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Who Are You?

Sunday,  02/23/03  10:47 AM

[Moments pass.  Ms. X and I stand there, the elevator door hanging open.  I wait...  She makes her decision.  She doesn't look at me, she just strides out of the elevator.  I begin to follow.  Suddenly she stops, reaches into her pocketbook, and pulls out her card.]

X: "Call me." (Crisp, businesslike.)
O: "Sure!" (Totally un-businesslike, I'm afraid.)
X: "I want to know who's going to read your book."

[Then she turns away and disappears into the lobby, leaving me standing agape.  Okay, that was good.  That was very good.  But now what?  I've thought about my intended audience - who I want to read this book - but who will read it?]

... three days later ...

[I call X Books, and ask for Ms. X.  After negotiating with her secretary, he puts me through...]

X: "Hello?"
O: "Uh, hello!  You asked me to call, so, er, I'm calling." (Off to a bad start.)
X: "Oh, yes...  the book about human intelligence.  Thank you for calling.  I think your project has... potential.  (Every book is a project, every project has potential.  How much potential?  That's the question.)

X: "So please tell me, really, who will read your book?"  (I sense a smile.)
O: "Um - yeah." (Four years of college, and I sound like a valley girl.)  "First, I'll tell you who I think will read my book.  Then, I'll tell you who I hope will read my book - the people for whom I'm writing..."

O: "Okay, let's take the 'I think will read it' group.  At the center are the people who read every book in this space.  They read Dawkins, Gould, and Dennett.  They read Sterelny.  They think Pinker is great.  They hate Lewontin but they read him anyway.  They actually read The Bell Curve instead of just complaining about it.  They're the core group, and they'll be all over this."
X: "Doesn't sound like a very big group..."  (She's right, it isn't.  Carry on.)
O: "Well, that's true.  You might call these the early adopters of new science memes.  But they are smart, influential people, and if they like something or think it is interesting, they'll spread the word.  So if I can write a book they think is worthwhile, they'll get the buzz started."
X: "Hmmm...  Anyone else?"  (She's disappointed.  Of course.  A book for science nerds!)

O: "Memes spread from early adopters in several directions.  There are academics who are professionally interested in genetics, human intelligence, sociology, and politics.  If they hear about this book, they will give it a try.  There are intellectual philosophers who are professional pundits - radio personalities, columnists, politicians, other writers.  They pick up interesting themes and spin them, looking for validation of their points of view.  They will read the book.  There are smart people everywhere who are thoughtful about humanity and enjoy debate on topics of interest, particularly ideas which affect the future.  They may read it.  And finally, there are journalists looking for controversy.  Any applications of science to human intelligence seem to attract their attention.  I'm afraid they will jump on this.  They may not read the book - but they'll skim it looking for an angle."
X: "Yes, that's true, isn't it?"  (She's beginning to warm up!)

O: "Now let me describe the 'I hope will read it' group.  I mentally picture three hypothetical readers, a scientist, a philosopher, and a politician:

  • The scientist is well-informed, open-minded, and skeptical.  She will reject any poor logic or unsupported assumptions.  She wants data, not opinions.  In the end, a well-reasoned argument will please and intrigue her.
  • The philosopher is also well-informed, but is not open-minded.  He will have thought about this already, and has a point of view.  He will be intensely critical of arguments which oppose his views, but even more so of poor arguments in favor; only solid logic will please him.
  • The politician is not well-informed, nor open-minded, nor skeptical.  She has an agenda.  She will evaluate the book's ideas carefully, and spin them to her advantage.  For her the concepts are key, the ideas must be simple and the arguments easily grasped.

X: "Fascinating...  How will you know if you're reaching these people?"  (Good question!)

O: "I enjoy reading weblogs and have started a little 'blog of my own.  It is tough to generalize, but bloggers tend to be smart, outspoken, and thoughtful.  I'm really hoping the blogosphere will like my book.  So I've added a fourth hypothetical reader, a blogger - someone who is intelligent, analytical, well-read, interested in the world, and who might well visit my 'blog.  In fact, I'm posting parts of my book online and soliciting as much feedback as I can from the online community."
X: "What an unusual idea.  Very interesting."
O: "The great thing is that the other three hypothetical readers are likely to be online as well.  They might even visit my site."  (They might even be reading this, right now :)
X: "I'd like to hear more about your project, maybe run it by some friends of mine.  Could you send me a brief synopsis?"  (Excellent.  She's definitely interested!)
O: "I've written a tentative outline, which I'd be happy to share.  What's your email address?"

[Well, that went great.  And thanks for visiting, I couldn't have done it without you.  In fact, you're the reason for the whole project.  So tell me, who are you - would you mind taking a survey?]

[Please see In the Elevator and Baby Steps if you have no idea what's going on here...]

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