Thursday, January 14, 2010

In praise of smallness

Starting on January 4th, I've been going in to work every day at Other Press, a small publisher in New York City. Here are some of the things I like about my job:

★ So far we've had
two meetings. In a week-and-a-half. At the big house where I used to work, we would have three to four meetings a day.
★ Next Tuesday, our January titles go on sale. All two of them. Representing 25% of our entire Spring List. (One is a short powerful novel set in Afghanistan called
The Patience Stone, translated from the French, winner of the Prix Goncourt, with an introduction by Khaled Housseini. The second is an interesting look at the complexity of human motivation by a practicing psychoanalyst here in New York, Ken Eisold. Its title is What You Don't Know You Know.)
★ We talk about books all the time, mostly ours, but everybody else's too. We don't talk a lot about the supply chain, mass merchandisers, IT, office politics, the currency exchange rate, and imaginary sales and profit targets.
★ The equipment and software is simple, it works, and you only have to make one phone call to get it fixed or customized.
★ All fourteen people who comprise our total staff honestly believe that independent booksellers are the most important segment of the bookselling community.
★ For most of the day, people sit at their desks and work hard doing all the things one needs to do to publish books well in a desultory and confused marketplace. They don't play solitaire or pretend to be busy, and no one is producing reports that won't get read. They're not afraid to take a break and laugh once in while, though.
★ I have only seen
one power point presentation since I've been here, and that was the cover image slide show meant for the sales force.
★ When one of our editors acquires a book the whole company gets excited.
★ When one of us sees any one of our books get review attention, or a media hit, or being displayed in a bookstore, or featured online, we share the news and everyone feels proud.
★ When someone makes a mistake, they don't try to cover it up.
★ It takes one conversation to make a decision.
★ The little pantry is cute.
★ The supply closet is organized but somewhat overgrown. There are boxes of galleys and books all over the place. Some of the file cabinets contain dust and old computer equipment lies about in a storage cubicle.
★ Human beings work here. It's not paradise, but the scale is right, and we depend on each other.

Now we just have to sell some books.