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Fast Books!

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The Daily Beast has partnered with Perseus Books Group to found a quick turnaround imprint aimed at getting books from writers to readers in a matter of months, as opposed to the traditional year or two. Here's how it would work:

On a typical publishing schedule, a writer may take a year or more to deliver a manuscript, after which the publisher takes another nine months to a year to put finished books in stores. At Beast Books, writers would be expected to spend one to three months writing a book, and the publisher would take another month to produce an e-book edition.

Then it's off to the paperback edition. What's interesting about this model isn't simply the shortening of the production time -- it's the shortening of the writing time.

This doesn't get as much attention as it should, in part because it's not really in the interest of writers to loudly talk about how much easier their job has gotten, and how much more quickly they can produce lots of content. But that's the reality of it. People tend to assume that blogs are a product of technological advancements in publishing content. But the writing of constantly-updated political blogs is a product of the falling time cost for finding information. You can now get all your polls on pollster.com, and all the op-eds from every newspaper, and all the archives from all these newspapers, and all the info on other blogs, and so on and so forth.

That's why I can publish 15 posts a day. Writing doesn't take very long. Quoting doesn't take very long. But assembling information used to take an awful long time. It required a lot of phone calls and microfiche and faxes and walking over to Brookings and paging through newspaper archives and begging a source at Gallup. Now it doesn't take much time at all. That allows me to be the equivalent of a very fast columnist, and there's no reason it won't allow others to become very fast book authors.

Photo credit: By Jeff Chiu —Associated Press

By Ezra Klein  |  September 29, 2009; 5:40 PM ET
Categories:  Books  
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Comments

As long as these books have no ambitions for creativity or novelty, this is a good plan. But if you're trying to do more than just repackage quotes and existing information, 1-3 months is silly.

And yes, I'd trade slightly fewer posts for slightly more analysis even on this august blog.

Posted by: Ulium | September 29, 2009 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Surely there are some significant differences between blogging and many other forms of writing, both fiction and nonfiction, which would make these technological synergies less relevant?

A poet attempting original work cannot just grab "The Wasteland," toss it a link along with some pithy analysis about how it ties into the overarching narrative of post-WWI destruction and call it a day. Even if he could, the flowing stream of current events (how's the bill doing today?) and self-referential chatter (insert link to Yglesias, Drum here)isn't developed in the same manner.

You're really good at what you do. But I do not believe all writing has its output volume as tightly linked to the raw rate of data input.

Posted by: adamiani | September 29, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, Ezra? One to three books for original work in a complicated field? Come on.

Even reporting, at book-length, should usually involve some time-consuming work to gather information not easily accessed on teh internets. Interviews, site visits, following up some blind leads and serendipitous ideas. Did you ask John Cohn how long it took him to write his?

Gee whiz.

Posted by: Sophomore | September 29, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Um, well maybe if the type of book you're wanting to bring out is “Attack of the Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America” (the new Daily Beast/Perseus imprint's first title).

If you're Saul Bellow writing "The Adventures of Augie March" or John Dos Passos writing "U.S.A." or an art-historian preparing the catalogue raisonné of Philip Guston ... not so much.

As an editor, I contest your assertion that "writing doesn't take very long." Sure, we can all write fairly quickly, but what portion of that writing is worthy of permanent publication? Good, thoughtful writing can be painstakingly slow. This all feels a bit like quick-buck, vanity publishing. There's a place for that, but I think it's a very small place.

Look, for topical, news-cycle missives, this is okay. I'm not pretending to misread the intent of this enterprise. And I'm sure a few quick bucks can be made. But if this is the direction of publishing ... yikes.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | September 30, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

It may be faster to find, copy, paste, and comment on content that somebody else has already written and made available on the internets. Finding or creating new information, though, is still time consuming. Modern technology speeds up many processes, but it doesn't work like you see on a "Bones" episode.

Posted by: tl_houston | September 30, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"That's not writing, that's typing."

You're making it sound as if the intellectual version of Amdahl's law is a good thing. Sure, if you already know what your book is going to say, and you're willing to limit yourself to sources easily available by email, phone or google you can report out a book-length article very quickly. And of course if you find something that contradicts the narrative you went in with, or that points to sources not immediately accessible, that's too bad

I'm kinda interested that you think this way about your own productivity. When you were at your previous employer, the posts tended to come less often, and some of them, at least, appeared to have signs of having thought a subject over rather than just transcribing whatever sources were easily available. That synthesis is, uh, what we actually depend on journalists and authors to do.

Posted by: paul314 | September 30, 2009 11:10 AM | Report abuse

"Writing doesn't take very long. Quoting doesn't take very long. But assembling information used to take an awful long time. It required a lot of phone calls and microfiche and faxes and walking over to Brookings and paging through newspaper archives and begging a source at Gallup. Now it doesn't take much time at all. That allows me to be the equivalent of a very fast columnist..."

Which is why one must ask, why is anyone still paying David Broder or Tom Friedman the big bucks for writing op-ed columns? In an era where even our best-known newspapers claim to be having severe financial problems, why aren't they taking advantage of the fact that opinion - even opinion backed by credentials, experience, and a track record of insightfulness - has become quite inexpensive?

Or, to phrase it differently, why should I believe that the WaPo is experiencing any sort of financial difficulties when they continue paying the likes of Richard Cohen and Robert J. Samuelson for writing worthless, pointless dreck?

Posted by: rt42 | September 30, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Please, Lord, see to it that Beast Books takes the trouble to employ copy editors!

Kthxbai.

Posted by: ajw_93 | September 30, 2009 1:16 PM | Report abuse

It's hard to understand why this announcement is getting the attention that it is, except that Tina has always been a beast at getting publicity for herself. Contrary to much of the reaction, she's not inventing anything new here.

Conventional publishers do exactly this every week already, the larger ones already put out a fair number of what are called "instant books". Sarah Palin's book is only one recent example. So were all the instant Obama books earlier this year. Now they don't publish every book as an instant book, but it's not appropriate for every book. When she starts publishing a hundred books a year like this I'll believe she may have figured out something the rest of us haven't. Until then, this is only a slightly desperate way to get her investors thinking that she might finally earn some revenues for them.

As for shortened writing cycles, it's been happening for years in book publishing, even serious books are delivered much more quickly than used to be the case. Now journalists are often fast writers, but the truth is many of them are lousy book writers. More than a few can't write them by themselves. But even most of the ones who write good books are working from material they've been covering, which makes information gathering and writing much easier. Try researching and writing an original work of serious history before suggesting that all writing is like this gig. It isn't.

Posted by: pblshng | September 30, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Too bad books haven't gotten that much better if writing is so much easier.

Perhaps I was brainwashed during my collegiate English major days, but I still believe the best and most enduring writing requires some time of deep reflection and incubation, a period of writing, and then multiple rounds of intense and ruthless editing to turn a draft into craft.

Posted by: jcindy | September 30, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

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