Antilibraries Kickstarter “Work in Progress” Update, May 2017

I always enjoy when Kickstarter creators post detailed updates that shine a spotlight on the inner workings of their projects and creative processes. In that tradition, here’s the first of a series of “work in progress” updates for the Antilibraries “Codex Libri” project I recently funded on Kickstarter (note: I’m publishing this as both blog post and backer update.)

Prologue: Kickstarter Recap

I initiated this project in large part to force myself to make more concrete progress on a project I’ve worked on piecemeal over the last couple years, focused on learning about, and sharing with others, all sorts of interesting books I haven’t yet read.

After deciding to run a Kickstarter campaign, I set a seven day timeline and a modest goal. The campaign ended at $1760, around 700% of my original goal, and after fees and a couple failed payments I have a little over $1500 for the total project budget. I can do a lot with that! I hit all my stretch goals, including color printing and custom letterpress bookmarks for each backer. I’ll also be printing extra copies of the book to have handy later for anyone who is interested but missed the brief Kickstarter window.

I’d also like to explore the possibility of commissioning a couple short essays from outside contributors. I’m still thinking this through but I think it would be cool to include some other perspectives on the general themes of reading, personal libraries, and harnessing the infinite potential therein.

So Far: Book Suggestions; List-Wrangling; Literary Lacunae

One fun thing I did over the last few weeks is email every backer personally, and offered to give each person a few personal book suggestions if they wrote to me with a few recent favorites and/or general reading preferences. This was a lot of fun and a great way to get to know some of the backers! Around a dozen people got back to me (~20% of all backers) which kept this manageable; in total it was couple hours of extra work but well worth it to get a better sense of who’s supporting the project, and spark some fun conversations about books!

Since then, my chief work has been in wrangling my existing antilibrary book list, and shoring it up with a bit more organization so I can prioritize what to include in the publication. I’d also like to take my existing lists and try to pinpoint any gaps that might be worth filling. I can’t fully know what’s missing from my existing antilibrary, of course — that’s the whole point; there are so so many books, and my list by necessity is filtered through my interests, experiences, and serendipitous discoveries — but I think there may be some low-hanging literary lacunae I can try to fill.

I recently finished browsing through one interesting list of over 300 books, an archived copy of the Global Business Network’s reading group book list. Though it’s biased in many ways (heavy focus on business, technology, history, etc.) it did turn up quite a few gems. I may browse a few more lists in search of any particular gaps I decide I need to fill…but I have plenty to start with and at this point must force myself to close the floodgates as I could easily keep making lists of books forever!

Part of the fun of this project, for me, is highlighting books that are not only fascinating and important, but underappreciated. So I want to curate this publication with a strong bias towards books you likely aren’t too familiar with — hidden treasures, as opposed to canonical classics. So I probably won’t include things like The Iliad, or War and Peace, here…because, while books like these are important titles in my antilibrary, they’re probably either already in yours as well, or you’ve already intentionally deprioritized them in favor of others.

On a related note: as the classical canon goes, there’s an obvious thread of white male dominance, for a slew of historical reasons. As I curate the books to be highlighted in this publication, I want to do so with an eye towards diversity, in as many forms as possible (gender, race, genre, culture, era…) because I think that will make the project a lot stronger and more interesting.

Next Steps: Winnowing; Research; Writing

Just this weekend I’ve finished the rather pedestrian task of cataloging my own shelves and taking note of the best unread books I already own. So far I hadn’t included these in my main antilibrary list (which exists primarily as an Amazon wishlist), but I know there are some really good books I own but haven’t read, and that may be good picks for inclusion in the Codex Libri.

I have roughly 500 books currently in my antilibrary list. This is already a “highlights” list, where I only put books I find seriously engaging in some respect; I have other lists with a few thousand books that have sparked more cursory interest. I don’t yet have a final number in mind for how many books I ultimately want to include in the Codex Libri, but I imagine it will be on the order of several dozen. So as a rough first order estimate, I’ll probably aim to narrow down this list of ~500 books to a “long list” of 100 or so, and then cut that in half again to arrive at a “short list” of books for likely inclusion in the final publication. This winnowing process is my next order of business!

Once I have the long-list roughly in place, I’ll get deeper into the research phase. I’ve already done this process for around 50 books (those already on the website) so I have an idea of what this entails, but I may make some process modifications. I usually start with a given book’s Amazon page, browsing reviews and using the “look inside” feature to get a glimpse of each book’s essence and what people generally think of it. For some more obscure books, with a dearth of reviews and/or no “look inside” capacity, I’ll turn to Google and try to unearth more details. As I research a book, I’ll jot down my own impressions, as well as take note of any excerpts, both from reviews and the book itself, that seem helpful.

After I have this initial research done for each book, I can get to the blurb-writing part, where I distill my impressions down to a few pithy paragraphs. As I get to this phase, I’ll also start on some design / layout experiments, to get a sense of how the overall book will flow, so I can start to estimate things like target word count for each blurb, and total page count for the publication. After that, I expect to do a few more passes iterating on text and layout, then final details like cover design, before proofing the book and preparing for shipment.

Epilogue: Timeline; Suggestions / Feedback

A note on timeline — I originally estimated a June completion date, which, having written out the above notes on current and future process for the work it’ll take to finish this thing, seems ambitious! To be honest I didn’t put a ton of thought into a project schedule. Now that I’ve raised more funds than anticipated I have some ideas that I think will make the project better, but that also may take a bit more time. I expect to make consistent progress and complete this in a timely manner, but just to set expectations I want to be clear that my priority is making a great final publication, not hitting an exact deadline.

If there’s anything you’d like to hear about in more detail, as far as “behind the scenes” looks at my process here, please let me know and I can make notes for my next update. Similarly if you have any suggestions or things I should keep in mind as I work on this, feel free to send them my way!