Since there exist, as of this moment, well over 300 of my blog posts, averaging 1,000 words each, I couldn’t simply publish all of them. That would result in a 300,000-word tome running to about 1,000 pages. The American novel published today clocks in at an average of 60,000 words. True, most of them are trashy stuff, specifically designed for attention span-challenged readers, the sort of books we speed-read on the plane and then toss in the nearest trash can.
But even more serious books also come in on the short side: the average Booker Prize-winning novel contains 94,000 words. Compare “Moby Dick” at 210,000 words, or “War and Peace” at almost 600,000, or (God help us) “Remembrance of Things Past” at 1.3 million words. It would make little sense to put out blog posts in digestible, 1,000-word dollops and then publish a doorstop-sized book of them.
I therefore gave myself an arbitrary 100,000-word limit, just over 300 pages (not counting illustrations), which meant that I had to cut 200,000 words, or two-thirds of the total. If I had worked with an editor, this might have been a piece of cake. But since I had to triage my own children, my precious babies, it has proven almost impossible. Preposterous as it sounds, I love every one of those posts and, left to my own devices, I would, in fact, republish them all in a book so large it could be used to demolish small buildings.
Instead, I searched for ways to kill off my babies in an appropriately Solomonic way. My first cut was to let my readers decide. I.e., I included all the most popular posts, which I judged in part by the number of comments each post received (even if some of those comments were negative). There are also analytical tools available from people like Google that tell you how many hits a post got and how long each person stayed on the page. For example, if a person clicked through to the post and then spent eight seconds there, either (a) they didn’t read it, or (b) (as I prefer to think) they were speed-readers.
I then eliminated posts that were no longer relevant or timely. For example, if something was about to happen and we were all anticipating it, I might write a post about what should happen, as opposed to what most certainly would happen. But since it’s all water over the damn now, those precious babies were shown the door.
Alas, I was still way over my 100,000 word limit, so my next cut was to try to balance out the investment and non-investment posts. Investment issues are something I actually know a bit about, while the other posts are just me bloviating about this and that. On the other hand, I know that many of my readers can’t abide investment discussions. In the final book, therefore, there are more non-investment posts than investment posts, strongly suggesting that it’s much more fun to write about issues you know nothing about.
That still left me too many words, so in the end I had no choice but to choose among my precious children. Some of them suspected all along that I liked the others better, and now they know it for sure.
Organizing the posts
My blog began its life as a mainly investment blog, but it quickly morphed into all sorts of other topics. However, my readership is quite diverse and most readers aren’t interested in every imaginable topic. (Except for that precious few who read everything I write. May they live long and happy lives and end up in Blog Heaven.) By reorganizing the posts into topical subjects, I could make it easy for people who, for example, hate investment topics, to skip those and go on to something else.
I have therefore divided the book into the following topical areas: Social and Economic Policy, Investing, and Miscellany. I could, of course, have devoted an entire section of the book to the (many) dimwitted actions of our beloved central bankers, especially the US Fed, but I didn’t want people to think I was prejudiced. So I left most of them out and lumped the rest in with Social and Economic Policy.
Each post is identified by date, but because the posts are organized into thematic areas they aren’t arranged purely chronologically. But within the thematic groups, they appear more or less in the order they were published.
When you’ve been writing a blog for more than five years, and you started knowing nothing whatever about what you were doing, there is a natural tendency to want to revise history for the better. If an entire post was simply terrible — fortunately, there were, of course, none of those — it could simply be eliminated from the book. But what about all those posts which were perfect in every way except for paragraph nine, which was staggeringly idiotic (in retrospect). Or those posts which contained, in paragraph seventeen, a hilarious joke which, somehow over the course of time, falls as flat as a new Fed economic projection?
The temptation to edit these sorts of posts was overwhelming, but I (mostly) refrained, using lack of time as an excuse. As a result, the posts are (mainly) word for word, exactly as they appeared in all their original glory.
Possibly you are wondering about the word “mainly” in the last paragraph. I did, in fact, make a few changes. For example, in a blog that appears weekly, and in which each post is often part of a series of posts on the same subject, readers won’t necessarily remember precisely what is being talked about from week to week. So on the blog site many posts begin with a sentence something like this: “We are talking about the (seriously moronic) Federal Reserve policy on…” etc. But when the posts appear right after each other in a book, those sentences needed to get chopped, and so I (mostly) chopped them.
I also corrected obvious typographical errors and a few more serious errors. Although I do try to fact-check the posts, I don’t have much time to do so. In some cases, therefore, when I am confident that I know the correct fact, I simply put it in without checking. In going back and organizing the posts for this book, I sometimes found out that I was overconfident. Those factual errors have, for the most part, been corrected.
We’ll finish up this series next week.
Next up: Spitting Into the Wind, Part III