This is the first of what may be several introspective posts that others may or may not find too introspective to be worthwhile. Consider yourself warned.
Write What You Want
A colleague–one of the many LSW-FF folks who I’ve learned from, argued with and generally counted on to keep me from turning into a complete hermit–said a while back that I should just take on those projects that really interest me, ‘cuz (and I’m paraphrasing here) there was no plausible way to anticipate whether anybody else would find them worth doing or the results worth paying for.
It was good advice. I sometimes remember to take it. That and other advice convinced me to drop the Liblog and library blog series as just not being worth the effort.
The last two books in the Liblog series are still available–The Liblog Landscape 2007-2010 and But Still They Blog: The Liblog Landscape 2007-2009–and, for that matter, The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008 is still available on Amazon (the CreateSpace edition).
You could say that I ran the Liblog series into the ground. I probably wouldn’t argue the point. I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a tenth-anniversary look (my first, very partial, examination of liblogs was in 2005, so that would be next year, 2014, although I could also wait until 2016 or 2017 and use 2007 as a starting point), but it’s really unlikely that I’ll do it. Blogs are old hat (still useful, but part of the background) and it would be a lot more work than it’s worth.
That’s partly a digression (something I specialize in, especially in blog posts) but it also suggests that there’s a little more to the equation than just “write what I want.”
Important, useful, used, interesting, fun
Thus the formulation in the post title–and I’ve added a fifth element: fun.
As I’m looking back at what I’ve been doing and consider what I might do, assuming that nobody comes swooping in with an offer that makes guaranteed dollars a significant part of the equation, I think it boils down to these five elements to answer two questions:
- Is X worth [investigating or writing about]?
- If the answer to X is yes, how should the results appear?
#2 could be stated as a multiple-choice test: Should the results appear as…
- One or more Friendfeed or LSW-Friendfeed items?
- One or more blog posts?
- A single or multipart essay in Cites & Insights?
- A self-published book?
- A commercially-published book?
- Some combination of the above
When it comes to the third, fourth and fifth possibilities, another set of questions–much less easy to answer than the first two–come into play:
- Will it be well-read?
- If it’s self-published, will it draw enough sales to make it worth the trouble?
- If the intent is for it to be commercially published, will a publisher find it salable–and will they be right?
I may get back into the “self-published vs. commercially-published” issue in a later post–it’s complicated, as it also involves my lack of marketing expertise and the status of self-published books.
(I was reminded again of the special role of self-publishing in Christopher Harris’ column **see below** today at The Digital Shift in which he basically writes off all self-published books as worthless, especially since there are so many traditionally-published books. Yes, he’s talking about school libraries, but it’s still a pretty sneering look at anything other than Big Traditional Publishers, especially as he explicitly equates “so-called independent publishers” with self-publishing. Oh, and seems to say that “adult fiction” is automatically erotica, and that’s what “so-called independent publishers” are all about. He may be talking about K12 but he explicitly generalizes his lesson to all libraries: “I just can’t believe that self-publishing is ever going to be the next big thing for libraries. Not when there are so many other great books still waiting to be read from the expert and established publishers with whom we already work.” Thanks a lot, Christopher.)
Anyway: One way to recast the set of questions that I probably should explicitly ask myself is this. I’ll offer this, then–for the sake of (hah!) brevity–just give one example. Later, if I’m inspired, I’ll come back to some other cases and the questions that arise.
As with most of my blog posts, this one isn’t even getting the level of self-editing that C&I and my Lulu books get. It’s stream-of-blather, which is like stream of consciousness but following a really good lunch.
- If X is fun but not very important, and not fun enough to attract paying readers, it belongs in C&I (and doesn’t deserve a lot of time).
- If X is interesting but not something people will find directly useful, it probably belongs in C&I. (I have explicit examples of that.)
- If X is clearly useful and really too long or Big for C&I, it probably belongs as a book–but “useful” doesn’t guarantee “used” (and purchased).
- When something seems important but it’s not clear how directly useful my treatment can be–then the questions are really difficult.
As noted, future posts may deal with examples of several of these and other permutations. For now, I’ll look at the current case–one that I’m 100% certain is important, 90% certain is useful, much less certain will be widely purchased and read, and that is too big for C&I.
Namely, The Big Deal and the Damage Done. [That's the $16.50 paperback. Here's a link to the $9.99 PDF ebook, having the same no-DRM policy my PDFs have always had.]
Important? Absolutely. (For more info, read the post introducing it–it really has been out only five days since I announced it!]
Interesting? I think so, or I wouldn’t have done it.
Useful? That’s up to readers; I believe that knowing the details of the situation is useful.
Used/read? We’ll see. It’s off to a plausible start–a couple of sales a day, mostly ebooks, which is fine with me (in some ways, the PDF is a superior version, since it has color in the graphs).
Would it have made sense for a traditional publisher? I honestly don’t see how, especially given timing issues. Nor would I be willing to try to convince a publisher that they could sell, say, 600-800 copies at $45 a shot.
Which then leads to a question that came up this weekend: What would it take to make the book freely available (in ebook form)–that is, downloadable for $0.00 rather than $9.99?
If I was doing sponsored research–being paid up-front–the question might not arise: I’d be delighted to see it made freely available. My best guess, trying to estimate the time I spent on the report, is that about $4,000 worth of work (at a relatively cheap consulting/contractor rate) was involved.
If some group offered me $4,000 to make the book available for free in PDF form, I’d probably take it. And, significantly (especially if there was another guaranteed sum), I’d almost certainly do the 2012 followup that may or may not be more depressing and even more important.
But that’s just the latest example–one where I’m nearly certain the publication is important and should be read by quite a few people, but can’t show how it would be directly useful to their everyday life.
Was it fun to do? Well, it was interesting…and there’s another project still very much up in the air, which, if I do it, would benefit from the experience of doing this one.
Anyway, that’s the end of the musing for today. More later. Maybe tomorrow, maybe later this week, maybe weeks or months from now…
1,258 words. A really good editor could turn this into a nice crisp 200 words, I suspect. Hooray for good editing!
**Re the Harris column, on rereading it for a third time: Yes, he’s primarily talking about K12 libraries, and yes, they have different problems, but he still throws in some unwarranted generalizations and, in his final paragraph, certainly seems to be referring to all libraries. I’ll certainly be warned against ever trying to do anything that addresses school library issues, if Harris’ attitude is typical–but I wasn’t likely to do that anyway.