Looking back at Five Simple Steps

I’d been in Nottingham for the day, catching up with friends including Owen Gregory. Driving home, an idea started to develop. Owen and I worked together on client projects at the time and I trust him to give me an honest opinion, so I pulled the car over, called him and explained the idea. A book called ‘Hardboiled Web Design.’

I was very cautious about writing a second book and I knew that finding a publisher who understood the message that I wanted to convey and could offer me the support, creative freedom and the financial rewards to make the project worthwhile, would be critical for me going ahead with it.

I spoke to several publishers. All of them offered to produce Hardboiled Web Design for me, but I chose to publish with friends Mark and Emma Boulton and their fledgling publishing brand Five Simple Steps.

Publishing with Five Simple Steps was a risk for both of us. I risked the uncertainty of working with a publisher who was just finding its feet. They risked using their limited resources on a book project with no guarantee of success. For both of us it was a risk worth taking.

We struck an unusual deal for the time. All the publishers who’d offered me a deal also offered me an advance on royalties. That advance money would’ve been mine whether or not Hardboiled Web Design had been a success. However the royalties themselves, on average 15% of the price a copy sells for, were low as is typical in this industry. Mark and I agreed a different deal, one that’s since become common for authors working with small publishers. I committed to writing the book, they committed to making and selling it. An even split in responsibilities and a 50/50 split in the reward.

Working with a big name publisher can put your book in front of a large audience. New Riders did that for Transcending CSS. However a big publisher takes a big cut. With a small publisher like Five Simple Steps you may sell fewer copies but if your deal is right you can make more money to justify the time you spend writing. Our deal was right.

I needed support and guidance throughout my time writing and Five Simple Steps allowed me to choose the people I most wanted to work with. They also offered me almost complete creative freedom and access to Nick Boulton who designed the book so that it lived up to my dream. More than that, being creative people themselves, they brought their own ideas to the project. It was Mark’s idea to bundle a poster with the first few thousand copies and Nick’s to make the cover unlike any other web design book I’ve seen.

Being in their studio the day of the launch was an experience I won’t forget. Truth be told, we were still editing a few hours before launch and had to delay opening the store for an hour while we exported the final files. By coincidence, the owner of the store’s hosting company was in the studio that day and we all stared in disbelief at the hundreds of people hitting the server in the run up to going live. We were all grateful that he was there to add more nodes to cope with demand and keep the server running. We opened a bottle of champagne and I can’t describe the feelings I had watching those first orders arrive, a new notification every few seconds.

Hardboiled Web Design went on to be a great success and I think that my publishing with Five Simple Steps was a big part of that. I know that many people bought the book partly because they knew the reputation for quality that Five Simple Steps had. By the same token, my choosing to work with them and the subsequent success of Hardboiled Web Design attracted other authors to Five Simple Steps and helped to cement their reputation.

I couldn’t be happier that I chose to work with Five Simple Steps and how we broke new ground together. I don’t regret my decision at all.

Five Simple Steps closed its doors today and while I’ve plenty to say about how that announcement was handled—as you might expect—I want to say “thank-you” to Mark and Emma, Nick, Jo, Sarah, Alex and everyone at Five Simple Steps who helped make Hardboiled Web Design the book I’m so very proud of.


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