Personal Development for Smart People

Since I’ve mentioned that I’m working on a book, I might as well post something about it here so I don’t have to keep answering emails about it. 🙂

My tentative working title is Personal Development for Smart People. It’s a book about personal development which covers personal productivity, courage, drive, motivation, purpose, skill-building, focus, time management, relationships, and related topics. There’s certainly some overlap with what’s I’ve previously written in this blog or my articles, but it’s fairly low. I’d guess about 20-30% for the topical overlap, but even where there is some overlap, the book goes into greater detail. I don’t plan to reuse any previous articles or blog text verbatim.

I’m writing this book from a perspective that runs contrary to the way most books in this field are written. I’m not doing the hyped up rah-rah thing, where after reading you feel motivated enough to go out and do nothing with a smile on your face. The whole first chapter is about facing the reality of our inherent limits as a human beings and then figuring out what we can reasonably do within the scope of those limits, including the limit of mortality. I’m doing my best to keep a healthy balance between pushing the reader to grow on the one hand while also being extremely realistic on the other hand. So the book is written from a pragmatic common sense perspective, not a new agey or emotional style. I think it’s the kind of book where reading it cover to cover will be enough to induce a mind-shift that will get you thinking about life differently, wanting to make some changes instead of merely feeling good about your current situation. I made a conscious decision to write a book like this, partly because it suits my style and partly because there’s a glaring market gap for this kind of book. Many people are jaded about self-help books with good reason — too many of those books are fluffy nonsense with very little substance, or they’re very dry and clinical and impractical. My favorite marketing strategy is to look at what everyone else is doing and then do the opposite, but this of course can only be done with integrity if you actually believe the opposite is better. That’s why I like the idea of using the phrase “for Smart People” in the title — it positions the other books in this field as being “for Dummies” or “for Complete Idiots.” Personally I’d rather have a lot of smart people as customers than a lot of dummies — this worked very well for my logic puzzle games business. Smart customers are more demanding, but they’re usually a pleasure to support because they’re more capable.

I expect some people will really hate this book, meaning that they’ll vehemently disagree with it. It’s not likely to be popular among the Zen go-with-the-flow-lazy-way-to-success devotees. But hopefully enough people like that will find out about it and sneeze their disgust across the internet.

Don’t you just love marketing? 🙂

It’s hard to tell when the book will be ready because I don’t know how long the editing will take. I’m not a perfectionist, but I am picky about quality, and since this book could still be selling in 2015, it’s worthwhile to do a good job. (I’m still selling PC games I wrote back in 1995-96). As far as the writing is concerned… the research and detailed outlining are done (which took me about a month), and I’m roughly 10% into writing the first draft (I’m almost done with two chapters now). I think as I hit my stride, I’ll be able to crank out about a chapter a week, so my expectation is to have the first draft done near the end of June. Between speed and quality, quality is the more important to me, so I’m willing to take longer if it’s warranted.

My current plan is to self-publish the book, first as an ebook, then with a printed version to follow soon afterwards. The ebook can sell directly through this site as a downloadable PDF, so once that’s released I’ll be working on the print version. The text will be the same, but the print version requires extra work like cover art and of course the actual printing.

My wife is a self-published author, and her book is listed on and sold through several distributors including Baker & Taylor. Sometimes she receives orders for 50 books at a time. She also sells direct through her web site, which is where most of her profit comes from. She’s working on her second book now. So thanks to her, I have access to all the know-how needed to self-publish the book and get it distributed. Plus I’ve been self-publishing computer games for many years, so I’m already experienced with a similar business model.

If the book does well via self-publishing, I might later approach agents and publishers to see if they can do better than me. But there’s a good chance they won’t be able to match what I can sell directly because they’d have to sell 10-20x as many copies for me to make the same profit. Most likely the book will retail for $15-20. Some publishers could certainly sell many copies, but will they put much marketing effort behind a first-time author? If book publishing is anything like game publishing, that’s highly unlikely. My wife found a publisher interested in her book after she’d already been self-publishing for a few years, but they couldn’t even match what she was already selling direct. They figured they could sell more copies, but the royalties they could offer made the bottom line too much weaker than self-publishing.

I know that self-publishing works, and I know how to do it, so self-publishing is much lower risk for me than going with a publisher. The only way I’d consider going with a publisher out of the gate would be with a sizeable advance. And I can’t see that being too likely.

I must say that writing this book is very challenging. As I’ve gotten further into the project, I now have a clearer understanding why there aren’t many books like this. In order to write such a book, I have to come up with an integrated philosophy of personal development, answering questions like, “What’s the connection between self-discipline and motivation?” or “What does it mean for a personal relationship to be productive? Does it even make sense to ask that question?” When I put all the little details down on paper, I have to back up and synthesize them into a global picture. So writing this book is becoming a massive growth experience for me because I’m taking all the stuff that I think I’ve figured out and looking at it in new ways. I’m forming a lot of new neural connections and scrambling a lot of old ones as I write. So this isn’t as simple as doing a core dump or regurgitating research; if that’s all it took I could crank out the first draft in 30 days. The nice thing though is that I’m coming up with new ideas that I’ve never tried before, so even as I write, I’m applying some of these ideas to the process of writing the book itself. How’s that for going full circle? In other words, the output of ideas is being fed back into the process of generating those ideas. It’s like being a tree that waters itself, where the more it grows, the more it rains on its own roots.

Now I’m anxious to finish the book, so I can read it too. 🙂