How can I strategically write a complex bestseller? (4HS001)

post by Neotenic · 2013-06-12T08:47:17.128Z · score: 13 (16 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 40 comments
“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.” 
- Rainer Maria Rilke
“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
 - Neil Gaiman

3:00 AM, Mexico City, 12 June 2013

Seven years ago I made a promise I didn't keep. I was 17 at the time, and mildly unaware of how complex and large the World is. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I could write a bestseller, come on, it is not that complicated. Just read a random bestseller, they are not even that smart anyway!

Mentor: Yeah, right, I dare you to go back home right now and write a bestseller, go!

Me: I'm busy with all this school stuff right now, so I have to do my homework and....

Mentor: Ok, ok, I'll concede we are very busy right now, how about in five years?

Me: Five years seems more than enough. Take a note, in five years time I'll have written a bestseller. I promise.

Somehow later on I got busy with cooking pasta I needn't eat and listening to gossip about people I didn't care. Not a good start. 

It's never too late to start over though, and now is as good a time as any.

But wait! Humans are not automatically strategic right?

True. Also humans are not as good at detecting their own strategic failures and dead-ends as other humans. If we can't even face more than three minutes of work, how could we ever intuitively look at our work and see where it is bad?

Which is why it seems that the rational way to do it is to find a place where people trained at being strategic can pinpoint your failures and accomplishments as you go along, rewarding you for winning and twisting your mental knobs when you fail, so that over time, either you learn how to do it right, or you learn the right thing to do was something else altogether. This is the project. I'm hoping as an exercise in self-experimentation with Lesswrong rationality techniques that it both helps others who may be undertaking writing or related projects, and inspires others into remaining as strategic as they learned to be over time, or even more. 

I won't write the book here, but I'll keep track of the writing process and everything involved around it here (killing plausible deniability of my goals), and encourage anyone who perchance might be doing something similar to keep track in the same way through commentaries or taking private notes. Starting by the checklist in Humans are not automatically strategic:

We do not automatically:

Descriptive definition: The goal is to have written a book that, despite having interesting complex content, and being within my interest scope, sells enough to get me a free and clear profit of 1700 Big Mac Indexes per month. 54 Big Macs a day. Current US $7140,00 per month, for three consecutive months.

Ostensive Definition: Being the author of something that enters my cognitive intensional cluster containing Drop Dead Healthy, The Four Hour Workweek, Outliers, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Stumbling on Happiness, The Game, A Short History of Nearly Everything, The Mistery Method, Freakonomics, Flourish, The Guinea Pig Diaries, 

Achieve: The income part is easy to detect. If it has interesting content will have to depend on a fallible 'at the time judgment' and a quick consultation with a friend who knew me before the process. (Miss T, she is great)
Track: Writing here about the process. Checking for the twelfth virtue frequently. Track a long to do list with specific and impossible deadlines as soon as it makes sense to fully write one.

Possible danger: It is easy to be curious about the info for the book, and much harder to be curious about how to write much better, even harder how to write aiming at selling - or whichever reflective shield needs to be looked at to stare into the eyes of the selling Medusa.

This will be next post's topic. Here only what didn't work: (1)Writing purely for fun made me write a book but not create a product. (2)Waiting for creativity made no difference in writing quality, actually writing did. (3) Writing a book in Spanish was a terrible idea. (4)Choosing writer peers according to mild proximity helped with writing fiction movie scripts, but not non-fiction books.

Conjectures: (1)Trying to sell before writing may shorten the process manyfold. (2)Riding someone else's fame and marketing eases the process. (3)Writing with the purpose of causing the reader to show a friend what he has - who am I kidding, it's a guy, look at the ostensive examples - just read is the best meta-goal to keep in mind. (4) It is not that hard to get my goal, it isn't that far from a sarcastic quote: "One person in every town in Britain likes your dumb online comic. That's enough to keep you in beers (or T-shirt sales) all year." (4)There is always a third alternative, and many times I'm not the one who will see it first. Keep an attentive ear.

I don't have a clear idea of what Salamon meant by "isn't going into systematic exploration" and I can't constrain my experience based on this line alone, if anyone feels qualified to clarify, please do. I'll deal with this on later posts.

Fears: Having learned in Lesswrong to do things I had never considered myself able to, I don't feel any fear of trying it wrong. I do however feel anxiety and fear that peeking into my reasoning process and strategic attempt at this goal won't be motivating enough for others to want to translate by analogy my experience into theirs, which wouldn't give me the critical minimal threshold of upvotes and comments necessary to keep me motivated to write about writing. That could stymie my exposition of the shortcuts that help me, and the biases that hinder me, in hope of improving my winning ability. Because I'm opening up the goal and process before it takes place, it could also forestall a case study of an attempt at strategic goal-pursuit free of survivorship bias.

Energy Vortexes: No Vortex is like the web for me. More on that later.

My workspace is pretty optimized at this point. Nowhere under these freakishly bright lights I can look around and see anything but things that make me want to write more, make me happy, or avoid distractions, like anti-mosquitoes or earplugs.

I've just found out that writing about you goals feels like getting naked in public. The idea is for the next posts to be very similar to this one: find a set of strategic advices in Lesswrong, find out how to use them, and write about how am I implementing, or intending to implement them as much as possible in a way people can relate their own goal agenda, providing a case study of what happens as we go along. My favorite writer, AJ Jacobs, once set out to follow all 613 rules written anywhere in the Bible, literally. The idea here is to do something similar, but connotative. I will try to openly implement all of Lesswrong strategic offerings, and see how that goes. I don't know which 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.

40 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Omid · 2013-06-12T13:44:22.991Z · score: 19 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If writing is anything like music, becoming a bestseller is probably a matter of luck:

Watts wanted to find out whether the success of a hot trend was reproducible. For example, we know that Madonna became a breakout star in 1983. But if you rewound the world back to 1982, would Madonna break out again? To find out, Watts built a world populated with real live music fans picking real music, then hit rewind, over and over again. Working with two colleagues, Watts designed an online music-downloading service. They filled it with 48 songs by new, unknown, and unsigned bands. Then they recruited roughly 14,000 people to log in. Some were asked to rank the songs based on their own personal preference, without regard to what other people thought. They were picking songs purely on each song's merit. But the other participants were put into eight groups that had "social influence": Each could see how other members of the group were ranking the songs.

Watts predicted that word of mouth would take over. And sure enough, that's what happened. In the merit group, the songs were ranked mostly equitably, with a small handful of songs drifting slightly lower or higher in popularity. But in the social worlds, as participants reacted to one another's opinions, huge waves took shape. A small, elite bunch of songs became enormously popular, rising above the pack, while another cluster fell into relative obscurity.

But here's the thing: In each of the eight social worlds, the top songs--and the bottom ones--were completely different. For example, the song "Lockdown," by 52metro, was the No. 1 song in one world, yet finished 40 out of 48 in another. Nor did there seem to be any compelling correlation between merit and success. In fact, Watts explains, only about half of a song's success seemed to be due to merit. "In general, the 'best' songs never do very badly, and the 'worst' songs never do extremely well, but almost any other result is possible," he says. Why? Because the first band to snag a few thumbs-ups in the social world tended overwhelmingly to get many more. Yet who received those crucial first votes seemed to be mostly a matter of luck.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-12T23:05:48.187Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nor did there seem to be any compelling correlation between merit and success. In fact, Watts explains, only about half of a song's success seemed to be due to merit.

Half the success being due to merit sounds like a pretty compelling correlation.

comment by 9eB1 · 2013-06-12T13:59:43.261Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Convincing the entire LessWrong community to care about the outcome of your book-writing endeavor could theoretically be a way to be "the first band to snag a few thumbs-ups in the social world."

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-12T13:18:30.915Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I was around 13 a guy who went on to some success as a writer asked me a question. "Trevor, what do you write with?" I answered a typewriter. "No, what do you write with?" I answered, um, sometimes a pencil? "No. You write with your ass. Because if you don't put your ass in a chair, you don't write." There's no substitute for thousands of pages of terrible writing to cull out the acceptable writing to shape into the good writing.

When I was around 20 a woman who was a professional writer told me she was working on her next book. "What's it about?" I asked. She said thanks for asking but she wasn't going to say. She said you can either write, or you can talk about writing. You need to decide which one you're going to do and not confuse them. When you talk about writing, your brain thinks you've written and stops working. Only writing is writing. Feedback from peers can be helpful. General statements of where you're at, fine. Specifics of what you're doing to the general public is making a big map and never walking in the territory.

These two bits of advice have been tremendously helpful to me. I get published every once in a while.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-12T16:52:22.933Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look, if you set out to basically do the impossible (writing a guaranteed bestseller not having sold a book before), you better not use the standard strategies which experimentally have one in a million success rate. Anything obviously exploitable without a one-in-a-million talent would have been done already, given the low barrier to entry these days. You may accidentally hit a jackpot (a teenage girl meeting a noble vampire and a hunky werewolf, or a young woman meeting a charismatic executive with dark carnal secrets), but the odds are just that, of hitting a jackpot. You should probably either lower your expectations or look for ways to drastically improve your odds in extremely creative ways. Or find that part of your talent which is one-in-a-million and exploit it mercilessly.

comment by pjeby · 2013-06-13T21:00:12.273Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

one in a million success rate

I'm not sure I know where you're getting this from. Aren't there a lot fewer than a million books published each year?

A lot depends on what the definition of "best seller" is. Are we talking about NYT best seller? How many weeks on the list? There are 52 weeks in the year and 10 slots on the list for each of fiction and nonfiction.

There's at least one LW member whose first nonfiction book was an international bestseller, and I'd say it's pretty likely that his second (released this month) will do the same.

I think that what your Twilight/Fifty Shades examples are referring to would be more accurately described as "cultural phenomena", rather than mere bestsellers. Bestsellers happen every week.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-13T21:36:57.182Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I know where you're getting this from. Aren't there a lot fewer than a million books published each year?

Absolutely not. In the UNESCO figures, the USA hits >300k new books a year and a global total of >2.2m new books a year. Estimates sourced from Bowkers (in charge of ISBNs) using a less restrictive definition put it at 3 million, in the USA alone.

comment by pjeby · 2013-06-15T19:03:23.248Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

the USA hits >300k new books a year and a global total of >2.2m new books a year

So, in any given market for books, there are a lot less than a million published each year. 300k/520 opportunities to be a bestseller = better than 1:1000 odds.

Note that an "international bestseller" doesn't mean a book is in the top worldwide, it means that it was a bestseller in more than one country. So nobody's trying to rank out of the 2.2m/year.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-15T19:41:01.858Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, in any given market for books, there are a lot less than a million published each year. 300k/520 opportunities to be a bestseller = better than 1:1000 odds.

That doesn't follow. To make the obvious points, books published the previous years (~300m possibilities) are also competing for space on the bestsellers list by means fair and foul (see the Church of Scientology), and books can also spend many weeks on the bestseller list, using up even more slots (not sure where your 520 number is coming from).

comment by pjeby · 2013-06-15T19:47:43.160Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(not sure where your 520 number is coming from).

10 slots on a list times 52 weeks in a year. While the other issues you mention are relevant, they are at least somewhat balanced by there being more than one best seller list in existence, many with a smaller pool of candidates than the NYT list.

comment by gwern · 2013-06-15T19:54:06.434Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

somewhat balanced by there being more than one best seller list in existence

Somewhat. Not much. There are books that spend months or years on the bestsellers (eg. Fifty Shades of Grey), and just one of these books alone will blow away an entire tenth of the entire pool for that bestseller list - and then there are the sequels or spinoffs or licensees of existing franchises like Star Wars or Star Trek or Dune or Twilight...

many with a smaller pool of candidates than the NYT list.

That's not a point in favor because it means that you will have a hard time getting into those pools. It's only useful if you know in advance that you can get into them.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-13T21:41:46.961Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aren't there a lot fewer than a million books published each year?

Indeed, most aspiring authors never get published, unless you count self-kindling on Amazon or similar. But it does look like one-in-a-million odds was an exaggeration.

From Wikipedia: some 200k books are published in the US every year, less than 1% of those become bestsellers. From other sources: manuscript acceptance rate by major publishers (who produce the vast majority of bestsellers) is around 1%. So the prior is something like 1:10000 to start with. Probably close to 1:1000 after you filter out most of the obvious crap that gets submitted. Maybe these are worthwhile odds for you, I don't know. If so, good luck, you'll need it.

comment by pjeby · 2013-06-15T19:30:43.865Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably close to 1:1000 after you filter out most of the obvious crap that gets submitted. Maybe these are worthwhile odds for you, I don't know. If so, good luck, you'll need it.

Fiction vs. non-fiction makes a huge difference in luck vs. skill.

For non-fiction, the relevant skill of course is marketing, not writing. Where "marketing" includes such subskills as defining a topic and/or title that people will actually buy, and planning how to market the book before spending time on actually writing it. (Tim Ferriss, for example, determined the title of "The Four-Hour Workweek" by empirical testing using Google Adwords.)

Note too that professional authors do not simply write books and send them to publishers; they write proposals... which to be accepted generally require evidence of the aforementioned marketing work.

(All this being said, I have zero expertise in the fiction book business; it may be that there are more ways to convert luck to skill than I am aware of in that department as well. Certainly there are ways to manipulate sales there, build a brand, accumulate a following, etc.)

I already mentioned a fellow LWer who I expect to have another bestseller soon; I feel confident predicting it because I know his marketing skill, available endorsement sources, personal platform, and how hard he's been working the tour circuit while the book was still in pre-sales. I will be very surprised if the book doesn't attain "bestseller" status on at least one bestseller list soon.

(Do remember that "bestseller" does not automatically equal "cultural phenomenon". There are thousands of "bestsellers" in the US alone each year, and most of them are books you have never, ever heard of, and quite possibly never will.)

Anyway, one of the most relevant factors in determining an author's marketing strength is the size of their "platform", and it's relevant for both fiction and non-fiction. A platform is basically how many people the author can reach, as far as personal influence to purchase. The term comes from the notion of platform speaking, i.e., influence by getting up on stage and talking to people. So a person who is on a lecture circuit, or better yet has their own TV or radio show, or fan club, etc., has more built-in bestseller power than someone who does not. Email lists, podcast subscribers, forum followers... any number of such things count.

Platform size is relevant because really, this is the main group of people who will buy the book, i.e., people who have become fans of the author, even if they are fans for some reason unrelated to writing. Most books are scarcely advertised at all, and are thus almost entirely dependent on the author to create demand. (Which is why an existing platform and willingness to work the publicity circuit are part of publishers' acceptance criteria.)

So... if somebody doesn't know and take into consideration at least as much information about book sales as I have listed above, they would indeed require a great deal of luck to be successful. OTOH, somebody like Eliezer or the other LW author I mentioned (who have large platforms of fans who they can easily reach) can have bestsellers with a lot less luck required, assuming the topic is one that has appeal to their platform. Indeed, with a sufficiently large platform, one can have a bestseller on some lists (e.g. some of Amazon's lists) simply by co-ordinating the timing of fans' purchases.

comment by DerBerggeist · 2013-06-12T14:33:32.673Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Behold! Millions of stories that will never, ever get professionally published, much less reach best sellers lists. The academic/non-fiction market's much smaller, but also fiercely competitive. I'm reminded of the "everyone has to write a million words of crap before they can start producing good fiction" quote (attributed to Raymond Chandler, it seems), so I guess it's reasonable to ask your experience with writing: How much have you written, and how often have you accomplished the substantially lesser tasks of getting published at all and making (any!) money off your work? Since you listed a bunch of pop-non-fiction to fill, your, err, "intensional cluster", what are your areas of expertise? Most of those authors were either well established in their fields or had written extensively already.

Anyway, as for ideas, Dan Carlin recently gave a potential topic (not for money, but for attention) at the very beginning of one of his recent podcasts. Could try something like that. Controversy seems a more reliable way than others to sell.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-12T13:02:07.135Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

writing for money is a waste of time. Most people would do better by getting a minimum wage job and spending their entire paycheck on lottery tickets.

Sarah Wynde

comment by Omid · 2013-06-12T17:39:01.706Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The average DIY writer makes $10,000 year. A minimum wage job pays $14,500/yr assuming no work expenses. If lottery tickets return less than 70% of money you pay for them, then writing is indeed more lucrative.

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-12T18:06:46.759Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Say you have three writers, two earn zero and one earns $30,000 a year. Two of the three writers (most writers) would be better off "getting a minimum wage job and spending their entire paycheck on lottery tickets" than writing.

comment by Omid · 2013-06-12T19:02:14.114Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It would depend on the variance of the lottery. But my first impression of the quote was that it was referring to high variance lotteries that offer the chance of becoming super rich, rather than low variance lotteries that can't make you rich but will usually return a portion of the money you spent.

At any rate, the survey found that about 1 in 10 authors earn enough money to live off writing alone. Those are tough odds, but nowhere near the 1 in 175,000,000 odds of winning the Powerball.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-06-12T15:59:57.945Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most people are quite bad at writing, but also, most people working at minimum wage jobs are not getting paid to do something they enjoy.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-12T09:14:07.089Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How many words do you write per day?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-12T12:37:07.491Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My guess about a good strategy:

First, choose a topic. It should be something many people strongly care about, have different opinions about, and many of them are optimistic about. Good choices are: making money, sexual relations, human nature, human thinking... essentially "how to live well in this society?" or "how to understand humans?". (Avoid topics like conspiracy theories, politics, or religion, where people usually just get angry.)

Second, do a research. Find many books, magazines, blogs, etc. related to the subject. Make notes about everything, but most importantly about interesting stories (humans love reading stories about other humans). The more quotes from various sources you make, the more serious and valuable your book will seem.

Third, make a structure and write a book. When you have your notes, perhaps some clusters will appear there naturally. Those will be the main parts of your book. Separate the notes to piles, and write each part of the book. Always start a chapter with an anecdote, then put in everything that seems related, and finally write a simplictic easy-to-remember conclusion using large letters. Write an introduction describing why the topic is personally so imporant for you, why destiny chose you to describe it, how you spent all your life researching the topic, and how writing the book completely changed your life. Write a finishing chapter where you will repeat all the wisdom from the previous chapters, thank readers for buying your book, and suggest that the knowledge in this book, if properly understood, will completely change the science and the society as we know them.

Fourth, marketing. --- I don't know much about that. Sending a free copy of the book to some influential people, and paying some bloggers and journalists to write some hype about you would probably help, but I guess there is a whole industry that does the same thing professionally, and you just pay them to do it for you.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-13T00:25:31.365Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Avoid topics like conspiracy theories, politics, or religion, where people usually just get angry.

On the contrary; there's a substantial market for partisan cheerleading. Just ask Ann Coulter or Al Franken.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-13T06:52:09.754Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, there are different types of bestsellers. I used the ones mentioned in the article as a template.

If you are strongly partisan, then you must optimize for partisan writing. You can't afford to write about interesting topics too, because then you limit your readership to people who both share your party line and are interested in the topic.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-12T13:20:17.470Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sending a free copy of the book to some influential people,

Influential people get a lot of free copies of books that go straight to the trash.

Otherwise I think there are many people who rougly follow your strategy and write a book that doesn't find an audience.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-12T15:10:00.926Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Influential people get a lot of free copies of books that go straight to the trash.

That seems terribly inefficient. Don't influential people have personal assistants and soforth who can sell stuff on ebay?

comment by Vaniver · 2013-06-12T16:41:20.310Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upon learning from his publisher that college professors were selling complimentary textbooks for profit:

Previously, I have always returned, unopened, unsolicited books from publishers (I dislike advertising). But now you have given me a better idea.

Sincerely,

Richard P. Feynman

(from Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track)

comment by palladias · 2013-06-12T19:35:43.760Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eh, when I get free books sent to me that I'm not going to read, it's usually b/c I think they're lousy. I don't want to sell them to someone else who might have read a good book instead. Straight to the trash.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-15T13:15:22.315Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Different people may dislike different books.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-12T17:48:41.096Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most of the people who are influential for selling books are bloggers. Some of them do have virtual assistants but no physical ones that are at the location to which books get send.

If you have someone like Oprah I don't think that they will sell the books on ebay either.

Don't underrate the complexity of the accounting. I book that's thrown into the trash isn't earned for accounting purposes. If you however get free books that you sell, that's probably income for the IRS.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-06-12T16:05:34.078Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably wouldn't be the most productive use of time for their assistants; it's hard to be influential while needing the sort of money you can make reselling free book copies.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-12T23:11:14.549Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think if it's not a productive waste of time for their assistant, they need another assistant. Assistants don't require nearly as much pay as influential people.

This is especially true since they don't need to sell the books immediately. If they never have time for that, they're clearly overworked.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-12T12:53:34.893Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strategic offering: Get someone whose opinion and emotional support you trust to nag you to write every day for multiple hours.

I had a lot of vague fictional story ideas where I would think of a concept, write a chapter about a concept, and then never have it go anywhere past Chapter 1 or 2. I was able to use the above to fix that.

Examples:

A woman is kidnapped wakes up in a prison for people with superpowers, but she doesn't seem to have a superpower, at first.

Bulma from Dragonball Z is a lot like MOR Harry Potter.

Pinkie Pie ascends to Alicornism and institutes Transequinism.

A MMORPG from the perspective of an Artificially Intelligent Villian capable of leveling up and acting as a Player Character could.

And my wife has a great deal of fun having me be a DM, so I had been coming up with encounters and game worlds. In the most recent one, in a superhero campaign, I would often write out Monthly reports in Google Docs, about how these people had gone after these things, and Irradiated Bionic Aliens had been trying to invade these states. But these were just summaries.

I had had my latest writing Idea which was unlikely to go very far, which was "Hey, why don't I put all 6 members of MLP in a D&D universe setting as humans. Pinkie Pie can be a Bard, Applejack can be a Ranger, Twilight Sparkle can be a Wizard, Rarity can be a Sorcerer, Fluttershy can be a Druid, and Rainbow Dash can be a Monk. I can have them go through Dungeons together and I can keep track of their progress."

What actually got me to have 250 pages and almost 100,000 Words (as opposed to 7 Pages and not even 3,000 words, like some of my other ideas.) in what seems to have been just a few months was my wife saying:

"Oh, can I play?" after I was idly chatting with her about what bonus feats various Ponies could get.

So the 6 characters from My Little Pony Friendship is Magic universe, and Megan, a D&D universe native (And also another MLP reference from a previous generation) are questing and questing and questing, and so I was writing, and writing, and writing.

Because she was insisting on playing, or having me prepare another session, 5 days a week, like it was a second job which I did, because well, she's my wife.

All because I had one person who I wanted to keep happy and who was having me write and write and write even when I really would rather not have been writing.

This does not mean I'm a GOOD writer, by any means. (Looking it over, the story needs a truly enormous amount of editing, at least in part because I'm typing it and DMing at the same time and in part because the quality and level of detail shifts rather substantially from page to page.) But that certainly got me way, way past the "Oh I have all these great ideas but I never seem to get them to chapter 3. Maybe later I'll have the time!" phase of writing.

Also, I have to give credit to my wife in addition to forcing me to keep writing, sometimes she'll follow along on her smartphone and edit as I type, fixing spelling errors or having me reword phrases when she has no idea who is speaking.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-12T19:08:19.419Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

These days you can just use Beeminder to nag you to write every day. I've been doing this with my math blog ever since I noticed in March that I hadn't written a substantive post since November.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-12T19:25:10.360Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can even integrate both of these: Recently, if my wife nags me to do something, I set up an automated reminder for it. For instance, in the D&D setting specifically I have automated reminders of:

Use smaller dungeons. Preroll random encounters. Avoid boring intersections.

But I have other interpersonal reminders as well.

I used to use Beeminder for exercise and it worked, but my wife wasn't into it and wanted me to stop because it was getting so focused on what I was Beeminding I was annoying her when I was saying things like

"Oh no, I have to spend time lifting weights once we get home from this party because I have no slack time today and I'll fall of the yellow brick road if I don't!"

But yes, Beeminder is certainly worth trying, for sure.

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-06-13T00:22:46.302Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A MMORPG from the perspective of an Artificially Intelligent Villian capable of leveling up and acting as a Player Character could.

There are MMOs in which you can play a supervillain instead of a superhero...

comment by chaosmage · 2013-06-12T19:01:56.132Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How much utility would you get out of an unfinished book? Have you factored that into your expected utility for the project?

I think you should go for an episodic format, with pieces that could be publishable by themselves even if you don't achieve your primary goal. Like Freakonomics. Big monolithic narratives like The Better Angels of our Nature are great if you're an experienced and (more importantly) well-known author who can easily recruits lots of assistance.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-15T23:14:46.508Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even though you seem to be focused on non-fiction, you might want to strategically examine what kinds of themes and historically bestselling novels have tackled: read something like Hit Lit for a good breakdown. Stories can be critical in non-fiction too.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-06-14T07:42:15.943Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Idea: make a bunch of money using some other method, then offer your book for 1 cent (or cheaper?) and buy a bunch of copies of it yourself.

comment by Zaine · 2013-06-18T20:34:59.799Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are best-sellers purely determined by number of copies sold; revenue isn't a factor? Hohoho, behold.

comment by RowanE · 2013-06-12T14:04:35.432Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I upvoted as soon as I saw "critical minimum threshold of upvotes and comments necessary to keep me motivated". This is probably a bad attitude for me to have, but the overall post I think still deserves an upvote anyway, I look forward to seeing what happens next.