I think it goes without saying that web design bloggers love to read (similar to how it goes without saying that Germans love David Hasselhoff). If you’re like me, then it’s quite likely you’ve purchased the odd web design or programming book that you weren’t all too thrilled with.
Books can be expensive, especially if you only buy them brand new and when they’re first released. And if you live in a country outside North America or the UK, then they could be even more expensive because of shipping costs.
So before purchasing a new design or programming book, I usually do a few things to increase my odds of being happy with the purchase.
Questions to Ask
I usually try to make sure I’ve considered the following questions before committing to anything:
- Is the publisher established, and does the publisher have a good reputation in that niche/industry?
- Does the author have a good reputation as a book writer?
- Does the author have a strong online presence that would show that he/she is knowledgeable in best practices in his field?
- Are the examples or the code in the book available for download?
- Does the author have a reputation for being a helpful person? Or does he/she have a reputation as an aggressive marketer?
- Does the book itself have an official website or microsite?
Research to Do
In order to assist me to be able to answer the questions above, and to find out more about the book, I’ll try to do as much research as possible on the publisher, author, and the book itself. This is why I probably will never pre-order a book before its publishing date.
The kind of research I do includes most, if not all, of the following:
- Read reviews of the book — especially all negative reviews
- Take note of the total number of pages compared to the price
- Check to see if any portion of the book that’s not available elsewhere is indexed on Google Books
- Use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to:
- Read the table of contents (you could also do this on the official website of the book)
- Read or scan the index to examine the extent of subtopics not mentioned in the chapter titles
- Read the back cover
- Read the introduction and/or first chapter, one of which will often have a section called “Who Should Read This Book?” or “Who is This Book For?” or something similar
Another question you might ask yourself after doing some of this research is: Will this book serve as a good reference-style manual? This would especially be important for a programming book. It’s great to learn principles and concepts, but books that are solely devoted to that style will rarely work well as a reference. So if it’s important to you that a book overflow with immediately-accessible practical solutions, examining the chapter titles and index would help immensely.
A Cow Might Not Say “Moo”
Of course, none of the above research can guarantee that the book you purchase will be to your liking. A reputable publisher releasing a book by a reputable author might end up being a boring unusable mess.
On the other hand, an obscure publisher might release a book by an unknown author that is very useful and practical. Sometimes the reviews are invaluable in helping to find such books. But watch out for shill reviews. This is why I mentioned earlier to always read the negative reviews.
Some other things mentioned above that may not necessarily be factors:
- Negative reviews don’t necessarily mean the book is bad; the reviewers may have just chosen a book beyond their skill level, so read the review carefully in comparison to promotional material
- The author may lack a strong online presence because he/she is too busy writing best-selling computer books; this is a good thing
- The book might be brief, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad value; brevity often equates to clarity
- A book strongly endorsed by “standardistas” may not be for everyone; those guys love each other and will probably not admit when one of their buddies writes something sub-par
Some of My Successful Choices
To conclude this article, here’s a list of books I’ve recently obtained copies of that were successful purchases (at least for me):
by Nicholas C. Zakas
jQuery in Action
by Bear Bibeault & Yehuda Katz *
* I own the first edition of this book, but the link will take you to the second edition.
HTML5 for Web Designers
by Jeremy Keith
HTML5 Up and Running
by Mark Pilgrim *
* I actually got this one at no charge as a review copy, and I will be writing a review of it to be published on Webdesigner Depot
The Ultimate CSS Reference
By Tommy Olsson & Paul O’Brien
How Do You Decide?
This gives you a rough idea of how I decide what design and programming books to purchase. Some of this information would apply to almost any book, not just web design.
What about you? How do you decide what books to buy? Is there anything I failed to mention that you think should be considered before buying a book covering some topic related to web design or web development?