IUUI 4 followup

So what about Mostly Just Numbers: Coping with Everyday Statistics, discussed in this post?

Since that post, there’s been only one additional email or comment–and it’s a comment on the post from someone whose opinion I respect. I’ll quote it here in full:

I was pretty down with this until I got to the page count. Also, I expect “Excel” will drive off a lot of people. But 200 pages about statistics is a hard sell.

The “Excel” part, which only appears in chapter titles in the Librarian’s Extension portion, is more-or-less essential–that whole section is about how to use the tools you’re most likely to be familiar with to derive useful information from the very large datasets on public and academic libraries produced by IMLS and NCES. Those datasets aren’t in Excel form: They’re Access databases (or flat files that I find impenetrable).

I’m assuming that a lot more library folk are comfortable with Excel than are comfortable with Access. I’m guessing (I haven’t tested) that a lot of what I suggest doing would be much more cumbersome in Access. (I don’t have Access: I’d have to see whether LibreOffice Database could handle it.) The only real option here is to use LibreOffice/OpenOffice, and I’d guess–perhaps incorrectly–that librarian familiarity with Excel exceeds familiarity with the LibreOffice spreadsheet by a quite substantial factor.

It’s the first and third sentence that gave me pause–because I’m pretty sure Laura’s not alone there. Let me put on my Gramps on the Rocking Chair persona for a moment here:

Back in the day–when I wrote my first 10 published books, basically 1984 to 1992–the typical professional library book, as I understood it, was around 100,000 words, which translated to 300+ pages at 6″ x 9″. That’s a length I was reasonably comfortable with–as were, presumably, those reading or at least buying the books.

I don’t think that’s the case any more for nonfiction books that aren’t Big Scholarly Tomes. More recent books have generally included length limits in the contracts, ranging from 75,000-80,000 words down to 30,000 words. If I’m writing a book now, I’m likely to aim for around 50,000-60,000 words (or word-equivalents for heavily tabular or graphic books). Times change–but I still think of books much shorter than around 200 pages as being not quite books. That’s my problem.

OK, gramps, off the lawn. Back to my aging-but-not-quite-over-the-hill persona.

What I read into that comment is that I should aim for around 150 pages for the combined book, less than that for either portion. (What I actually said was “<200 pages” for the combined book, “<150 pages for general part, <100 pages for librarian supplement” if I split them out.)

Doing the whole thing in 150 pages would be difficult–not just because I’m a wordy bastard. The book seems to me to require a fair number of examples–graphs and screenshots. Specifically, calling out problems with statistics and graphs is really hard to do without showing some typical problems (or simulations of those problems). Each graph is at least 1/3 and probably 1/2 of a 6×9 page to be effective at all. The second part will need tables and partial screenshots to work at all, I think.

Can I do that in, say, 100 pages of actual text? Probably so–for the first part. For the whole thing? I’m not sure. If it’s too terse, it won’t be usable. If it’s too verbose, it won’t be used. If it’s either one, it won’t be as interesting as it could be.

Where things stand now

There’s another key element in the second paragraph above:

Since that post, there’s been only one additional email or comment

So I can project potential sales of seven. Or seventy. “Or 700”–but projecting 100 times as many sales as there have been expressions of interest is, shall we say, way out of line with my experience on recent self-pub books. At best, 15:1 or 20:1 seems plausible.

Much as I think this book/these books could be useful to others, they’re not exploring new ground for me (unlike Give Us a Dollar… and The Big Deal… and, in fact, most of the self-pub books I’ve done). That is, I won’t know a lot more at the end of the project than I will at the beginning.

Given that, potential sales of 70 copies makes no sense at all. Potential sales of 105 copies (15:1) isn’t much better. Potential sales of 140 copies? (20:1) Marginal in terms of effort and impact, at best.

My sensible side says there’s just not enough interest to make this worth doing.

My other side keeps wondering whether I could do a good enough job that it would get the word-of-mouth marketing that self-pub books really require (unless you’re ready to spend serious dough).

I think where things stand is that I might try writing the first two chapters and see whether they point to something I’d be proud of and believed would both be short enough to appeal to people and useful enough to satisfy them and me.

In other words, this one’s still way up in the air.

2 Responses to “IUUI 4 followup”

  1. laura says:

    Oh Lord, yes, Excel over Access any day. (I made a stab at learning Access once. I confess I did not get very far.)

    I love Excel, though I don’t do anything but the most basic stuff with it. But I’ve worked in public libraries for eight years now, and my coworkers have ranged from about as a good as I am at Excel to not knowing how to put a number into a cell, not even after repeated coaching. I’m not sure if this book has the same target audience as Give Us a Dollar, but in case it does, I think there are a fair number who would look at the description and run off yelling, “I was told there would be no math!”

  2. Walt Crawford says:

    The first: Good to see the confirmation. (I’m *guessing* Access also wouldn’t make it as easy to do some of the analysis, but I’m not sure.)

    The second: And therein lies the quandary. If folks can’t cope with Excel at all, there’s no way to do the book (except maybe for the warnings about deceptive graphs/numbers–and even those involve math). I wish I thought you were wrong, but I know better.