Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rethinking Done Right

I know I just posted on something said over at Booksquare, and here I am writing about another post there, but I've gone back to this post multiple times in the past few days, which makes it seem worthwhile to talk about here. Right? Right.

The new post in question is from Sept. 14th, and in it, Kassia Krozser imagines new roles in the modern day publishing house. Now here at SotB, I know we get a bit prickly with changing things up too radically, but we try to clarify what kinds of changes freak us out. Speaking for myself rather than Mr. Christopher, I'd say that things that heighten corporate competition in a way that threatens new voices and makes vulnerable valid if currently under-recognized voices worry me. I also cry foul when the media goes apeshit about a product in a way that seems suspicious, too cozy with the maker/seller of said product. In our modern age, I think it behooves us not to read any and all media with a very critical eye.

I'm getting around to a point, I think.

Krozser, as far as I can tell, is not selling us anything here, but is instead explaining some possibilities in a level-headed way, and in a way that's very accessible (as compared to some who either go off on theory or go off on metadata in a way that makes an old-school editor like me a bit numb). She's going through and exploring how work within job titles will change. I'm going to stick with how she imagines the changing roles within editorial, since that's the department in which I happily exist. To quote:
However, acquisitions editors will change how they think about — and there’s no way around this word — projects. There will be booky-books. There will be multimedia extravaganzas. The type of project will drive the final product. Just as authors and agents are starting to think big picture when it comes to works they are shopping, so, more and more, will editors. Is it text, is it a web-based community, is it an application, is it a living, interactive experience? One or more of those?
I know, I know. Deep breaths, y'all, it'll be okay.

The fact of the matter is that I, like some of the commenters, have unconsciously or sub-consciously already started thinking in this way, as an editor. I admit it. The way she's described it has made me feel better about this reality. As I advise authors - those I am publishing and those I'm not - I find myself raising this issue more and more. I don't see this as leading to the death of books, but it will lead to the slimming down of what we all publish, in a way. I hate the idea of reading what could be a straight-forward novel and having that novel interrupted with a video or an mp3 file or something. If that had happened while I made my way through The Man with the Golden Arm - "Algren may have been envisioning a bar like the one featured in this clip!" - I would have hated it. But when I hear about certain books and I hear authors urging - or wanting to urge - their publishers to include this or that, I do see opportunity, for added material online and/or embedded somehow in an e-file that includes that text and the extras.

But how much can we possibly do? She goes on later to suggest,
Someone needs to be in charge of all aspects of the book — whatever form it takes — from beginning to end. This is particularly true if the book is slotted as a transmedia project. Nobody — nobody! — is better positioned to execute the vision than the acquiring editor. It’s a different kind of job. It’s a visionary kind of job.
Now I appreciate this point. There are always times when an editor stops and wonders if he is the only person in-house who has read a manuscript, or even a chapter of a project. We often do know the material best, having worked closely with the author on finalizing it. And I love the idea of building on the "visionary" aspect of being an acquisitions editor. At the same time, I might want to farm out some of this work....
Editorial staff will be on the front lines of coding manuscripts; they’ve already started this. Yes, I did say coding. There will be tools to make this job easier. They will be awesome tools. They will work the way they’re supposed to work the first time. Because this is the future and things work in the future.
Right? Some basic coding maybe but it seems to me, this can fit into production. Now we're just squabbling.

My point is that this is all great, but we must keep in mind what readers want, and the question becomes how we figure this out. We shouldn't base it on media - see my point above - and random polls don't seem particularly scientific. I suppose all of my reading about past editors and publishers comes into play here, and what's left is that we need folks to be visionary not just with individual projects, but with whole publishing plans. Hell, we can try to be those people here at SotB, but I'll warn you, our vision will involve fairness for all parties to a painful degree, support for new literary endeavors with a sense of history and skill rather than mere cleverness, and a commitment to big ideas wherever they appear, including outside of NYC and outside of the US.

Oof. I best get to visioning.

Before I leave you, however, two more quick points:

1) Thanks to Christopher's lead, we are now on Twitter. Check us out here. Follow us, and we can follow you, and we'll all tweet each other stupid.

2) As I mention in that first tweet, Craig Fehrman has a great article in today's Boston Globe about author libraries that's well worth a read. (Btw, it seems they are hiring a staff person for the Ideas section of the Globe, where this article appears. I can't find the listing but it's out there, so interested parties should apply! It'd make for a pretty awesome job for a smart journalist.)

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