Years ago, an old friend/colleague, a sales and marketing director in various well-respected, even high-toned literary, houses, once told me this is what publishing is about: what do you buy and what do you sell. In those days, as an editor, I was buying projects that interested me, that I thought fit in with our publishing program, and that had merit–were well-written, presented new ideas, etc. And none of that mattered to my colleague if he couldn’t sell the idea of the book, the author, the book. (And in those days there wasn’t as much direct selling to the reader as there is now. So we were selling to people who were going to sell the book. And of course that still goes on too.)
A few weeks ago I read this article posing the question: is Twitter a book publishing company? Now if I had a dollar for every publishing is dying/changing/being disrupted article I’ve read in the last forty years I could go on a very nice vacation. (And yes, these articles have been going on for forty years. Those of you who are old enough may remember publishing jobs that no longer exist–typesetters, keyliners, typists.) So why do I keep reading these articles?
Because we are in a sea change. (Not the only one in history, maybe not even the biggest one–printing presses people!) A more recent sales colleague said, somewhat bitterly, he thought there may be more people writing books than reading them. I’m pretty sure that’s not literally true. But a lot of us have a story to tell, information to share. And everyday it seems there are more mystifying, sometimes scary, sometimes exciting, ways to get the word out.
I don’t think the name of the game is keeping up with technology. I don’t think anybody can. In the past week I’ve heard of at least seven new (to me) on-line marketing sites, at least three new independent/self-publishing companies. I’m happy to know about these things exist. I’m excited that there is a revolution in communicating, telling stories, writing the news, writing to celebrate nature, kids, animals. All of that and more. It’s a great time to be alive. But it is not a great time to think any one of us knows it all–the present or the future.
So I’m not going to tell you what a book is. Who an author is. What a publisher does. But if you want to write, and if you want to share your worldview, your story, your dream with readers, you will figure that out for yourself. You’ll spend time surfing (and yes going down rabbit holes) and trying things out.
Oh, yes, and you’ll probably spend hours tearing your hair out to get the structure just right. And more hours in the pure pleasure zone of seeing your ideas and stories come to life on paper or screen.