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Comments to The Contrary

Aaron Shepard wrote a review on the O'Reilly book page saying:

"While this author definitely has things to say, his experiment with this book's publication is not well thought out. It sounded interesting -- buying a book with only the beginning written, with other chapters to follow. But what I expected were introductory chapters mapping out the author's main ideas, with succeeding chapters written to expand on them.

Unfortunately, the author does not know the difference between a book and a blog. He is structuring this book as a series of loosely related articles about whatever happens to strike his and his customer's fancy. So, instead of a coherent, unified statement from an important thinker, this book at its birth represents no more than a couple of interesting posts such as I would commonly find on the Web.

Beyond that, why should he ask the reader to bear the burden of downloading a succession of incomplete documents? Isn't one reason we buy books so that we don't have to collect small pieces a bit at a time? This plan might work for one book as a gimmick, but does he really think it's a scalable model for books in general?

There's also something dismal and depressing about the thought that new posts will be added according to requests by his readers. A book is supposed to represent intellectual leadership, not mere customer wish fulfillment. I want to read authors who tell me something I don't know I need to know. Instead, I got a product to be designed by a focus group.

I do believe that books can be developed over time -- which is what interested me in this book. I've done it myself, with topics that I originally treated briefly, and then expanded on over time. But each generation was a complete work and could be used alone. With this book, I feel the author has abdicated his leadership role and left his homework for others to do."

What is your reaction to his comments?
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  • I’m curious
    I think from a traditional book point of view, his perspective is valid, and he makes some good points. However, I believe he makes his points too firm as his perspective is limited (to traditional).

    I believe the challenge of many media these days is providing timely information. O'Reilly publishing is a master at timely publishing --- especially for the technical topics. They built their business on rapid publishing of strong technical information --- usually from a domain expert (i.e., the topic is old hat for the expert).

    With this "Every Book is a Startup" topic, I feel like you're pushing the envelope further --- closer to a cross between a blog and a book. In other words, you're an expert in the field, but the topic has no experts --- so you're positioning yourself to become an expert pioneer specifically on that topic. And your early adopters will converse with you to solve the typical author's problem --- what are the resonant talking points? The conversation leads to the talking points to get the topic across.

    It's a bit like marketing --- how do you reach customers? Well, you talk with customers until you figure it out --- and then you prove the concept by applying the talk to a message for customers and see how it goes. Pioneering ideas seems similar to me.

    That said, I think this topic (and lack of continuity of the other conversations) has lost momentum on the other topics. I thought we had some pretty resonant topics and conversation. Now I'm wondering if that will come back.

    The other problem I have is that the author needs to resonate on those topics as well. I can see where the author may get inspiration from a conversation --- break off to write --- and when s/he comes back, the conversation has atrophied due to his/her absence. So what to do? Write the book, or maintain conversation --- even when it's a distraction from writing the book (or any other work)?

    -=-

    So I'm more interested in the activity here and how it produces a book (than in any critics at this point). In other words, I'm curious how you (as author) see this book relative to your other work, the conversations here, and how you'd like to see this space work for you?

    Cheers,

    = Joe =
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  • I must say I agree wholeheartedly with Aaron Shepard's assessment. This is an interesting experiment, but I'm not sure the completed book will have much value beyond what's in the existing chapters. And I found that of little value - nothing I can't get for free by reading blogs by people with more experience than I have.
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  • I have to agree that much of the thinking here could be found by surfing the blogs, but that's not the point. By buying into this book/project I hope that I don't have to spend time surfing through a gazillion posts on a gazillion blogs. I don't have the time and it's too much noise.

    My hope is that at the end of the book, the author, has been exposed to all of those pieces and filtered them. Then applying his experience has culled them into something applicable. I'm not here for an academic discussion on the future of books. I'm buying in so that I can spend my time better connecting with our readers and learn some new tactics and product ideas to better attract new readers.

    I'm looking for something I can use to make my work/life/products better. It's something that the author seems to grasp and is working towards. I don't need another book on the reflections/predictions of trends. Even one as well informed as this author's probably would be.

    So we'll just have to see how the book turns out... but then that's part of the fun of this project too.
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  • I don't think you can blame Aaron for approaching the project from the perspective of someone critiquing a traditional book.

    Books are the result of an extremely long process, and no one can really appreciate the amount of time, effort, and number of revisions it goes through. Published books are the result of a period of maturation - similar to the maturing process businesses go through over time.

    Mature businesses have their processes, their message, their presentation, etc. polished. When customers transact with them, it's smooth.

    True to the nature of the project, "Every Book is a Startup" is a venture in its early stages. Like young entrepreneurs still feeling out their market and what they're doing, the book is trying to find itself.

    "Who are we really serving? What do we provide? What's too much and what's too little? What's our message?" are all questions startup entrepreneurs ask as they go through the early stages of establishing their business.

    I don't think Todd's aim is " mere customer wish fulfillment" but rather trying to understand who the target user/reader is and how best to serve them. I also don't think "that new posts will be added according to requests by his readers." I think Todd has a definite vision for this book, but he's tempering (or perhaps a better word is "informing") his vision with user feedback.

    In other words, if this project were a software development company, the book might be the program Todd's developing and we early readers are seeing the alpha (not even beta) version of the product the company is developing.

    So I think one of Todd's primary questions (for other threads) is, as the internal or alpha testers, what's our feedback? What are the strengths and what are the weaknesses? Is the book/message/product on target? Does it even have the right target?

    Looking forward to more thought-provoking ideas.
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  • To be a little more out-of-box in thinking about this book...

    At one point, the discussion here seemed to be: What will next generation books look like, and can we do any of that here, now, on this book?

    Having said that, that phase was highly interactive by author and generated some radical comments (I thought) from readers. It was highly charged and promising. Since then, the posting has pretty much focused on Aaron's reasonable but uninspiring comment.

    The energy seems to have died with time.

    I think the early questions remain: What is a next generation book, and what of it can we discover, document, practice, and prove here (if any)?

    Personally, I found the early drafts very inspiring and well thought out, so I think Todd would make a great mentor for this process, and I look forward to the rest of the book, however it forms.
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  • Hi I have read this book and will be reviewing it for o'reilly. This is the first time I have read a 'work in progress'. I love the quality of the ideas and examples but for some reason it is a book I can keep my hands off. I am really interested in this topic.

    Some tips though :)
    I like Baekdal.com plus section. I think maybe the problem with the book for me is succinctness, which is where Baekdal works for me. A valuable chapter for me would be what is the difference, advantage (how it works) of lulu.com, project domino, kindle singles, self publishing, Issuu, smashwords. Is there a publisher out there who is doing things the way you suggest (a a vc type) and is it working? If this is the start of the curve there may not be a lot of documentary evidence. Glad you are writing this book though. It has lots of useful insights.

    regards
    Don Crowley
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