On Publishing as a Form of Value Investment

value investment (n): a form of investment in which those who invest select companies’ stocks or other forms of financial receptacles that are either undervalued objectively on the market or have a yet-undiscovered or yet-unactivated potential, both relative to the potential as understood by investors

Value fund managers look for companies that have fallen out of favor but still have good fundamentals. The value group may also include stocks of new companies that have yet to be recognized by investors.

(from this post on Merrill’s website)

As an example:

Say you have a human person who identifies a need, and then the mind model or conceptualization for the product that can meet the need.

I’ll share one company which I follow on Twitter, to which I gave a shout-out, given that great thriller or speculative writers might find something very interesting for themselves in this company’s work, if their plot development depends in any shape or form on cool IT or tech developments that have never been treated before in fiction: Axon produces technology to help protect the lives of police officers and others working within the public safety realm. (Check out the video on this page. Isn’t this the coolest?)

Using Axon as a purely theoretical example–I do not know the details of Axon’s own strategic planning or history, in terms of conceptualization-to-patent-to-product-development–this can be said: Before someone thought about the time that it takes a police officer to identify a person who observed a crime, to taking notes in an interview, to transcribing those notes for their own chief, to then moving on the transcription–a product did not exist that could aide police officers in saving this time.

Then someone figured the genius idea out, and then Axon moved on the concrete product development, and then it had to launch its own public stocks, and then people had to identify those stocks, and then invest in them. Before these stocks took on some form of public urgency, though–and certainly before the product was ever developed–the value of the product and thus of the stock was undervalued; by value, here, we mean its financial weight relative to other stocks on the market (it’s valued less than it ought to be, given the definition above). A good value investor, in doing his/her research, will identify products of this kind.

Find the newest, coolest need; respond to it; invest in it; and then watch your investment return significantly greater funds than investment in a product that meets a need that isn’t really a need.

Besides this form of dynamic financial value, measured at the level of the stock, there is also the value of the product or company understood in its human or aesthetic sense–the value met, in a personal way, of a product developed and used. It’s an interesting matrix, to think about both the value of the stock as it is, financially, and also the value of the product in human terms.


A long time ago, during my undergrad, I took a course in international development, and one of the questions treated in the course was micro-financing. I was fascinated, also, given that it made sense–both on paper and in experience, given huge case studies abroad–for an investor to pay $250 for a sewing machine, and give a woman a sewing machine, so that with apt sewing skills, she could maximize the value of the $250 over time with the development and sale of her own products (and the investment serving as a sort of guarantor of that kind of value-maximization over time), than to just give her $250.

Shocking, isn’t it, what a basic “mind model” distinction between pure funds and product value, in one form or another contingent on funds, can do to investors–as well as to the creation and maintenance of healthy infrastructure, over time?

If you think about it, book publishing is sort of like this–or could be like this, if writers, agents, editors, publishers, and investors in the book publishing realm thought about their own work with this kind of an acute sensibility and analysis of the kind of product being pitched. This applies, in a particular way, to non-fiction, especially non-fiction that is built and ordered toward the development and maintenance of longevity in infrastructure–a good book about tobacco as a public health concern will aide federal and state governments in responding to these public health concerns in actuality, beyond the theory about the issue and the theory about the necessary public health response contained within the book.

The book is both a product of theory as it is a product that opens up a demand–an undervalued need, say, before the book is published–among readers across the world.

One way to think about agenting on the non-fiction end is this: A primary underlying task involves sifting through huge quantities of research of diverse kinds (financial, creative, regional, personal, and more) to place the highest-quality products, unique in their content, before publishing houses for purchase, given the model above. The research is key to finding holes in published products. Why has the whole planet, for example, never published a book about some of the world’s most key, individual historical icons? You might be surprised about the depravity in biographies.

I, for example, with regards to the development of proposals from the ground up for non-fiction books, help academics sift through large quantities of data and their own research to shape an argument for popular/trade publication (think your big five publishing houses: Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc.). Buy this, because it is genius, and it needs to be published; it fits a need, and it creates an experience, and it moves readers over time to remain committed to a product and an imprint, to an idea and to a conversation.

[Read: At its heart, agenting and publishing in this way is a project of ‘long-term, value-only investment’ applied to a different form of creative work. I spend time with ‘companies’ (books) to place before ‘analysts’ (editors, publishers) to maximize authors’ returns (royalties, post-advance earnout) over time. Fun, isn’t it–what it does to the mind?]

So much more could be said, but this is one of the reasons why I came back to book publishing. Really good books, fiction and non-fiction both, have a huge potential to save the world–good fiction aides culture, creates minds and hearts in a vision of humanity and the good; genius non-fiction helps us understand the structures we create and adopt, and helps us also run a thousand miles in the direction of change that brings true joy, and freedom, collaboration and acute responses, and moves those with minds and hearts for good conversation into those exact conversations.

I’ll leave these musings here.

On Functional Scaffolding

In my free time, which is really time not spent working on strictly agenting-related things, I love to read and do research. One of the lessons I learned a long time ago was the worthwhileness of doing research about one’s own person, and one’s own mind–how I work, how I function–in order to elevate the quality of one’s own life: how I live, can live, ought to live.

Here’s an abstract for an academic, heady article that I stumbled upon, once upon a time, doing some basic research in psychology, on “Functional scaffolding and self-scaffolding,” published in New Ideas in Psychology:

Models of the nature of representation and cognition ground and constrain models of the construction of representation in learning and development: models of what is being constructed ground and constrain models of the processes of construction. Insofar as the notion of scaffolding is intended to refer to particular kinds of supports for learning and development, it too will be variously enabled and constrained by underlying assumptions concerning representation and cognition. I will argue that action based models of representation, which have their own powerful supports, also make possible a functional notion of scaffolding that, in turn, makes sense of processes of self-scaffolding as a central field of development.

A basic translation (in its utter, kindergarten-level basics): Scaffolding is a tool for representing and understanding content learned, through theoretical models to capture and process that content.

One of the most basic examples of a self-scaffolding is a to-do list, but even more specifically, the categories that a person might use within their to-do list. A parallel concept for it is a mind model, or a theoretical framework that is developed to help a person think about the content and set of observations before them about any given question. (An acquaintance of mine once sent me this link to describe a range of ‘available mind models.’ I thought this was the coolest tool ever.)

With to-do lists, a person sort of self-engineers or self-creates a mind model to think about the necessary components of the tasks that stand before them: the content, the deadline, the structure, the framework for engaging in a range of different kinds of conversations that need to move the necessary theoretical pieces, etc.

For example, my to-do list (to be transparent, of course–except not, because I’d have to give you a whole existential spreadsheet if I were to break my to-do list in public!) looks something like this:

  • D4EO/Clients
    • Client Name
      • Client Project/Deadline
    • Client Name
      • Client Project/Deadline
    • Client Name
      • Client Project/Deadline
  • D4EO/Networking
  • D4EO/Market Research & Tracking
  • Non-Profit Support/Accounting
  • Academic Work/Research
  • Academic Work/Writing
  • Book Reviews/Reading
  • Book Reviews/Writing
  • Travel/Misc.

Certainly on the non-fiction writing end, mind models and scaffolds are terrific tools for aiding comprehension, as they are tools for scaffolding in the classroom. (Scaffolding is a classic pedagogical tool.) You can find some links to a few relevant pieces, for some guidance on what this kind of a scaffolding exploration might look like, here: one, two, three, four.

In fiction, a lot of scaffolding work can be done to tier in the release of plot or pacing-related information, such as in really solid thrillers–those clues planted, then pulled together/integrated, etc. The same thing goes for scaffolding out history of the characters and the world, as well as world-building. You want to give just enough for the reader to wrap their mind around the essentials, and keep in the rest of the information until it’s necessary. The author should always know and understand more about what’s on the page and evolving than the reader.

Beyond this, scaffolding aids your own life, and I’d encourage checking out some of these pieces, personality profiles (Myers-Briggs, Greek personality tests, enneagram tests), IQ tests, and otherwise, in order to then do the more important, practical project: figure out how you work, and figure out what best form of self-scaffolding aids your time.

Sometimes, I shock people with the amount of work that I do, editorially, agenting-wise, and writing-wise, but rather than it be a sort of shock to the system, it honestly is for me a project of systematic scaffolding and re-scaffolding, self-learning over and over again, playing with different mind models over something as simple as my inbox and categories for emails received, and otherwise. It’s a good, healthy, and totes existential project.