Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Reader is the Boss

We've been having a lot of discussion around Cumberland House recently about digital publishing and how and where we are getting in the game. Clay Shirky, author of the book Here Comes Everybody, about how social tools like the Web and mobile phones are transforming society, wrote a great article called "Mattering to Readers" in the 8/4/2008 edition of Publishers Weekly. The subhead of Shirky's article is, "Some advice to publishers from an Internet guru and author about how to survive in the digital age," and I think he made some very good points.

"A book isn't just a collection of 80,000 words on paper. A blogger can build that up in a few months. A book is a collection of words that have been obsessed over by people other than the writer. That's what a publisher does, and that process helps a book become a focal point for a conversation or an argument."

"Publishers can no longer rely on production or distribution as special capabilities, thanks to a variety of technologies, from PayPal and Amazon to the Espresso and the Kindle. Publishers also can't out-web the Web; a 'quickie' book still takes eons in Internet time."

"To stay in business, publishers must do something besides fronting the cost of printing and distribution, and the most important thing they can do is tell a reader, 'You've never heard of this author, but you should give this book a read,' and have the reader trust them."

"For publishers to matter, they will have to matter to readers."

Today I handed off to our editors most everything I have in hand related to our Spring 2009 books with a word of encouragement and empowerment: "I am looking to each of you to make your books the best they can be. I am sincere in my view that the reader is the boss—not Ron, not the author, not me. It is the reader we have to make happy first so if you have an idea that will give the reader a better experience (cut this, add that, move this over here) consider yourself free to work it out with the author and make it so. "

So if you get a call or an email from your editor suggesting some changes to your manuscript, hear them out, and remember, the reader is the boss.

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