Writing a Book on Community

Book projects are never an easy journey, here’s my story

Last month, I made it my mission to finish a book that has been years in the making. Now that I am nearly at the finish line with second draft edits, I thought I would share the Introduction to my book.

“Community-in-a-Box” is about the process of launching and growing communities. That is something that has been part of the connective thread of this blog over the past three years and a central theme of my career for the better part of a decade.

So without further ado, here is the Introduction and the story of how I started this book project and the long, winding road to the finish line.

This book is a labor of love and a bit of catharsis. It is a nuts and bolts, how-to book interspersed between the pages with the blood and guts of what it took to learn the ropes of community building. I spent as much time ruminating and reminiscing on the journey as I did writing the content.

The typical way to structure these types of books is to put the story first. Each chapter is some funny vignette or heart wrenching lesson learning, all stitched together with some narrative thread. In the process, somehow a few nuggets of sound advice and practical information get shared along the way.

That is not how I approached this project. In fact, this book is a bit of an accident. It started off as the 18 page operations guide for launching new chapters of the Enterprise Sales Forum. Then it sat for a few years before I dusted it off and gave it a fresh batch of updates and attempted to make it more generic for other communities. The project died though as other urgent matters pulled me away.

Then someone at my current employer, Amazon Web Services, asked about a “user manual” for launching user groups. That sounded vaguely like a community, so I shared this now 31 page handbook with my manager to pass along in an attempt to be helpful.

Nothing came of sending along my handbook, but it dawned on me that I had including nothing about virtual events. The Enterprise Sales Forum had recently switched to all virtual events, so there was a whole body of knowledge to share that was way more relevant than the sole focus on in-person events.

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After a furious week of writing, I finally had over 50 pages and was brimming with confidence that I had my first book in the bag! All that was left was to proof-read and clean up the awkward parts. I reached out to my network for help and shared the first full draft with some folks, about twenty people in all.

I would not say the feedback was brutal, these are all super nice and generous people. The feedback was very candid and direct though. The critiques drove home the fact that the book was a mess. The order of topics made no sense, there were huge assumptions built in, and there were gaps in the content on topics that I neglected to include. On top of it, my grammar mistakes were atrocious.

I rearranged and reorganized everything. Whole chapters were rewritten. I added more content to fill in the gaps. What emerged was a solid 70 pages of content, but there was still a problem. I spent all the time talking about starting a community, but did nothing to incorporate what I learned in six years of leading the Enterprise Sales Forum about sustaining and growing communities!

This time I hit the whiteboard to sketch out what a long standing community looks like and the path a community takes to get there. My experiences, recollections, and searing memories were laid bare across two whiteboards. It got hard following all the arrows, but I think most of what I poured out of my head made it into a book that is now a dense 130 pages of content, tips, and practical how-to’s.

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