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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Book Publishing Needs Its Declaration of Independence


This past July 4th Americans celebrated Independence Day the way it does most holidays – with lots of food and drinks.  But while people took in BBQs and sun at the beach, some recalled that the day was about freedom, courage, and determination.  Back in 1776 the United States, conceptually, came into being.  A mission or vision statement was drawn up and signed by a few dozen leading political activists and the colonies of Great Britain declared themselves a free nation.  We hadn’t yet broken loose of tyranny.  We were not yet truly free, the war not yet won.  But we made a public statement – a declaration – that we are something that we plan to be.  Book publishing needs such a declaration, some kind of statement of purpose, principles, and potential that both reflects and encapsulates what books are and identifies the role of publishing while voicing a view of where the book industry could and should be.  The book world needs to state what it wants to become, and in the process, become it.

United States presidents give their inauguration and State of the Union speeches, laying out a vision for the nation.  College graduations have commencement speeches, encouraging newly minted graduates to live life fully, passionately, respectfully, and creatively.  Various industries hold conventions, where participants collectively declare or showcase where that field is heading.  Even Facebook profiles serve notice as to how individuals view themselves and in essence, make a statement on where they see themselves healing.

But book publishing doesn’t have any of these things.  As I’ve written before, book publishing lacks leadership, unified vision, and a sense of direction.  It doesn’t have branded leaders, but it does have factions.  It doesn’t have a guiding motto, mantra, or tag line, nor does it have a singular award by which all others are judged by.  There’s no specific body of power or organization that can speak on behalf of the industry.

But book publishing needs some type of voluntary code of standards, mission, vision, and guiding principles.  Just as the Pope can issue inspiring encyclicals or the Supreme Court can issue influential rulings, book publishing needs a guiding and governing force to empower others to contribute at a high level to the writing, production and distribution of books, to bring about universal literacy and free speech to all.

What principles guide us now?  Do we merely recall things English teachers told us?  Do we feel active because we took part in a book donation drive?  Do we volunteer to help kids read?  Do we support independent bookstores, local libraries, and self-published authors?  Do we remain informed by reading Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest, and books?  What rules, no standards, would we want in place for writers, editors, publishers, stores, consumers, libraries, schools, critics, and all of the people that partake in books?

There are professional standards of conduct issues by select prominent bodies that specialize in certain areas, such as the decrees issued by The Authors Guild, American Bookseller Association, and the American Association of Publishers.  It would be interesting to analyze such statements, for I suspect you’ll find a lot of wishful thinking, lofty principles, and global goal-setting.  We want to aim higher, soar further, and expand beyond the accomplishments of previous generations.  We hope to fulfill grand visions and to seek purpose in living out the words written for us to follow and lead with.

Let me try my hand at being the Thomas Jefferson of the Book Publishing Declaration of Purpose & Principles:

The informed society, the productive masses, the enlightened leaders, and the curiosity-seekers need books to build a better world.  Books not only reflect who we’ve been and have become, but they inspire us to become more, and share alternate universes and parallel lives.  Books serve the world in so many ways and we each need to support books in every step of their creation, distribution, promotion, adoption, and preservation.

Each of us plays an important role, perhaps an obligation, to ensure that we have a vibrant book publishing economy, one where the producers of content profit from their work, and one in which society is given access to all books without constraint or barriers.

We must nurture, develop, and encourage more people to write books, and teach them to write well, if not better than generations past.

We must enthuse people, especially our youth, to read more books, to show them how rewarding it is to read books that reveal ideas, wisdom, inspiration, facts, history, questions, and resources.

We must ensure the quality of books, from the writing to the editing to the use of the English language, remains high.  Bad books can injure society as much as great books can inspire it.

We must protect the rights guaranteed under the Constitution’s First Amendment when it comes to books.  We can’t sit idle when any writer, publisher, or reader is violated by an entity or the government simply based on the writing, sharing, or consuming of content that is deemed worthy of banishment, censorship, or excoriation.

The publishing industry, collectively, has an obligation and a commandment to publish a wide variety of voices, to publish books that fill every niche, need or desire, and to let the field of ideas grow at a pace commensurate with society’s appetite for such ideas.The vantage point of the minority view is to also be given a platform equal to that of the majority.

Book publishing is an industry.  It’s also a noble cause.  We all profit when the book world expands.

We must make it a priority to support and grow:

Literacy
Free Speech
Libraries
Bookstores
Writers
Editors
Publishers

Every community should have a vibrant book ecosystem.  Each year, more books should be read by more people.  Most importantly, society must understand, enjoy, appreciate, and live out the knowledge and information transferred to its conscience from our books.  It does little good to read something and not be moved to act, to not feel changed, to not feel better for having read it.

The publishing world needs vocal leaders, better branding, and missionaries to expand the reach and depth of books upon society.  It needs visionaries to give books new ways to invade the hearts and hopes of readers.  It needs a librarian – not a censor – to help organize, summarize, identify, and categorize or condense all of the lists of books out there, otherwise people will be challenged to find or discern books that would, if found, change their lives.

Books should be read, shared, discussed, and lived.  We must treat books with care and respect.  Books play a vital role in society’s development and in the lives of countless individuals.  May we always have them. 

May you do your role.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015


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