more like people

helping organisations to be more like people

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

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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Posted in flexibility and hierarchy and leadership + management and professionalism and social technology and trust.

4 comments

4 Replies

  1. Hi Liam

    At risk of suggesting what you should do, I think your resistance to the pressure of writing a ‘how to’ guide is entirely appropriate. It should be far more powerful if your readers indulge in their own reflection and learning prompted by the stories you have to share, and take action which they have developed for themselves, not what a book has told them to.

    Regarding some of your other questions (and I’m sure you’ve considered this), does it have to be all or nothing with each method of publishing? Are there any examples where people have deftly done this? I love the idea of blurring the lines. And if many publishers wouldn’t want to take that chance, then they probably aren’t publishers that you would want to be working with.

    I look forward to seeing what happens next!

  2. Hey Lorna!

    Thanks for the reinforcement re: avoiding a how to guide – I completely concur!

    RE: blurring the lines – I’m not sure. I have 1 more publisher I’m going to pitch my stuff to, but will be doing so on the basis that I’d very much like to try some new things with the publishing processes, if they’re game for some experimentation.

    I’ve been talking to someone who’s been incredibly helpful at one of my fave publishers, but have still found there seems to be a pretty significant gap between his perspective and mine on some of the questions outlined above.

    Maybe I’ve generalised too much from those conversations, but it really feels like, ‘if they aren’t up for this kind of thing, I don’t know who would be!’

    All this said, I’m getting pretty excited about the idea of self-publishing, and the chance to experiment with a ‘more like people’ publishing process at every stage 🙂

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!

    Liam

  3. Stephanie Jan 12th 2013

    Hi Liam

    I think you are right to resist the calls to turn your book into a self help guide. I think it is incredibly tempting for a reader to be told “this is the solution to your problem, and if you follow these steps, everything will be wonderful”. However, we don’t live in a fairy tale. We live complex lives working in complex organisations each of us facing complex problems so it is unlikely for me to find my specific problem in your book. It is much better to stick to your guns and publish a book that will help people think how they can apply your thinking, condensing of ideas, stories, examples, to their own situation.

    I’m really looking forward to reading it. I have read management type books before and other books/publications/articles around similar and associated issues but many are not helpful, rigid in their thinking and stick to old school ideas of hierarchy. That’s not for me.

    As for publishing, I’m a bit stuck on that one. Have you tried http://www.triarchypress.com/index.htm? My friend @charlottepell works for Vanguard, run by John Seddon, and she’s recently edited a book about systems thinking published by Triarchy Press. I really enjoyed it but it’s unlikely to be on the New York Times bestseller list so they must have some way to make slightly more niche publishing work.

    Do you want to publish it as an online book or a real one for people to hold in their hands? I seem to remember hearing about some Waterstones having the facility to print books from online files in a shop for people to take away. I haven’t checked this has happened or is still happening but it may be worth investigating. I don’t know either about the costs of printing books on request from people ie very small print runs…I imagine it is a more expensive way of getting books out but could be slightly more flexible.

    Erm, I think I’m trying to suggest a way for people to buy the book electronically for as much or little as you want to sell it for with an alternative option to print small print runs on request perhaps using something similar to Kickstarter to commit to its funding and once you hit ‘n’ number you can print.

    Gosh, what a ramble!

    Good luck, looking forward to it.

    Stephanie


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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.