Advice for possible and wanna-bee book writers

Adam Ozimek asks me:

Bleg for , don’t think I asked this before but maybe I did…. advice for economists and other social scientists planning on writing a book (I’m not planning, just curious for the future)

Let me pull out those social scientists whose disciplines expect them to write books for tenure and promotion, because those are quite different cases.  I’ll start with a few simple questions:

1. Should you write a book?  You will always have something better to do, and thus IQ and conscientiousness are not necessarily your friends in this endeavor.  And you are used to having them as your friends in so much of what you do.

2. Should anyone, other than historians (broadly construed), write a book?

3. Will you make more money from an excellent email newsletter?

4. How about some YouTube lectures?  You don’t have to mention the lobster.

5. Consistently good columnists are hard to come by, and believe it or not blogs still exist.

6. Twitter is now up to 280 characters, photos too, maybe more to come.

7. Will your book idea still be fresh, given the long lags in the writing and publication cycle?  Won’t DT have done so much more between now and then?  Don’t his tweets obliterate interest in your book?

8. In advance, try to predict the price they will charge for your book.  Also try to predict the percentage of the reading public — and I mean those who bought your book — who will get past the first ten percent.

One good reason to write a book is when you have the feeling you cannot do anything else without getting the book out of your system.  In that sense, you can think of the lust to write books as a kind of disability.

Another good reason to write a book is so you can do the rounds on the podcast circuit.  It doesn’t matter if no one reads your book, provided you are invited to do the right podcasts.  Wouldn’t you rather talk to people anyway?

Yet another possible reason to write a book is the desire to get on “the speaker’s circuit,” noting that most book topics won’t help you with this at all.  You had better be good.

Bryan Caplan is perhaps the most natural “social science book writer” I have met, besides myself of course.  Not only does he want people to agree with him, he insists that they agree with him for the right reasons.

If you’re still game, start by writing every single day.  No exceptions.  Sooner or later, you will have something, and then you can write another one.


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