Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Birthing the Book, Against All Odds

I've just spent the last two days battling the likes of the US Post Office, DHL, ATT, and a bunch of other vendors of goods and services. I'm sure you all know the routine. Call, get placed on hold, lose the connection, redial, wait, talk to someone in Bombay with a silver tongue who knows less than you do. It's frustrating.

How disturbing and humbling it is, then, to find out that some customers and colleagues are just as frustrated with me. In the same two days, Stone Bridge has had an irate retail shop complain about what they perceived as poor service, and I've had more than one author express frustration at my, um, lack of promptness at communicating. I always tell people it's OK to prod me, and by now I guess I'm so used to being nagged that I rely on it as a form of triage to determine which crises I will attend to first.

So, in the midst of ongoing incompetence and carelessness, not a small amount of it of my own making, it's a wonder that our books ever get out the door and make it to the correct shelf of your average neighborhood bookstore (thanks to DHL, sometimes they just don't). It strikes me that over the years the process of publishing books has evolved to guard against quintessentially human failures. The author writes, and writes well, but the editors edit and edit and edit again. Then there are the fact checkers and the proofreaders, the peer reviewers, the publicists, the designers, all of whom poke and tweak and meticulously chase down what we in the trade call "infelicities."

In the end we have what we hope is bullet-proof, a good read and a solid production. The world around it may be going to hell, but, dammit, this little book is going to be birthed without typos, grammatical errors, or clashing text and display fonts.

Maybe that's one reason we value books. They are one little corner of existence treated as if being right or not counts for something. One aspect of civilization that goes down better when produced slowly, like a pig buried in a pit of coals and covered over for a day or two or three to let the goodness cook through. Books are the antithesis of our instant blog culture, which is why they will endure or, for that matter, die out.

No comments: