How To Make Books and Influence People

Every couple months I allow myself a satiric title, with the honors this post going to “How to make friends and influence people.” That I never read the original is witnessed by my lack of influence, but fortunately, I have books as friends. Simply making books, as I pointed out to a marketing oriented correspondent yesterday, is an increasingly trivial process given today’s technology and word processors. If you just sit and type for X hours a day, within a couple months you’ll have something you could bind and call a book, and if you run out of things to say or ways to express yourself, you can always ask the word processor for help. However, if you want to create a book that will influence people, it’s a little trickier, because you’ll have to write a book that they’ll read.

Marketing isn’t the answer to this particular question anymore than is giving books away for free. You can make a book with a fine leather binding, and that may get it onto somebody’s shelf as eye candy, but they won’t read passed the first page if you don’t have something to say and a way of saying it that’s simpatico with the reader. You can run the most effective marketing campaign in the world and sell umpteen copies, but if nobody reads beyond the first demagogical passage, you won’t influence a soul. I know from correspondence that some of my books have had positive effects on people’s lives, well beyond what you might expect from slightly philosophical how-to titles, but it’s a just the result of being the right preacher in the right place at the right time. If your goal is to make a better future, i.e., one where people who think like you are in charge, what you’re really talking about is propaganda. Oddly, the negative connotation we apply the word in the U.S. is not an international rule, many countries have offices of propaganda, which to them is just another word for pushing their official point of view.

I have a good friend who works for a famous newspaper, one that has a strong editorial point of view. Some of their columnists produce books that they hope will influence how people think, but in the style of most modern political tomes, they spend all of their effort preaching to the converted. Aside from the lack of sport (may as well shoot bunnies in a hutch), it’s a purely an exercise in profit motivated journalism. An author can’t seriously expect to bring about social change by writing a book that will only be read by people who even the author might find to extreme in their support of the author’s views, which are often summed up in the subtitle. So the only point of writing such a book is a grab for royalties and speaking fees. What makes somebody buy such a book escapes me.

If you want to influence people, you have to meet them more than halfway, then bring them along in your direction in a series of easy steps. You don’t have to get the whole job done in one book, and in any case, it’s better for business if you can publish a sequel. Normally, I wouldn’t write a post like this because I’m bothered by the political books I see published on all sides of the spectrum. My rationale today, beyond having thought up the cute post title, is that the work of making a book that has a real chance at influencing people is probably a good exercise in moderation for the author. You’re not going to convince anybody that their point of view is flawed unless you study their point of view sufficiently to see things from their side and understand where they are coming from. And, if you reach that point, you may find out that they’ve been half right all along. If you write that book, you may not make a lot of money, but maybe you’ll make some worthwhile friends.

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