Subscribe to SLJ
Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters


The Opportunities In a Panic

A few posts ago I mentioned my wife’s visit to the Mercantile Library — the new Center for Fiction — and the touch of optimism it brought to both of us. To frame what I am about to say, let me tell you about tomorrow. I am going to yet another memorial, this time  for Eden Ross Lipson — who was editor of the New York Times children’s books section during most of the time I have worked making books for young readers. Yet another loss. And I know that among the friends I will see there will again be those who have lost their jobs as book publishing loses money and cannot seem to find a way towards a better future. And yet Marina will be at a day long event where local authors in our town talk about books, meet kids, meet parents, meet teachers. Now local author events are nothing new, but we are seeing all sorts of sprouts in publishing, especially online, that suggest there are new beginnings even as the big houses falter.

To be clear, I am not enthusiastic about self-publishing. The easier it is to do, the worse it is for anyone who does it. The clutter of manuscripts that used to pile up an an editor’s desk will simply spread across the net. The editor was paid to sort through the submissions. No one will pay you, so you will spend less and less time looking. But what is interesting is how small companies, groups of authors, are working to not only — say — bring back out of print books, but also give some visibility, some presence to those books. 

The event out here may be great, or a bust — just as these new ventures into publishing may disappear as quickly as they rise. But I think the example of tomorrow does catch something of this moment: instead of relying on the one review, the one central gatekeeper, between the author and the public (whether that was Eden, or a big publisher), there are now many clusters forming where authors, editors, marketing people gather together for a bit to bring a book to reader. And in a way that gets back to Betsy’s questions — we need to create some means, some vehicle, for authors and teachers to be in touch. There is Teaching which is helpful. But we need more — more Wikis, sites, webinars, where we talk about what we are writing, they explain their needs, their students meet us, we meet their students, and trade nonfiction books (the process of creating them) are woven into the classroom. Once authors and teachers are working together, bookstore sales will be gravy.


  1. Linda Zajac says:

    I totally agree that teachers need to have one place, whether it be a newsletter or website or something else, where they are made aware of new nonfiction. But will they have the time to integrate it? You also mentioned the boom in self publishing. What really scares me is self-published nonfiction. Does a self publishing company give a hoot if the manuscript is accurate? Who else besides the author verifies a manuscript?

  2. Linca:

    We already have that problem with self-published NF. What is needed, of course, is some kind of clearning house (we used to call that a book review) that would sort through the NF and evaluate it. Something like that will evolve, but we are likely to get sprawl before we get filters.