[joho] JOHO - June 20, 2005

  • From: David Weinberger <self@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: joho@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 15:14:44 -0400

Journal of the
Hyperlinked Organization
June 20, 2005
Editor: David Weinberger (self@xxxxxxxxxxx)
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  | CONTENTS                                    |
  |                                             |
  | Times Books is publishing Everything is     |
  | Miscellaneous. Here's what a book auction   |
  | is like...                                  |
  |                                             |
  | It's time to drop the expectation that      |
  | I've read yours and you've read mine.       |

---------------------------------- ALL I HAVE TO DO NOW IS WRITE THE MOFO

Times Books has agreed to publish my book Everything
is Miscellaneous. I have one year to write it.
Assuming that the writing goes all right -- and I
am contractually obligated to make sure it does --
it will be published in winter/early spring of 2007.

Seems like forever, doesn't it? I can promise that
it won't feel that way to me as I watch the deadline
rushing toward me like an angry bull.

I've told you too many times what the book is about,
but I guess I should tell you again. This time,
though, I'll also tell you how books get sold and
give you the way this particular one spills out into


I worked on my book proposal for almost a year and a
half, under the constant tutelage of my agent, David
Miller. David isn't the gum-chewing money-grubber
that the word "agent" may conjure up. He is my first
reader: I trust his judgment not only on whether a
book works but also on whether the content is making
sense. Without David, I'd be pitching a book on

When the proposal was done -- we chopped it down
from a psychotic 30,000 words to a merely outlandish
17,000 -- David shipped it off to 17 publishers he
thought would like to see it. In fact, he had been
talking with many of them about the book during the
past few months, so he wasn't sending it to
publishers so much as sending it to particular

Because there was no one obvious publisher to go to,
we put it up for auction. Book auctions are
surprisingly inefficient. You give the editors a
couple of weeks to read the proposal, to discuss it
with their bosses ,and then to discuss it with their
real bosses: the sales and marketing people. During
that time, I visited many of the publishers who
expressed initial interest. That was fun since
you're spending an hour with people who like what
you've done.

In my case, just about all of them had questions
about how my topic applied in concrete ways to
issues that people care about, which is always my
stumbling block since I am more excited by the ideas
themselves. But with this book, it's not hard to
show some real applications.

Then David announced that the first round of bids
had to be in by 10 AM on the Thursday before
Memorial Day weekend. The participating publishers
communicated their bids via email or telephone.
David then went back to the low bidder - none of the
participants know who the other participants are -
who then has the option to out-bid the high bid by
at least some agreed-upon increment. David then
called the second-lowest bidder and tells her what
the current price is, and so forth.

Sounds sensible except that the editors have to go
back to their boss and get permission to raise the
bid, and if the editor is out doing tequila shots at
the local topless bar, um, gentlemen's club, David
may not hear back for several hours. This can be
nerve wracking."Don't they know what their ceiling
is?" I would ask David over the sounds of the crack
house where I was hanging out, relaxing. And, in
truth, sometimes the bids would come quickly, and in
a few cases, they were significantly above the
minimum increment. Those were my favorite bids.

The process was actually more complicated than that
because we started out offering only the North
American rights, but the publishers ganged up on us
and insisted on bidding for world rights. While this
may make an author feel especially wanted because,
obviously, it makes the book more expensive for the
publisher to purchase, buying world rights actually
reduces the publisher's risk because she gets to
sell rights to individual countries, recouping a
part of the advance the publisher paid the author.

My auction was interrupted by a very long Memorial
Day weekend and closed pretty quickly on the
following Tuesday. As publishers dropped out, the
remaining two turned out to be owned by the same
house. Their corporate rulebook says that they can't
bid against another, so the auction ended and it was
up to me to decide which publisher I prefer.

It was a hard decision because either would have been
excellent for the book, but ultimately I went with
Times Books (a Holt imprint) for a variety of
reasons. As a result, I have a company behind this
book that has considerable clout with the
booksellers and an editor, Robin Dennis, who totally
understands what the book is talking about and is
going to help me tell the story in a way that (I
hope) lots of people will want to read. (Robin is
also Jay Rosen's [1] editor.)

Yes, I don't just want to get the ideas right. I
want to write a book that sells a whole bunch of
copies. I feel so tawdry!


As we digitize information, we escape the
limitations of the physical that have silently
shaped knowledge. "Everything is Miscellaneous" is
about these basic changes in how we organize
knowledge, institutions and our lives.

Something like that.

The current plan of the book has it open with a few
chapters that make it clear how important
categorization is to our lives, and expose the
history of what looks like common sense principles
of organization.

Then I introduce the idea of the three ages of order
(arranging the physical objects, arranging metadata
separated from the objects, arranging digital
objects) and the new importance of the

In the second half of the book, I go through what I
think are the four major principles that change, one
per chapter, something along the lines of:
Everyone's an expert, knowledge is social, the
implicit is more important than the explicit, and
messiness is a virtue.

Then a big finale. I'll let you know when I know.


As far as I know, I was one of the first people to
write a book entirely in public on line. Every day
while I was writing Small Pieces Loosely Joined [2]
I would post my latest draft. Then the next day I'd
re-write it. It was not a good way to encourage
comments and conversation.

Dan Gillmor learned from my experience and
approached it far more sensibly with his excellent
We the Media [3], posting relatively finished chapters
for commentary.

But I'm not going to do that with this book. I'm
hard-pressed to tell you why. When I started Small
Pieces, I didn't know where it was going. My ideas
weren't formed. I was thinking it through, and
conversation is a great way to think. But with EIM,
I feel more (but not perfectly) confident about the
ideas in the book. Oh, I have a lot to learn and I'm
100% sure my ideas are going to evolve (if throwing
ideas out counts as evolving them); I will blog
ideas and ask for your help. But after a year and a
half of thinking about this book, my main challenge
isn't knowing what to say. It's figuring out how to
say it. And that's a writerly challenge that I want
to do in a locked room.

Yes, I understand that if I posted drafts, y'all
could help me with the writing also. But I'm looking
for my book's voice. I have to do that alone.

Maybe I'll change my mind. I'll let you know.

[1] http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/
[2] http://www.smallpieces.com/
[3] http://wethemedia.oreilly.com/


I visited the Linnean Society's headquarters in London last week and blogged about the effect of paper on the way Linnaeus classified animals. Plus, there are photos!


---------------------------------- NO, I'M NOT KEEPING UP WITH YOUR BLOG.

I would like to. I really would. I like it and I
like you.

But we're now well past the point where we can keep
up with all the blogs worth reading from the people
worth keeping up with.

I just can't do it any more.

I've been faking it for a while. Months. Maybe a
year. If we've met and I look confused about
something you told me, and if you said, "I blogged
it," as if that should be explanation enough, I've
made some excuse as if I read every one of your
posts except that one.

The truth is, I probably haven't read your blog in
weeks. Months maybe.

And I don't expect you to have read mine.

I don't want to lie any more. I don't want to feel
guilty any more. So let me tell you flat out: There
are too many blogs I like and too many people I like
to making "keeping up" a reasonable expectation, any
more than you should expect me to keep up with
Pokemon characters or Bollywood movies. You
shouldn't expect me to and I'm not going to feel
guilty any longer about my failure.

I will read your blog on occasion, either because
I've been thinking of you or because something
reminded me of you. Maybe it'll be because you sent
me an email pointing a post you think I'll enjoy. Go
ahead! I'd love to hear from you.

But I hereby release you from thinking I expect you
to keep up with my blog, and I preemptively release
myself from your expectations.

Otherwise reading each other's blogs will become a
joyless duty. And we're too good friends to do that
to each other.


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