Rectifying Names

a blog on publishing by Bruce Fingerhut

     1. Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”
     2. The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”
     3. “So, indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”
     4. The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.
     5. “If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.
     6. “When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.
     7. “Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

Analects of Confucius, XIII Tsze-lu, Chapter 3, James Legge, translator

The Boredom of Perfection - February 17, 2014

I am putting aside the topic of publishing this week, a topic I do not find boring, though I fear I may create it in others . . . because it has struck me that so much of our modern life, so filled with things to do and people to see, has drifted away into the boredom of perfection.

My father died suddenly soon after my 19th birthday, and the worst part of the hard-bitten and sarcastic central nub of my personality seemed to have died with him. I had lived in an age when it became fashionable for youth to respond to maturity by holding close to your bosom the hurts of the past that they envision was their lives, and look for the excuses found everywhere for living in what could only be called the love song of boredom.

Much later, I would hear people talk of the trials they thought they received from family, friends, and teachers, and I would listen in amazement. I remember my youth as one incredibly long and wonderful baseball game, played mainly in backyards and streets in the nine or ten months that allowed it in suburban Washington. Since I had polio as a two-year-old and was always heavy, I knew that I would have to adjust to the game, so I became a pitcher and, eventually, taught myself to bat left-handed (no one else in our group, even the one left-handed player, batted left-handed), which gave me two steps toward first, steps I needed so much, since I was the slowest runner in history, I thought.

When I look back on those days, I do not think of it in any sense as a wasted life, but as a life spent as a less-exciting but happy Tom Sawyer. So many kids I knew were fighting madly to be individualists like everyone else and keep the terrible boredom genie from their doors, while I kept wondering why I failed so miserably to be unhappy.

Baseball was the center of my life, even though I had no yearning to become professional, no hope for stardom, no thought of being much better at twenty than I was at twelve. I was not in it to become famous or rich; I was in it to stay happy. Of course, we had few alternatives . . . no computers or I-phones, no video games or much in the way of TV. What happiness we had was given us by our parents and friends or snatched from the games we played, the books we read, the talk we engaged in. And despite the need for some to openly fight against boredom, the truth of the matter is that he would not know when boredom set on in any case because boredom is not in the nature of people who have to create their own lives and loves and fantasies.

So far there is nothing new in any of this. We lived our lives with what was given, what was available, and made the best of it. My brother Barry was a Detroit Tigers fan, my friend Mike Hais, who had the batting averages of every player in the American League on the tip of his tongue, followed the Boston Red Sox, while his brother, Alan, bless his soul, stayed true to the hapless Washington Senators, and yet still avoided a life of discouragement and sadness. I loved the Cleveland Indians. All of us, of course, hated the New York Yankees. It was the very stuff that bound us together and kept us a part of a circle that was greater than any one of us could be by himself.

The Yankees would win eight pennants in the 1950s . . . eight out of ten! How could you not hate these guys? But the truth of the matter is that we all hated the New York team and loved Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Moose Skowron, Bobby Richardson, and all the rest of the Damned Yankees. We loved the game, and they played the game so well. We would go to Griffith Stadium and root against the Yankees and not be surprised or resentful when they would win so often, so very often.

And we were not bored. We cheered for the best that could be, cheered for the best that each of them, and each of us, could be. And I learned the most important lesson a young boy can learn . . . to seek the best in myself and in all others, even the ones who played on the other team.

Now professional sport is a game of millionaires, of perfection in training and accomplishment, of overwhelming boredom. I mean, could there ever be a greater bore than the NBA, for example? The men are too tall and fast and strong, the rim of the basket is too low, the court too short, the players too tiresome, the game too uninteresting. They lack non-perfection, and in doing so, they lack humanity. Professional sports long ago, of course, changed from game to business, but we all know or at least suspect that business can be fun, even for the non-millionaire, maybe especially for the non-millionaire.

But professional sports nowadays cannot be fun, is not fun. And boys suffer for that, and they search for new outlets in pre-decided games and lifeless excitements. How I wish they could gain the joy I had in learning how to bat left-handed.

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“Who Do Men Say That I Am?” - February 10, 2014

When Jesus asked his disciples this question, he received a number of answers, all wrong. The rest of us may well have interest in what others think of us, but we have to face the fact that we are going to have a lot of people guessing correctly, since our mission or work is a lot less grand and, even more, a lot more amenable to easy explanation than was the case with Christ.

Last week I received on the same day two e-mails from friends who had spoken to people they regarded as very knowledgeable, and were told very kind, even astonishing reports about St. Augustine’s Press, one calling the company a preeminent Catholic publisher and the other even that the Press had become the second-largest Catholic publisher in the land. Now, I realize that the Catholic Church may be having some problems here and there, but I can assure you that it does not suffer from having to rely on a small scholarly press to constitute the second-largest Catholic press in the country.

The fact of the matter, which I told both friends, is that I do not consider St. Augustine’s Press a “Catholic publisher” at all, even though I must say it is rather exciting to have at least one commonality share with Our Lord, namely, that men made mistake in trying to discern who we are.

However, once I started thinking about this matter, I began to wonder about who is it that decides what we are? Is it the founder and the people who work at the press, or might it just be the authors, the donors, the buyers, and others who, in one way or another, state a claim on the nature of the company? Are these people not really the reason for the existence of the Press?

Unlike St. Paul, very few of us can be all things to all people. We need to husband our assets, shine forth with the best we can offer, and never forget that what we do is what people will use to discern who we are.

In the end, it is not what you profess but the way you act that will be your legacy. In scholarly publishing we may look to what I have called the Four E’s (entertainment, enlightenment, edification, and education) for the reasons to read. Perhaps no one will love everything we publish, but I have a feeling that many who admire the works of Niemeyer, Brague, Camus, Bénéton, Manent, Benardete, Rosen, Scruton, and many others are not in some other world disconnected from the embrace of St. Thomas, St. Augustine, Marcel, Schall, McInerny, and others. If professing is not enough and acting is the central forum for true accomplishment, then what is important is less whether a given person agrees with this or that argument, but whether, when the time comes, he will be on the same side the barricade that you occupy.

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The Work of Publishing: Process and Product - February 3, 2014

Anyone who has bought anything except perhaps food in the past decade is familiar with the notion that America is becoming (no, has become) a nation whose product is a process, i.e., where what we create are ideas and processes rather than “things.” It has been devastating for manufacturing and for people who earn their livelihood making the things that we use every day, from clothing to materials to make buildings, from tools to televisions. It would be easy to go through life in the U.S. without buying any non-food product made in our country (and you cannot say that about goods from China) . . . unless you wanted to read a book, that is.

Book publishing is still produced in this country, and publishing is still designated as a manufacturing enterprise in America. Certainly, part of the reason for this is the law, which puts limits on the accessibility of copyright protection for books that are not principally picture books or art books and printed overseas. The law favors the use of U.S. printers. These printers, by the way, have not sat back and lived off their luck, as some other manufacturers have, relying on our laws to make importation very expensive. They have continued to expand and create new systems, and their costs have come down and quality gone up so that it is by no means a hardship for publishers to use American printers.

The fact that book publishing is still considered a manufacturing enterprise brings to mind the fact that, though publishers’ main work in life is as gatekeepers of quality and truth (I know, I am being a bit over the top saying this, but in its highest plane, this is what publishing truly is), in the end what we produce is a thing. It is the thing whose purpose is such that it needs gatekeeping for the benefit of truth, but it is a thing nonetheless.

Speaking personally, I know that the most important job, among many, that comes my way is acquisitions, which is most certainly a process, not a product. But without the product, the process is meaningless, and I think most publishers when I say that the process without the thing may be interesting and gratifying, but it ain’t publishing. Ideas may be the most interesting, but books . . . books with words and handsome paper and the smell of ink . . . are the most gratifying.

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Raising Up, Knocking Down - January 27, 2014

My wife, Laila, is a therapist, and I am a book publisher. It has turned out to be a good pairing for us. She is likely the only therapist who does not have a book to publish, and I may be the only publisher who does not need a therapist. We admire each other’s work, but do not become too involved.

These fields are not designed to make one rich beyond the dreams of avarice, but in both cases, these are jobs that can yield a lot of satisfaction. I have come to the view that one of the principal reasons that it is satisfying is that in both cases, what we seek is to raise up rather than knock down. This is clearer for therapy than publishing, of course, but it is nonetheless true for both. Improvement in life is accomplished by raising yourself and perhaps others up rather than knocking down.

I am afraid that this state of affairs is becoming rarer and rarer. All one has to do is to look at our politics to see how often the road to success is marked by destroying others rather than improving yourself. But it applies to so many other areas in our lives. Like most people, we subscribe to a satellite television broadcaster, and therefore have the pleasure to see a few hundred advertisements from this outfit every week. Not one of these ads is positive; each simply sets out to tear down the competition. Not for one minute have I thought that this way raises them up in my standing.

The current diversion of our president is to argue against “income inequality.” What is the plan to make incomes more equal? Like so much that we have seen, there is talk, lots of talk, there is indignation, but is there a plan? If, eventually, a working plan is offered, you can be sure that the only final program that is doable for the federal government is to pull down the rich rather than raise up the poor. That has been tried all over the world, with decidedly unmixed results.

Perhaps it is inevitable that politics would succumb to tearing down rather that raising up, since voters are moved to action more by what they dislike than by what they like. But, thank God, most of us are not driven by the need to have a majority vote for our plans. We can follow the great example of St. Thérèsa of Lisieux, “The Little Flower,” who famously spoke for the “little way” of doing good for others in small things: “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

The work of raising up may require a lifetime; tearing down may be accomplished in a few seconds. One will last.

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The Work of Publishing: Acquisitions - January 20, 2014

Nothing defines the personality of a publishing house better than the books it publishes. It is true that some presses are well known for their editorial work or their marketing prowess or their corporate daring. But these matters are not what attract buyers, who could not care less about the work of editors or publicists, much less publishing directors. They care about the books, and they are right to do so.

At many small presses, each person has a variety of duties, but none is as important as acquisitions. If the press is fortunate enough to have a following, it will not be because of the publisher or editor or publicist; it will be because of the books and the writers of those books.

Over the years, I have come to the shocking conclusion that not everyone yearns to read philosophy and theology. In fact, the variation of interests seems nigh unto infinite, and the publishing industry has answered that need with an amazing array of specialties. I have mentioned before that a small press, especially, needs to specialize if it is to be successful over the long run. (I say the “long run” because there is always the possibility that a small press will publish a work completely out of character that sells very well, but unless the press adds that type of book to their specialty, it will be dumb luck if it proves to be successful based on the sale of one book in an area they do not typically publish in.)

Having chosen a niche (or two or three), what must a publisher do to succeed in publishing good, better, and outstanding works in those fields? It will help, of course, if he (or she) knows something about the field itself, although that is not absolutely necessary in the beginning;  of course, without that knowledge from the beginning, it will mean a lot of hard work getting to know the field and the principal writers and books in the field. I am used to fields in scholarly areas, and that has the advantage over many other areas in having potential authors who read many books and do their best to find out what kinds of works a given publisher specializes in. Once a publisher has a few years of moderate success in publishing in a given field, the people in the field find him. That does not mean that the publisher can sit back and wait for the greatest possible books in the field to come his way. What he can assume is that the more successful he is, the larger the quantity of manuscripts he will be offered. It does not mean that the manuscripts will be the best in the field or the ones he should think of publishing. Like any person in business, he will find that there is a limit to the number of works he can do successfully. Publishing too many books with insufficient staff or funds or just time will be, at least, a mistake, and it could well prove to be a catastrophe. The smaller the press, the more important it is to husband assets, and by “assets” I do not mean mainly money; assets also mean staff, reputation, time, and program. Furthermore, the publisher owes it to his present authors not to expand so fast or accept so many other works that he cannot do well by them.

The work of acquisitions in publishing is an ongoing activity. It does not stop with a successful title or season or year. It requires continual care and discernment, and sometimes continual questioning over whether what is being done is the best that can be done, given the assets available. Not every publisher can afford to seek to adhere to Matthew Arnold’s famous quote from Culture and Anarchy, where he defined culture as the study of perfection, and wrote that culture “seeks to do away with classes; to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light . . .” Not every publisher can abide by these high standards, but a few will.

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The Work of Publishing: Niches and Itches - January 13, 2014

Turning down a manuscript I would like to publish is probably the most common thing I hate to do. For the first few years of St. Augustine’s Press’s existence, the most common reason for turning someone down was that the manuscript was totally out of the areas, the niches, that were set when the company began in 1996, to publish works in philosophy, theology, and cultural and intellectual history. People would send in novels, poetry by the barrel-full, how-to books, self-improvement works, etc., none of which made sense for St. Augustine’s Press. But over the years, as the Press has become more known, there are fewer works sent that lie totally outside the areas of interest laid out in our Mission Statement.

We still must turn down the overwhelming number of books. The reasons are many, and not all of them based on what John Candy’s character in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles said when an old friend asked how he was doing . . . “I’m still a million dollars short of being a millionaire.” No matter how many millions bulge in the St. Augustine’s catacombs, the nature of being a personal publisher means you can’t do everything for everyone. Rather than thinking (and saying) to a potential author that his manuscript is not the right one for us, it is much more likely nowadays that I say that we would not be the right publisher for him.

That state of affairs exists because people writing us know much more about us now than had been the case earlier, and their works are much more likely to be broadly within the areas we publish, but there are times when I know that we are the wrong press because others can do a better job for that author. Many times it has to do with perceived market . . . who is the author thinking about in writing this book? Answers abound: the author’s colleagues, the “average educated person,” experts in the field that is being discussed, and, of course, those people who, unbeknownst to themselves, have been hankering for this particular work all their lives.

For a small publisher like St. Augustine’s Press, none of these markets is correct. We can’t afford to publish a book aimed at the author’s colleagues or the experts in the field because we try to keep prices down, and that usually means the manuscript must have a larger market than colleagues and experts. If the book is aimed at the general educated person, that author needs a trade publisher, one who can saturate bookstores throughout the land (and usually have a large printing at a low cost in order to satisfy that market).

Even though it may be customary for an author to be writing for his own satisfaction and understanding and even happiness, eventually most of the successful authors come to the realization that their work must also be written for the person whom he hopes will buy the book. It is not easy, even for highly intelligent people, to think of that reader as the purpose of one’s writing, but in a real way that is exactly the truth. You may write philosophy for the few who are interested in a particular small niche in the field, for college students, for people who may not be in school now but who may find the topic enlightening or enjoyable, for those who think that this particular work is the latest important work in the field, for youth who may be in search of great ideas, and for many other possible reasons, but each of these constitute a given market that must be satisfied, and almost no book written in the field appeals to all these areas.

So much for the niches. What about the itches? These occur with lots of authors who may have talked themselves into thinking that the general populous is really interested in the relationship that Richard Wagner and his wife Cosimo had with Friedrich Nietzsche. Actually, I think it is a rather fascinating topic, but I wouldn’t want to base the future of the Press on the hope that the potential buyers are legion.

Frankly, I think far fewer authors than publishers have these itches. Perhaps the most difficult task in life is to adhere to self-limitations. When a great work comes to a publisher, he should owe it to the author to think carefully about whether his company is the best (or among the best) that can publish this work. Some works may have wonderful sales potential, but there are reasons that a trade publisher, typically most suitable for such works, is able to lose a big bet and recover.

If a small publishing house is headed by a publisher who embraces niches and avoids itches, there is every expectation that that company may be successful. And if it is successful, it will have successful authors.

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The Work of Publishing: Control and Self-Control - January 6, 2014

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.  

James Madison, The Federalist No. 51

When you think about it, this famous remark, so pertinent in today’s political world, applies to areas beyond the government. It may be that a ruler is typically concerned with control and rarely with self-control. After all, it is much easier to control others than yourself. But this same tendency obtains in every example of authority: to parents, teachers, supervisors, and, let’s face it, often to spouses. Indeed, we even find it in ordinary relations, as spoken by Christ in this passage from Luke 6:41: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

Self-control is not the stuff of glory. In fact, though abstractly we may appreciate the person of authority who does not overplay his control over us, we rarely compliment him for his self-control. It is almost as though we appreciate his weakness with us, but not his strength with himself.

Now what does this have to do with publishing? Well, naturally, everything. It is a field full of vulnerabilities, where authors can well feel put-upon by publishers, and vice-versa . . . all this to say nothing of salesmen, printers, editors, reviewers, and all manner of people, people with ideas, with concerns, with plans. A lot of slips occur twixt the cup and the lip in publishing. And while it is a field with a long tradition of who is responsible for what, it is true that often one side may step on the foot of another from simple lack of knowledge. For example, the relation between a publisher and an author should allow the author to have a clear understanding from the publisher about the limits of any changes in his manuscript. Authors should be confident in publishers to do as they promised (both contractually and in less formal communication). If publishing is the last redoubt of “your word is your bond,” why in heaven do publishers send authors long jargon-filled contracts that seem to ask for his first-born child? Why do authors sometimes assume that they are the ones to design (or maybe I should say “designate”) the cover of the book, when it is obvious that the cover is principally a sales mechanism (an area that is in the control of the publisher rather the author), not a literary mechanism?

Ideally, the work of publishing should strive for win-win understanding rather than win-lose. To do that, self-control is important and appreciated by all parties. I daresay that the most successful publishers do their best to follow this win-win way of dealing with others, particularly with authors. As Madison implied, men are not angels, and angels do not govern men.

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The Work of Publishing: Retention - December 30, 2013

Retention: an ability to retain things in mind; specifically: a preservation of the aftereffects of experience and learning that makes recall or recognition possible.

This definition of retention, it seems to me, is a veritable definition of the goal and purpose of publishing, to bring forth to the mind that which is learned through experience and education. When the world advanced from the oral tradition of memorizing thoughts (often, in the beginning, memorizing poetic works, since poetry is actually easier to remember than prose) to the advancement that writing accorded, it not only greatly enlarged the areas of thought that could be passed on to others, but it also made the thoughts more permanent for the audience and more amenable to the writing of other works on the subject. It led eventually to widespread learning in all manner of fields, encouraged education itself, since the book became the very center of learning, and was the key to advancing thought and culture throughout the world.

Retention may have been the after-the-fact central reason for the book, admired and admitted by everyone with even a modest educational background for millennia, but we must face the fact that retention is not the central function of education in the present day. Why memorize, why read carefully and purposefully, when we have the internet, the smart phone, the next step that will make us more knowledgeable and more stupid at the same time?

Why memorize the multiplication tables when a calculator is virtually free and incredibly easy to use? Why follow the words of Aristotle when he spoke of drama as having a beginning, a middle, and an end? That’s so yesterday! Just get to the end . . . that’ll do it.

Another way of saying this is that the mark of the modern educated person is knowing the answer, whereas it had been for thousands of years the ability to ask the question. Who will help our children know what is important enough to question? Let me tell you who it won’t be . . . it won’t be people selling the thousandth app you positively must have for your smart phone, it won’t be practicing more and more on video games of any sort, it won’t be substituting the beginning/middle/end with finding a memorable phrase.

Sadly, we no longer live in the world of Retention. Look at the present administration, where every plan and every policy is either Intention or Tension (or both). When this happens, little you become the result of things, not the reason or purpose of things.

Retention is made for free people, those who are then able to come to their own conclusions without reference to some IT genius’s computer code. Free people can find answers for themselves because they are able to ask themselves the questions that seek an answer. If we aim only to find the answer to questions that others have made, we may find it refreshing, since it’s so easy, but it is on the way to slavery.

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The Work of Publishing: Mission Statements - December 23, 2013

I am fortunate to have married above my station. One of the least among these propitious favors has been her partiality for mission statements. I rather liked them too, As one gets older, the mission statement becomes more important, since it speaks of the origins of purpose in founding an organization, and one may be forgiven for forgetting. It stands in some way as a proclamation of the who/what/when/where and how of the company (and may well give the reader an understanding of the why as well). It is telling to have these written down for the few who wish to get a strong inkling about the people you may be dealing with. Certainly this is true for possible hires or donors or, in the case of a book publisher, potential authors.

It is true that not all companies produce a mission statement, and many produce a statement that skips over everything but the who, for example. Moreover, some companies seem to like changing mission statements from time to time.

But written clearly and correctly, a mission statement answers the question, “who am I dealing with?” For many kinds of companies (publishing certainly one of these), knowing who you are dealing with could be very telling and important.

Most mission statements are more aim than result, of course, because the nature of them is to give the reader and, even more importantly, the people who work for the company, a notion of the purpose and aims of the founders, the present directors, and perhaps those who work for the company.

No matter how important the mission statement is for introducing the company to others, it is more important for the people whose task it is to bring the mission statement into reality. One thinks of Socrates’ visit to the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle resided in the temple dedicated to Apollo. Carved into the temple were three phrases, the first (and most important) was the famous “know thyself.” Sometimes reminders are important in this continuing purpose. For those who are not graced with oracles or very helpful spouses, the mission statement will have to suffice.

The mission statement of St. Augustine’s Press is below (also here).

St. Augustine’s Press publishes outstanding scholarly works in the fields of philosophy, theology, and cultural and intellectual history. These works include both new titles, new translations of works published in other languages, and reprints of out-of-print titles. Our mission is to offer exceptional works that draw from, exhibit, and advance Western civilization and particularly the traditional Judeo-Christian roots of that civilization. Toward that end, we focus our attention on the timeless work over the timely, the classic over the atypical, the orthodox over the heterodox.

Emphasizing the timeless over the timely is an inherently conservative enterprise, but this should be understood as having less to do with public-policy options than with a search for the permanent things. Perhaps Richard Weaver’s playful definition remains the best one today: “Conservatism is a paradigm of the essences toward which the phenomenology of the world is in continuing approximation.”

St. Augustine’s Press aspires to support our Western tradition. G. K. Chesterton, in his Orthodoxy (Chapter 4, “The Ethics of Elfland”), put this succinctly, “Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.” Chesterton goes on to say: “Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”

St. Augustine’s Press was incorporated in December 18, 1996, as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, tax exempt under section 501(a) of the Internal Revenue Code. Gifts to the Press are tax deductible from federal taxes.

St. Augustine’s Press was named in honor of Gerhart Niemeyer (1908–1998), an Augustine scholar, who was the mentor of the founder of the Press, Bruce Fingerhut.

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The Work of Publishing: Applying and Hiring - December 16, 2013

This portion of the continuing blog on the work of publishing probably should have been the first in the series or the last. It will have to suffice.

 

Publishing is one of those fields that attract certain people as the ultimate job but many others may well think of it with complete and utter indifference. The reason usually proffered for this is that publishing attracts a great number of souls who see themselves as “book people.” It is rare, though I know of one case, for people to be attracted to publishing mainly for the money. Entry-level positions are notoriously low in pay, though if you stay with it long enough, that will change.

 

I have heard it said, and until recently believed, that publishing companies (and I am speaking mainly as those small houses in scholarly or other niche areas) may never become wonderfully wealthy, but they don’t go out of business. Well, it seems that at least the first of these statements remains true, but over the past decade, we have witnessed a number of fine houses go bankrupt.

 

Oddly enough, this may actually be an attraction to those idealistic young people (invariably with less-idealistic, wealthy parents) who see publishing as something purer or less tainted than other fields. Don’t believe it! Publishing can be just as nasty and just as avaricious as any other field. It’s just that the risk in it is more likely one of time than of money.

 

The truth of the matter is that for so many people in publishing, money is not the crucial consideration. This is definitely the case with the aforementioned small niche houses, but I have seen it with large houses too. Several decades ago, when I used to readPublisher’s Weekly religiously, they used to publish shortened versions of annual reports for several large houses. I remember one in particular, a fine house, now subsumed into another house, that showed that if the company’s income were solely from the sale of books, they would be greatly in the red. With the addition of a considerable amount of income from sales of rights overseas, they came close to breaking even. But by far the most profit came in through the work of one man (the company had, as memory serves, something on the order of 2,000 employees), who was in charge of transferring currency at appropriate times, keeping track of the ups and downs in values of various currency.

 

For most people in publishing, there are two entries into the business: editing and publicity. This is not to say that other fields, like accountants, IT people, those who run warehouses, etc., don’t find themselves happily in publishing; it is just that they were unlikely to choose publishing over any other field. But editing and publicity have long been central attractions, andjust as certain houses are well known for their editing, others are known principally for their sales and promotion experience.

 

I suspect that many in publishing think as I do, that the riches it yields may not always transfer into negotiable tender but may leave them with the thought that they are doing what they are supposed to do.

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