Book Extraction (supplying the long tail)

BooksHere’s an idea for a start up. It’s called "Book Extraction." It’s a way of getting books out of people who’ve got books in ’em.

There are lots of people who should be writing books. I meet them often. They are smart and observant. They have lived fascinating lives and they have been paying attention and, sometimes, taking notes.

In a perfect world, we would give them a sabbatical. Six months later they would give us a book.

But this isn’t a perfect world, and even if it were, writing is hard. Part of the problem here is that we insist on a sensationally odd production model. This says that books come from single individual locked in a garret somewhere communing with gods who may or may not want to have anything to do with them.  From this model, an almost unlimited amount of misery has come and legions and legions of creative lives have been wasted.  There has to be a better way.

I give you "Book Extraction." Book extraction says, here’s a team of people to help the author:

1. draw out and work up content

2. find an order for this content, an architecture

3. find an expression for the content, a rhetoric

This should be done on a strict brain storming basis. The author goes into a room with smart, experienced people who put themselves entirely at the author’s disposal. (Check egos at door.) The idea is to find the best book this person has in them. Solicitude is the order of the day.

The title of the start up, Book Extraction, is deliberately coarse. We do not think, and we do not like to think, about books as something extracted. The point is to emphasize the pragmatic quality of the exercise. What the group cannot get by solicitude, it will get by force.

Pragmatisim must win over solicitude because as we know the chances of actually completing a book are very, very low. Many books are called, few are chosen. And there is a rule of thumb that I recall from my dissertation days: the longer it takes, the longer it takes. (Less economically: the longer it takes to write a thesis, the longer it is going to take.) Any hesitation, uncertainty, resistance, ambivalence will multiply, and before long the student is carrying all these burdens in his or her quest for the perfect thesis. We could also put this in the form of a offering at the shrine of St. George: your thesis is a dragon. You must slay it before it slays you.

All of this is to say that Book Extraction means to get the job done even when this means we must depart from the model of the tortured artist in his or her garrett. When I regaled Pam with this notion, she said, "Oh, like a book boot camp. Not a spa." "Exactly!" I said as if this was not vastly better than anything I had come up with. (But of course it is.)

Book Extraction should be designed to take 2.5 days. The author arrives Friday around noon and gets on a plane Sunday night. He or she leaves with a very clear outline and the work of supplying everything that stands between this outline and a finished book. Further editorial interventions are available, but really the most agonizing work is done.

There are lots of questions: how does BE add value that ghost writers and co-writers do not or cannot, how large is the universe of authors, how practical is the model, how much would people resent/resist extraction.  How much could we charge?  How much would we make?  How much fun would this be?  These are all key.  If I hadn’t spend all day in the city ignoring my writing, I would take them up. 

The larger issue, I think, is this. Now that we have a long tail distribution system, it’s time to fill it. The industry has just removed its chief barriers to entry. Now, if we can just remove the other entry costs, we will see many more than a 100 poppies bloom. 

11 thoughts on “Book Extraction (supplying the long tail)

  1. Ennis

    Do you think that the hardest part is the outline or the writing? Should a team of ghost writers be employed as a second stage follow up? What kind of work would we get out of this? It’s my impression that anytime I try to tackle a big idea in a short amount of time, I end up with something shallow. The key, for me, for making an incisive contribution is iteration and reflection. Without that all we get are … well … the kinds of books ghost written for celebrities now. Methinks this might work far better for shorter pieces (or maybe even chapters) than whole books. Then again, I’ve never been published, so what do I know?

  2. Grant

    Ennis, You have struck on a way to talk about the difference between BE and the ghost writers: that the former are not working with people because they are famous but because they are interesting (rarely, the same thing). So it can’t be a matter of taking dictation and artful arrangement. BE should be staffed by people who a) begin with formidable owers of “book recognition” and b) have the advantage of a little distance. I am guite sure I have a couple of books in me that I cannot see as such. (Literary stowaways, as it were.) BE editors (BEditors?) can see the forest because they don’t really know the trees. Thanks, Grant

    Tom, I know you are working on something, but clearly you have gifts of conceptualization and writing that make BE quite unnecessary! Thanks, Grant

  3. dilys

    It’s a variation on the continuum of work done by lots of us here to extract the essentials of a story, dress it in shining raiment, and send it on a mission.

    A ghost-writing&editing follow-up on the extraction, or an associated shape&theme-teaming, as per Ennis, is probably called for. Where “extraction” is really useful is concept > direction/organization > and bad-rough-draft onto paper, brainstorm-weird / semi-literate sentence by sentence, or at least on the level of paragraph topic-sentences. (Writing isn’t so much ideas, as words in a sequence. Writing-as-ideas is where the paralysis lurks.)

    Like Tom, I’m poised for this! My resume includes a 24-hour emergency extraction/construction of a third-year paper at Harvard Law School for/with a classmate threatened with postponed graduation. Pen in hand, I’m a living JustDoIt logo (digital animation extra).

    My current process obsession is the extreme pragmatic usefulness of the Myers Briggs. Some thought from that realm should go into the teaming, and the match with the extractee. Teamwork for this would ideally be highly compatible, ecstatically high-energy and seamless, not collapse into internecine differences, arguments, and premature good taste.

    Happily, premature good taste is never a problem at our shop.

  4. Steve Portigal

    My goodness, this is brilliant.

    I wonder if there is a communal version that could be formed, I guess online, more than a typical forum to pose queries and get encouragment, but with an interface that moves through some specific stages, brings all the online interfaces needed to get it, and establishes community membership types (guru, mentor, leader, facilitator, etc.) – you could pay into the system to get services, or you could perform other services to get credit.

    I could probably start by helping the extraction process for others, and then throw myself into it when I had some credit.

    God knows I need something like this (either version).

    Take all the “how to get an agent” “how to get published” stuff OUT of the equation and make it about getting a book WRITTEN.

    I love it. This got me very excited.

  5. Peter

    I began my management consulting life running bid teams for large telecoms licence applications. Here you had, oh, between 10 and 100 “authors”, people with technical expertise necessary for the bid document (telecom engineers, marketers, lawyers, regulatory experts, financial guys, etc). Most of these folks have a story, sometimes a very good one, but almost none of them can write to save their life (the lawyers were the exception).

    Our job was to extract their stories, make the stories cohere, dress them in spin appropriate to the culture of the country, match the stories + spin to what the government evaluators were looking for, add diagrams, print the whole goddam thing, and hand it in before the deadline. (No reason for being early in most places, since you did not want your bid to leak to competitors, nor run the risk of late changes to the requirements. Handing in close to the deadline, though, led to some hair-raising near-misses due to late planes, computer viruses, etc.)

    Instead of a weekend, we usually had longer — between 1 and 6 months. The longest bid I worked on was 7,000 pages long (times 20 copies). It was sheer hell!!! I loved it!

  6. Brian Hawkins

    “The longer it takes, the longer it takes.”

    Too true. I wrote about half of my 178-page dissertation over 5 months, and the other half over about 3 weeks. Guess which half I did first?

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