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This article was published on February 7, 2015

The best thing I ever created: Jonathan Snook on the discipline of self-publishing

The best thing I ever created: Jonathan Snook on the discipline of self-publishing
Jonathan Snook

Jonathan Snook is a Web designer and developer based in Ottawa. He writes about tips, tricks and bookmarks on his blog at, and has also written for “A List Apart,” “24ways,” and “.net magazine.” He has co-authored two books, “The Art and Science of CSS” and “Accelerated DOM Scripting.” This post was originally published on the Shutterstock blog and has been reprinted with permission.

This is the latest in a monthly series in which industry leaders describe the projects and products that give them the most joy and pride. This month, designer, developer and product owner Jonathan Snook recalls the euphoria of completing a bulky assignment all on his own.

What’s the best thing I’ve ever created?

My favorite experiences are those where I learn the most. I was reminded of that when I took a trip to Iceland recently to participate in a photography workshop. Over the course of three days, I was immersed in photography along with three professional photographers and a couple of other participants.

I was filled with delight as I learned more about composition, exposure and post-production than I had learned on my own in the previous three years. Most of all, it renewed an interest in photography that I had lost. Since that trip, I’ve spent more time editing photos than I had in the previously stated previous three years. The burst of knowledge created a burst of excitement.

Iceland photo © Jonathan Snook

Web development has, for as long as I can remember, been about the joy of learning. Each new technique added on to the next. I’d often write about the things I learned on my personal blog, which in turn, forced me to dive deeper into topics before I’d willingly share them with the world. This sharing of knowledge helped further my career while also helping to further others in theirs.

Over the years, I’ve been asked to write long form books — those traditional tomes one would find in the local book store and a natural extension of my own blog, surely. Writing long form turned into a painful, drawn-out experience and one that I vowed never to repeat — until I’d try again, often failing to get more than a couple of chapters in before giving up.

One blog post is fine. A hundred blog posts wrapped up into a book and completed in a three-to-six-month timespan is something altogether different.

Surprisingly, I managed to eke out a chapter for one book, and six chapters for another book. At least I could walk into a bookstore and see my name on the shelves.


After working for a large tech company for a couple of years, I was struck with the desire to write about the process of Web development that I had honed there. Considering the pain I had gone through before, I’m unsure what compelled me to even think about trying again.

I wrote one chapter and then another. And then another. It was still incredibly difficult to write, but I was making progress. Slowly. Thankfully, I was not beholden to publisher deadlines. I moved at my own pace, without the stress of other people sending me concerned emails about missed deliverables.

About six months into the process, the usual frustrations of writing long form had surfaced again, regardless. I decided to release what I had to the public — not as a book, but more as a collection of blog posts loosely connected by a specific theme.

It struck a chord with others, as I had hoped it would. This interest inspired me to push forward and write more, until eventually I had a book. Not a behemoth of a book — a modest book just barely over 100 pages, but enough to consider it a book.

Instead of finding a publisher or distributor, I decided to do this on my own, and suddenly found myself in another burst of excited learning. I learned how to build e-books. I learned how to distribute them through Apple or Amazon or Barnes & Noble. I learned how to sell them through my own site, building the e-commerce and fulfillment service on my own. I learned how to do a print version. I learned how to market the book.


That book, Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS, has been the best thing I ever created. It’s a reminder of the excitement of learning, and it has been very rewarding to know that it has helped others. I owe that book a lot and I am very thankful that I got that push to finish it.

It’s been three years since I first released that book now, and the desire to write another book has hit me again.