Facilitators not Editors, Collaborators not Writers

First step towards managing the social fabric around a book, is to see the book as a community. It is a living body of text and people, and your job as a community manager is to keep it alive and help it flourish.

The vast majority of this role is managing the social processes surrounding the book. This means putting energy into people so they will put energy into the book. At the beginning, it is necessarily a 90% lossy conversion of energy! 90% of the energy you put in will see very little or no return. But that 10% that makes something happen is a foothold and that’s enough to help you build up a successful community around the book. These small successes build up and it is possible, in time, to walk away from the book and it will continue to grow by itself.

It might sound hard, and it’s not always this way, but it is mostly this way. The same is true for the development of open source code communities – simply putting the code in a source management repository does not mean an instant community will turn up and write the software for you. Source code repositories like Sourceforge and Github can be seen, to some large degree, as graveyards for thousands of projects that started and died quickly through the founder’s lack of a real understanding of how to build communities.

There are some ways, of course, that you can improve the odds. The first is by starting a book project that you just know there is a huge need for, or something people are just going to get excited about – then announce it through the available channels. If people are out there just waiting to contribute to that x factor project that gets them excited, then you can have success overnight. Of course the thing is – if you are starting a book project, you probably already believe that it has that x factor – but it might not! There is always the chance nobody sees it as being as exciting as you do.

Other factors that affect the initial uptake and contribution rate include your own profile within the sector you are addressing. Brad Pitt could probably start 1001 really boring books and get good starting contributions across a good percentage of them. That really helps a lot. You can act strategically on these issues of course – if you are not well known within the domain of the intended book, approach someone that is, and see if they will come on board early. Through strategic invitations you might end up with a good alliance of profiled contributors who may or may not do much work, but who will certainly attract others to the job.

Also of course, the actual offering itself affects the uptake. Send out an egocentric request to help *you* finish the book *you* always wanted to write, and you will probably get no takers. Send out a request for involvement that is friendly and open and which provides a good argument why the project would be a good project to get involved in – targeting your contributors own egocentrism (!) – is probably going to have a better effect.

That message should also go through the right channels too, of course. Think of the channels you need to get that message to, its tone and content – even design issues if necessary – and think about who that message should come from. In some cases, for example, its better to have someone with a reputation in the target contributor group to communicate the call to action.

This is your first step in community management – making your community an attractive prospect.