Serenity Prayer for Overwhelmed Book People

Fess up.  I can’t be alone.  It’s just too much sometimes, isn’t it?

Because I must be informed, and it all looks so important, I subscribe to email updates from Digital Book World, Hubspot, assorted LinkedIn conversations and the TechRepublic  along with PublishersMarketplace, the Observer’s book column and the requisite NYT book& other news, along with ten or twenty other feeds.  It doesn’t matter whether the source is techno or literary–most of them make me feel like I jumped on the wrong busor, more accurately, like I was sitting on the right bus but the driver sneakily changed the route, so all of us folks happily chatting away in the back didn’t even notice we were on the wrong street.  All of the new people stepping up take for granted they are headed in the right direction.  Of course they are.

Maybe if I worked in a corporation where I heard people saying things daily like “How’s the API for the XML coming?” and what’s the bottom line on the iOs plan for DRM?”…maybe then I’d feel less stressed when in fact most news related to the written word these days seems far more suited to an algebra class.  Which I didn’t take.

Obviously this is bigger than the ever-changing techno jargon–

Recently Julie Bosman wrote about the speeding up of trade paperback publication in the New York Times; Nick Bilton wrote about tossing 80% of his books since he’s got them on his e-reader anyway. Mike Shatzkin and Michael Cader reported on Apple decision to make it really rough for Ipad users to order books direct from anyone besides Apple—Apple took off a button and will change the publishing world.  Same week:  I skimmed the Author’s Guild Bulletin to read Scott Turow on the Google non-settlement which means–I think–authors/estates will be non-paid, yet again.  I learned about five different kinds of ways to make books into Apps, most of which are unproven and probably at this point unsaleable.

I spent most of the actually productive hours of that same week discussing a book about the impact of modern technology and religion on a tribe in the Amazonian rainforest, and I felt a strange kinship with the violent Indians.  

How much innovation can a person–or an industry–absorb and still respond to in a thoughtful and careful manner?  I don’t know what impact this sped-up production process will mean for publishing; I don’t know how deeply this Apple move will impact authors, and I suspect I’m not alone–how many of us have the time and the sounding boards to even begin to give these shifts adequate and accurate analysis?

This makes me, sometimes, a little…crazy.  As you will see in this and future writings, I think only expertise will save humanity.  (Yes, it’s a big soapbox.)  But sometimes it feels there is just too much to be expert in.

One oddly heartening fact—it’s increasingly ok to say “I don’t know.”  I recently conducted an ultra-sophisticated survey:  I asked a couple book people, “Where do you see the market going in terms of digital publication of nonfiction?” and got several soul-satisfyingly honest, “I don’t knows!” in response.  

It’s a relief to share feelings of inadequacy; saying this out loud makes one feel a little more…adequate.  And leaves much more space for learning once the expectation of instant assimilation of the strange is set aside.

Publishing has always been a business of uncertainty and informed opinion.  Now it’s a business of uncertainty, informed opinion and deep experimentation in what is necessarily unfamiliar.  Ironically, years ago, when I lived and breathed corporate publishing, what I enjoyed most about the job was the constant learning—the nights and weekends reading intriguing manuscripts, the perpetual rubbing up against informed, interesting and curious people in meetings (yes) and over lunches, the provocative discussions and documents that spurred new ideas and creativity.  

Now night and weekend work is filled as much with keeping up online, in bits and pieces, as with reading manuscripts.  Learning has changed from the conversational to the cram; from the read to the “read at;” some days feel like there’s a final exam tomorrow and two books of Cliff Notes (do they still exist?) left to read tonight. 

OK, most of the time I’m pretty calm about this, understanding that we can’t all know everything and that those innovations that seem out of my ken do eventually, with experience and conversation, become familiar and morph into everyday language. Of course trade paperbacks will be published in the timeliest manner for the largest readership.  Of course Apple can’t possibly control every electronic book published; something will change and shake out there.  Yes I remember that even mass market paperbacks and book clubs (QPB, not Oprah) were inventions that some thought would destroy the industry…all will work out in the end but…there goes my head, spinning again.

So I say this now: Praise be to thoughtful decisions, and please, oh ye superior power: help me to learn only what is truly important to my work, family and world betterment, to toss that which will have no bearing on any, and the brainpower  (and money for Omega 3s) to know the difference.











  1. lonnie Hanzon says

    You are such a good writer and thinker. Yea for you.

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