Ahead of spending a day extolling the virtues of a career in publishing, I’ve been thinking how do I answer the question of what do I do and why do I do it?
The first question has pretty good scope for answers, on any given day I do the following: drink coffee and eat cake (in my dreams!), pitch ideas for the next bestsellers, spend hours gazing at a single sentence or word searching for perfection, analyse spreadsheets looking for market data to testify why my authors’ books will be the next bestsellers, crucify myself over missed commas, juggle the many plates of project management, feed my authors coffee and cake to keep them going on their journeys to writing the next bestsellers, speak to designers about how to visualise the next bestsellers, speak to PR, marketing and sales to enthuse them about why these books are the next bestsellers, read through submissions to spot the next bestsellers – read, write and breathe!
As you can see the common themes of cake/coffee and the search for getting that truly amazing book into a reader’s hands are the common themes of the day in the life of a publisher!
When I started out in publishing that question had a simple answer – because I love books. Now, nearly 16 years on that is as true as ever, but it’s no longer my immediate answer to the question. Now, I say: because it matters.
Publishing at its purest is about shaping content and making that content public – it is about shaping imaginations, posing questions, offering answers, divining a way forward, cultivating a different way of thinking, making people laugh or cry, and inspiring people to change the world. Publishing matters because words matter. Now more than ever. In today’s chaotic and content-rich world, it is Kazuo Ishiguro who best articulates why publishing matters in the closing words of his Nobel speech:
“But let me finish by making an appeal – if you like, my Nobel appeal! It’s hard to put the whole world to rights, but let us at least think about how we can prepare our own small corner of it, this corner of ‘literature’ where we read, write, publish…
Firstly, we must widen our common literary world to include many more voices from beyond our comfort zones of the elite first-world cultures. We must search more energetically to discover the gems from what remain today unknown literary cultures, whether writers live in faraway countries or within our own communities. Second, we must take care not to set too narrowly or conservatively our definitions of what constitutes good literature. The next generation will come with all sorts of new, sometimes bewildering ways to tell important and wonderful stories. We must keep our minds open to them, especially regarding genre and form, so that we can nurture and celebrate the best of them. In a time of dangerously increasing division, we must listen. Good writing and good reading will break down barriers. We may even find a new idea, a great humane vision, around which to rally.”
(Kazuo Ishiguro, My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs: The Nobel Lecture, Faber & Faber, 2017, © The Nobel Foundation)