I've signed to write an advanced book on LibreOffice

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Apr 12, 2013 GMT
Bruce Byfield

I signed the contract this week, so now I can make the announcement: I'm writing a book. Tenatively titled Styles and Templates in LibreOffice, it will be published by Friends of OpenDocument (http://www.friendsofopendocument.com/newsite/) using a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, probably towards the end of 2013.

This is a project I've wanted to do for almost a decade. Back when I started writing about free software, one of my main subjects was OpenOffice.org. Over the years, I must have written at least sixty or seventy articles on the subject. I've lost the exact count, but most of them were written for the Linux Journal site, and, more recently, the WorldLabel.com blog.

I even tried to develop several concepts for a general OpenOffice.org book with another publisher. But I was too inexperienced then, and too determined to write the definitive book on the topic, to leave nothing else for anyone to say aside from an occasional update. Although I labored on the book every evening and weekend for months, somehow it never jelled. Instead, it wandered off in half a dozen directions all at the same time until I was hopelessly confused about where I meant to go.

Over the years I reworked much of that effort, one 1500 word article at a time, but I always regretted the book that never was. Now, I've been handed one of life's rare chances for a replay, and I plan to make the most of it.

Once more around the block
What's different this time? Well, aside from the fact that I can now use a free license and design the template with free fonts, I am. Although Styles and Templates will still be the longest piece of writing I've attempted since I converted my thesis into a book years ago, I am a much more experienced writer. I've not only written over 1400 articles since then, but I have a better idea of my work habits and how much long a given piece will take to write. I write more easily than I did a decade ago, and I like to think I'm more disciplined, too.

Second, should any of the changes in me turn out to be an illusion, I'm being backed by Jean Hollis Weber, my editor. Weber is a long time technical editor, and project lead at ODF Authors and LibreOffice. She's written several books on OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice, and her competence and expertise is second to none.

Over the last six months, we've been talking on line -- which is how she happened to approach me about the project -- and I feel confident that we can work together.  Some reviewers will be coming on board soon, but I'm pleased that Weber is overseeing things.

Equally importantly, this time I have the direction and the focus that I lacked in previous efforts. As the title suggests, Styles and Templates will not try to cover every aspect of LibreOffice. Instead, it will be a book that starts by arguing why you should use styles and templates with LibreOffice, then shows how they can automate your work and save time.

From what I've seen, this is a topic that is a closed book to most people. Office suites are three decades old now, but most users still continue to use them as little more than a digital typewriter, starting from scratch with every document and revising formatting one element at a time. The approach works, but its inefficiency peeves me. I like the idea of explaining at length, and of saving people time and effort even more so.

It's a topic that is rarely stressed in books about office suites, but really should be. If it isn't stressed, you're really encouraging people to work against themselves. A counter-argument to manual formatting seems long overdue. I plan to make my case with all the how-tos, tips, and examples that I can muster, backing my position with as much practical information as I can cram into it, in a format that is easy to browse. This time, I have a much better sense of what I'm doing and how to get there.

The next few months
As I write, I have a table of contents that I can work from -- one that is complete enough so that I know where I'm going, but not so comprehensive as to remove the possibility of discovery, or making writing a matter of shuffling in an orderly fashion through the structure I've devised. I also have the introduction complete and am putting the final touches on the first chapter.

So far, I'm enjoying myself hugely. I'm a bit daunted by the size of the project, but mostly intrigued by the challenge of cannibalizing old material, both published and unpublished, and inventing new material.

Maybe when I'm a couple of chapters from the end, I'll feel differently. Meanwhile, this is the right opportunity at the right time to renew my interest in writing.

Wish me luck. A time may come in the next six months that I need it.


  • LibreOffice book

    I'm looking forward to the book also. I've been using StarOffice/OpenOffice/LibreOffice for almost 15 years and would love to learn all the tricks.
  • LibreOffice

    I wish you well in the book endeavour, Bruce. Maybe you'll find a way to explain why LibreOffice has such crap printing problems that don't exist in OpenOffice. Having to use pdf to print because LO can't deal properly with landscape pages in some versions is a royal PITA - so much so I usually give up on LO, and reinstall OO.
  • Wonderful News!

    Bruce, this is fantastic! I'm sure your book will be a tremendous resource for every user. Best of luck in the writing.
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