Progress Report on my book

by cactus

Progress Report, and a Plea For Help

Regular readers may recall that together with a co-author, I’ve been writing a book. The topic should be familiar to the coterie of merry madmen/madwoman who lurk at the blog as writers or readers or both: we look at how a large number of variables – everything from abortion rates to economic growth, evolved over the length of each presidential administration beginning with Ike and running through GW.

I thought I’d share a bit of information about the process of getting a book “out there” given that we’ve recently crossed a milestone, namely the receiving and cashing of an advance check. Until this process began, I knew absolutely nothing about the process of writing and publishing a book, so its been very interesting. We (my currently still nameless co-author and I) have been extremely lucky, but I think the path we followed may be somewhat representative of that you might go down should you have the same delusions of literary grandeur that got us started.

So here’s the process, summarized:

1. Have vague but exciting idea for book.
2. Flesh out the idea – in our case, with data as well as some early drafts.
3. Realize that the drafts suck. Rewrite multiple times. I’ve heard it said that “writing is rewriting.” This saying should be amended to “writing is rewriting way more times than you would expect.”
4. Find an agent. This process for us involved writing letters to different agents who represented authors who wrote books that could conceivably be considered in the same space as ours.
5. A good agent – and I believe we were very lucky – has a good idea of what publishers are after and is willing to tell you straight out where your book deviates from that model. Our agent read a few chapters, told us the concept was good but the execution sucked. He made us rewrite the first few chapters multiple tmes. Eventually he was happy, and he told us to rewrite the rest of the book the same way.
6. The agent begins shopping the book around. Interestingly enough, we caught a break here too. The Ex-GF had just reconnected with a former high school classmate on FaceBook who was the editor at a publishing company. They had a book on US presidents in their portfolio, and were looking for another one. Anyway, the Ex-GF and her classmates somehow began discussing the book… which led to files being sent back and forth, and a request that our agent negotate a contract.
7. The contracts generally stipulate some sort of an advance. If you’re famous or have a history with the publishing company, the advance can be huge and I guess requires merely signing on the dotted line. In our case, we got the advance after turning in something that qualified as a rough draft.
8. At this point, we’re waiting for comments back from the editor. Once they come back, we’re going to have a week or two to tighten everything up and the book will be out of our hands to some extent somewhere in August.
9. Meanwhile, we’ve been getting first looks at some of the art work that the illustrator is doing for the book. All of the graphs we made for the book were in Excel, and looked the part. The illustrator is a real artist who works well with data, and he is redoing all the graphs.
10. Meanwhile 2, the sales staff at the publishing house has been prepped. They vetoed the title we had for the book (more on that later). Sometime soon they start talking to bookstores; it seems that many bookstores line up their shelf space to some extent nine months or so in advance.

It should be noted that the process is lengthier than it looks, or at least it was for this book. The first genesis of the book, the first attemnpt to write anything down, came (and I remember this specificially) when Bill Simon was running for governor of CA. That would be 2003. Something Simon said (and sadly I cannot remember what, except that it involved taxes and economic growth and Ronald Reagan) sounded so absolutely implausible to me that I had to check the data. After running down the data and concluding to my satisfaction that Simon was dead wrong, I thought to myself, “someone should write a book.”

Then I thought about making it about Presidents and scrawled out some notes. Those first attempts were as mediocre as it seemed to me Bill Simon would have been as governor, so I put them aside. But I kept pulling them out and again every so often.

Another comment… family and friends are always telling me I don’t toot my own horn enough, so I’ll say this… I’m really proud and pleased with the book. After a zillion re-writes, going back and re-reading pieces of it now, I’m amazed at how much is covered in the book. Not just in terms of topics, but also (when it comes to economic issues) the reasons and the excuses that would otherwise be put forward by those who don’t like the outcomes, and why those excuses don’t fly.

I’ve had friends of mine give random chapters of the book to people who don’t normally read anything that resembles economics or contemporary American politics or anything with numbers in it. (Having third parties who don’t know us at all read a piece is an easy way to get something resembling an unbiased comments, I hope.) The comments that typically came back generally were of this nature: “X wouldn’t buy a book like this if he/she passed it in the bookstore, but he/she read the chapter and said he/she would enjoy reading more of it. Got any more chapters to share?”

I think we managed that without watering it down so it loses its value to folks who do have an economic background. Lord knows, making the book accessible was the single most difficult thing about the whole process.

Here’s the current outline of the book:

Chapter 1. Real GDP per Capita
Introduction to GDP, What the Data Says, Excuses and Explanations

Chapter 2. Fiscal ResponsibilityGovernment Spending, Tax Receipts, The Deficit (or if We’re Lucky, the Surplus!)

Chapter 3. The National Debt and the Real Real GDP per CapitaWhat Real GDP per capita leaves out, The National Debt, Net Real GDP per capita

Chapter 4. Employment Issues
Employment, The Employment to Population Ratio, Real Wages, Employment Related Health Insurance

Chapter 5. Income and Wealth
Real Median Income, Net Real Disposable Income, Real Net Worth, Homeownership, Owner’s Equity

Chapter 6. Traditional Republican IssuesNational Defense, The Size of Government, Taxes, Washington v. the States, The National Endowment for the Arts,

Interlude: What Is the Effect of Taxes On Growth?

Chapter 7. Traditional Democratic Issues
Social Issues, Poverty, Income Inequality, Tax Progressivity, Protecting The Environment
Democratic Issues Conclusion

Chapter 8. HealthcareHealthcare Costs, Infant Mortality, Health Insurance

Chapter 9. Crime
Spending on the Administration of Justice, Murder, An Interlude: Explaining the Murder Rate, Public Corruption

Chapter 10. The Public Mood
Consumer Confidence, Suicide, The Stock Market, The Value of the Dollar

Chapter 11. Family Values
Abortions, Marriages and Divorce, Unwed Mothers

Chapter 12. Investing in the Future
Education, Research and Development, Building Infrastructure, Energy Independence

Conclusion. Ranking the Presidents, and What We Can Learn

Bonus Chapter 1: Is it Congress?
(I really like this one a lot. I think we came up with a very simple and elegant way to look at the question of whether the President is really causing these changes by looking at an alternative, namely that Congress is doing it. Our approach quickly shows that Congress is not generally in the driver’s seat. In so doing, it also provides readers an easy contrast between what is having a minimal effect and what the President is doing.)

Bonus Chapter 2. Explaining Economic Growth
(Megan McArdle is going to be very critical!)

Bonus Chapter 3. The Office of the President

Bonus Chapter 4. Please Try This at Home!!!!

So that’s roughly what it looks like. Now, a few issues. The first is that we haven’t entirely satifactorilly come up with a title. The topic is a hard one on which to pin a name. We’ve got it tentatively down to:

A Statistical Look at How Recent Presidents Really Performed on the Issues that Matter Most


The Best President
A Statistical Look at How Recent Presidents Really Performed on the Issues that Matter Most

Any thoughts on the titles? Any better ideas?

We’ve also got one more issue…. the publisher has put a lot of time and effort and resources into the book, and the next step is to corral some luminaries into reading the manuscript and ideally write up a positive blurb to put on the jacket or someplace. Ideally, one of them could be coerced into writing a forward. While the publisher has some ideas, I was wondering if you have any… not just of the people we should try to hunt down (particularly for the forward), but how to reach them. I’m thinking the ideal folks are prominent economists in the public sphere (e.g., Krugman) or journalists who the public associates with gravitas (e.g., Tom Brokaw). Names like that are probably overly ambitious to unknowns like my co-author and I, but since this whole process has required a degree of chutzpah, plus I’ve been worked into the tooting my own horn frame of mind, so what the heck?

Questions? Comments? Thoughts?
by cactus