How to improve the overall quality of a book
Was it Bilbo who sailed to the West? Reading Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge, the first in a four-part series on what it means to be a hero, this seems to be the case. On page 5:
Now, while the case could be made that Bilbo underwent a heroic transformation, that he fought evil, that he traveled to the West and might have used a boat at some point, the story sounds much more like Frodo’s story in Lord of the Rings. The author himself is well versed in fantasy literature, and the amount of media related to the subject is anything but sparse. How could such an error happen?
Well, first, let me admit that I am that author. I am not sure if this is the right or smart way to discuss my own book, but some self-reflection is a great way to grow. So, let us analyze where I, the author, went astray.
My usual judgement on products (in this case, a book) is that they are a mirror of the company behind them. If you have a little bit of background information, reviewing a product can be like an archaeological dig. Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge is a multi-layered book. First, it is part of a series. When writing the first book, the other three books had to be kept in mind. In addition, especially being the first book, it had to stand on its own despite its dealing with the basics (philosophy and language). You cannot sell a book called “Philosophy for Heroes” and then tell the reader to wait for part 4 to finally read about what heroism means. Second, it contains a variety of components: study questions, ideas summarizing a section, biographies adding a human element to sometimes abstract explanations, and real life examples. Skimming through the book, especially those components seem to be “added features” that—while adding value to the book—could just as well be removed. This points to an evolution of the book. Looking back, this is actually true, it underwent a number of transformations:
- A single, very large book
- A five-part series
- Then, a four-part series
- Then, a four-part series with the first book required to stand on its own
- Finally, a four-part series, the first book standing on its own, and additional components (study questions, ideas, biographies, examples, etc.)
As this evolution played out, the later changes underwent the least amount of review, while certain parts, that were already finished when devising the initial large book, had so many reviews, the time spent on dragging them along was a waste of time. How does one write a book without having such a large variance of quality between its parts?
For this, we look at software development. A piece of software faces the same problem, it evolves, some parts are “fresh,” others have been looked at and tested for years. The solution people came up with is called “Agile” (with one variant being “Scrum”). My current project deals with this subject, feel free to check it out here.
The best approach to write something—anything—is to make sure that its pieces stand for themselves. The advantage of this approach is to have those pieces complete and ready, and you can publish each to get feedback and build an audience. Looking back, I should have published each section separately. Sure, someone could piece all the sections together and then have a copy of the book for free. But that takes a lot of effort. Even if it is just half an hour of work, you could have easily bought the book for yourself. Also, the final edit of a book surely connects the independent parts to a greater whole.
In any case, if I did follow that “Agile” approach, it would have been Frodo, not Bilbo, throwing the ring into the fire and traveling to the West.