Letters from Seth

Letter 1
The decoupling
Letter 2
Every book needs a title
Letter 3
First look at pages from the Titan
Letter 4
Owning a collectible in a digital world

 

Owning a collectible in a digital world

This is the last update I’ll be sending you about pre-order reservations of my new anthology, “What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind.”

We’re only doing one print run, and we only printed one copy for each reservation we received. No surplus, no big pile of extras.

I’m hoping you’ll check out the video we’ve posted on the order site. I think you can tell that I'm quite excited about what we're building.

We want to reward people like you, the readers who cared enough to leap first, so the pricing for reservations is as low as we could make it.

My library is a sanctuary for me. Thousands of books, each chosen by hand, purchased one at a time through the years. Scarcity and the ability to hold and touch something don’t really jibe with the digital age. In digital, everything is everywhere, all the time, and it’s usually free. Which is great, but sometimes we need the real thing. A solid object, a scarce one, a memory of a moment in time. My library has a patina (in fact, the patina has a patina). I’m hoping the Titan will find a place in yours.

Thanks again for embracing what we’re building.

Your work matters.

Seth

PS We’re on track to ship the books in early December. I think you’re going to be delighted by what we’ve built. Thanks for letting us create this for you.

 

First look at pages from the Titan

I write to help people learn, and learning involves change. Like an arrow being pulled back against a bow, words need a point of leverage, a motive force that enables them to make a difference.

In writing my blog, I’m frequently aware of that tension (or, sometimes, a lack of tension). I can play off other posts, off the email in your box that day, or merely go against expectations.

As a reader, I know it’s really easy to let a post flow right past, to nod our heads while we’re ducking and avoiding the message.

My best posts, I think, use just enough tension and structure to get under your skin, to stick around long enough to begin to resonate.

A few great bloggers use images (I’m thinking of Bernadette Jiwa and Randall Munroe as two examples) to amplify this tension. I generally avoid this on my blog, because it’s not part of my daily method… I’ve learned to live without it.

For the Titan, though, I wanted to explore how far images might take the messages.

I reached out to my colleague Thomas Hawk and asked if I could use his magnificent library of images in this new book. I’m delighted that he agreed.

Tom has published more than 160,000 images online, and he’s doubtless one of the most followed and influential photographers working today. Having access to his work has been a huge help to us in creating this new collectible.

Here are four of the spreads we’ve created for What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind. I hope you’re as pleased as I am about the juxtaposition of words and image. I’ve spent the last two months going through his extraordinary archive, and I think you’ll be delighted and moved by what you see when you hold the finished book.

The next note you’ll get from me will be our launch post. Stand by!

Seth

 

Every book needs a title

After we decided it was time for the Titan, after we decided what was in it and what it was for, we set to work on the task of giving it a name.

Books like, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” have a specific goal, and the title reveals itself without too much distraction. Most non-fiction books, though, have titles that are a little more lyrical and elliptical.

The goals of a title for this kind of book are to spark interest, to build a useful memorable connection between the title and content, and to create a bit of a mystery. “Eat, Pray, Love” is one of the great all-time titles, as are “The Long Tail,” and even, “Purple Cow.”

An anthology, and a collectible one at that, can’t possibly capture the entire theme, and since the book doesn’t have to sell in stores or spread through the public, there’s more leeway to focus on the change the author is seeking to make.

The last Behemoth was called, “This Might Work,” (and the flipside had the title, “This Might Not Work.”)

I still love this title, because of the way it captured the energy I was trying to share in producing the book. My work often encourages people to pick themselves, even though that picking might very well lead to a perceived risk.

Okay, and what about the Titan?

We played with a bunch of titles, including: “Soon Is Not As Good As Now”, “Zen Unicorns”, “My Pet Wombat”, “Bees Can’t Fly”, “Enrollment”, “Say Yes”, and “The Book That Will Most Change Your Life (is the book you write)”.

We paused, ready to go for another round of ideas.

And then, there it was, on the digital whiteboard:

What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind?

Too ungainly to be a commercial book, too esoteric to be a practical MBA textbook, but possibly holding out enough possibility that the reader might think a moment.

And thinking a moment is all we can ask.

More on this soon, along with a chance to finalize your order. Enjoy the sunshine!

Seth

 

The decoupling

Thanks for reserving a copy of the new book. Your reservation number was emailed and texted to you.

We’re going to open an online store to accept orders for people with reservations in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I wanted to share some details on what we’re building and how.

Here’s the first of three email updates:

Our codename for this new project is “Titan” (more on that in a bit).*

A few thoughts on how the original Behemoth came to be. It begins with a timely question: What happens when we separate an idea from the medium that holds it?

For the longest time, it was impossible for a book, a movie or record to exist without a physical container to hold it. We needed paper, vinyl or celluloid as a medium, a vessel to hold the idea.

The internet changes that, of course. Now, a song is no longer bound to a substrate. Every time it’s shared, it duplicates, existing in two places at once. A song can go from the artist’s hard drive to a million phones in less than ten seconds.

This historic decoupling is the engine of massive shifts of our culture. Suddenly, we go from moving ideas at the speed of a truck to spreading ideas at the speed of light. We move from a world where one artifact touches one human to one where a single idea can be experienced by an unlimited number of humans.

Unbound ideas are more than just fast and widespread, though. Because they’re not bound, they’re also able to morph. A reader can take something she’s read, add a comment and forward to a friend. A listener can hear a song and remix it as he passes it down the line. As ideas are adopted and manipulated, they are the seeds for new ideas, actions from others, new rhythms, new organizations, new software.

Github has taken this idea and multiplied it by many orders of magnitude. Code unbound begets more code, which ravels, unravels and re-ravels on its way of becoming even more code.

In just ten years, we’ve built a culture that’s completely dependent on ideas unbound. They spread further and faster and with more impact than at any time in our history.

But, and there’s a huge but here, ‘bound’ still has value.

Ideas are like photons, waves and particles at the same time. Waves--they move, they reflect, they interfere. And particles, because they can leave a mark. We would like to hold them. Libraries still mean something.

Four years ago, I realized that much of my professional output, almost a million words, was unbound. It was in the cloud, easy to bump into, but not so easy to find if you didn’t know what you were looking for. And I hope you’ll forgive me for being over fifty, but the cloud seems a little less reliable than the books I grew up with (of course, it’s actually more reliable than any given volume, but just try reading the internet with a candle during a blackout).

The Behemoth, then, was my attempt to put photons into a bottle, to bind unbound ideas into a physical medium that we could hold and point to and share.

Because books matter.

Still.

Four years later, Alex Peck had a baby. Leo’s two-months old as I write this, and I have to confess that I’ve already bought my creative director’s son more books than he’s able to read (so far). And this new human and these classic books got me thinking again about media and about tying down some of the photons.

Even if everyone can’t own one, even if it’s a collectible for just a few fans, the act of making it concrete, of saying, “here, we made this,” is thrilling to me.

Alex and I have worked on this every day for months, and there’s still more left to go…

Hence the Titan. (We have a title, but we’re still working on the cover--I’ll share that thinking in a future note).

The Titan is another 400,000 words, including most of my blog since 2012, along with the Medium posts and ebooks. And, for good measure, a few rare Fast Company columns from twenty years ago…

Since the goal is to anchor these ideas, we’re repeating the thinking that went into the Behemoth as well. Make it the most substantial, most immobile book we’re capable of. We contacted printers around the world and found the biggest (semi) rational size we could muster, and designed for that.

And so, the edges, the infinite lightness of the weightless idea, and the 17 pound permanence of the same idea, grounded in a medium that means something to people who grew up with it.

* There are a surprisingly large number of synonyms for ‘giant’. Behemoth is a biblical term, but there’s also Gargantua, Godzilla, Hercules and Samson, but they all seem pretty commercial. We thought about codewords like cyclops, Goliath and leviathan, but ultimately went with ‘Titan,’ a fine sibling for the original Behemoth.

More soon. Thanks for leaping with us.

Seth

PS it turns out that no matter how big a book you make, people keep changing and growing and moving. What looked huge is now merely an artifact of how it made you feel.

These photos, before and after, tell the tale. We’re all growing… Thanks Annelise!