Sometimes it’s good to step back and examine why one does what one does. (It’s pretty safe to say that we generally don’t go into book publishing for the money.) And yet so many of us are so passionately devoted to this industry that, to outsiders, seems backward, eccentric, insular, frustrating, and hopelessly outdated.
It is all of those things.
And yet we remain.
Because we know – we viscerally know – that books are important. A narrative is life-changing. A history unravels mysteries. There is knowledge of all kinds in books – knowledge of the pedestrian facts that get us through the daily tasks of everyday life; knowledge of a more uplifting sort that magnifies our souls and gives us glimpses of the sublime. So we stick it out in this business – despite all its insanity and its resistance to change, we drag it kicking and screaming into modernity because it’s important. Because to lose it would be like losing music – an unforgivable diminishment of humanity.
When you understand what books can do for a life, making sure that every life has access to books assumes a tremendous urgency. When your very brain has been changed by reading, it feels criminally neglectful to step away from the business of getting books out to people in any way you can. There are so many people – children and adults – whose very selves would change if they knew there is more out in the world than this, I can be different, I can live better, I can have more, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Books are a window to abundance. The dissatisfaction caused by seeing what’s possible, measured against what is, is transformative.
And in the everyday business of getting books through publication, in the arguments about agency pricing and territorial rights and copyright, we lose sight of why we do what we do. It’s essential – as the book business goes through this Protean upheaval – to hold on tight, to keep one’s eye on the long game. We’re here to publish. We’re here to disseminate books. We’re here to connect that Roma child (whose uncle beats her at night for not bringing home enough money from begging instead of going to school) to fairy tales – yes, even fairy tales – that will give her the perspective to say life can be better than this. That will give her the ability to recognize an opportunity – no matter how small – to shift her life somewhat towards the better.
Small changes add up. Everything counts in the long game.