more like people

helping organisations to be more like people

Self publishing… minus the burnout?

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Self-publishing is both possible and in many ways, fun. But it’s also really exhausting. And I’m wondering if we can find a way to avoid going to a publisher for the next Anarchists in the Boardroom print run, without also burning me out… What do you think?

Me talking about the book at the Open Development Camp, Amsterdam

So it’s been just over 2 months since we self-published Anarchists in the Boardroom!

It’s been an amazing experience, and have made it down to the last 50 copies already!

It’s been a really successful experiment in what can be done without traditional institutions, though it has had some limitations.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure I can keep up with the work involved in self-publishing. It’s been seriously exhausting and has at some level made it harder to enjoy the many amazing conversations that the book has opened up.

There are so many aspects to the work a publisher and their partners traditionally do, even after the book is printed: store distribution, individual book distribution, speaking tour bookings, web selling software, arranging reviews and interviews and finding publications for guest blogs and editorials…

I’m a big fan of DIY – when I was 17 I started a hip-hop promotion company to give myself stages to play on, and had self-produced a vinyl 12” on my own a few years later. I co-founded an international youth exchange without an organisation when I was 20. I really, really enjoy the learning process of taking on a whole new project, and figuring out the skills I need to make it happen along the way.

But this book is proving a massive task. And the time I’m spending with a range of the tasks involved is keeping me from a) doing the stuff in the process I know I’m actually good at and enjoy, and b) doing the paid work needed to pay rent.

It’s also been a significant part of my 60-80 hour work weeks for the past two months.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you!

Having sold almost 500 copies in the first two months, without institutional backing, I reckon odds are pretty good that I could go to a traditional publisher with this and see if they’d like to take it on. This would free up a lot of my time and hopefully provide a bit of institutional backing for some of the logistics of the process.

But it would also mean less control over the process.

Alternatively, I could not print any more and leave it as a Pay What You Feel It’s Worth ebook, and see where it goes in exclusively digital format. This wouldn’t address doing any of the publicity, but would take care of some of the practical and administrative logistics. It’s the lowest effort option, and one that would leave the book’s future in the hands of the universe and see what people do with it…

The other option is more collaborative: what if we collectively became ‘the publisher’?

Basically, what if we figured out all the things that needed to happen to keep this book growing (logistics, publicity, distribution, etc) and shared some of the jobs around?

If there were a small crew of people who wanted to get involved in helping with these things, I would happily share book income around accordingly (though wouldn’t expect this to be a massive amount).

I’m open to ideas, but wanted to avoid a totally traditional division of labour, instead seeing who might be up for sharing a bit of the various tasks involved.

Anyway… I’m just tossing ideas around, but wanted to see what others thought about the 3 possibilities I’ve put forward – or suggesting a new one, if you can think of an option that I haven’t. Here, once again, are the options as I see them:

1. Approach a publisher – lose some freedom, gain some time; get some publicity and distribution support
2. Offer the ebook only going forward – save time on logistics, still have to do publicity work, and miss out on having something to sell at events
3. ‘Collectively self-publish the next batch’ – share the load, may involve extra coordination, maintains freedom about the process, addresses some of the questions of scalability of self-publishing.

Anyway, I haven’t totally thought the details of the 3rd option though, but I’m keen to discuss if you’d like to add ideas to the comments below.

Thanks so much for being a part of the journey!

Liam

PS – if you order one of the last 50 copies, I’ll inscribe something personal in it, either for you, or the lucky recipient you choose to give it to for a gift this holiday season 🙂

6 comments

I’ve been meaning to mention… we’re published!

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Six months after the crowd-funding campaign wrapped-up successfully, Anarchists in the Boardroom was published last week and the crowd-sourced book tour has begun! These are my first reflections on this stage of the process. (And you can get your copies here, by the way).

So far, I’ve been lucky enough to have done four events around the country, with over 100 people coming together to talk about how their organisations could be more like people. I’ll be in Oxford and Leicester later this month. Currently there are further events coming together in York, Leeds, Manchester, Brighton… and more in Amsterdam and Berlin.

I’m feeling so honoured by the reception. And these conversations – gatherings of 15-20 people, usually a cafe or bar, feel like the perfect way to getting these ideas percolating.

A couple of things have jumped out at me already.

1. This conversation is getting ready to boil over.
While there is a common perception that our organisation’s are typically so far from being ‘more like people,’ there is a lot of energy out there to discuss what a new and different kind of organisation could look and feel like. A recurrent theme has been that these conversations have happened in pubs for years, but rarely with a sense of positive direction emerging. Now it seems like there is a growing sense, not just of disillusionment, but also of possibility for what we can all do to start changing our organisations for the better. Our networks are strengthening every day; it will be fascinating to see how all our new connections can help us to explore new approaches together.

2. People are actually DOING STUFF with these ideas already!
Since the launch, I’ve already had two messages from friends/ colleagues, who had begun to put elements of more like people thinking into practice. One has kicked off an ‘innovation working group’ (you’ll want to read Chapters 5/6 to understand the full significance of that), and another has ‘de-constructed’ her organisation’s old management structure (I’m still waiting to hear the specifics of what that means). There are currently about 220 copies of the book that have been circulating for up to 11 days. Needless to say, I’m pretty pleased with two stories like this already! In the chaos that I’ve discovered self-publishing can be, morelikepeople.com has been slightly delayed, but expect to have it online in the next week so we can start to bring more of these stories together.

3. ‘Organisations’ don’t want to touch this stuff… but the people in them do!
I’ve been crowd-sourcing this book tour – basically asking people who are keen, to get together a venue and a group, a bed for me to sleep on and a train ticket, and I’ll happily come talk about this stuff. I wanted to set the bar as low as I could, without putting myself further out of pocket for it (writing a book did a pretty thorough job of that already!). But what I’ve found, is that even with an incredibly minimal cost, people who have invited me – even those that work in voluntary organisations that have a remit to put on such events – are choosing to organise these events on their own time and dime. Which is both a massive honour, and a sign of how far our organisations still have to go, if they aren’t even able to host a conversation on some of these themes. I’ve said it before, but this organisational inability to take off the blinders to a lot of the debates that the rest of the world is having, is not going to help them address their own growing irrelevance. (Dudley CVS has been the exception, thanks to the efforts of Lorna Prescott!)

4. The answers are all around us!
For all the frustration and disillusionment that’s been expressed by a number of the folks who’ve taken part in each of these events, there have also been countless positive examples. The community centre manager who encourages his staff to come up with any new idea and get on and do it; the HIV support group who actively hire people with criminal records and who have experienced life’s hardest elements, de-prioritising traditional qualifications; the big national charity where all staff are now getting a half-day a week to pursue their own ideas, whatever they may be…

So in brief, it’s been an amazing start! I’m more sure than I’ve ever been that these conversations are desperately needed, and that all of us who are thinking about these things have ideas and experiences to share more widely, so others can give them a go. morelikepeople.com is not far off, but I’m still keeping track of the stuff people are tagging ‘morelikepeople’ and will be bringing it all together when the new website goes online.

Massive thanks to everyone who’s taken part thus far! I suspect we’re closer to the kinds of change we want to see than it can often feel…

Here’s Lorna’s Storify of the first event we did together in Birmingham, to get a bit of a taste of the kind of conversations we’ve been able to have lately.

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To self-publish, or not to self-publish? That is the question…

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

At least, that’s the question dominating my thoughts in recent days. While seemingly a logistical decision that I shouldn’t be wasting any of your time with, it raises a few deeper questions I’m hoping some of you might be able to help with.

Taking a risky experiment

Can a book be 'new media'? I think so...

Can a book be 'new media'? I think so...

My premise for this book – based on hundreds of conversations over several years, is that there are heaps of folks working in voluntary/ NGO/ non-profit settings, who have both deeply troubling stories about how many of our organisations are being run (ethically and practically), and have some gut instincts about how these things could be done differently.

Very, very few of these people have ever read a book related to management or organising practices, likely because they either seem tediously boring, or because they don’t feel they offer any prospects for change in the position they are in (whether they are administrators, or Chief Execs).

I want this book to become the beginning of an experiment, where a wider range of people, in all parts of various organisations can start talking about, thinking about, and most importantly, trying out, new ways of working for social change. I’ve done my best to make it interesting (significantly story-based), and to emphasise the potential for anyone within an organisation to bring about different kinds of change.

I hope Anarchists in the Boardroom can be ‘a management book for people who don’t read management books.’

But clearly from a publishers perspective, what I’m suggesting is deeply naive, and hugely financially risky, if it’s not targeted at their existing demographics of ‘people who read management books.’ After all, when you put a heap of money into something like a book, you need to be able to sell it!

To which I say, it may well be naive and risky, but I think it’s a worthwhile naive risk to take, given how few of the people affected by crappy, dehumanising organisational management practices, are actively involved in the conversations to change them.

Same message, different presentation and the question of niche audiences

I’d guess that maybe a quarter of the ideas in this book are ‘new’ – in that I haven’t come across them elsewhere before.

The vast majority of the content is repackaged, re-framed and re-purposed from an array of other sources and places, ranging from relationship guidance literature, to non-violent direct action tactics.

But since these ideas are not necessarily ‘new’ – i.e. – they have been published before in a range of places, I’ve had a pretty lukewarm response from initial conversations with publishers around them.

Yet one of the beauties of the internet, is the ability to re-frame ideas in a thousand different ways, none with massive resonance, but each reaching a different audience that would not connect with them otherwise. In my mind, management literature (in the broadest sense) has aimed to appeal to those who are interested enough in organisational structures to read a whole book on it. Which makes perfect sense for a business. Meanwhile, those who are simply asking questions like ‘why does the boss make so much more money than me?,’ or ‘how could we involve a wider range of people in our decision making processes?,’ or ‘why do so many decent people treat each other so badly at the office?’ don’t have a place to have those conversations.

So on the one hand, I’m looking at a potentially very small niche of ‘people interested in management, who don’t read management books, but will read this one because it doesn’t look like a management book,’ and on the other, I feel there is potential for a far wider audience than most management books tend to garner, given how common these questions are in so many social change organisations.

But given that even this niche demographic – let alone the much wider one – are not proven audiences in the publishing world, backing this book would be a massive risk, financially and reputationally.

And to be honest, scale is not what matters most to me, while it has to be for a publisher. If this book can connect w/ a small number of people, in a meaningful way, and help to articulate and legitimise their experiences, while inspiring them to experiment with new kinds of organisation, in whatever ways they can, I will be happy.

…If I can get some work off the back of it, with those who want to explore the ideas with me a bit more , that would of course also be great 😉

The pressure to write a ‘how to’ guide

Another piece of feedback coming from publishers is to turn the book into a ‘How To’ guide. But for those who’ve read my blogs before, you’ll likely see my issues with this.

I’ve been told that a How To guide is ‘what the market wants’ from this kind of book, but I feel strongly that our reliance on and expectation for cookie-cutter solutions is one of the places we’ve gone totally wrong, organisationally, and why most of the ‘solutions’ to questions of organisational change tend to leave more problems in their wake.

Context and relationships are everything – a good idea is useless if it doesn’t keep them at its core.

Thus, my writing approach has been to tell stories, highlight key principles, and trust that the readers will be able to find ways of picking and choosing the relevant ideas, and figuring out their own practicalities, for their own situations.

This may be overly stubborn on my part, but to write a book of prescriptive change would be antithetical to the ideas I want to get across.

Trying to align the process with the messages

There’s also the question of publishing in a way that fits with the ‘more like people’ values I’m advocating. Can it be ‘shared’ rather than ‘distributed’? Can I make it available for a voluntary donation, and still cover costs? Can I blur the lines between what is actually published, and where people take the ideas after they read it, through a less-hierarchical online platform connected with the book?

I’d like to find out, though I don’t think a lot of publishers would be that keen to take these chances with me.

But if you think otherwise, I’m still open to possibilities 🙂

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More Like People is an association of freelance consultants, facilitators and trainers, working primarily in the voluntary, community and campaigning sectors in the the UK and elsewhere.