It was March 2017 when I decided to start writing my first English book: Book on Steroids. This was right after I had finished writing my (Dutch) book on sports supplements, named Bonds voedingssupplementen. This book wouldn't be released until two months later in May, and, there I was, already underway with my third book.
The subject of writing about anabolic steroids was an obvious one for me. I had written my first book, also in Dutch, about it. It was the subject I originally came to be interested in when I started lifting weights at the age of 17. Not so much because I planned on taking them — not at all. It simply was the subject that had drawn me into science. I started reading my first papers about it somewhere in 2010-2011, when I was 19-20 years old. It didn't take me long to realise I didn't have the educational background to interpret these studies well and value them based on their quality. It was also at that time that I started to pick on reading in various textbooks about physiology, biochemistry, cell biology, metabolism, endocrinology, and so on. These textbooks would form the much-needed foundation I was lacking to properly read these papers.
Anyhow, back to Book on Steroids. I like to start my books with simply a table of contents. It's the main thread which I like to hang onto while writing. After I had a good idea of the table of contents, I simply started writing. I opened my text editor (Texmaker) and started typing the first words. Looking back at the table of contents I had thought of at the time, not much has ultimately changed. Sure, I expanded some sections with subsections, and renamed a couple of things here and there to better match the contents. But that was about it. (Of course, in a way, it's somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy if you start out with the table of contents and write your book based on that.)
Knowing a lot about a subject is one thing, writing a book about it with inline references is another. I had to dig in the literature to retrieve much of the studies I had already read in the past in order to reference them. After all, why would you believe what I'm writing? You need to be able to verify my information, and the best way for me to facilitate that for the reader, is to provide references. And so I did. Nevertheless, I'm not embarrassed to point out that I learned a lot of new things as well while writing this book. You need to challenge your knowledge, your opinion. Who hasn't formed an opinion more rapidly based on a study that fitted their narrative? I know I have. So I had to challenge my opinions as well and be critical about myself and the studies that shaped my believes in the field. This takes quite some time, but it's well worth the effort. It surely has lead to a more nuanced view of mine on certain matters, leading to a balanced and fair overview of the literature in the book.
While I would be lying if I'd say that I had read the studies I'm referencing in full of every single one of my references, I do think it would be fair to say I have read about 85% of them in full. And then some more which I didn't end up referencing in the book. You can imagine the time it takes to carefully read hundreds of papers. A book like this takes a lot of time and effort.
Early in January this year (2020) I finished up the first draft version of the book. It had a total of 182 pages at the time and I showed it to a few people. What I didn't know at the time, was that those 182 pages were gonna explode to 224 pages just a few months later. Dr. Diederik Smit, an internist-endocrinologist at the outpatient clinic for AAS users, was going to proofread this draft version in full and provide me with feedback. And boy he did. It took me a few weeks to process all his feedback — amidst the corona outbreak in my country — and this really pushed the quality of the manuscript to the next level. It also lead to the addition of plenty of new paragraphs and figures to support the text. For the figures I had an amazing illustrator who also made some of the figures for my previous books. I would draw something really ugly of what I wanted and then asked her if she could make a pretty version of it for the book — which she did.
Little fast-forward to June, I had sent out the finished manuscript to a copy editor. English isn't my native language, and even if it was, I'm sure I would still have made plenty of mistakes to require a copy editor. Either way, about a month later I had the fully copy edited version back. What I didn't expect, was the huge amount of corrections I now had to process. Well over 5,000 to be precise. I had to process all these remarks from the PDF document, into my LaTeX document. I think I'm not exaggerating when I say this took me about 40 hours of painstakingly boring work. Now I just had to add the index and be done with it. Or so I thought.
Around the time I got the copy edited manuscript back, I also opened the pre-orders on my website. As some of you reading this might know, I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and a Master's degree in Software Engineering, both from the University of Amsterdam. So, the nerd I am, PeterBond.org runs on a self-made CMS (come on guys, Wordpress is horrible, and all those other CMS packages aren't much better). For my fellow nerds out there; it's written in PHP and runs on top of the Laravel framework. It has query caching in Memcached, email queueing, custom forms supporting all Laravel validation rules + recaptcha, revision control of pretty much all content, tags/categories/featured image/whatever support and uses Laravel Scout + TNT Search for the search results. I even included ACL-based authorization while I'm the only one using it anyway, and some other stuff I'm forgetting. Either way, what it didn't have, was some way to process orders. So in no-time I had to integrate a payment provider and everything that comes with processing orders. Multi-currency support, multiple payment methods, 'shippable' and 'downloadable' products, 'pre-orderable' products, VAT rules, etc. This too turned out to be a bit more work than I had anticipated.
Since I know a lot of people read their books on ereaders, I had to convert my book to support Kindle (I picked the widely supported MOBI format) and EPUB. I thought it wouldn't be that hard, after all, I had written it in a typesetting language (LaTeX). I thought it would be as easy as hitting some 'Convert LaTeX to MOBI' button. If only. It took me a few days to find the right way to do this, as there's no direct conversion from LaTeX to any of these formats. (Or, at least, I couldn't find anything.)
Of course, I first tried one of those PDF-to-MOBI converters. Well, that didn't pan out well. They all suck. Figures were all over the place, their corresponding captions could be thrown pages away, footnotes were intertwined in the text, and it just looked awful. I then thought of converting it to an intermediate format. After wasting too many hours on fixing these issues, I decided to pursue this route. I realized it would probably be better to convert it to HTML first. So I tried out the commonly used htlatex for it. Well, that sucked. It didn't even come close to a viable HTML output, so I abondend that quite quickly.
After some googling I came across TtH (the Tex to HTML converter). That looked more like it. Some stuff got into the HTML which didn't belong there, but I got it removed one by one. Then only two issues remained: 1) it had output the list of references at the end, but it didn't add the numbers next to it. So it was just a really long list, and 2) all the inline references lacked the right reference number, and simply consisted of the comma character instead. So my text was filled with [, ] everywhere. Somehow I managed to fix the first issue. I forgot how, but boom, it was there. So now I just had to fix all these [, ] in my text. I noticed in the HTML that they all had a corresponding hyperlink anchor to the right reference. This meant that I could match it with a regular expression. So I wrote a little script that would construct an array with the anchor hyperlinks as a key, and the corresponding reference number as a value. Then, I iterated through the text to match the regular expression and substitute the [, ] with the correct reference number. Problem solved! Now I could convert the HTML to MOBI and EPUB with Calibre and I was finally done with it. I'm pretty damn proud of how these editions turned out too.
Now the book is released, I'm already thinking about a second edition of it. If the sales go well (read: if I break-even with my costs), I'll start working on that. I got plenty of ideas for it. ECG data, thyroid hormones, growth hormone, SARMs, psychological effects, and the ideas go on and on. Hopefully there's quite some demand for a book like this, so I can spend the next few years on including these and other topics, and update the book where I can.