The aims of a Book Sprint can be broken down to the following categories:
This chapter discusses each of those aims, and includes some reasons for writing a book in a sprint instead of using more conventional methods.
Traditional book production time lines are normally measured in months and years. Book Sprints produce comparable content in a much shorter amount of time. Using Book Sprints and print on demand technologies, the time scale from zero to published book is measured in days and weeks.
As an example, the FLOSS Manuals Circumvention Book Sprint was organised in two weeks and written in one. The sprint brought eight people together from around the world. We started work on the text at 9:00 AM Monday and finished with a beer on Friday at 6:00 PM. At that moment, with the click of a button, we generated the book-ready source files and uploaded them to the print-on-demand service.
Having a finished book was a wonderful way to wrap up and intense and pleasurable project, knowing that anyone could immediately buy the well laid out paper version of the manual we had just written. It also gave us something to blog about and something to tell our friends about. It was, all in all, an astonishing accomplishment--but not something that required superhuman talent or effort.
While it is very motivating to have a book at the end, it is not actually the sprints' primary goal. The primary goal is to generate content.
A book sprint generally stems from the need to play "catch up" with documentation. There is so much work to be done in the world of free software documentation that there is always a need to produce more material, and to produce it rapidly.
Book sprints are also wonderful for building communities around the topic. If you work intensely with people that are passionate about the same things you are, you naturally form friendships and the group develops the characteristics of a community. It is hard to convey the effect of sitting across the table with people for four or eight hours at a time, sharing ideas and sometimes arguing, eating and drinking with them, and talking about life.
Some sprints develop small, niche-orientated communities, which are nonetheless satisfying. Others (such as the OLPC and Sugar manuals produced by FLOSS Manuals, and the book on circumventing censorship) have the potential to motivate thousands of people.
Our intention with each book sprint is to get the participants to know each other and continue to work together, maintaining and extending the material, as a direct result of the friendships they form at the sprint.
A book can be maintained by an individual or a small group and still be valuable. But over the long haul, individuals lose steam and small groups tend to disperse. The great thing is that community-building extends far beyond the six to ten people who meet for a sprint. With established communities (such as a free software project) much larger subsets of that community might participate in the planning that leads up to the event, and some sprints have a larger set of remote contributors (logging in at all times of the day and night over the FLOSS Manuals web interface) than the set of contributors physically present. It helps everyone interested in the project, where ever they are in the world, feel that they have something productive to contribute.
Although it is not always necessary, some sprints are followed by a week or two of additional activity to polish and reorganize the material. At this point people work on the content remotely, and sometimes add substantial content. To harness this energy and encourage the ongoing development of the content, it is good to have someone dedicated to the role of maintainer. Book sprints can start the ball rolling, but as everyone knows, there is no such thing as a perpetual motion engine. You always need to put energy in to keep the engine ticking.
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