Growing a Book, Part 2: A Personal POV

TIBCO CEO Vivek Ranadive is getting all sorts of huzzahs from the media these days — some for his company’s performance, and some for his personal elan, like in this Esquire profile.

Part of Vivek’s brand is the book he and I co-authored, The Two-Second Advantage. It’s worth looking at how that book worked as branded journalism — and how it could’ve worked better.

This all started because — as described in the previous post — the CEO wanted to write a book. Vivek wants to be seen as a Big Thinker in technology, and it’s been a good strategy for him, getting him on TV and written about in major publications. That’s helped TIBCO get noticed even though it’s relatively small compared to competitors such as IBM and Oracle.

A good path to Big Thinkdom is a book. Of course, the book has to actually be good, or it can backfire. It doesn’t have to sell that well — society concludes that just publishing a good book makes you smart — but obviously a popular book is better than an obscure one.

Anyway, Vivek and I met in a TIBCO conference room. He had some ideas about how computer systems were going to become instantly predictive, allowing companies to anticipate what’s just about to happen.

I’d been harboring ideas about writing a book on how human talent is based on our brains being instantly predictive. When I described the idea to people, I used a term slightly borrowed from Wayne Gretzky, calling it “the two-second advantage.”

Vivek loved the phrase. Our ideas mapped to each other. And a deal to write The Two-Second Advantage was born.

With the aid of my agent, Sandy Dijkstra, we sold the idea to Crown Business (a Random House division). Vivek and I split the advance and royalties. That wouldn’t have been enough for me to live on and work full-time on the book, so Vivek essentially sponsored me with some additional support. The book took about 14 months to research, write and edit.

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Importantly, the book is not about TIBCO or anything it sells. It’s not even about the current computer software business. It’s a ride through neuroscience and computer science and technology experiments and ideas about what can be. It’s a journalistic book. If you didn’t read Vivek’s bio on the flap, you wouldn’t know TIBCO had any connection to it.

After the book came out, TIBCO adopted “the two-second advantage” as a marketing slogan. I thought that was smart. It tied TIBCO to the book’s ideas, rather than tying the book to TIBCO.

The book came out in September 2011. In its first week, it edged onto The New York Times bestseller list. Then promptly dropped off.

TIBCO created a web site for the book once the book was out, but it remained static. It did a little advertising for the book, and we all (Vivek, the publisher and I) did publicity. In the end, the book certainly boosted Vivek’s brand, which is what it was supposed to do for him. (Hopefully it also informed and entertained a lot of readers and gave something useful to the world.)

On the other hand, we should’ve done more to grow the book and build an audience while we did the research. The web site shouldn’t have been static at the book’s launch, but alive during the book’s creation, and afterward. We could’ve built more lectures and events around the ideas.

We wound up with a bestselling book, which is great — and more than most people ever expect. But in this age, a brand can get a lot more out of doing a book than just a book.

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