My Extended Bibliography for Ego Is The Enemy and How I Screwed It Up

June 17, 2016

During the writing of Ego is the Enemy, I happened to read Jon Ronson’s amazing book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. My favorite part wasn’t the book (though the book is great), I loved the book’s annotated bibliography. Ronson took the time to explain what he liked about each source and how he used it. I wrote a note (literally, a notecard) to myself that said “Do this on your next book” and then, when I came to the end of writing Ego, I did.

I took the time to do that instead of just listing my sources because I loved all the books that went into making Ego is the Enemy. In fact, I think a lot of them are better than anything I ever have or ever will write. I also know that my own life would be radically different if it wasn’t for authors taking the time to recommend and acknowledge their sources. For a long time, my rule as a young reader was: Try to read one book mentioned in every book that you read. This philosophy took me down countless rabbit holes and introduced me to fascinating topics and people.

When I look at most bibliographies, I am usually left wanting to know more. What did the author like about the book? What didn’t they like about it? How did they find it? What other interesting things had they wished they’d been able to include but couldn’t? What was their favorite part? I want to know everything.

To me, there’s also not a big difference between a bibliography and an Acknowledgements section either. They are both about citing sources of value—and often doing so is of great use to the reader. Hell, I found my agent through the acknowledgements of a book by Andrew Keen. If an author was being honest, the acknowledgements section would be pages and pages long. So many people and so many things go into making a book. A wife gets one sentence. An agent gets a few words. The publisher gets a mention. And then we’re done. Hardcore fans want to know more. So do aspiring writers. The people who contributed to a book love seeing their name in print. Due to space concerns, most contributions go unthanked.

Anyway, that’s what I set out to rectify at the end of Ego is the Enemy. I went as far as thanking food I ate during certain chapters, admitting the fact that I found Neil deGrasse Tyson paraphrasing a John Wheeler quote in an airplane magazine, and even pointed out extra stuff, like a Ta-Nehisi Coates quote, that I read after I’d already finished my chapter on Jackie Robinson. All sorts of stuff. I’ve always believed that any wisdom or insight in my books can and should be attributed to people smarter than me—that I am just a conduit or a collector. This was the first acknowledgments section in any of my books that felt truly complete.

The only problem is that the bibliography I wrote was something like 5,000 words and added 17 pages to an already longer than intended book. The publisher told me I would have to choose between it and substantial edits to the book. What was I going to do?

I decided I would cut it from the book, replace it with a standard ‘selected’ bibliography and then give away my fuller works cited online to all the readers who wanted it. I certainly wasn’t going to scrap all the time and energy I’d put into making it. The upside was that by making it digital, I could make the links clickable, the sources searchable and I could even update it if I felt like anything had been left out. Plus it’s a good way to interact with readers and capture email addresses. I did something similar with Growth Hacker Marketing and have talked with thousands and thousand of people as a result.

This is the exact language I put at the end of the book announcing my plan.

For most people, bibliographies are boring. For those of us who love to read, they can be the best part of an entire book. As one of those people, I have prepared for you—my book­loving reader—a full guide to every single book and source I used in this study of ego. I wanted to show you not just which books deserved citation but what I got out of them, and which ones I strongly recommend you read next. In doing this, I got so carried away that my publisher informed me what I had prepared was too big to in the book. So I’d like to send it to you directly—in fully clickable and searchable form.

If you’d like these recommendations, all you have to do is e­mail [email protected] or visit EgoIsTheEnemy/books.

And here’s where the story takes a twist. Because I really screwed up (as you can partly see already).

In the bustle of the launch, I somehow lost control of [email protected]—the address I was asking people to use. I’m positive I registered it, but after dozens of emails to some of my contacts at Google, trying every single password and secret question I could think of and asking everyone who worked for me in the last year whether they knew how to login, I’m not sure of anything anymore. I’m writing this post to admit my biggest screwup as author to date: The first 5-10,000 copies of my book offer a bonus with a non-working email address (I’m not the only one who screwed up: Penguin didn’t fix an error in the domain name listed either, though that hardly makes anything better). I can console myself by saying that if 10% of those 5,000 people email, it’s not a huge number of people effected and the hardcore fans will reach out to me directly, but it’s still not something I wished had happened.

At the same time, I’m also proud of how I handled it. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t yell—at the publisher for their mistake or for Google for their incredibly frustrating customer service. I focused on solutions instead. We managed to fix it in the audiobook and the ebook in time. It’s also been addressed in subsequent printings. I worked the Google angle until it turned out to be a dead end. And then I moved on to focus on things that were in my control (like writing this post for example). Still, it’s a mistake. I don’t feel good about it. I also didn’t make it worse either.

That being said, I still am really excited for people to check this thing out and for all the people and books and ideas that went into making Ego is the Enemy to get their due. If you’re reading this post because you’re trying to figure out why the hell no one at [email protected] is responding, I’m sorry. Just resend your email to [email protected] or you can just go here and fill out this form.

Ryan Holiday

I'm a strategist for bestselling authors and billion dollar brands like American Apparel, Tucker Max and Robert Greene. My work has been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube and Google and has been written about in AdAge, the New York Times, Gawker and Fast Company.

4 responses to My Extended Bibliography for Ego Is The Enemy and How I Screwed It Up

  1. Aww that’s the worst. Good story for sure though lol and a good lesson for other authors

  2. That Stoicism, tho!

  3. Sorry to hear that. But hadn’t you provided a secondary email address or a phone number, as normally required by Gmail, to set a new password in case you lost the original one and then be able to access that Gmail address?

  4. Super excited to read your new book! Your animated whiteboard YouTube video is great.