How Pressbooks Helped a San Francisco Tech Company Bring Its First Book to Life

By Becky Cruze

The team at ThinkApps, a software development company headquartered in San Francisco, California, has lots of experience creating products. In fact, within just the past few years, we’ve designed and built apps for web, mobile, and wearable devices that are used by millions of users around the world.

We’ve also created a successful blog that attracts tens of thousands of readers per month and features interviews with many influencers in the tech industry like Joe Zadeh (VP of Product at Airbnb) and Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré (community growth expert and moderator for Product Hunt).

With all this experience building products and maintaining a successful blog under our belt, you’d think writing and designing a book would be a piece of cake, right?

We thought so too. But, one of the lessons we learned in 2015 is that publishing your first book is no picnic.

Thankfully, once we discovered the right tools (chief among them being Pressbooks), we were able to have our cake and eat it too!

How to Start a Startup-The Book (1)

How to Start a Startup-The Book

The Inspiration

Our book journey began back in fall 2014. Like many others in Silicon Valley, we found ourselves tuning in to watch the guest lectures for Stanford University’s “How to Start a Startup” course.

Taught by Sam Altman, president of the prestigious Y Combinator startup incubator and investment fund, the class featured more than 25 tech founders, executives, and investors who shared advice on raising money, hiring employees, getting press coverage and much more.

We quickly recognized that the lectures captured a lot of the key learnings from which early-stage startup founders would benefit. So, using the course material as a starting point, we decided to write an in-depth reference book on creating a successful tech startup.

Writing and Designing a Book: First Came the PDF

The first step for us was compiling all of the copy for the book, which turned out to be a whopping 30,000+ words.

(By the time we decided to create the book, we had already written about each of the individual lectures on our blog. So, this was mostly a matter of editing the posts to make the content more “evergreen” and ensure it felt like a cohesive book rather than a series of blog posts tacked together. As the book’s editor, I can say this was easier said than done!)

Once we had a massive Google doc of the fully edited text ready to go, we began collaborating with one of the graphic designers in our network on the book’s visual elements.

Having never published a book before, and possessing fairly limited knowledge of ebook formats, I was primarily focused on PDF as the final product. And with that in mind, our designer set about creating one of the most beautiful, high-quality PDFs you’ve ever seen.

Utilizing Adobe InDesign, she incorporated ThinkApps’ color palette for maximum branding impact and crafted an eye-catching template that included lots of extra design touches like quotes layered over images and a special box for “The Take-Away” message at the end of each chapter.

How to Start a Startup-The Book Original Interior

How to Start a Startup-The Book Original Interior

In conjunction with other projects, we worked on the book over the course of several months, and the team was quite pleased with the resulting PDF.

But, when we began sending around an advance copy to friends and colleagues for feedback, we kept hearing the request to make it available in additional formats (EPUB for iBooks, MOBI for Kindle, etc.).

Then Came a Conversion Attempt

“Sure, no problem!,” we thought. There are tons of tools out there to convert a PDF into EPUB or MOBI, and many of them are even free.

But, when we tried uploading our PDF to a handful of these sites, we discovered that there were complications with the way we originally created the book in Adobe InDesign that made the converted EPUB and MOBI files look funky.

Here are a few of the problems we encountered (some of which you can see in the image below):

  • The Table of Contents did not operate as an index but just as normal text. So it was not possible for readers to click on a chapter title and jump to the correct page.
  • Strange capitalization in headers and subheaders
  • Random numbers and section titles showing up in the middle of text
  • URLs (shown in blue below) that were not linked to the correct text
How to Start a Startup-The Book Interior

How to Start a Startup-The Book Interior

Finally, Pressbooks Helped Save the Day

After putting so much time and energy into the “How to Start a Startup” book, it was disheartening to run into these challenges. And when ThinkApps co-founder Tarun Agarwal suggested we might need to scrap the InDesign files and start over with a different software program, well, let’s just say I was not immediately on-board with the idea.

But, while researching possible solutions, we came across Pressbooks. And the more I read on their website and blog, the better I started to feel about using their platform to recreate our book.

By this point, the designer who’d created the original version was booked up (see what I did there?) on some other projects. So it was crucial that whatever tool we tried next was accessible to a non-designer like me.

To that end, I loved the fact that Pressbooks is built on top of WordPress. I’m the editor for ThinkApps’ blog, which also uses WordPress. Thus, the UI (user interface) was very familiar, and I felt comfortable and confident using the product from the first day.

Once I’d copied and pasted all of our text into the appropriate chapter sections, the next step was choosing a design template.

This was yet another reason we selected Pressbooks over other tools, as it offered the right balance of design options – enough choices that we felt like we could experiment and pick something unique to the book’s content and our brand, but not so many choices that we became paralyzed by them.

After our prior experience with InDesign, it was also reassuring to be able to export test versions of the book in all of the desired formats throughout the design process. And making changes to a section divider or individual chapter was so much easier than through InDesign, as the page numbers and table of contents just updated automatically!

End Result?

Using Pressbooks, it only took a matter of weeks to recreate a 200-page book that had taken months with Adobe InDesign. And we couldn’t be happier with the end result.

How to Start a Startup-The Book Interior

How to Start a Startup-The Book Interior

The book looks gorgeous in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI, and we love that we’re all ready to go should we decide to print physical copies in the future.

Oh, and we’re not the only ones impressed with the final product. Just a few weeks after we launched the book on Product Hunt, it was nominated for the “Book of the Year” award.

When it comes to publishing books, I have a feeling this is only the end of one chapter for ThinkApps. Stay tuned to see how the rest of the book unfolds. :)

To learn more about the “How to Start a Startup” book and get your own copy, visit ThinkApps’ website.

Becky Cruze headshot

Becky Cruze

Becky Cruze runs a marketing firm geared toward the tech industry and recently edited the reference book titled “How to Start a Startup” on behalf of ThinkApps, a San Francisco-based software development company. She previously co-founded BeCouply, a tech startup backed by Mitch Kapor that helps couples have epic social lives. You can follow her on Twitter at @beckyloveshugs.

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