It’s Hard Out Here for a Pragmatic Optimist

Sanctum Sanctorum, 01/10 by glecharles
Sanctum Sanctorum, 01/10 by glecharles

“Publishing was never a business based on Wharton standards. It was a rich boy’s hobby.”

Steve Wasserman (Kneerim & Williams)

Working in publishing isn’t for the meek. Neither is writing for that matter. They’re two things I’m really passionate about, though, and I’ve always counted myself lucky to work in the publishing industry, despite the ever-present danger of familiarity breeding contempt.

Over the past couple of years, though, it’s been particularly tough; like playing on a solid defense for a football team that has a terrible offense, constantly watching the QB get sacked, the RB get stuffed, WRs getting manhandled… and running on fumes by the 4th quarter as a result.

I consider myself a pragmatic idealist with an optimistic lean, but when you see colleagues and friends losing their jobs due to reasons beyond their control and underlying problems they didn’t create, it can be tough to feel good about the good things you’re involved in.

One of the reasons I’ve decided to pull back a bit on this blog, other than a desire to focus on my own writing, is that the “day” job is kicking my ass up and down the field like Bill Parcells getting ready for opening day. I’ve had to remind myself several times recently that Digital Book World (DBW, aka the “day” job) didn’t even exist prior to last August, and the work we’ve done to get it established and be a success out of the gate has been monumental.

It’s also been monumentally rewarding, though.

I got to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair last year to spread the word about DBW, and in the process met some great people, including Dominique Raccah (SourceBooks), one of the smartest publishers I’ve ever come across. Not only did that meeting lead to a friendship, it also looped me into her latest project, PoetrySpeaks, possibly the coolest thing to happen to poetry since Bob Holman brought the poetry slam to the Nuyorican Poets Café.

Through DBW, I’ve curated three great webinars, and in the process connected with some more really smart people, like Joshua Tallent, Debbie Stier and Stephanie Anderson.

Earlier today, I launched our new weekly webcast, The Digital Roundtable, and am thrilled and honored to be working with Laura Dawson, Pablo Defendini, Kate Rados and Bridget Warren.

Next week, I’m co-hosting our PechaKucha event, 7x20x21, with the fabulous Ami Greko, featuring an impressive roster of presenters I’m seriously looking forward to hearing from, including Ryan Chapman, hopefully riffing off of his great Mad Men post. In a wonderful example of full circle/worlds collide, we’re doing it at the Bowery Poetry Club, and the after-party/#tweetup will be at Botanica. (Just announced right here!)

Personally, 2010 is looking some kind of wonderful, but in the big picture, I have no doubt that it’s going to be as challenging a year as 2009 was for the industry I care so much about. And yet, by surrounding myself with smart, optimistic people who are similarly passionate about it, I’m confident that I’m going to do everything I can to “be the change I want to see”.

As Herm Edwards famously said,

“You play to win the game. Hello? You play to win the game. You don’t play it to just play it. That’s the great thing about sports: you play to win, and I don’t care if you don’t have any wins. You go play to win. When you start tellin’ me it doesn’t matter, then retire. Get out! ‘Cause it matters.”

Even if the QB keeps throwing interceptions, I’m going to have to find that second third next wind, get back on the field, and try to force a turnover of my own.

Working in publishing isn’t for the meek, and it’s definitely not for quitters. I see it as a community service, one that needs its most passionate optimists to pull together and do everything they can to help change it for the better, before it becomes “a rich boy’s hobby” again and fades into irrelevance.

Not unlike poetry did for so many years when it was hidden away in ivory towers.

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3 thoughts on “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pragmatic Optimist

  1. very eloquent, thanks. Even though I often feel like the qb throwing the interceptions. Every day is a new day, and all of us that have amassed our knowledge through the school of hard knocks, have a duty to keep going out there and trying to win.

  2. A great read. It's not uncommon for authors to feel alone in the wilderness that is the publishing industry, particularly for indie authors. My co-author and I have been kicked and broken every rib twice, but with passion, persistence and patience we keep soldiering towards that goal line. It's getting closer by the day. You only have a chance when you keep learning and keep playing the game.

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