughts.

This was a great time for me to realize how jumbled my thoughts are. The challenge was to figure out how everything fits together.

Writing and graphics

With a rough plan in place, the writing, example gathering, and graphic making started. Things moved pretty quickly at this point. I would write a chapter (and make the graphics for it), hand it off to my project manager (who also held the fort down for Visualize This), and then I’d move on to the next chapter.

As I wrote, the chapter I handed over passed through a copy editor and the project manager for grammar, spelling, and flow. I also had a technical editor to make sure I explained concepts clearly and wasn’t full of it. I was lucky to have Jen Lowe (@datatelling) assume the technical role.

The efficiency of the editing process still amazes me. In contrast, I’d write a chapter for my dissertation and it might be months before I revised.

Book layout

Around the end of chapter writing and several cycles of revision, the book layout process started. We worked on a flexible template early on, so we knew typeface, chapter openings, figure labels, etc, and that helped mold the book from text files to PDFs that looked like something you might hold in your hands. This is pretty fun to see, because the book starts to feel more real.

Essentially, a chapter was laid out, and then we’d go through page-by-page and adjust. I must’ve driven the layout person nuts with comments like, “Move this label 2mm to the left.”


Here’s where we are now. Manuscript written, text and graphics edited and revised, book laid out, pages and cover designed. So the only thing left to do is wait. It’s with the printers now, and then it’ll ship off to Amazon, book stores, warehouses, and my desk.

Very excited.

Want to get Data Points fresh off the press? Pre-order it now. (Amazon has a look-inside preview.)


  • Bill Yarberry March 26, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Nice to hear your process. I have written/co-authored three books (two on telecom and one on IT management). Since I have a day job, I had to keep pressure on myself to crank out words — the outline, at least for me, was the easy part. So I kept a “word count” graph in Excel. I also wrote a quick macro to ask me the right questions and put the answer in the form of a clipboard entry which could be pasted into a Word footnote (keeps me honest with the Chicago Style manual). Another trick is to keep a folder where I just pile everything and separate out using huge file names. Evernote is handy for a writer as well. You have a clear and wide ranging style. Bought your first book and have ordered Data Points (Kindle version). Good luck.

  • Congrats, Nathan! Certainly something to be proud of and I, too, can’t wait to see the finished product. Working with incredible authors like you is one of my favorite parts of my job here at Wiley and I’m continuously struck by your amazing talent.

    Thanks for making this journey again with us at Wiley. We couldn’t be prouder of the finished product!

    All the best,
    Ashley Zurcher
    Wiley Publishing

  • I’m a top reviewer for libraries and at amazon as well. Please give me your top 10 differences between data points and visualize this in your mind. I’ve read visualize this and love it. Some criticisms of VT were that it didn’t have enough code. Others said it was too philosophical. I found it well balanced with lots of helpful hands on, even if a lot was in Illustrator. What about Data Points? Do you still give a lot of R? Why do we need this in addtion to VT, how is it better and different in your mind? Do you still prefer Illustrator? Love your site too.

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