September 6, 2008

The Process of Writing the Applied Security Visualization Book

Category: Uncategorized — Raffael Marty @ 12:55 pm

img_0365.jpgA little bit more than two years ago, I approached Jessica Goldstein from Addison Wesley to write a book about security visualization. We sat down during BlackHat 2006 and discussed my idea. It didn’t take much to convince her that they should get me on board. I went home after the conference and started putting together a table of contents. Here is the very first TOC that I submitted:

  1. Introduction
  2. Data Sources
  3. Visualization
  4. From Data To Visuals
  5. Visual Security Analysis
  6. Situational Awareness
  7. Perimeter Threat
  8. Compliance
  9. Insider Threat
  10. Data Visualization Tools

If you read the book, you will notice that this is pretty much what I ended up with. More or less. An interesting fact is that at the time of submitting the TOC, I had no idea what to exactly write about in the compliance and insider threat chapters. The even more interesting fact is that a lot of people told me that their favorite chapter is the insider threat chapter.

img_0336.jpgAfter submitting the TOC to Jessica, she had me fill out some more marketing questions about the book. Things like target audience, competitive books, etc. After handing that in, it went silent for a bit. Jessica was selling the book internally. And then things started to look not so good. Jessica went on maternity leave. Kristin took over and got the proposal review process lined up. I asked some people in the industry to have a look over my proposal and provide feedback to the publisher. Questions like: “Why is Raffy the right person to write this book?” “Is there a market for this book?”  etc. were being asked. I received the six really great reviews (thanks guys!) mid December 2006. On December 19th, I received an email with the contract to write the book. I sent the contract off to a friend of mine who is a lawyer, just because I was a bit worried about intellectual property rights. After a few emails also with Addison, I felt much better. They are not at all interested in any IP. They just want the copyright, which was totally fine with me. Then, finally, on January 17th, I signed and was under contract to write about 300 pages about security visualization.

After a few days, I received an ISBN number for the book and a ton of material about style guides and how to go about writing the book. All very exciting. I decided to not write my book in TeX, unlike my masters thesis. That was definitely a smart decision. It turned out that using Word wasn’t that bad. The template from Addision made it really easy to format the text correctly. I actually ended up using VI to write the original text without any formatting. Once it was all done, I copied the raw text into Word and started formatting. The reason for doing this is that I am so much quicker in VI than I am in Word. (And hitting the ESC key in Word is not something you want to be doing too much.)

cimg2403.jpgOne of the next steps was to put together a timeline. Well, it was sort of aggressive. The version of the schedule I could find in my archives shows that I was planning on being done mid September 2007. Well, I missed that by only a year 😉 I attribute a lot to the fact that I didn’ really know how to write (seriously) and to the chatpers for which I had to do a lot of research.

I definitely enjoyed the process of writing the book. The folks at Addison Wesley were awesome. They kept motivating me along the way and provided great insights into the writing process. What I am still very impressed with is the PR aspects. Early on, they hooked me up to film a video cast about the book. After publishing the book, I get about an email a week for some press opportunity. Keep them coming 😉

Here is a fun fact: In ~/Data/projects/vis_addision, where I have all the material for the book, I accumulated 1.1GB of data. Pretty crazy.

img_0260.JPGcimg2019.jpgAre you thinking about writing a book? Do it, but make sure you have time! I spent a LOT of time in the local coffee shop (picture on the left). I always had printouts with me to work on corrections. The picture on the right I took at 6.30am in Taipei. Yes, it’s a full-time job! I learned a lot! I made amazing connections. And I had fun! One piece of advice: make sure you have a good publisher!

I haven’t seen the book in my local Barnes and Nobles yet. Well, I checked two weeks ago. But a friend (@jjx) sent me this picture. So, apparently some book stores have it in stock:



  1. Hi Raffy,

    Congratulations on your book. Thanks for sharing your experience. It will help prospective authors.

    Comment by Richard Bejtlich — September 6, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  2. Raffy, I have a copy and I am looking forward to reading it.

    Comment by mike fratto — September 7, 2008 @ 5:51 am

  3. I really appreciate you documenting your experience and the motivation you gave to prospective writers. I was also wondering if you could post your responses to those questions that quoted.

    Comment by Rob Fuller — September 7, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

  4. Hey Raffy, nice post. I have been thinking about writing a book for some time, bouncing ideas in my head, and your post gives a pretty good overview of the whole process.

    Comment by ZZamboni — September 8, 2008 @ 1:24 am

  5. Great post. Why did you choose Addison? Did you approach any other publishers?

    Comment by Tyler — September 10, 2008 @ 8:51 am

  6. Regarding the answer to the quoted questions: They were different from each reviewer. I would have to dig them up.
    Regarding Addison: Well, I have written a chapter for Syngress and I have worked with NoStarch on another book. I knew Jessica from Addison for a while and was talking to her for another book idea a while back. I would not write a book with Syngress myself. Their philosophy does not work with mine. They are writing books to get them to press as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the quality suffers from that. NoStarch was pretty good to work with, but I have to say, in retrospective, Addison was awesome! Now, after the book is published, they keep sending me PR opportunities, which is great. No doubt, if I should write another book, I’d go for Addison again.

    Comment by Raffael Marty — September 10, 2008 @ 11:57 am

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