2022-01-03 The Emacs Lisp book - looking back and into the future

The time has come to make a short summary about the Hacking your way around in Emacs book I’ve been writing last year. The book is finished (sort of – we’ll get to that in a moment), and I learned a few things from the experience.

First of all, I was dumbfounded by the sheer amount of people who bought the book. I was hoping for 100–120 copies sold, and over 300 people bought the book. That was a very nice surprise. (I think that being featured on Hacker News helped quite a lot.)

I was also pleasantly surprised that only two people so far decided to use Leanpub’s refund feature and returned the book, getting their money back. One of them wrote that the book was “too verbose”. Well. You can’t satisfy everybody. Actually, I consider this a valid criticism – some people prefer a more concise style. That’s ok – it’s just that I’m not one of those people, and I also tend to write in a more, let’s say, flowery style. (I sometimes try to fight this tendency, but it’s a deeply ingrained one.)

I also got other remarks. One was that the table of contents is a bit cryptic, and I should have a better description of the contents themselves on the book website. This is a very good point, and I amended the website to accommodate it – I’ll be working on the ToC soon, too. Another one was that the first, introductory chapter (the one where we move lines around) is boring. Well, it may be true. It was not exactly designed to be fascinating, you know – it’s purpose is to teach some Elisp and showcase my writing style so that you can decide if you want to buy the whole book. I agree that it would be nicer if the book started with a bang, but I couldn’t really think of any other idea for an easy introductory chapter. And I assume that if you are going to learn Elisp, you are already pretty motivated, so you don’t need an Alfred-Hitchcock-level captivating story to get involved.

I was also asked a couple of times if I’m going to prepare a paper version. The answer is yes, but that will not happen very soon – I plan to work on this in late 2022 or early 2023.

As for my other plans: now that the dust has settled, I thought about it and concluded that I would like to expand the book a bit. I haven’t decided yet what I’m going to add, but I think 2 or 3 chapters could be the right amount of material. As for what exactly it is going to be… well, we’ll see. I have some ideas, but I still haven’t decided for sure.

Anyway, even if I plan to put some more work into the book (and that’s why I still hesitate to call it “finished” – it would be more accurate to call it “v1.0”), the project so far turned out to be a success. I think this confirms the general idea that writing a book for a clearly defined audience is the way to go. In this case, I tried to write a book I wanted to have when I was learning Elisp almost ten years ago – something to be read after Robert J. Chassell’s An introduction to programming in Emacs Lisp.

Also, I have ideas for more books – I really like writing, and I’d like to practice it more. Hopefully, time will come for another writing project of mine in a few months. Meanwhile, I’m very proud of Hacking your way around in Emacs as it is.

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