Time Stamp Replaces Page Number

I had been wondering lately if we needed a different way to quantify the length of a book given the variability of the digital experience.

There is no way really to tell how long a book is going to be when you download it electronically. Weight and thickness have disappeared. The screens you read on are smartphone small to desktop big.

And it struck me: time is the standard for digital products.

I wrote a whole essay on the subject for Publishing Perspectives, which they posted today.

I hope you’ll check it out.

What I Read – January 2011

I spend an enormous amount of time reading. This is something that I already knew, but I decided to track my reading more closely as a sort of New Year’s resolution. First, I want to better see the number and types of books that passed through my hands and secondly, I wanted to better assess the amount of time I was spending on this particular task.

I started using Daytum, the tool created by designer Nicholas Felton, well known for his elaborate yearly reports of his personal activities, and interactive designer Ryan Case. The service has a simple system of items and categories. With each item, you can create an entry with a quantity that gets time-stamped The service has an iPhone app that syncs with the web. You can input data using either method. And website lets you display your data in an insightful array of views.

Here is a sample of what I learned about my January reading habits:

  • I read 1577 pages in 19 different books.
  • I read on average 52.5 pages per day.
  • My average time between reading was 1 day, 4 hours.
  • The mix of the books based on release date was:
    • Backlist – 3
    • Current – 11
    • Upcoming – 5
  • I read a greater quantity of pages at the beginning of the month, but was pretty consistent with the number of books I read through January.

The biggest learning for me was the realization of how much reading I am doing. I spend between one and two hours a day just taking inputs in the form of reading books. That’s around 25% of my work day. That has also made me realize that I need to focus on spending the other parts of my day in creating outputs and telling others about what I have found.

As for books to recommend, I am still high on Practically Radical by Bill Taylor (my Idea Arena podcast is here). This is a book for everyone who wants to see how large organizations can change.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek was a book I came back to over a year after its release and really liked. His premise is simple but the material he used to support his thesis is rich. The pitch is directed toward leaders. I found good application for anyone who is trying to communicate a message.

The Price of Everything by Eduardo Porter was good, but the book didn’t get past interesting for me. Business books need utility and I had a hard time finding it in this one.

It’s All In The Frame

Both of these books appeared in my mailbox this week.

Both of these books are about solving similar problems–about completion and what keeps us from getting there. The promised solutions though are very different.

Piers Steel wants to recognize all of the things that have been stopping you from doing and deal with your delaying. Russell Bishop wants you to find a new way through your cluttered and complicated life.

Now let me ask two questions: which one would you pick up based on the cover? And, which one do you think will sell better in the long term?

The framing of the book is everything and the number of people who can identify with the problem as well as the solution will tell you a lot about how well a book will do. The frame is not the only thing, but it certainly determines the size of the prospect pool for the book.

The Very Best Business Books in 2010: A Compiled List

With 800-CEO-READ’s announcement of Rework as their Business Book of The Year, we can officially close out the year that was 2010.

To try and make sense of all the year-end selections various sources made over the course of the last 60 days, I decided to put together a spreadsheet to see if there was any agreement about what shined brighter than the rest.

The methodology was simple: each selection at each source got one vote. Nineteen sources were used in the compilation (see sources below).

The top business book was The Big Short by Michael Lewis, garnering 12 votes of the 19 votes possible. Opinions diverged quickly with the Heath Brothers’ Switch pulling in nine votes and Tony Hsieh’s Delivering Happiness and Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From both getting seven votes.

Here a list of the top vote getters in the business books for 2010:

A Google spreadsheet with all 147 books and the votes they received can be found here.

Sources: Todd Sattersten, 800-CEO-READ, Amazon’s Customer Favorites, Amazon’s Editor Picks, Bloomberg, CNBC, Economist, FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of The Year Short List, Fortune, Globe and Mail, Inc Magazine, The Leading Blog, Library Journal, Miami Herald, National Federation of Independent Businesses, NPR Marketplace, Tom Peters, Strategy+Business Magazine, University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business.

How Authors Can Use Twitter To Help Others

Chris Brogan wrote this week about using Twitter as a real-time prospecting tool as an author. In his case, he was looking for people who were at Barnes & Noble and might be interested in his book Trust Agents. This is great example of how authors could be using Twitter. Is there a more opportune moment to talk to a reader then when they are standing in front of hundreds of books?

In his Database of Intentions, John Batelle describes sites like Twitter and Facebook as collectors for “What I’m Doing?” and “What’s Happening?” For authors, these sites also capture the frustration of the moment; what someone is not doing or what is not happening. This gives authors another place to engage people whose problems they can help solve.

I have a saved search on Twitter for “business” and “books.” This smaller view of tweet does two things. First, I can see people asking for help on what books they should be reading.

This was a tweet I saw from JoAnn Jordan this morning:

201101130716.jpg

Here was my response:

201101140911.jpg

The link directed her to my website for my best of 2010 blog post. In some cases, I directly people to the list from The 100 Best Business Books of All Time. In either case, that exposes them to me and how I can help if they run across the problem of figuring what what business book they should read next.

The second part is that by listening to what people are saying on Twitter it also shows me what others are sharing as their solutions. JoAnn in her tweet above provides both a solution and a query for more help. Being able to see reviews and lists of businesses books people are sharing lets me share those with others.

Let me also give you two caveats to think about. First, search results are noisy. Some people specifically target keywords to create spam. Sometimes, the context is completely out of place. But even with the noise, I can look through the results for the past day in a couple of minutes and respond or forward posts.

The second is timeliness. Much more than a day and the strength of the intention falls dramatically. I have to treat checking my search results like looking through your email first thing every morning. And email is a good analogy. On Twitter there are a set of people asking for your help. With a little monitoring , you can connect with more people and let’s you help solve their problems.

Trends in Publishing for 2011

JWT has a interesting Slideshare presentation called 100 Things to Watch in 2011. There are a number of their points that could relate back to the world of business book publishing.

Jwt-100-things-to-watch-2011

#14 – Breaking the Book: This is the most important publishing idea in the deck, and I am not sure we have even seen how this will play out. Ebooks are already change our value perception of how much we will play for the written word. Chapters are already being sold like tracks on an album. Expect more atomization to satisfy all the types of interest under the demand curve.

#18 – Children's E-books: This is interesting but I haven't seen the killer app here yet. I have young children, we have tried a number of these and it feels like we in publishing can do better than simply adding some touch activated animation.

#30 – E-book Sharing: I don't buy that this is something to be excited about. I don't even think you can call it sharing given the constraints of time and device.

#47 – Long-Form Content: 100% with this one. Longreads is my one of my favorite sites right now.

#62 – Objectifying Objects: Books, magazines, and newspapers still matter in many contexts.

#75 – Scanning Everything: I believe people want to stay in the media form they are consuming. When newspapers asking people to crossover to the web doesn't work well. I am wondering out loud if QR codes and smartphones are the right combo to make a better connection. Nick Bilton experimented with that in his book this year, but the extras weren't super great.

#83 – Social Objects: This plays to the idea that books should be more than just the words written. Where was the book read? Who has already owned this copy? What made them give it up? What did they think of it and what else was going on in their lives when it spent time with them? How often did they pick it up to read it? Notice these are all ideas beyond the data that the Kindle can capture from our reading pattern. These all have to do with the book as a physical object and the greater context for how it fit into our lives.

#93 – Transmedia Producers: This is another opportunity for business books authors. How do you make the book a point along a greater story arc?

#YearInReview

My year started with some big questions about what was next and in May, a trip to Oregon answered many of those questions.

Seth started a shipping meme yesterday. Here is a list of what I shipped, a list I am very proud of.

Happy New Year!

The Top 10 Business Books of 2010

2010 had several books worthy of your attention. Chances are you have only read one or two of these and I would encourage you to go back and pick up one or two more.

Let’s start with a book that was published in December 2009, but really found its legs in 2010. In Drive, Dan Pink’s latest riff on the future of work, he argues that the methods of motivation we used during the Industrial Revolution do not work well in the Information Revolution. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are at the core of his Motivation 3.0. Think of Drive is a prompt. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote, there are even more interesting possibilities to consider. [I interviewed Pink in March]

The sophomore effort from the Heath Brothers arrived in January. Switch answered the question so many readers were asking Dan and Chip -“Making ideas sticky is important, but how do we create meaningful change?” Their metaphoric trinity of the elephant, the rider, and the path showed how emotion, rationality, and systems play a role each individually and interact with one another to subvert the changes we hope for. [I interviewed Chip in January.]

Also in January, Seth Godin came out his fourteenth book called Linchpin. The increased trim size and longer page count was a significant departure from his recent efforts. Godin has said that this is the most important book he has written, showing his readers how to work in a world where the old rules are breaking down. He again takes simple words like art and gifts, and redefines what they mean. Linchpin sits alongside Purple Cow and Tribes as Godin’s best work. [I interviewed Seth in January].

I had a particular interest in pricing this year as I was writing Fixed to Flexible and two 2010 books influenced me. Rafi Mohammed’s The 1% Windfall covers 40 pricing tactics in detail and provides a broader framework for how they fit into an overall pricing strategy. William Poundstone takes a different approach in Priceless and demonstrates skill at retelling the history the field of behavioral economics and at the same time taking the reader on a journey across a myriad of topics ranging from from psychophysics to prospect theory to menu design. [I did interviews with both Rafi Mohammed and William Poundstone.]

Youngme Moon wrote a book that whose approach matched its title: Different. The book is written as a personal reflection on marketing as much as it is a business book. Moon actively sheds the position of authority. She asks the reader to consider the same things she sees and draw their own conclusion. The student-teacher approach is incredibly refreshing in a business book world of quick-fixes and absolutely certain answers. [I talked with Youngme for almost two hours several months after the book came out, and she wouldn’t let me record any of it 🙂 ]

The Mesh is another book that like Drive describes a fundamental shift. Author Lisa Gansky makes the case for how technology is changing our view of ownership and that sharing will become much more commonplace. Mobile communications are allowing us to declare our location and in return we can find out what restaurant close by has an open table or how many blocks will it take to return the closest ZipCar. eBay and Craiglist have long been sharing centers for unwanted possessions. Couchsurfing and RelayRides lets you share your living room or automobile with someone who needs it. The Mesh is as big an insight as Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. [I interviewed Lisa in November]

The Big Short is Michael Lewis’s account of the economic collapse we experienced over the last few years. He starts his latest narrative saying that his first book Liar’s Poker was intended to be his only book on Wall Street, fully expecting the practices he saw 20 year ago would cause the industry to implode within a couple of years. But same attitudes persisted and in many ways were rewarded. Lewis follows three groups that take bets against the mortgage market and he deftly explain how difficult those bets were without the hindsight we have today. The Big Short is not the only book you should read on the economic events of the last couple of years, but I guarantee it is the one you will enjoy the most.

In the search for better ideas than we have seen, Steven Johnson take his decade of writing about science and focuses it on the genesis of the best ideas. The prompts in Where Good Ideas Come From are familiar bromides (keep a journal, go for a walk, make mistakes, have hobbies, hang out with others), but the depth of analysis and richness of the stories he tells, reminds us again to do all of those things that we have been meaning to do, because innovation is not a clear path from A to B.

And that makes Gamestorming a perfect book to end with. Author Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo pull together is best exercises to help us get from point A to a very fuzzy point B. The book provides over 80 games that can be used in generate ideas, explore ideas, and decide which idea move us closer. The book also describes the qualities games have so that readers can develop their own games to match the situation.

Which Ones Have You Read?

My wife found a copy of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time on eBay for $5.00, so we decided to buy it.

We knew it was used but it really has been used! The previous owner had read 10 selections, was in the process of reading two books and had three more on deck.

Which have you read?

While most purchasers would have been disappointed, I rejoiced at seeing someone’s interactions with The 100 Best. The blue ink shows Jack and I were successful in engaging the reader to examine what they knew and what they wanted to know.

What more could any author ask for?

Seth’s New Company Continues Big Week in Publishing

Yesterday, Seth Godin announced his new venture The Domino Project powered by Amazon. There is a blog post that philosophically describes his move into publishing (or actually back into publishing; he was a book packager in a past life) and a FAQ page to cover some of the details.

Seth is making some distinctive bets:

  • Amazon is a large enough platform to support a publishing company.
  • Speed matters.
  • The distance between creator and receiver needs to shrink.
  • Distribution should be global from Day One.
  • Digital matters just as much as print (maybe more).
  • Books still matter.

Most publishing professionals would say they agree with most of these too (except the Amazon point), but no one has made as big a move as Seth toward solving those problems (with the exception of a handful like Richard Nash’s Cursor).

Using A Different P-word for Platform

If you want to write a business book and have it published, you won’t get very far into a conversation with an agent or editor without the word ‘platform’ coming up.

Right after you explain your idea, they’ll start to ask you to describe to the consulting business you have built, the clients you have worked with, the speaking you are doing, the size of your email list, and the number of Twitter followers you have. As you do that, those folks are constructing the size and reach of your platform in their head.

And it may sound strange but they want to estimate how many books they think YOU can sell. Business books are somewhat unique in that their authors generally arrive with people ready to buy their book and your platform dictates how many copies that might be.

Now lately, I have been writing about how the words we use matter. Platform is an interesting word to use in this instance. The term implies an author’s platofrm can be built, that it is sturdy, and the platform raises the author above others around her. The trouble is that platform is a emotionally neutral term, something we can talk about without anyone getting uncomfortable. The word has a jargony feel to it.

What we are really getting at when we talk about platform are things like this:

  • How in demand are you as a media source in your area of expertise?
  • How sought-after are you as a keynote speakers at industry events?
  • How commercial is the idea you are trying publish?
  • How marketable are you as an authority on this topic?
  • Does this proposal feel like the next cool, big thing?

All the terms highlighted above are thesaurus alternatives for the word that fits the real question. Agents and editors want to know about your popularity.

Popularity is about your following, your tribe, your cult. The word popular comes from the Latin popularis or ‘people.’ You can’t avoid the emotion when you talk about the topic using these sorts of terms. Robert Cialdini’s book Influence is a one framework for thinking about how to build popularity.

What I also like about popularity is the word carries some negative connotations in American culture. We are forced to think back to high school and being in or out of the cool crowd. Many authors don’t like the effort and attention popularity requires and brings. They prefer to write books that magically find an audience. You also can’t avoid the fleeting nature of being trendy and fashionable when you use the wordpopularity, something that is counter to the concept of platform.

If an agent or editor asked you “How popular are you?” would that change what you were doing now? And is it possible to become popular without sacrificing other values that you hold? Both of those questions are very important in considering your approach to publishing.

What Business Book Hasn’t Been Written?

I was reading a short piece written by Neil Robertson, the CEO of Trada, for the book Do More Faster this morning. Here are the first few paragraphs:

I first gave a talk about product management at TechStars during the summer of 2008. One of the things that I said that night caught the attention of all the founders, and we ended up talking about it for hours: “As long as I listen to my customers, I never need to have another original idea.”

It’s a simple concept. Go get customers, then listen. It really can be that simple.

The ability to listen is an important skill for any startup founder. We’re all accustomed to trying to persuade people to try our products, to invest in our companies, or to listen to what we have to say. If you’re doing that with customers, you’re doing it backwards.

Too many startups build things that they think their customers will want. If you’re looking for creative ideas that can make your company better, simply spend time with your customers. It’s not rocket science, but I’m always surprised by how few companies are really good at doing this.

I started thinking about how this might apply to publishing.

Philosophically, this is what editors do in the acquisitions process. They are looking for books that customers will buy, based on everything from past sales of books they have published to the popularity of the author to what is appearing in the haze of their zeitgeist.

The trouble in book publishing is one of both time and distance. Editors are shooting at a target 24 months in the future when they sign authors and their ideas. And publishers are often separated from the customers with the intermediaries of distributors and retailers, a chain which further lengthens the time before a publisher knows if a book is successful.

As authors more and more make the decision to self-publish their works, they are reducing both time and distance between them and the reader. While many authors cite control as the reason for going alone, what they should be considering is listening to what readers are saying and publishing two, three, or even four times inside the window of what would it would taken to have a single book published with a traditional publisher, AND THEN going the commercial route with a tribe of followers and a clear idea of what concepts would work for a broader audience.

There is an awful lot of educated guessing that goes on in book publishing and it just seems like getting a little closer to the person with the problem what help us figure out what book needs to be written.

Business Books In The News – Nov. 29th 2010