The schizophrenic blogger

That’s me, at least for the time being. Which is to say, I’m in two minds about blogging about my book, depending on whom I’ve asked for advice last.

The “pros”:

On one side, there is an army of tech-savvy, media-savvy, modern, sophisticated, worldly people who say to me: Blog! Bloooog! For book authors, obscurity is the enemy, not piracy, theft or plagiarism. So blog, build a community, learn from that community, and then let the community help you when the time comes to launch.

One person whose example sticks out in my mind, as I’ve mentioned before, is Chris Anderson. His first book, The Long Tail, began as an article in Wired (of which Chris is the editor), then became a book-deal, then a blog, and then, well, the book.

I ran into Chris the other day and asked him if he had any regrets at all, and Chris said Nope, blogging about the book has been entirely for the better. He’s actually learned a lot from his blog’s audience (“crowdsourcing” is the fancy new term for that), and it built buzz for the book’s launch.

Intellectually, Chris has also thought about giving entire books away, free, on blogs or otherwise, and this is becoming something of a micro-trend.

The book, it should be said, did rather well. On the other hand, I should also say that I personally, having read the original article and the blog (and finding Chris’s idea profound and spot-on), did feel that I didn’t need to read the book when it came out. I was comfortable that I already knew the ideas behind it very well.

Chris has a lot of support. Tim Sullivan, who is not my editor but an editor of books, at Basic Books as of this week, told me that:

I’m all for divulging in blog-length entries. You can really work through some issues, and I think that it encourages sales rather than depressing them (in most cases). I also think you end up with a better book, in the end, if you can generate involvement from a group of interested outsiders

Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (left) wrote their new book, Groundswell, using the blog to test and refine ideas and seem to have loved the process.

Jeff Howe (right) has been blogging his book Crowdsourcing, and using the blog in part, well, to crowdsource. (Meaning: to make “open calls” on the anonymous audience to contribute knowledge, in the hope that the best-qualified people may be hiding in the crowd.)

The “cons”:

My mom is a con. Now, it’s no fair poking fun at moms–they are the people whose intentions toward us are purest. So I won’t. I take her concerns seriously. And she has support: Virtually all of the, ahem, “older” people I know react with dread: Are you crazy? Somebody will steal your best ideas! You undermine the element of surprise! Don’t do it! If you must blog, don’t give anything good away.

Then, there is…

Everybody else:

That category, obviously, includes a lot of people. I’m in it myself. Among my colleagues at The Economist, for instance, there is Tom Standage, author of several books, the latest of which is A History of the World in Six Glasses (right). He is one of the most tech-savvy and media-savvy people in the world, and yet he resides slightly toward my mom’s end of the spectrum. He puts up a “teaser” about his book and some updates about the process–launch, book tour and such–but otherwise leaves it to the book itself to make the splash. I take his advice very seriously, especially since his genre of book and style of writing is much closer to mine than the tech-centered books above.

There is also Edward Lucas, who had a blog for many years before he sold his idea for a book on Russia, the New Cold War (left).

Ed says that yes, he did crowdsource. Exactly once, in fact. He had to fact-check a detail during pre-launch production, and put it out there. Within an hour, several people got back to him with the answer.

But beyond that, he says he did not give away much from the book on the blog, which he uses mainly as a personalized and running anthology of The Economist’s Russia coverage. When he tried to have discussion boards on individual chapters, the results were disappointing–”mostly Russians posting obscenities.” He thought about putting the introduction online, and maybe a few chapters, but then decided against it. “The book must promise that it gives you something you can get nowhere else,” he said to me.

And on and on. Everybody has a different view. Basically, nobody knows.

And that leaves me… schizophrenic. Which is not a good thing for a blogger. It’s like blogging with one arm tied behind your back–possible, but tedious.

Within the coming weeks, I will sort out my thoughts on this and decide one way or the other. You’ll know when that happens, because the blog will show it.


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