Monday, April 16, 2012

Working Books: Did I just invent a concept?

I've done a lot of research on America's Founders and Religion, so much so that folks ask me and I often ask myself whether I will write a book on the subject.

First, I'm a community college professor who teaches overloads every semester. Publishing is NOT part of our job requirements (though it is icing on the cake). We teach 15 credits per semester as our full time load. We do not get release time for publishing. I'm not part of any "mentoring network" connected to peer reviewed journals.

As such, though I have published these past 7 or 8 years, I have not published in those "peer reviewed" journals that tenure track university professors need to in order to get tenure. But, besides vast amounts of self publishing on blogs, I have published in "respectable" places (First Things, both Liberty Magazines, the Cato Institute's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism among other places).

As I progress, I think about what I want to do with all this research. I think about publishing in those journals and doing a book for a respectable publisher. Perhaps I will try.

What about self publishing? Well a blog is self publishing. And I feel I've flourished using the blog format. Why should I care about publishing in the "print" industry that's dying when I'm part of the community that's killing it?

Indeed, see this article by Clay Shirky on the future of "publishing" where he writes:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a Wordpress install.

He mentions publishers are needed to, among other things, edit and fact check. Curiously he doesn't mention sorting, signaling, branding, etc. Publishers and colleges both serve this function: A Harvard degree signals something just like getting your book published by Harvard University Press does. It's just as easy to go to my home blog page as it is the Huffington Post or New York Times home page. But if they publish one of my pieces it means my work meets a certain standard. Any idiot can start a blog. Potential readers need a way to sort through the morass.

Links from certain "respected" places also "signal." And if you write enough on a topic, you'll probably come up in search engines.

But I don't want to write "another" self published online book. I'd like to do something novel. And something useful. And non-obvious. Law professors Eugene Volokh and Stephen Carter both have noted good academic writing borrows standards from the patent law (which requires claims be novel, useful, and non-obvious). A book project, it seems to me, could follow this model.

How is this for novelty? The concept of a "working book." It's hard to come up with something new under the sun. I googled those words and found nothing that was apt. Like a "working paper," but a book. A working paper is a work in progress and it's a common model. The concept of a working book is not common. In fact, I may have just invented it. You'll see my "working book" as it's being built. I'll have a website, probably from Wordpress, that will house the book. I don't think I'll open comments there. But I will blog on my progress and have comments at American Creation (and perhaps other places).

I believe American Creation's writers and commenters, as a group, are as good as any academic peer review. (And actual academic peer review people do read, link and comment on our posts.) They certainly are with "fact" checking; and "logic" checking. I will incorporate constructive feedback into the project.

This is a working book, though, perhaps intended never to be finished. Eventually, it'll get to a point where it's a "book" ready for a "real publisher" if they are interested. If not, fine. This project intends to evolve indefinitely. This is not dissimilar to how educational texts constantly revise with new editions.

The book will be informative in a comprehensive way. Even though I plan to research further on this subject matter, I've already uncovered quite a bit. Sometimes, I find something and wonder whether I've found it before and blogged about it. And that's a problem. Blogs serve very useful functions. But they often lack organization. I know mine do. They lack the organization of a book.

And that will be the main useful function of this project: To organize what I've researched all these years into something well organized like a book. An online book. A working book.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Make videos.

Phil Johnson said...

You go, Jonathan!

Michael Heath said...

Besides having sole-authorship, how would this be different than Wikipedia?

Jonathan Rowe said...


That's another good idea. The jonrowewiki as a tool of organization.