I'm grateful not to be at the 2011 Digital Book World conference this week for two reasons: 1) The streets of Manhattan look like a root beer float. 2) Most conferences on digital innovation that cater to book publishers are bullshit. As an editor at HarperStudio, I spent a lot of time in meetings about Vooks, Nooks, something-something-social-media-something--with-a-cherry-on-top. Inevitably, I would glance at my watch and the same thought would pop into my head "shouldn't I be...editing the books right now?" (To be fair, I could have/ should have excused myself from those meetings.)
Don't get me wrong, I love my iPad as much as the next guy (and probably spend more time on Twitter and Tumblr than I would care to admit) but the fact remains that successful books, in any format, start with the manuscript. Sometimes I feel like we need a reminder: If the manuscript stinks, chances are an enhanced e-book is not going to be an additional revenue stream!
Last Saturday Adam Haslett wrote a review of Stanley Fish's new book How to Write a Sentence in the Financial Times. He called the book "deeper and more democratic than Strunk & White's Element of Style." Before I finished reading the review, it had been re-tweeted by people like Maria Popova (@brainpicker) Maud Newton (@maudnewton) Macy Halford (@bookbench) Edward Champion (@drmabuse). These are the unsung heros of book publishing, the taste-makers, the true bookworms. (Thanks guys!)
The experience of watching others spread Haslett's review online like wildfire is a much needed reminder that serious readers out there have a voice. As publishers we can talk about platforms and SEO until we're blue in the face but, at the end of the day, quality wins. As my author Merlin Mann says: "it's about the coffee, not the cup."