There’s something charming about Publishers Weekly editor-in-chief Sara Nelson referring to the book publishing community in her weekly column as “BookLand.” And it’s not only the word’s playful and bold internal capitalization, or the fact that it spares her readers painful phrases like “publishing observers” and “editors, publishers, and agents alike”– it also casts her in the comforting role of the industry’s benevolent guardian, sort of like the Good Witch of the North from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
In her column this week, Ms. Nelson implores her readers to look on the bright side of the recent “grimness,” and to draw strength from the feeling of common cause that she thinks has resulted from it:
I know it sounds hokey—and I will spare you the Chinese proverb about every crisis being an opportunity—but while the mood in BookLand is decidedly tense, it’s a tension tinged with community and compassion… Yes, we’re a group of smart, ultracompetitive people, but lately, for reasons of both season and economy, we’re up against each other in ‘combat’ far less frequently. And when we meet up—at the NBA, or the Mercantile Library awards or at a memorial service for Robert Giroux—we’re all the walking wounded. ‘Are you okay?’ we ask. And then ‘How can we help just-laid-off so-and-so find a job?’
The “walking wounded”! A phrase which according to Wikipedia officially refers to “injured persons who are of a relatively low priority” because they are “conscious and breathing and usually have only (relatively) minor injuries.” Oy! Can one help but think of John Homans, who wrote in New York Magazine on Sept. 24, 2001 of a wounded city in which “The smallest daily exchanges have been characterized by compulsive door-holding (‘No, after you’) and exaggerated politeness”?
Ms. Nelson, who five years ago served as the publishing columnist at The Observer, noted in her piece that even the people at Hachette Book Group, who get a week’s extra pay this year thanks to the blockbuster success of the new Stephanie Meyer book, have suspended their competitive urges and adopted an appropriately somber spirit that calls to mind nothing so much as survivor’s guilt.
Even if January and February prove as devastating sales-wise (as some fear), Ms. Nelson wrote, “at least we’re doing our best to shore up and stay in the business we’ve chosen—and to remember why we chose it in the first place: because it’s about books, because they’re important and because we love them, and for the most part, we like each other.”
“All of us,” she concluded, “even those houses and executives of whom we can’t help being jealous right now, are all in this together.”