“Response” Books

When considering a topic for your next book, I suggest you avoid a response to another message in the media, especially in another book.

Publishers and readers love books which are fresh, containing original thinking, and are well written, creative, with an identifiable purpose, a strong message and usually not springing from what someone else wrote.

I am not talking about “connection” books, such as discussing the Christian message in the Chronicles of Narnia or something similar. Nor am I talking about responding to a trend in society. I am referring to a critical response to another book or some other media message.

Why?

Because books are way too slow and social media has become the response-medium of the 21st Century.

Our society is obsessed with something today, which then becomes old news in two weeks (or two hours) when the next thing captures our attention. The desperate pursuit of the “newest” and “coolest,” makes books the handwritten papyrus scrolls of the media world compared to Twitter’s ability to capture the moment.

I find it humorous that social media calls something “trending” when identifying something a lot of people are tracking at the moment. A trend has always meant something significant, which has long-term implications. A “fad” is the term for high-awareness at the moment, until replaced quickly by the next thing.

If we only change the term from “trending” to “fadding,” it more accurately portrays what is happening. (Or “fading” which is truly more the case!)

This has nothing to do with decreasing attention spans of readers. This is about choosing the best way to communicate.

Traditional book publishers have long lead-times and generally avoid response-books. Even self-publishing will take months to write the book and then might only sell for a few weeks.

By the time your book hits the market, the market probably won’t care about or even remember the thing you are writing about.

Basically, response-books are not worth the effort. Instead, blog your response. It’s faster.  Why spend two months writing something, which will be out of date in two weeks?

Next to feature films, books are the slowest of all media. They are slowest of all the print media by far. (Except for the ancient hand-written papyrus scrolls alluded to above.)

Sure, a few companies can speed through a process about an event or celebrity within a few months, hoping to catch a wave of high interest, but books are still the slowest of all print media.

Keep this in mind when deciding what to write. The slowness of books makes them terrible media to use when responding to just about anything in another media form.

Books about movies can work because movies are the only media slower than books, but once a movie finishes its initial run, the book usually stops selling, which could be a matter of days or weeks. Publishers who want books with staying power usually avoid movie-connection books as too risky and short term.

Books are best for detailed explorations of big subjects, for putting a stake in the ground, establishing a framework of thought and other big messages, which should be part of conversations for the next several years.

This doesn’t mean Christian writers shouldn’t respond to a message in the media, it is just that books are not the medium best suited for the response.

Responses should usually come in a form faster than the original message. So, writing a book responding to a blog post would be nothing short of foolish. But the reverse would be effective.

As an agent, I see everything as book proposals, knowing some do not need to be in book-form. Some should be a series of blog posts, some articles submitted to magazines and others organized into a seminar and presented in-person.

If you have a bone to pick with something in the media, use one of a myriad media-options to address it. More than likely it will not be a book.

9 Responses to “Response” Books

  1. Peter DeHaan April 11, 2017 at 5:29 am #

    Since I like to (need to) ruminate on blog post ideas for a couple of days before I write, I can’t even blog fast enough to react to trending topics before they’ve left public awareness.

    Instead I blog about evergreen topics that will have utility for the long term. How much more the case for a book.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Henry Styron April 11, 2017 at 6:06 am #

    “Fadding” is my new favorite word, and I’ll do my part to see if we can substitute it for “trending.” Thanks, Dan!

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 11, 2017 at 7:04 am #

    Good points here, Dan – though I can see what I think may be a case for a response when the response is directed at the underlying issue, using the recent ‘trending’ hashtags as hooks.

    A case in point might be assisted suicide; the story of Brittany Maynard, who became a sort of poster girl for the ‘death with dignity’ folks, and the film ‘Me Before You’ brought the subject into recent public attention. A book that tied those events into the underlying issue might have been successful.

    There were a lot of blog responses, but those really didn’t have the legs, nor the luxury of room to develop an argument.

    And a developed argument is precisely what’s needed. I’m on my way to yet another ‘morphine or a bullet’ day, and while I would not consider taking my life, I certainly can’t dump on anyone who, facing with similar prospects, did.

    What I DO have to do, each day, is reinforce my paradigm for living, for making some sense of pain and humiliation. You can’t do that using blog posts and tweets.

    • Dan Balow April 11, 2017 at 7:07 am #

      I agree, what you perfectly describe is what I referred to as “…putting a stake in the ground, establishing a framework of thought and other big messages, which should be part of conversations for the next several years.”

    • Glenda April 11, 2017 at 7:43 am #

      The deeper conversations lend themselves to more than
      140 characters (even if emojis don’t count!).

      Just because they are trending or “fadding”, or the message de jour-
      doesn’t mean they’re not big subjects to explore and expand upon, as Dan pointed out above.

      Moving beyond our pain into a meaningful life is possible, and
      people long to know how by way of personal experiences.

      I’m learning fac fortia et patere here in my neck of the world and praying that my words will help others do the same: “do brave deeds
      and endure.”

  4. Jay Payleitner April 11, 2017 at 7:56 am #

    Audio publishing is a different animal. Audio publishers are used to quick turnarounds for radio broadcasters.

    After 9/11, a few books came out in early 2002.

    But the week after the attacks, I had an idea that beat print publishers by months.

    Working with a Oasis Audio, I grabbed audio from six national figures who had delivered a radio or pulpit response within 72 hours of the attacks: Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Bill Hybels, Tony Evans, David Jeremiah and Joe Stowell. Within about two weeks we were in stores nationwide and had sold 75,000 cassettes.

    That wouldn’t happen today either.

  5. Sheri Dean Parmelee April 11, 2017 at 9:41 am #

    Dan, one of the most effective book responses was that of Soren Kierkegaard back in the 1840s, when he was using indirect communication to lead the people of Denmark to saving faith in Christ. He was very prolific and was able to churn several books out per year. Since then, I agree that response books might not be the way to go. (I wrote on indirect communication and Kierkegaard for my dissertation, hence my comments. If you don’t have anything going on some night, you might want to read it- it’s only 400 pages…..it uses indirect communication to analyze the television show House, M.D.). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Dan Balow April 11, 2017 at 10:50 am #

      I am trying to imagine Kierkegaard on Twitter. John Bunyan on Instagram, Calvin using LinkedIn, Luther on Facebook…

      🙂

  6. Cheryl Sterling April 11, 2017 at 10:33 am #

    I can’t believe anyone would spend time and effort in writing a book about something as fleeting as a fad . They must be ignorant of the industry or very, very obsessed.
    I like your suggestion of blogging about the issue. Much more immediate.

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