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.