Friday, November 8, 2013

Yeah, this skit has it about right.

Many years ago, in what seems like a prior life, I wrote a nonfiction book on enterprise computing. At the time, I was a Chief Technology Officer for a Fortune 50 company. Since nonfiction is all about credentials, I had no trouble finding an agent and publisher. I was pretty happy. I had a Boston agent and Wiley & Sons as a publisher. This was going to be good.

I wanted to title my book Dinosaurs and Whippersnappers. I thought that would be a catchy title for a book about managing computer professionals. Unfortunately, my editor disagreed. In fact she disagreed with everything I wanted to write. She insisted that focus groups had determined that books with the word Digital in the title were in high demand. Against my wishes, she re-titled the book The Digital Organization. She also wanted the book to be about corporate America, insisting that I leverage my familiarity with a celebrity CEO. I also couldn't criticize any inane technology fad because Wiley had surely already published a book that claimed the craze would blow away all prior technology, reduce the corporate labor force by half, and eliminate childhood illness. 

None of this was good advice. By the time the book was eventually published, technologists were sick and tired of books with Digital in the title, my celebrity CEO had lost his luster, and all of my technology advice and references were woefully out of date. Business leaders, however, still had to manage computer professionals and my chapter on this subject kept the book alive in some MBA programs.

What brought all of this ancient history to mind? A hilarious skit by Mitchell and Webb. Way too close to my personal experience. Take a gander. 

The irony of all of this is that Wiley is still marketing The Digital Organization. Traditional publishing moves at a glacial pace, so this technology book was already obsolete by the time it hit bookshelves in 1997. Yet Wiley continues to offer a Kindle version for $49.95. Not many authors recommend against buying one of their own books, but I suggest you give this one a pass.

By the way, this experience taught me a lesson. Never write a book that has a shelf-life of six nanoseconds. This is a big reason why I write historical novels. They last forever. Even the contemporaneous books of Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Raymond Chandler, and Louisa May Alcott are now read as historical novels. I may not be of their caliber, but I sure want to write in their genre.


  1. Great points, James. And you make writing historical sound fun. Or at least less daunting.

  2. I've been wondering about the story behind that book.