Archive for the 'Blogging' Category

Will “Linchpin” be the last book ANYBODY publishes in the traditional way? — Part 1

Seth Godin’s blog post yesterday was about how Linchpin, his wonderful book about how every person can become indispensable to a company or to a start-up,  by using his or her unique talents, is going to be the last book he is going to publish in the old, traditional way. It’s an eloquent argument for doing away with the traditional way of producing books and for his personal abandonment of the the publisher as a means of communicating with his audience. It’s worth reading because it’s as good a presentation of exactly what I am fighting against and defending as one is likely to see.

This should have been a day when I was certain that Seth Godin was wrong—when I saw a glimmer of light for books and I would feel an elation about the future of books. A good day for Book Templars–let me tell you why. I received the unexpected news that a book I had edited and on which I had work for a long, long time was going to actually exist as bound books on September 21 (September 21 of this year), which happens to be my birthday. The fact is, I had given up hope of ever seeing this book in print. It was a 992-page work on the full range of Religion in America (that’s its title) and I had actually handed it in for publication, completely ready for printing (my God!) two yeas ago. But now I’d been told that the publication date has been moved up—leaving me to wonder if this has something to do with the bizarre melodrama that’s very publicly playing out in the Boardroom of the publisher’s parent company—and book will be extant a week before the “big showdown” oat that company’s stockholders meeting.

All right—let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. Let’s take it and be overjoyed. A great day for books, and great day for  me and books, right? So please explain the following several items, some related to this book, and some related to some of the other publishing projects I’m involved in:

ITEM: When I got the news regarding Religion in America, I was in the process of calling the publisher to arrange for material to be sent to the production department that consisted of some corrections that came in from one of the religious organizations covered in the book. The religion covered had been reviewed already when we first handed in the book and it had been well reviewed. These corrections were either new information that reflected the last two years of developments, or errors that had cropped up in the production process itself. (Copy editors know that the very process of correcting proof creates the likelihood of new errors being introduced into the text, and that the best you can do is cut down the errors to a minimum. Like a precious gem, some flaws always remain, and anyone who believes a book is ever published without any errors is a damn fool.)

But this religious group had been very conscientious and I had agreed to try (with no guarantees) to accommodate them and enter their corrections, late as the process was. Since the book was originally not scheduled to be out until 2011, which meant it would not be going to press until October at the earliest (and since the corrections meant changes in only two or three pages, and no re-pagination—and since I would do the corrections myself and submit them on the publisher’s FTP site ready to go), I thought there’d be no problem. But I was wrong. The publishing of the book was hurried and the books were, in fact, already being bound. And now I would have to explain all this to the representatives of the religious group, who would be understanding, I know (they’ve always been so), but disappointed, as will I, for even the slightest error knowingly being contained in the book. (It’s one thing when you know there’s an error somewhere in the book; it’s another when you know exactly where and what it is.)

Now you know that this is going to bother me no end, and that every time I show anyone the book, I’ll (needlessly) point out the really good things about it—that it contains an essay by Pope Benedict XVI and by Greg Easterbrook from Wired magazine; that it contains some 400 illustrations; that it was thoroughly reviewed by every denomination as thoroughly as humanly possible—but I’ll also point out the few errors with this particular religion and tell people that “we just didn’t have time to enter the corrections because the printing was rushed because of the corporate problems that everybody heard about in the newspapers…what? You didn’t hear about it? Well, let me tell you…”

But it get’s worse. Wait till you see Part 2…tomorrow.


Blogging is Not as Easy as it Looks–Part 1

What could be so difficult? You just put down a few thoughts, spill your guts a little, and, voilá, you’ve got a blog. I’ve been at this for a few months now, and let me tell you, it’s not that easy.

First of all, you have a problem of what to say; and then you have the problem of having too much to say. And then you have the problem (or is it one of the gifts of the blog form?) of separating your life from the objective of the blog, and both of those from the work you do day in and day out.

As far as I can see, just about everyone’s life is filled with events and developments that pass by in a dizzying flash that one can hardly recognize while it’s happening. The beauty of the blog is its immediacy–the fact that you can record what you’re feeling at the moment, and that’s not always easy to know. Blogging forces a kind of introspection that is authentic because it’s “of the moment.”

Here are some guidelines that I found useful from Naked Conversations, a book by the masters of the form, Robert Scoble–author of the blog, —a blog with over 3 million readers—and Shel Israel, a guiding force at Sun Microsystems, and one of the developers of PowerPoint. They call this “The Corporate Weblog Manifesto,” and they seem to have last updated it on the blog back in 2003, when the list of principles stood at 20. But the book, published in 2006, contains 34 principles—hard to believe they haven’t updated it on the blog since then. The Manifesto—modified and renumbered to reflect the needs of personal blogging— appears below with my comments in bold italics (like a rabbinic gloss on an older text–you see that all the tme in the texts of Jewish law, near as I can remember). You might call this, then,


1. Tell the truth. The whole truth. Nothing but the truth. If the blog isn’t going to be a truthful reflection of what you’re really thinking, then you are losing its therapeutic value–and why do it? The problem is that the truth (as Herule Poirot says) is so hard to tell. How many meetings have I had where later my wife asks me, “so what happened?” and I have to admit, I’m not really sure. Figuring out what just happened or what is going on right in front of us–well, that’s the real trick, now, isn’t it?

2. Post fast on good news or bad. Someone say something bad about you? Link to it — before the second or third site does — and answer its claims as best you can. Same if something good comes out about you. It’s all about building long-term trust. The trick to building trust is to show up! If people are saying things about you and you don’t answer them, that distrust builds. Plus, if people are saying good things about your product, why not help Google find those pages as well? An enterprise I was involved in briefly two years ago (about which you’ll hear things from me and others over the next few weeks) was undone by the blogosphere criticism and displeasure. It was frustrating watching the ship sink while the “captain” and crew ignored the bloggers shouting from the shore why the boat was sinking–and being ignored. The fatal flaw was obvious to many people–but the bloggers made no secert about it. Ignoring or overlooking them turned out to be an arrogant mistake.

3. Use a human voice. Don’t get others and PR professionals to cleanse your speech. We can tell, believe me. Plus, you’ll be too slow. If you’re the last one to post, the joke is on you! Don’t worry about having a messy blog from time to time. If we don’t see a messy blog from time to time, we’ll start to wonder if you’re really human. This may be the most important principle—it’s the one that defines the blog’s personality. It’s also the part of blogging that seems the most narcissistic. Think about it: you’re writing down your personal thoughts in what is in some ways a personal journal, only other people can read it. So it’s not simply a personal journal. You’re not likely to jot down notes about how you feel and the weather, which you might sometimes in a personal diary. Who would care? I know some bloggers do just that, and that seems to be the most pathetic form of blogging. Interest in such a blog is voyeuristic in the extreme, and doing it is similarly the height of narcissism. (Incidentally, I am getting over a cold and it seems to be raining outside. Thought you might like to know.)

4. Make sure you support the latest software/web/human standards. If you don’t know what RSS feeds are, find out. If you don’t know what other bloggers are doing, find out. If you don’t know how Google works, find out. This is a tough one, especially if you’re not all that technology-savvy (i.e., that much of a tech-geek). Fortunately, I have, and rely on, several other people, most notably my wife, Ilana, to keep me up to date. How do you think I found out about this in the first place? Of course, one of the things that puzzles me is this: every technology makes way for some other technology sooner or later–records make way for CDs which make way for iPods; movie theaters are cut into by DVDs and downloads and home theaters; etc. So why aren’t the technomavens concerned that this technology is going to be replaced by something else, and someday somebody is going to flick a swith and everything will be lost? But they don’t seem to be concerned about this at all. How come?

5) Have a thick skin. Even if you have the worlds greatest product or idea (back in 2003, the blog had here: Bill Gates’ favorite product ), people will say bad things about it. That’s part of the process. Don’t try to write a blog unless you are willing to take a shot at answering all questions — good and bad — professionally, quickly, and nicely. We’re just at the beginning of the process, so I can’t say if this is feasible or not—but it seems right and we’ll certainly give it the ol’ college try. Right now, we are trying to develop a concept we call “A-List Media Group”–simply put, it calls for the integration of the internet with print and books by creating blogs and websites connected to every book (not always one-to-one; sometimes several books are connected to a website.) I hope to get into the theory of this much more in future posts, but the first reacton of people who know me is that I have joined the other side in the book-internet war. Why I don’t see it this way is something we’ll discuss, but for now, I want to leave you with the principle I am working under (one of my “articles of faith”): the book is going to be the savior of the internet, and the internet is going to be the savior of books. (“What the hell’s he talking about?” I hear you saying, or the classic comeback, “And what WE want you to do is just leave.” But this will take some explaining. I hope you and I are up to it.)

6) Don’t ignore the Blogosphere Seek out as many grassroots news sources as possible so that you know what’s being disdussed in areas of interest to you. In this area—books and publishing—that list for me runs to about a dozen sites. I check them regularly and we’ll get to them frequently during the course of the blog. In fact, commenting on what’s going on in that community is one sure and productive way of maintaining a steady—and useful—stream of material. It also gives me the sense that I am providing anyone who takes the trouble to read all this with some kind of service.

7) Talk to the grassroots first. Why? Because the main-stream press is cruising weblogs looking for stories and looking for people to use in quotes. If a mainstream reporter can’t find anyone who knows anything about a story, he/she will write a story that looks like a press release instead of something trustworthy. People trust stories that have quotes from many sources. They don’t trust press releases. For this principle to be important, you have to be well into the blogging enterprise and deep into the blogging world. But since blogging’s lifeblood is optimism, it will come into play sooner or later.

8. If you screw up, acknowledge it. Fast. And give us a plan for how you’ll unscrew things. Then deliver on your promises. For me, this means acknowledging errors of fact. So far, no one has pointed out any, at least not any I’d agree were errors. But I’m certain that will change. In defending books and promoting book publishing and reading, I think a lot of novel ideas are going to have to be explored and tried–and that means many false starts and dismal failures along the way. That’s inevitable. (I think Kindle is going to be just such a disaster, though I fundametally like the idea of an electronic book.)

9) Underpromise and over deliver. If you’re going to ship on March 1, say you won’t ship until March 15. Folks will start to trust you if you behave this way. Look at Disneyland. When you’re standing in line you trust their signs. Why? Because the line always goes faster than its says it will (their signs are engineered to say that a line will take about 15% longer than it really will). For me, this has more to do with the long-range goals of Book Templars, which, if you’ll recall, is to defend books and, more locally, restore the book culture to its prominence, at least in New York, by reviving the book fair that was once known as “New York is Book Country”—We’re now calling it “New York is Still Book Country” and one of the ongoing elements of this soap opera is to keep you informed on how this is going.

10) Know the information gatekeepers. Know the mavens, salemen and connecors of your marketplace. If you can’t connect to them in a crisis, you shouldn;t try to keep a corporate bog. (oh, and they better know how to get ahold of you since they know when you’re under attack before you do). I find this one also difficult: It means that a certain level of socialization is required, but it seems to me that blogging stems out of the solitary part of our lives. As I write this, it’s 5:30 in the morning. Who am I going to call? But I guess it means I am going to have to communicate with the bloggers through comments and e-mails, and that has always seemed to me presumtuous and even a little indecent. Let me ask you this: Have you seen the movie “You’ve Got Mail”? Remember how in the end it turns out that the Tom Hanks character is the person the Meg Ryan character has been e-mailing all along and falling in love with, only he’s the owner of a rival boostore that drove her out of buisness? Remmeber the final scene where she arranges to meet her mystery man in Riverside Park and it turns out to be Hanks? Well, is it just me or is her reaction (“I was really hoping it would be you.”) not completely whacko? My reaction on seeing this, “Call a cop, lady!”

Those are the first ten principles–in a day or so, we’ll go over the next ten, and I’ll add a few of my own. Ciao.

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