At the reception after the forum I mention in the post below, I ended up chatting with Jon Rauch, and mentioned that I was working on a proposal for a book. (I’ll tell y’all about it at some point when I’m a little further along in the process.) He said something to the effect that I was young to be doing that—he was two years older than I am now when he did his first, and thought that was pretty young. And I sort of laughed and said I almost felt like I was getting a late start given all the early-to-mid-20s folks I know who’ve either written or are writing books. Obviously, I”ve got a kind of weird sample bias, because I know a lot of young journalists. But we got to wondering whether, even for that social milieu, this wasn’t unusual. Are people starting to write (nonfiction) books at younger ages?
If they are, Jon suggested the Internet probably had something to do with it. I think that’s likely, and for a reason I’ve mentioned on the occasions when I’ve been asked out talk to some group or other about Zen and the Art of Blogging. Basically, there used to be a fairly slow accreditation process by which people were expected to rise through the ranks of pundit-dom. First you start out doing straight reporting at some local paper (maybe on the strength of clips from your college paper or something). And gradually, as you prove you can attract an audience, ever larger institutions are willing to take a chance on using their scarce space to give you ever wider exposure, until finally you’ve got a megaphone at the national level. And at that point (in this obviously oversimplified schema) you go to a publisher. But to get to the point where you even get to try your hand writing for a large general audience takes a long time climbing that media ladder.
Well, now someone like Yglesias or Ezra Klein or me can just start writing, and have (in principle) a national-scale audience, which is obviously much smaller than, say, the New York Times op-ed page’s, but at any rate a semi-representative sample of that kind of audience. And “getting noticed” doesn’t entail some paper having to let you use some of their precious and scarce column inches; it just takes an established (or at any rate, more established) writer to throw you a link. Now, I think it’s a radical understatement to say that, so far, it seems as though an author’s being a popular blogger has not been a terribly good predictor of book sales. (We’ve just had our first exception.) But still, at least in principle, the current situation is unusual in that an unknown writer can establish, much more quickly than was previously possible, the kind of track record that might at least suggest to a publisher that he’s an acceptable risk. Or at least… so I hope.