It’s been almost a month since I released the 2nd full volume of Knowledge Stew: The Guide to the Most Interesting Facts in the World, and I thought I would share with you how I come up with the contents of the book and what it took to compile this book as well as the first volume.
Let me start by saying I have always loved little-known facts, but what intrigued me more was the backstory. This has been a basis for the Knowledge Stew books. Anyone can simply list out facts they find, but what are the facts behind the facts? Many times the stories behind them are more interesting than the facts themselves.
I first do the obvious. I have to find a good, juicy fact, or some question that needs to be answered. One criteria I use is that the fact or question actually has to be interesting to me. There are plenty of facts that are interesting, but it’s much harder to write about it if it has no interest to me. I find my facts by scouring the internet, of course, but that is just one part of the equation. I’ve use books, newspapers, magazines, and even pamphlets to discover some great things. One tool that is rather fun to use is the Google newspaper archive. You can search through years and years of old newspapers to find an incredible amount of information without having to visit a research library.
When I have my fact, it’s on to step number two–validation and research. Many of the facts I come across either are not factual or there is too much gray area. This usually happens when there is just not definitive proof to back up the fact. This happens more often than you think. A number of things I’ve run across just turned out to be untrue, or ended up not being all that interesting.
I use my own method and criteria to validate my facts. I require that it have at least three valid sources from credible publications. I never use other websites that simply repeat what others have said or sites that aren’t particularly credible. A reliable source has to take me to the source of the fact. My average number of sources I use is actually five, but sometimes certain facts are so obscure that I’m lucky to find three. They also have to be different and not just a reprint of another article. If a fact doesn’t meet this validation test, it doesn’t make it.
Next comes the research portion. It usually goes hand and hand with the validation part since I’m doing it at the same time. This is where I put all that information into my own words with my own slant. Again the information behind the fact or the answer to a question has to be just as interesting to me as the fact itself. Nothing is worse than a boring, mind-numbing backstory.
After I’ve researched the story behind the fact, I start to put it together. This is usually in the form of a blog post. I first write it out in rough form, edit, rewrite, edit again, and then run it through a program that helps me find anything I might have missed. When I write for the books I probably edit that same information about three more times before it even makes it to the rough draft, and this is where I usually add additional information. Putting a blog post out first helps me to see how it is received as well as what additional editing I need to do. Some posts take me only a few hours to finish while most come in at a few days. A few even take months to get right. I then send all that info off to be read.
When I picked what information I want to go in a book, I begin to categorize them together. This is the slowest and most time-consuming part of the process. I had much of the information for the second Knowledge Stew volume done about a year ago, but the part about turning it into a book took around four months. This was mostly tweaking what had already been edited and also formatting the book into a cohesive unit. The first Knowledge Stew book took even longer.
After all those things are done, it’s ready to be published, though I’ve yet to hit a deadline I’ve set for myself. There is just never enough time in the day. So when you pick up your copy to read, you’ll know I didn’t just slap these facts together based on the first thing I saw. I hope you enjoy the facts as much as I did in finding them.