digital marketer book front cover bcs eileen brown besty aoki

Authors across the Atlantic – How to co-write a book using Microsoft OneNote

I was approached by the British Computer Society (BCS) to write the Digital Marketer book. The BCS produces several guides to IT roles with best practice guidance for the role. These include objectives, required skills, career progression, frameworks and case studies. Each IT role book follows a formulaic style to ensure consistency across the range.

I wanted the Digital Marketer book to have diversity of thought, and a different working style – to bring a wide range of ideas to budding digital marketers.  I approached my Seattle-based friend and long-time colleague Betsy Aoki to co-write the book with me.

Betsy and I first met in 2004 when we both worked at Microsoft. My team at the time were using blogging to reach the widest number of IT professionals and Betsy had built the blogging platform we used. Her technical approach was the polar opposite of mine, and I felt that our skills dovetailed nicely to give great breadth to our content.  Thankfully, she agreed.

With an eight hour time difference between Essex and Seattle,  I could write my content during the day, pass it over to Betsy, for her to return overnight.  However, we both have day jobs that take much of our time, sometimes we write in the evenings, sometimes at weekends.  Emailing a cumbersome word document back and forwards everyday would have been a pain.  Having the Word document in the cloud meant managing a document of over 150 pages with tracking enabled – a cumbersome nightmare.

Using Microsoft OneNote to collaborate

I decided that we would use Microsoft’s OneNote to collaborate on the book. I’m familiar with OneNote. I had used it extensively at Microsoft, and had written my first book: Working the Crowd. Social Media Marketing for Business using OneNote in 2010. But I had never considered OneNote as a pan-Atlantic collaboration tool.

digital marketer book Eileen Brown BCS onenote

Digital Marketer – Setting out the Chapter headings and sub-headings

As you can see by the screen grab, we structured the tabs for the main chapters of the book, with proposed sub headings as pages within the tab. We used sub pages, and shuffled the pages around until we got a good flow for the book. All of our research, links and other reference snippets were stored in the ‘spare stuff’ tab.  We would need them as the book as about 140 end notes with valid (at the time of going to print) links to the relevant web pages.

We both started to write sections we felt most comfortable covering – leaving the thorny, difficult topics to the end. It was easy to see who had written which part of the book. OneNote made this easy. It showed clearly which paragraphs had been penned by which author. My edits, were visible to Betsy and vice-versa.  Therefore, it was easy to write 500 words or so per page and watch the content grow.

digital marketer book authors Eileen Brown Betsy Aoki BCSonenote

Digital Marketer: Showing parts of the text Written by Betsy – and me

As this OneNote book was saved in the cloud on my OneDrive account – and backed up the the OneDrive cloud, we were confident about not losing any content. I downloaded OneNote for my Android mobile, so I could do edits on-the-fly and add content when inspiration struck me.

Finalising the Digital Marketer book

We moved pages and tabs around, merged pages together, and collaborated over a distance of 4,800 miles until we were happy with the flow and the way that the content looked. Only then did we copy it to a word document and send it off the the BCS for initial editing.  And now Digital Marketer is finished – and ready to roll off the presses.  We are both pleased with how everything turned out, and delighted with how easy it was to collaborate.  We ‘hardly’ had any problems at all

I did have one issue with using OneNote to write this book.  There is no word count for a page, or a tab – which is a pain when you are trying to gauge how far along you are- content-wise. Until we copied all of the tabs over to word, we had no idea how many words we had written – and whether we were on target.  The history tab has icons to select recent edits edits by author, and has different page versions – but there is no way to count words.  (Can I add a feature request please OneNote team? ).

If I was asked to co-write another book would I do so again?   I certainly would – providing I could collaborate in the cloud, have automatic backups, and have tracking information about which member of the team wrote which part of the document. Oh, and using OneNote would be a must for me. All I need to think about is the title. Cheesemaking perhaps?…