New Idea!

January 2, 2012 Comments Off on New Idea!

This is an idea my mom and I have been discussing for a while, but suddenly it seems like something I think I’ll pursue: ESSAYS.

My mom reads a lot of pop history/pop science/pop stats books, and inevitably, when I ask her what she thought of them, she shrugs and says the ideas were fascinating, but the book was over-written. In fact, she says, most of these books did not need to be books at all. And we talked about how much fun it would be to walk into Barnes & Noble and see a stand of $3 cheaply-printed booklets, none over 40 pages or so, by the people who wrote books like The Black Swan, The Tipping Point, Freakonomics, or Guns, Germs and Steel. I haven’t read any of these, but I bet if they were all under 40 pages I would have already read them all. I think a publishing house—maybe a university press!—should start an essay line.

Because what are the options for someone with a great idea or observation that needs sharing? There is no public platform for individual essays. Newspapers don’t really do essays very often—at least not long ones. And there simply aren’t that many magazines or journals that have satisfactorily large circulations; maybe something huge like National Geographic or Smithsonian… but it’s unlikely that someone without a subscription would buy a copy of National Geographic or Smithsonian off the rack just because it sounded like it had an interesting essay in it. Online, of course, it can be next to impossible to reach a wide audience without a famous sponsor or a time-consumingly aggressive marketing campaign. There is a big opening for individual essay publications: both cheaply printed hard copies and electronic subscriptions (including their e-book incarnations).

And where do I come in? Well, at the moment I’m beginning to put together a portfolio of condensed versions of best-selling, over-written books, beginning with The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which everyone who has read it seems to agree is dull and repetitive and really does not need to be any longer than 10 pages or so. If this turns out to be doable, then I will parade my little portfolio around and see if someone will hire me to look through cool ideas and make sure that, in their published form, they are no longer than they need to be.

Please email me if you have any nominations for books to be added to my portfolio. Current roster includes The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and Guns, Germs and Steel.

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