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Where Is Publishing Going?

23rd February 2012

From panel discussion called “Getting Published Today” at Bard College

By Helen Tartar, February 10, 2012

Photo by Bruce Gilbert

To give you my practical advice on getting published, I can direct you to a piece entitled “Writing a Book Proposal and Choosing a Publisher”. Or Google “helen tartar editor,” go into the Fordham ImPressions archive, and click on “Read More.” Therefore, my remarks here will be more general. When I asked Julia Rosenbaum for advice, she suggested that I talk about “Where is publishing going?” And so I will, though, as I told her, the answer to that can be quickly said.

I do not know, and I cannot know for sure, where publishing is going. To which I would add: if you meet someone who says she does know, don’t trust her—she is probably either trying to sell you something or under the sway of someone who’s trying to sell her something.

In a very mundane and specific way, I do something every day to contribute to where publishing is going. As an acquiring editor at a small university press, I orchestrate decisions about what gets published at the publishing house where I am employed, and I do what I can to help influence how those books are offered to the public. Because those decisions are sometimes tough and painful, it’s very important for me to remember that I do not know where publishing is going—that in fact I have to learn this from the people who come to me seeking to get published. Because the future of publishing lies in the books that people write.

One can, of course, know only two things about the future: first, that one cannot know with certainty what it will be; and second, that one cannot help wanting to do so. In China, writing was born entwined with the hope of divining the future, through the cracks in turtle shells. At our late date, we tend to think of writing as the source of history— despite Plato’s early warning that it is memory’s foe. But maybe part of the disquiet behind the question “Where is publishing going?” reflects some unsettled temporality latent in writing itself. READ MORE