Category Archives: Publishing

Today’s Quote: 17 March 2017

“This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

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March 17, 2017 · 7:34 am

Minimum Viable Book: The Case of Michael J. Knowles

No one who thinks about the future of publishing can fail to be fascinated by the overnight success of Reasons to Vote for Democrats by Michael J. Knowles. The book is still at number 1 as I write: not just in its category but in the category of all books on It has been there for several days straight, selling some 60,000 copies and earning its self-published author enough money to buy his first house. It has 1,676 customer reviews and a 4.5 star rating.

This is a book with no big publisher behind it, and no real marketing campaign. It is also a book with no words in it. It is blank.

The book recycles an old joke, as Knowles freely admits. But he has pulled it off with style. Democrat attempts to reverse the tables with their own copycat effort have failed to take off.

You can’t predict what will go viral. But there are lessons here worth noting.

  • Do your best work

Knowles did a solid job on this. The cover is properly designed. He got Ben Shapiro, a conservative rock star, to give him a puff quote. And he didn’t just do an ebook, he got it formatted properly for print. He made a little video of him flicking through it to demonstrate its blankness. And he even bothered to subdivide sections within the book and provide some references at the end. When called for interview, Knowles can recite chapter and verse of embarrassing Democrat history to explain why he left each chapter (on values, the economy, etc) blank. If this is an empty book, it is full of attention to detail. As Seth Godin always says, show up and surprise people with great work, even if it doesn’t seem to require it. People can tell the difference.

  • Do a job for people

Even better, do a job that justifies them buying multiple copies. Clay Christensen talks about thinking of products in terms of jobs to be done. Most books are rather limited, in that we buy one copy to entertain or inform ourselves. Knowles’s book is instead a novelty item, a practical joke that people can use to poke fun in a lighthearted way at people they are close to but disagree with politically, by gifting them a copy. At first glance, it looks like a pro-Democrat book. Only when you open it to find it blank do you see you have been fooled. As a result, many people bought multiple copies. In a politically divided America, this book does a job that lots of people really needed a way to do in a goodhumoured fashion.

  • Leave room for people’s creativity

I’ve written before about the imperative in an age of selfie-nomics to design products that leave room for the consumer to insert their own personality and creativity. The emptiness of the book made reviewing it into a creative challenge that explains why it has such a staggering number of positive reviews. They make great reading. Discussion of the book on Twitter hit a similar height of performative silliness.

  • Leverage a network

This book didn’t have a big firm behind it, but it did have a big network courtesy of the Daily Wire, where Knowles works. That meant a lot of prime buyers were presented the book as it launched, and in the context of voices they already respected. The part where it then caught fire through word of mouth was unpredictable, but a good and relevant network and authoritative figures with large followings who are willing to vouch for you are invaluable. But note you don’t have to own that network. You just have to get access to it.

Perhaps the most important lesson is that one young man could pull this off by using simple tools on Amazon that are available free to anyone. He then reached out to a likeminded network, who were willing to do all the hard work of promoting, reviewing and celebrating the book on social media. And that then led to more traditional appearances on TV networks and even more awareness and sales. All conducted in a spirit of good humour and celebration.

The world is open today as never before to anyone with a good idea and the right attitude. It’s a topic I address in my book, which offers some guidance for the new media landscape we are in. My book has words in, but not too many. And it can never have enough witty reviews. People who bought Reasons to Vote Democrats might also like How To Win Like Trump.



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Today’s Quote: 7/3/17

“The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.”– Arthur Miller

Judge for yourself which side of the line my work stays on 😰. Read How To Win Like Trump today.

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Newt Gingrich on Trump

Scott Adams is still the most entertaining guide to why Trump keeps winning. But former House speaker Newt Gingrich has started carving out his own niche, offering a more conventional style plus the promise of better access.

Gingrich was vetted by team Trump as a potential veep and cabinet pick, but he is staying outside government, focusing on long-term Republican strategy — and  his self-appointed role as Trump’s explainer-in-chief.

His book Understanding Trump isn’t out until the 25th of May. But there’s an ebook collection of his election commentary available for Kindle.

Here’s a few quotes from Gingrich’s new interview this week with Spiegel.

“[T]his is the most fascinating presidency of my lifetime. I think it has the potential to be very, very good or to be very disappointing, and I’m doing everything I can to make it very good.”

“[Trump] has a grand direction. He doesn’t have a grand strategy. He wants to re-establish American authority and power and to relaunch the American economy.”

“[T]he incompetence of the government is so massive that even a moderately good executive could regain much ground pretty rapidly. Donald Trump is a very good executive.”

Read the whole thing.

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Today’s Quote, 16 January 2017

A glorious description of how much books matter from an Old English poem:

“Books are glorious … They gladden the heart of every man amid the pressing miseries of this life. Bold is he who tastes the skill of books; he will ever be the wiser who has command of them. They send victory to the true-hearted, the haven of salvation for those who love them.”

from Solomon and Saturn

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The Content Curse?

I’m reading The Content Trap. It’s a bracing corrective to misty-eyed thinking. Take this quote from Scott Cook, the founder of Intuit.

“Content has been a curse. It causes you to think you can make what’s going to delight customers. It causes you to ignore user contributions. It causes you to focus on your own content rather than on how to get the best content in the world—content anyone can make.”


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The Long View ebooks

You can download a collection of my columns, conveniently formatted as a kindle ebook, at Amazon.

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City A.M. is continuing to innovate to bring you business news with personality

Who would have thought newspapers worth reading could be free? Yet today they are firmly established as a prominent feature in London’s media landscape. In less than ten years, City A.M. itself has become an essential part of the morning commute for London’s discerning professionals, with more than 100,000 copies ready for you every weekday. Continue reading

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Three reads for Christmas: Glamour, Cicero’s web and high-tech fiction

I wrote at the end of November that the rise of the selfie marked the death of the audience and the rise of an age committed to universal self-expression and performance. This week, even world leaders have been joining in. Continue reading

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Selfie-nomics: The world’s now a stage and we’re all performing

My smartphone has a feature I can’t ever imagine using – it promises to insert my live picture into any snapshot I take by turning on both front and rearfacing cameras at once. But I’m clearly behind the times. Even as I cling to my old-fashioned desire to take photographs of the things that I see, “selfie” – the new nickname for a photographic self-portrait – has been declared Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, following a 17,000 per cent increase in usage year-on-year. Continue reading


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