Strategic Bestseller: Taking the Blog Path (4HS002)

by Neotenic5 min read8th Jul 20132 comments


Personal Blog
"The scariest moment is just before you start"
"I think timid writers like the passive voice for the same reason timid lovers like passive
partners. The passive voice is safe."
- Stephen King

Follow-up to: How can I strategically write a complex bestseller?
2:27 PM, Mexico City, 08 July 2013

The Blog Path and the Time Dimension

Robin Hanson recently said that writing a book feels lonelier than writing blog posts. Blog posts have many features that books will never have. Not only the obvious ones such as instantaneous gratification, being able to complete a chunk of work in one sitting, and being able to show you are actually doing something, not just claiming you are. Blogs also partition time in a way that makes a primate brain comfortable, both from the reader's and the writer's perspective. But in my case the most important feature of blogs is that generate and test and trial and error are easy to do.  So after my first post here, and weeks solving many of the surrounding problems that could impede me from moving forward, I decided to go through the beaten track and blog my way into a bestseller.

The Challenges Theme

The theme of the blog is self challenges, and it envisions the public that enjoys Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, with a side of A J Jacobs. It begins by the #50: Stop Learning, Start Doing.

This is the first post, so let’s cut to the chase: In this blog we’ll be going through a series of 50 challenges. Whatever you want to do, let’s do this together. You like A. J. Jacobs and Tim Ferriss? That’s a good start. You want to deal with your big picture question too? On top of that you like Science and Philosophy? You’ve come to the right place, but don’t take a seat yet, this is not a place to rest your gaze and get your warm fuzzy feeling inside by making a comment. This is a place to do.

All you’ll need prior to reading this blog is linked below:

You want to be one of the few Self-Actualizers out there? This won’t be any easy, and though we’ll make the journey together, no one besides you can do it for you.

But before we start, there are Six things you need to know, and they’re gonna hurt like few things you (... and it continues from here)

Previous LW Post Comments
(ordered by upvotes):

Omid said that if writing is like music, being a bestseller is mostly about luck. Partially (0.5) I concur, but it seems to me that randomness in music interest is mostly dominated by prestige considerations from separate domains.

Trevor Blake told his story and made clear that only writing is writing, talking about it, or even what I'm doing here, writing about it, isn't it. That seemed like an important downward spiral to keep track of. It explains why these LW posts will be less frequent than I thought before.

Gwern and Pjeby had a long discussion about book stats and likelihoods of making bestselling lists. It is clear that it is very hard. But it made me feel it is less hard than I thought before.

ChristianKI asked the words per day question. I'll respond by saying that I read+write more than six hours a day, which is Stephen King's suggested time in his "On Writing"

Michaelos and Qiaochu_Yuan suggested a mixed nagging strategy, getting someone close to me to nag me about writing while also beeminding it. This seems very important. Beeminder is set, and feel free to nag me in private messages if you are reading this far from the date it was written. I'll get a friend whom I see a lot, and a sexy lady, and an authority figure, to nag me every once in a while. So whether I'm feeling gregarious, romantically infatuated or seeking validation, there will always be a chance that writing is the emotionally correct thing to do.

Finally, and of course there will never be time to respond to every comment here, though there might in the blog itself: Viliam_Bur devised "on the fly" a strategy, which nicely coincides with what I'm doing, except in that outlining the book is something I'll do after a few blog posts, now that this new "blog post" element entered the book agenda. Viliam also mentioned humans love reading stories, and the blogs next post will be one of my stories.


Getting informed about what does and doesn't work

Last post I said this post would contain a few things, among them "(d) Gather that information" in Salamon's list of strategic things to do in a project pursuit. From the information I got uptill now, including comments, posts in LW and asking authors by email, things that influence selling odds in non-fiction in a good way are, in no particular order:

1) Being famous
2) Writing a lot
3) Luck
4) Being a professor in a prestigious university
5) Passion
6) A wide circle of influence
7) Having a 1000 true fans, who'll buy your stuff because it is yours
8) Knowing your Grammar, and when to ignore it
9) Ignoring 80% of the criticism you receive
(those would be the "If I can't have it, so can't you" kind of critics, or just naturally spiteful individuals)
10) Paying five times more attention to the remaining 20%
11) If your reader says your writing is confusing, it is, by definition, confusing
12) Dealing with topics in a way that interests many, but focusing on your idealized one reader
13) Understand that lacking the level of obsession and resources used to promote The Four Hour Workweek, the journey could be as long as writing three or four books before making it big, or five hundred blog posts. It helps that I'm riding the four hour brand.
15) Using your strengths however you can
In my case I intend to use my "sure, naked dancing in public citing horoscopes sounds ok to me" strength, and also however many stories of unbelievable days this lack of embarrassment has given me.  


Next LW  Post

Before the next LW post I intend to copy Svi's idea of using TDT for a personal hacking experience, and also do the same thing with other unusual ideas that pop up in LW frequently. Instead of taking advice from something in LW that is specifically about strategic thinking, which I'm already doing with Great Courses lectures+Salamon's post, I'll just try to see how to administer things like TDT, Everett, Timeless Physics, AIXI, Newcomb, Iterated Prisoner Dilemma and PrudentBot into effective writing - ¿or should I call it effective bestselling now that I know writing itself is but the tip of the iceberg?. I have no idea how to do that transposition, but when last here I exposed my goals, and now it doesn't seem that embarrassing to do it anymore. 

Last, I ask a favor with a story:

There is a one domain I never felt like learning more about. Seeking for truth is a noble goal, but some truths are information hazards, and I always had the impression that music, for me, was a dark terrain. It feels like the more I know - from almost nothing - about music, about structure, math, chords, composition, harmony, style, it all boils down to "unweaving the rainbow" in Dawkins' parlance. It detracts from the experience. Going to a music show for me is a torture, for the last thing I want to associate music with is a bunch of humans making coordinated physical motions in complex devices that cause the air to oscillate. I want music to be what makes my eyes teary when a Myiazaki's character finally saves the forgotten forest from the mountain spirit. Music should be a memoir of my grandma bringing me as a child to bed while Vivaldi's Spring surrounded the bed. By the same token, there are many details of people's lives we are better off unaware of, and in the case of a blogger, or a writer, you frequently just don't want to know the details, how easy or hard it was for her to write, or how long does she usually take in the shower. Most people are not hardcore epistemic rationalists, and I'd prefer that those didn't find any link, mention or pointer from the blog comments to the LW posts about it. Perhaps not so much in this community, but mystery is, and will forever remain, an important component in excitement and interest.      

I'll finish off as I did before, by mentioning what this is all about: I don't know which LW posts contain the most compact, memorable or effective techniques for winning at being strategic, but I'm hoping by the end of this process the territory is better mapped for those who'd like to follow suit. Or point and laugh.


2 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:34 AM
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Gwern and Pjeby had a long discussion about book stats and likelihoods of making bestselling lists. It is clear that it is very hard. But it made me feel it is less hard than I thought before.

Learning that there are literally millions of new books a year and that bestseller lists are narrower than you probably thought made you feel it was less hard?

Yes, but I don't think it happened for good reasons. Maybe it was just the feeling of something floating from the unknown unknowns category to the mildly known unknown. Maybe it was the feeling that only if you have the courage to try impossible things you can succeed in this kicking in.
But I take it that it was just an emotion that didn't correctly implement decision theoretic cascades of neurotransmitters according to what would have been desirable in a homo economicus perspective. So do many of our less rational emotions. In other words, it is not a feeling I feel responsible for justifying, I just took it at face value.