On Publishing as a Form of Value Investment

value investment (n): a form of investment in which those who invest select companies’ stocks or other forms of financial receptacles that are either undervalued objectively on the market or have a yet-undiscovered or yet-unactivated potential, both relative to the potential as understood by investors

Value fund managers look for companies that have fallen out of favor but still have good fundamentals. The value group may also include stocks of new companies that have yet to be recognized by investors. (from this post on Merrill’s website)

As an example:

Say you have a human person who identifies a need, and then the mind model or conceptualization for the product that can meet the need.

I’ll share one company which I follow on Twitter, to which I gave a shout-out, given that great thriller or speculative writers might find something very interesting for themselves in this company’s work, if their plot development depends in any shape or form on cool IT or tech developments that have never been treated before in fiction: Axon produces technology to help protect the lives of police officers and others working within the public safety realm. (Check out the video on this page. Isn’t this the coolest?)

Using Axon as a purely theoretical example–I do not know the details of Axon’s own strategic planning or history, in terms of conceptualization-to-patent-to-product-development–this can be said: Before someone thought about the time that it takes a police officer to identify a person who observed a crime, to taking notes in an interview, to transcribing those notes for their own chief, to then moving on the transcription–a product did not exist that could aide police officers in saving this time.

Then someone figured the genius idea out, and then Axon moved on the concrete product development, and then it had to launch its own public stocks, and then people had to identify those stocks, and then invest in them. Before these stocks took on some form of public urgency, though–and certainly before the product was ever developed–the value of the product and thus of the stock was undervalued; by value, here, we mean its financial weight relative to other stocks on the market (it’s valued less than it ought to be, given the definition above). A good value investor, in doing his/her research, will identify products of this kind.

Find the newest, coolest need; respond to it; invest in it; and then watch your investment return significantly greater funds than investment in a product that meets a need that isn’t really a need.

Besides this form of dynamic financial value, measured at the level of the stock, there is also the value of the product or company understood in its human or aesthetic sense–the value met, in a personal way, of a product developed and used. It’s an interesting matrix, to think about both the value of the stock as it is, financially, and also the value of the product in human terms.

A long time ago, during my undergrad, I took a course in international development, and one of the questions treated in the course was micro-financing. I was fascinated, also, given that it made sense–both on paper and in experience, given huge case studies abroad–for an investor to pay $250 for a sewing machine, and give a woman a sewing machine, so that with apt sewing skills, she could maximize the value of the $250 over time with the development and sale of her own products (and the investment serving as a sort of guarantor of that kind of value-maximization over time), than to just give her $250.

Shocking, isn’t it, what a basic “mind model” distinction between pure funds and product value, in one form or another contingent on funds, can do to investors–as well as to the creation and maintenance of healthy infrastructure, over time?

If you think about it, book publishing is sort of like this–or could be like this, if writers, agents, editors, publishers, and investors in the book publishing realm thought about their own work with this kind of an acute sensibility and analysis of the kind of product being pitched. This applies, in a particular way, to non-fiction, especially non-fiction that is built and ordered toward the development and maintenance of longevity in infrastructure–a good book about tobacco as a public health concern will aide federal and state governments in responding to these public health concerns in actuality, beyond the theory about the issue and the theory about the necessary public health response contained within the book.

The book is both a product of theory as it is a product that opens up a demand–an undervalued need, say, before the book is published–among readers across the world.

One way to think about agenting on the non-fiction end is this: A primary underlying task involves sifting through huge quantities of research of diverse kinds (financial, creative, regional, personal, and more) to place the highest-quality products, unique in their content, before publishing houses for purchase, given the model above. The research is key to finding holes in published products. Why has the whole planet, for example, never published a book about some of the world’s most key, individual historical icons? You might be surprised about the depravity in biographies.

I, for example, with regards to the development of proposals from the ground up for non-fiction books, help academics sift through large quantities of data and their own research to shape an argument for popular/trade publication (think your big five publishing houses: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.). Buy this, because it is genius, and it needs to be published; it fits a need, and it creates an experience, and it moves readers over time to remain committed to a product and an imprint, to an idea and to a conversation.

[Read: At its heart, agenting and publishing in this way is a project of ‘long-term, value-only investment’ applied to a different form of creative work. I spend time with ‘companies’ (books) to place before ‘analysts’ (editors, publishers) to maximize authors’ returns (royalties, post-advance earnout) over time. Fun, isn’t it–what it does to the mind?]

So much more could be said, but this is one of the reasons why I came back to book publishing. Really good books, fiction and non-fiction both, have a huge potential to save the world–good fiction aides culture, creates minds and hearts in a vision of humanity and the good; genius non-fiction helps us understand the structures we create and adopt, and helps us also run a thousand miles in the direction of change that brings true joy, and freedom, collaboration and acute responses, and moves those with minds and hearts for good conversation into those exact conversations.

I’ll leave these musings here.

“Why Economists Need the Arts”

I’ve been working through some excellent non-fiction recommended to me by an acquaintance at one of NYC’s ‘Big 4’ consulting firms, written by philosopher and consultant Christian Madsbjerg, founder of RED Associates. The firm, as far as I can tell via the public front, gathers different forms of experts in the humanities to apply the study of phenomenology (experience, in a nutshell) to the advising of firms on the construction of products.

Philosophy, applied to business.

These two books were Sensemaking, on one hand, and The Moment of Clarity, on the other. I encourage the both of these books, as they are aides both to business strategy and work as well as to personal life, if applied correctly.

Bringing to consciousness the awareness of one’s own experience as such (in other words, analyzing one’s experience, or reflecting upon it, once it has happened) is a first key step in the acquisition and possession of a deeper self-knowledge, and the way in which people experience themselves and the products they consume–and, you could say, the books that they read (the reader’s experience, in a nutshell)–helps explain why certain things sell, and others don’t; why certain products shape a preference for a particular kind of experience, and therefore a particular way of living.

It’s a project of its own, to understand how you, as a writer, for example, are responsible for building out a project that opens up a new kind of experience in the reader, or one that brings to consciousness a more classic experience: a sense of nostalgia, or basic childlikeness and wonder before a story that feels familiar, and more.

I was pleasantly shocked by these books, given that my undergraduate degree was in the philosophy of the human person (a study of the person, and in its own implicit way, a study of experience).

It’s a bit late for July 4th, but the below is a sort of shout-out to why the American culture can and ought to take the arts more seriously–and this will include, without hesitation, the best fiction. It’s, once more, why I. Love. Agenting.

Enjoy. It’s only 13.5 minutes long.

On Developing Non-Fiction

I love, love, love very intelligent non-fiction published for the popular market. I love it when writers treat readers seriously, and engage their capacity for thoughtful and meaningful dialogue.

Much of my own work on the non-fiction development end requires engaging academics on their area of expertise, both from a philosophical perspective (where philosophy is understood here as the body of theoretical thought underlying a discipline; every discipline has a conceptual theory that underlies it) as well as a reader’s one: Why exactly is this true? Why would you start here? Have you thought about this before? Here’s what I’d want to learn from you.

Sometimes being a literary agent is a little bit like being an academic, and I couldn’t love it more.

While I don’t break the full template in public, here are some general categories for consideration:

  • Book Overview
  • Book Need & Uniqueness
  • Book Structure
  • Expected Manuscript Completion
  • Author Biography
  • Competitive Title Analysis
  • Marketing Plan
  • Table of Contents
  • Chapter Summaries
  • Sample Chapters

One might say that the purview of the development and editorial process here lies to a great extent in the hands of the agent, and so I’ve elected not to share more of my own template for these proposals here, but you can see some more extended questions to consider via another agency here as well as another (former) agent’s list of concepts here.

If you’re interested in working on a non-fiction project with me for the trade market, and have the personal experience, academic expertise, professional expertise, marketing platform, or any combination of these qualities, don’t hesitate to submit an inquiry email to weronika@d4eo.com.