I Helped Create a Failed Web Design Workshop and it was Awesome.
A few years ago, back in the summer of 2014, I was contacted by Peachpit Press, a publisher specializing in “technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people.”
I had submitted an idea for a web design book to Peachpit a few years earlier and was politely informed that it didn’t sound like a fit for them. I was therefore pretty surprised when they reached out to me to discuss the development of an interactive video workshop that would cover an introduction to HTML and CSS. They even remembered my rejected book submission, something that already had put me on their radar and actually helped me make the shortlist of candidates that they were speaking to about this workshop idea.
After a phone interview with the team who would be leading the project, I was offered the job of creating the “Web Design Fundamentals” title. Needless to say, I was excited, honored, and more than a bit nervous at the challenge before me!
Now, this experience happened about 3 years ago, yet I’ve never excitedly posted a news update about how this video workshop was now available for sale and download. As you may have guessed, the final product was never actually released. As disappointing as the end result of this experience may be, working with Peachpit on this project was something I will never forget. Here’s the lessons I took from this incredibly unique experience.
It Is Way More Work Than You Think It Will Be
No matter how much work you think it will be to create educational materials (create a video series, write a book, launch an event series, etc.) in reality, it is more than that. Probably a lot more.
I was not naïve when I began my project with Peachpit. I expected that the project would require a considerable amount of work, but I absolutely underestimated the time that ended up being required. It was a challenge to manage that time and balance my full time job and about halfway through the project, I had to significantly re-adjust my schedule to accommodate the actual amount of time that was needed for the development of the video content.
If you are developing content of any kind, you need to give yourself enough time to do it right. However much time you think it will take – double it, at least. From doing research, to writing content, to editing content, to editing content some more- trust me, you will use the time! If you think to yourself, “I’ll start with a conservative schedule and then adjust it if needed”, be aware that it is much harder to expand your time commitment than it is to reduce it. If your calendar is filled with obligations at a full time job or with other freelance projects, you will find it very difficult to change that schedule quickly enough to capture the time needed for your new obligations.
You Will Learn Along The Way
You may have started this project to teach something to others, but you will find that you cannot help but learn quite a bit yourself along the way. The research you do for your project will teach you new things, possibly even changing what you think you already know. My project was on “Web Design Fundamentals”, which means it covered the absolute basics of HTML. It amazed me how much of this information I took for granted!
Even though I have used HTML professionally for over 17 years, by going over those basics again and determining the best way to present that content to others, I found myself attaining a better understanding of concepts that I thought I already knew everything about (which I clearly did not).
During my project, I also got an education on the differences between eLearning and teaching in a classroom setting. This was fascinating information that not only helped me during the development of the videos, but it also caused me to reconsider, and ultimately improve, many of the ways that I cover this same information in the classroom.
It Is a Team Effort
An author’s name may be on the front of a book or as the host of a video series, but there are a team of people behind the scenes working alongside that author. For my own project, I had the chance to work with publishers, editors, eLearning specialists, audio engineers, video engineers, interactive developers, designers, and more. Each of these professionals brought their unique skill sets and experiences to the project, making the end result better for their participation.
When you are reading a book or watching a training video, you may not think about the full team that worked on that project, but every one of those people were critical to its success. If you want your project to be the best that it can be, you should be prepared to work with a team of experts and be eager to learn what you can from each of them.
It Helps to Have Cheerleaders
The process of writing a book is filled with both high points and low points. The value in having “cheerleaders” to help pick you up during those low points cannot be overstated.
Your cheerleaders could be family or friends who are supporting you during this process. It could also be your editor or publisher or someone else on the team helping to bring your materials to life. For my own project, I found the communication from my editor to be incredibly helpful at picking up my spirits when I was feeling a bit defeated and overwhelmed. Every time the project felt like it was getting away from me, I reached out to the team working with me and we scheduled a call. While the conversations we had did often include actual ways to address the issues I was facing, those calls were also filled with encouraging comments and much needed pep-talks. In retrospect, that encouragement was as helpful to me during this project’s process as the solutions we discussed on those calls.
Do not be afraid to ask for help or encouragement when you are working on a project. Whether you need someone to look at a technical issue or someone to simply lift your spirits, the support team you assemble will absolutely contribute to your project’s success and your mental well-being during this process.
The Things You Are Worried About Will Be Fine (It’s The Stuff You Haven’t Even Thought About That Will Be A Challenge)
When I entered the studio to record the content for my workshop (this is where the picture accompanying this article comes from), I was very concerned about whether or not I would be able to read my script, record the audio, and also use screen capture software to show the necessary actions on my screen. Having never done something like this before, that’s what I was really worked up and nervous about. In the end, my worries amounted to nothing. I was able to record the audio and video with no problems at all. You know what did end up being a problem? My voice.
Needing to record close to 15 hours worth of content in just 2 days put my vocal chords to the test and I started to lose my voice towards the end of the first day. This problem never crossed my mind even once as I thought about the process of recording these videos - a lesson in how the things you worry about will often be just fine, it is the situations that you have not even considered that will throw you for a loop!
So what did this experience teach me? To not lose sleep over the things you can control, and to be ready to tackle challenges that weren’t even on your radar.
The Fear Of Failure
When you put yourself out there as an expert in your field, it can be a scary thing. You are opening yourself up for judgment and criticism and knowing how cruel the Web can be, the fear of that criticism and of failure in general can be debilitating. Sadly, this fear of failure and criticism drives some potential authors away from this process altogether.
In my own case, the fear of failure was something I was not really prepared for. I am a pretty confident person, but there were absolutely points during this project where I questioned whether or not I was qualified for this opportunity. I can remember feeling sick to my stomach on more than one occasion as I considered whether I would let my publisher, and myself, down. Needless to say, this was a time when those aforementioned cheerleaders really helped me out!
No matter how experienced you are in your profession or how confident you are in your skills, the fear of failure can still creep up on you. The solid support team that you assemble for your project will help restore your confidence and make you realize that you are qualified for the opportunity you have been given.
Hindsight Is 20/20
No matter how thorough you are in your planning for your book, after the fact, there will always be things that you wish you could change. This is especially true in a field like website design which changes so rapidly. By the time you are done writing the book and it has been proofed, edited, approved, and gone to print, there is very likely to be industry changes that you wish could’ve made it into the content. This can certainly be a disheartening feeling, making you feel as if the book is outdated before it has even been released, but it is a reality that you must accept. Hopefully, your book will be successful enough that you will have the opportunity to do a Second Edition, which can include all those things you wish you had added the first time around!
The Sense Of Accomplishment (or Not)
There are no words to express the feeling of achievement you will find when your project is complete and you are able to see the end result of your hard work. I got a little sense of that when I started to see some of the rough videos and interactive experiences that were being created for the workshop. I was really excited to get the final product out to the public and promote the title – only that never happened. Before the workshop was released, the entire series was cancelled by Peachpit. Ity was no one fault. The series was simply the victim of changing business needs at the publisher. Some of my videos were eventually released by O’Reilly (Peachpit’s parent company) at SafariBooksOnline, but the vision that we had for a full interactive workshop series was dead.
It took me awhile to come to terms with the failure of this project, but in the end I tried to focus on the good parts of the experience, instead of the unfortunate ending.
I got to meet some amazing people during this experience. I learned so much about teaching others and the materials I created helped me refine my classroom materials. I got to travel to San Francisco, and even though I was so busy during my trip that I failed to get out and see much of the city, it was still a cool experience and one I will remember. I also got paid. Let’s not gloss over that. I did my part in this project and was compensated for it, so while I would’ve obviously loved to see this project completed and released, I was still taken care of financially for the work that I did. Cool people, lessons learned, a fun trip, and a nice paycheck - those are certainly some positives to hang onto for this project!
Yes, the end of this experience stinks. Everyone who worked on this project worked really hard, and we all wanted it to be a success, but I still look upon this project with fond memories and happy thoughts. That’s a perfect segue into the final lesson I have to share about this….
Enjoy The Experience
It is easy to become overwhelmed with the responsibility of creating educational materials, but if you step back for a minute and look at the experience, it is pretty amazing. Yes, the work will be long and difficult at times, but it will also pretty awesome. If you are fortunate enough to have the chance to work on a book or video project, be sure to take the time enjoy it. No matter what the end result of the project may be,make sure to enjoy the ride along the way.
So, want to see the end result of my efforts? As I mentioned earlier, 3 of the videos did see the light of day. You can see these videos on my author page at SafariBooksOnline. A subscription is required to view the videos, but you can get a free trial to check them out, or click the sample videos in each title to at least get a taste of the materials .