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Tracts, manifestos and books

April 30, 2012
by seth godin

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Has a non-fiction book ever changed your mind?

For me, it has happened literally dozens of times. Books have changed the way I think about sales, evolution, marketing, governance, interpersonal relationships, mindfulness, the invention of the Western world, government power and more.

Next question:

How far into the book did you get before your mind was changed?

Not a facetious question. I’m serious. The Communist Manifesto is 80 pages long. Certainly long enough to make an impact.

It has never taken me beyond a hundred pages to be persuaded. Sure, there are times when the pages after page 100 help me pile on, give me more depth and understanding. But a hundred (and usually fifty) is enough to get under my skin.

On the other hand, a tweet has never once changed my mind about anything.

Writing a tract that works is significantly more difficult than writing a long book filled with defensible facts and stories, which I think is one reason why authors do the latter so often. And when we finish a tract unconvinced of the author’s point of view, our instinct is to point out that it just wasn’t long enough! (In fact, that’s rarely the problem–the problem is that it wasn’t good enough, not that it was too short.)

What if the great authors of our time were challenged to rewrite their favorite works? Let them ignore the price, ignore the bookstore and merely focus obsessively on arguing their point… imagine how powerful those arguments would be.

I think ebooks bring us to a new golden age of polemics, tracts and non-fiction short works that will actually change things. Without the pressure from an editor trying to justify a $29 price point, the author can go ahead and do the work she’s meant to do: Change our minds, not kill as many trees as possible.

If we accomplished one thing with the list of twelve books at the Domino Project, this is what I was hoping to achieve: We made the world safe for manifestos. Every one of our books has changed (at least a few of) the people who experienced them.

They’re not longer because we took the time and effort to make them short. That’s what I want to read next–another short book that will change the way I think.

(animation below courtesy of Hugh Macleod–click to make it dance.)

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