Celebrating an Anniversary this Christmas Season

I know this is a bit early, but Merry Christmas everybody. I wanted to get that out of the way because with Christmas being near, my mind had been wandering back to last year's Christmas. As some of you may remember, last Christmas is when I announced the publication of my first eBook:

About two years ago, [Michael Mann] published a book titled, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Line. I promptly bought and read it, posting thoughts as I went. Those thoughts were highly negative. I thought, and still think, Mann’s book is a piece of utter dreck.

I’ve long thought someone should respond to it. I’ve also thought someone should lay the hockey stick debate out in a clear and accessible manner. There is a great deal of material available on the internet. There are even some good books, such as The Hockey Stick Illusion. The problem is none of these are easily accessible to the average person.

People don’t want to have to read a 400 page book to understand what is being talked about. People don’t want to have to spend hours and hours looking through old blog posts with no roadmap. People want a simple resource which lets them quickly catch up on the overall concepts so they can tell if they want to learn more.

At least, that’s what I believe. I also believe waiting for “someone” to do something is a good way for nothing to get done. As such, I’ve decided to try producing a counter-narrative to Michael Mann’s book. You can find the first part of it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hockey-Stick-Climate-Wars-Introduction-ebook/dp/B00RE7K3W2/

It’s a bit over 10,000 words, and I expect to produce a second part of about the same length. My hope is people who read them will be able to fully understand the hockey stick debate without needing to know all the history, details and nuances which come with it.


I did wind up publishing that second part. You can find the two below:

Looking back on them, there are definitely things I think I could have done better. The cover art is one of them. I do like the simplistic design, but using default templates provided by Amazon will never give the best results.

Still, I have to say I'm happy with how they turned out. I did all the work for them on my own, with no editor, publisher or anything else. For someone who had never published anything in his life before, I think they turned out pretty well. Whatever aesthetic lackings they might suffer from, the contents hold up well and do a good job of conveying the central aspects of the hockey stick debate in a manner anyone can understand.

Which brings me to what I was pondering today. While I am content with how these two eBooks turned out, I never published another. I've been wondering if maybe I should have, and if so, what should it have been about?

I'm currently toying with the idea of trying to write another short eBook about how the "97% consensus" message came to be and the various issues surrounding it. I'm not sure if there's enough material or interest though, so figured I'd try and see what other people think. Plus, why not celebrate the soon-to-be one year anniversary of my first eBook?

13 comments

  1. Brandon

    How many copies of each got 'bought'?

    I think the 97% is a good idea but its not worthy of a book. It would be much better condensed into what I would term an 'e-pamphlet'

    Pamphlets date back to the 12th century and have a considerable history in their own right and can be whatever you want it to be;

    "A pamphlet is an unbound booklet (that is, without a hard cover or binding). It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths, called a leaflet, or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book.

    For the "International Standardization of Statistics Relating to Book Production and Periodicals" UNESCO defines a pamphlet as " a non-periodical printed publication of at least 5 but not more than 48 pages, exclusive of the cover pages, published in a particular country and made available to the public"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pamphlet

    tonyb

  2. Huh. I think these eBooks would actually be considered pamphlets if they had been printed. I didn't realize that. They're both about 10,000 words, which I think is 20-40 pages when printed? I kind of like that terminology since it gives a better idea of their length. Maybe I will have to change what I call them.

    As for how many copies were "sold," that's a good question. I originally planned on including that in this post, but when I looked for the records, it turned out Amazon only provides data more than three months old in individual spreadsheets per month. So that means I'd have to download one spreadsheet for each month, then add up the tally across each. That's a bit of a chore since my laptop is dead right now and I haven't gotten it replaced yet. This tablet I'm working with is way better than using my phone, but it's still so substitute for a real computer.

    That's a poor excuse though. I really should look go ahead and work that out, especially since the pricing on the two is different. Knowing the difference in sales/royalties between the two could be helpful. I guess I'll go ahead and work it out.

  3. Brandon

    I can think of quite a few climate related subjects I would like to do a e-pamphlet of, but an e-book implies to me something altogether larger and perhaps not as topical.

    If they are on broadly related topics, a number of e-pamphlets can always be 'stitched' together to form an e-book in due course, with suitable linking material, but they also have the great merit of standing alone

    I think it is important to know what sort of reaction your work gets, as personal incentive -either of a monetary or satisfaction kind -is important. If I knew I was going to earn $20000 over the next year through writing such material I wouldn't be wasting my time now replying to you 🙂

    tonyb

  4. Heh. I agree about the terminology. I never really liked calling them eBooks. I just didn't know what else to call them.

    And I could only dreram of the kind of reaction necessary to get $20,000 off what I write. I did a quick tally, and it looks like I only sold ~330 copies of the first one and ~30 copies of the second. I know the price turned some people off of the second one, but also, there was absolutely no advertisement for it. Steve McIntyre wrote a post about the first one which drove a number of sales.

    The interesting thing, however, is how things play out with Amazon's royalty system. If you charge less than $3 for a "book," you're only eligible for 35% royalty. That's only half the 70% royalty you can get otherwise. That means the royalty on my first book ($1 * 35% = ~$.35) is only one sixth the royalty on the second ($3 * 75% = $2.1). So even though I sold far fewer copies of the second one, it still made a competitive amount of money. In fact, if not for the surge in sales from the Climate Audit post (and being out several months longer), the second one would have been more profitable than the first even though it didn't sell anywhere near as well.

    But yeah, we're definitely not talking about a money-making enterprise here. I originally didn't even plan to charge money for these. When I was getting ready to publish the first one, I debated on whether it should be free or not. Some people suggested a nominal price like the one I went with would actually be better as people pay less attention to free things as they expect them to be lower quality. i was mulling that idea over when I was on the Amazon website, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to set the price to $0. It kept telling me the minimum was $0.99, so I decided I'd just go with that and see what happened.

    There is one other thing I should point out. While there is a price tag on these books, I have a standing offer to send free PDF versions of them to anyone who doesn't want to pay money for them. That includes critics who might not like the idea of putting money in my pocket. I've probably e-mailed 100+ copies out to people that way. It's been particularly useful with people who have never been interested in the topic who hear me talking about it and want to know what I'm talking about. Having an introductory guide I could provide for people like that was the reason I wrote these, and I'm content with that.

    Of course, I wouldn't complain if sales were better. I believe after incidental transaction fees were covered, I only made $156 off these this year. That's not the sort of paycheck I was promised when I signed onto this evil conspiracy 😀

  5. $156!! You are therefore a 'professional' author and climatologist. I agree that something that is charged for seems to be better perceived than something that costs no money.

    Do go ahead with the 97$ e-pamphlet. It seems to me there is scope for a series on that type of 'soft' climate issue that is not directly related to data driven subjects on temperature and weather extremes

    tonyb

  6. Brandon

    That should of course be '...go ahead with the 97% e-pamphlet....' Mind you, if you can get away with charging $97 do go for it...

    tonyb

  7. I have seen textbooks go for $97+, but I'm pretty sure I'll never write anything that'd sell for that much. I wouldn't want to. Things usually cost that much because of price gouging.

    As for the 97% consensus subject, I resisted writing on it for quite a while because I felt there wasn't enough to it. For every word I wrote in the other two books/pamphlets, there were ten words I didn't write. There was so much more depth and detail to the topics I covered an introductory seemed of obvious value. For the 97% consensus issues, that's not really the case. You could read half a dozen blog posts and know all you needed to know.

    But more and more, it's become clear to me as easy as it would be to become informed if one knew where to look, people aren't figuring things out. The reason is there is just too much noise. There are so many people saying so many things no clear message is getting through, and the muddled messages that do come through are ones that are... lackluster, to put it kindly. That happened because a lot of people promoted every talking point they could find, without concern for how accurate or meaningful those points were.

    So I think there is a real purpose for a pamphlet now. Not only to highlight how the consensus message took its current form, but also to show what the responses to it have been, and how their inadequacies have helped allow the consensus message to thrive.

    And of course, getting to talk about the fact the John Cook tried to threaten me with a lawsuit would be fun. Especially since he and his university backed off like chickens when I called their bluff 😀

  8. Ugh. I'm starting to think writing about a matter I was involved in might be a bad idea. I can't write about it in the third person because I have to talk about things involving myself, but I feel like writing it from my perspective will make it seem like it's just some personal beef. I just wrote an introductory section, and looking at it I'm worried someone reading it would go, "I don't care about you" and throw it away (figuratively, given it's electronic).

    It's times like these I really wish I had an editor.

  9. Ugh. I'm starting to think writing about a matter I was involved in might be a bad idea. I can't write about it in the third person because I have to talk about things involving myself, but I feel like writing it from my perspective will make it seem like it's just some personal beef. I just wrote an introductory section, and looking at it I'm worried someone reading it would go, "I don't care about you" and throw it away (figuratively, given it's electronic).

    It's times like these I really wish I had an editor.

  10. Brandon

    Its possible to be objective even if you have been closely involved in something. Even better perhaps, as that will give you a unique perspective.

    However, incorporating your feelings into it so it becomes a polemic, rather than a scientific piece is a different matter. You need to ask yourself if it would be published outside of the sceptical blogosphere or even, if that is the ONLY market, do you NEED to incorporate polemic?

    So, the first question is WHO is likely to buy it and are they a neutral observer, or do they already belong to one of the tribes? If so, your necessary writing style is probably preordained.

    If you want to send it over I would be happy to give an opinion

    tonyb

  11. I'm not really worried about objectivity. I have stronger feelings about the hockey stick debate than I do about the consensus issue. If I can maintain objectivity well enough to write on that topic, I should be fine on this one.

    My problem is just focus and style. Telling things from my point of view runs the risk of writing in a way catered toward myself rather than an average person. Even if emotions don't get in the way, I still have to worry that what I find interesting won't be what other people would find interesting. And even if the subject material is interesting, the way I write about it may not be as engaging/easy to follow as it could be if it were written by an observer rather than a participant.

    But we'll see. The introductory section would be the part heaviest on the first person view. After that is when I'd get more into facts and details and whatnot. I still have to outline how I want to handle the main body of it though, so I'm not sure just how it would go yet.

    I might take you up on your offer though. My biggest worry right now is coming on too strong in the beginning. It"s always hard to tell what someone with no knowledge or experience on a topic will think.

  12. Brandon:

    I think your idea of covering the "consensus" issue would be a good one - but perhaps you could broaden the scope (assuming you didn't already plan to do so). In other words, there was much discussion prior to Oreske's work of the existence (and importance) of a solid scientific consensus supporting the view that...well, of course that's not clear, but it was good table thumping material in Congress and elsewhere. If memory serves, Oreskes made the first well advertised attempt to "quantify" the (undefined) consensus, which others then followed. There were predecessors of course (I think von Storch did some work on this as well early on), but Oreskes is the first with the 97% meme.

    So, in addition to any specific or detailed critique that may be appropriate for the individual studies themselves, the use to which these studies are put, and their role in the debate, would be important. This includes the argument that the existence of such a "consensus" means that permitting air time for differing views provides a "false balance" - an approach taken, for example, by the BBC, among other news organizations.

    Best of luck with it.

    Cheers.

  13. Ian, thanks. One of the most difficult parts of writing anything like this is deciding what to cover and what not to cover. That isn't helped by the fact I didn't pay attention to the "consensus" issue until the Skeptical Science paper came out. For the other two eBooks/ePamphlets, I had been following the subjects for years.

    I would definitely want to cover more than just that one paper, and I definitely think discussing how those sort of results are used would be good. It's just tricky to figure out what is and is not important enough to cover. I was able to write the first thousand words for this in a single sitting without any sort of outline because I knew what I wanted to say.* Now I'm trying to come up with an outline for the rest.

    More specifically, I'm trying to come up with a conclusion. I have a bunch of ideas for what could go in the body of the document, but until I figure out just how I want to end it, it's hard to put the pieces together. That's not helped by part of me really wanting to write about the whole Lewandowsky issue. His work and the consensus are used together a lot, and the message of the two are co-mingled. The basic idea is to say there's a "consensus" with only irrational "deniers" challenging it. That's how John Cook intended his paper to be used. I'm just not sure how much of that I really ought to cover.

    *Of course, immediately after writing them, I was struck by self-doubt and considered deleting the whole document. That's one of the joys of writing. It's weird how something can seem great while you're writing it then seem terrible once you're donoe.

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