The owner’s manual

A year and a half ago, Hugh McGuire approached me about including a version of "Context first" in a book he was hoping to publish with O'Reilly Media. To help ground the project for me, Hugh sent a draft table of contents. With it, he welcomed any feedback I might have on the content he was planning to include.

I don't remember what I suggested – it was probably some version of "add this, move these, change the order here" – but the next note I got from Hugh asked if I'd like to work with him on the book. With that, our collaboration on Book: A Futurist's Manifesto, now available, was born.

Inventive and practical, Hugh explained the book plainly: "If you were going to start a book publishing company today, this would be the owner's manual." He meant it in terms of a world view, not a business plan. Hugh being Hugh, he also really wanted it to be a manifesto.

To make that book happen, we solicited and included contributions from more than two dozen people that we feel represent some of the best thinking about book publishing. Truth be told, Hugh did more of the soliciting; I was much more the guy who made the trains run on time.

The contributors don't form an exclusive list. Anyone familiar with book publishing knows that there are many important and useful voices not in the book. But this curated set does represent a cross-section of ideas that any future-oriented publisher would want to consider.

From the outset, Hugh divided the book into three sections:

  1. The set-up: Approaches to the digital present
  2. The outlook: What is next for the book?
  3. The things we can do with books: Projects from the bleeding edge

The second and third sections are ordered to (loosely) parallel the creative process, from writers and editors to distributors (platforms) and readers. I say "loosely" because the formal walls between writing and reading, for example, are falling every day, as businesses like Pandamian, Figment and Smart Bitches Trashy Books (all of which are described in the book by their founders) illustrate.

The book also gave Hugh a chance to develop PressBooks, a WordPress extension that made it possible to write, edit and publish directly in HTML. O'Reilly published the book in three stages, testing prices along the way. The first two offers were digital only; with the full book now done, buyers can choose digital, print or a bundled offer.

Because we were developing the book on a blogging platform, we also made the chapters available online as each section was completed. Chapters were open to comments from anyone reading the online work, and we incorporated some of the feedback in the final version.

Although this is a manifesto, our contributors' views are not always fully consistent. We edited with a light hand, preferring to savage comma faults while leaving a range of viewpoints on the table. That's as it should be. If there's a common theme, it is this: "The world has changed. It's time that we changed with it. And here's how."

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.