I've been hassling Tim, trying to work out how the Power Tools books work. Unix Power Tools was fabulously and unbelievably successful and popular, and when a book resonates like that you're stupid not to try to figure out why and duplicate the good points in future books.
It's particularly important to me because I'm the de facto Cookbook King at ORA. Having created the format and cowritten the first Cookbook with that format, I know how it works and why. I've even written "Cookbooks in a Nutshell", a couple of pages on how to do a Cookbook that works.
The Power Tools format is similar to a Cookbook format. Both break a topic into little chunks, but the Cookbook's chunks are very ordered and structured while the Power Tools chunks are very scattered and free-form. My first reaction to reading UPT was to recoil in horror at the chaos of it all! Learning more about Power Tools, though, I'm slowly growing to respect it. Slowly
I think the lesson I'm taking away is that the Power Tools format works for userland stuff (shell management and so on) whereas Cookbooks work for programming stuff (hashes, regexps, etc.). I wouldn't want to write "LWP Power Tools", but nor would I want to write a "Windows 2000 Cookbook".
When I started editing, I didn't realize that there was this great variety in formats. I figured that if I could edit an article for TPJ, I could edit a book--the only difference is that the book is longer. Nope! The tone and style of an article often becomes condescending or frustratingly slow when maintained for the course of a book. The problems of a book, even when they're the same problems as an article, are often harder to solve. For example: when to describe a topic the reader needs to know about, and when simply to refer them to an external source. In one book I'm editing, I still don't know yet whether we should be giving an introduction to XSLT or just assuming the reader has eyes and can buy a book on XSLT if they don't know.
But while there's been a learning curve, I love it. I enjoy learning the hidden patterns and rhythms of things, whether it's a conference, a musical solo, or a book. The learning is often hard, but the results are rewarding. When I was young, I had a diary with motivational quotes, and one of the two that stuck with me was "experience is a hard teacher, but fools will have no other." Experience has kicked my ass, but I've been learning from it.
The other quote from that diary was "he knew not what to say, so he swore", but I hope that's not very relevant to my editing career!