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Episode 24: The Bookmuda Triangle

September 11, 2012

Silicon Valley moves quickly. Time is money. We are always looking for the next methodology or the new, bright-shiny tool that will accelerate a project or increase collaboration. E-mail, cell phone, texting, IM, video conferencing, desktop sharing, file sharing, mutitasking applications—the latest, the newest; and always, the faster, the better.

With just 20 weeks remaining to finish the manuscript, Judy and I approached delivering our book within this mental framework of speed. The problem was that the space-time continuum in our Silicon Valley universe didn’t align with the Old World. We soon discovered that timeline days on one planet equaled months on the other:

On April 5th, we sent a hard copy of our manuscript to Steve. I had been working at breakneck speed, night and day, attempting to tighten the manuscript. If Steve was going to expend effort in reviewing it, I didn’t want to waste his time on an outdated revision. Unfortunately, due to an error at the shipping center, the manuscript wasn’t sent overnight as we had requested. This caused a delay of four business days. In the Silicon Valley universe, four days is an eternity–an enormous, very serious delay.

On April 11th, the manuscript arrived at White Cloud. Steve wrote that they would be ‘diving into it’ that night.

On April 14th, White Cloud delayed, until Monday, a conference call we had set for the next day.

On April 17th, I sent along another five pages of the manuscript that I had been furiously editing, purposely aiming to create clearer, more even writing (whatever that was).

I was ready and raring to go. All I needed were Steve’s detailed instructions on how to proceed with writing the manuscript. With his guidance, I was certain I could deliver the book on time.

On April 18th, we had our conference call. I suggested the following action items for the meeting:

  • Contract prerequisites
  • Editing Team
  • Ghost writer
  • Manuscript editing process and security
  • Expedited publishing timeline

As an opening conversation, the phone conference went fine. We agreed to work on the list of items and meet again soon.

On April 26th, we received the following message from Steve:

I am walking out the door heading for Berkeley for a meeting with our sales reps on Thursday. I’ll be back on Monday (May 2nd) and we can pick up our discussions then.

On May 2nd, we heard nothing. Four days later we received the following message from Steve:

Troy and Judy,

Hope this note finds you both well. We are getting back to normal following this week’s media blitz over our new Islam book in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s dramatic death. We got a nice big media bounce with that and our Amazon sales ranking has been climbing fast.

I do agree that working with a Santa Cruz editor will be good. It will be great if we approach that decision as a team. We will be getting back to you early next week with more detailed comments on the new draft of the book you sent us. Once we get real clear on the editorial issues, to make sure that everyone is comfortable with the chosen editor and the book’s direction, scope, tone, voices, etc. then we can nail down a publishing agreement.

We remain very keen to work with you.

Cheers,
Steve

Wait a second…Hadn’t they received our manuscript almost a month ago?! What happened to “diving into it tonight?” I had spent the last four weeks killing myself, blindly trying to write to an undefined, mysterious target. Are you telling me that there still isn’t any feedback?

The disparity in business practices between the New and Old Worlds hit us hard and left us spinning. Where on the planet did they live? The Bookmuda Triangle? It was inconceivable to us how any business could survive in an atmosphere where, “I’ll dive into it tonight” means “it might emerge from the void sometime next month.”

Still feeling like the lowly subject beseeching the King, I sent this note the same day:

Although we are obviously very loosely organized at this point, we consider this a team and have since our initial decision. If we’re honest, we’ve been awaiting input. We are very aware that WC has limited resources and thus have adjusted our expectations. Hopefully you both realize, too, that we do not move and respond quickly because we are eager authors, rather that is the way we operate in the Silicon Valley. We communicate and collaborate in *seconds* – IM, voice, video conferencing, desktop sharing, collative documents. The difference in our operating modes is a mild source of frustration…

It would be great to have some direction. I’m feeling very compressed in the timeline. Also, again to be honest, attempting to continue to edit without a target has left me pretty badly burned-out in the solitary struggle to find something that works. We *can* do this as a team, and I need your sage guidance and assistance.

From my perspective as the leader of this venture, we haven’t made any substantial progress in the 6 weeks since this portion of the team was formed. With less than 16 weeks to go in the timeline before the manuscript needs to be available for the 5 month publishing process, 6 weeks is a significant amount of time to be standing still. If we are to approach decisions as a team, then we all must execute and deliver; otherwise, I must make other decisions on the team’s behalf.”

A week later, May 12th, I received this reply:

…but the other aspect of our delay is that we are seriously grappling with this book and we still have some real concerns about the writing. Our biggest concern is that we think the book needs major recasting and rewriting to become clearer and more direct. I don’t think this can be done in a matter of weeks but that it will take several months. We think that the Valentine’s Day launch is not the way to go. That the book has too much potential not to take the time to do it right.

And to be absolutely honest, Stephen and I have some concern about us being the right press for you. We do wonder if it is in YOUR best interest to work with us vs. another press with more of a history in the field of relationships. I think if you did go with another house they would tell you the same thing I am saying, that the book has potential but is not ready for prime time.

So, what I can say is that we if you feel comfortable working with us with our limitations and on a slower pace, aiming for a book launch later summer or fall 2012, then let’s move forward. We don’t want to hold you back but we also don’t want to let you down by not being able to move at the lightning pace you are hoping for.

And thus with a snap of fingers–the sound echoing into a vacuum of nothingness–an entire month evaporated. We still did not have an editor or direction to even know how to source one. As Steve suggested, finding a different publisher might be possible, but there was also a slim chance it might never happen. It felt difficult to step forward, impossible to go backwards…

Judy and I weren’t worried that White Cloud would pull out. Everyone knew we had a hit. Besides, even with the differences between two universes, Steve and Stephen were good, honest, forthright guys. Yes, we were frustrated, but we still really liked them. Too, maybe for the first time in history, a Silicon Valley startup was attempting to mesh with the publishing world—deep, uncharted space. We likely confounded them as much as they did us.

In retrospect, the “recasting and rewriting” comment was the extent of the “detailed feedback” that we would receive on our manuscript. Regardless, we had to press forward, having learned our first very sobering lesson about publishing: In the publishing world, the author, to a very large degree, is on his own.

The publishing world was about to learn something too: How quickly the disciples of Silicon Valley adapt.


Click here for Episode 25: The Mystical Order of the Editors Templar

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