IVP - Behind the Books - How Does It Feel to Be on Your Own?

January 17, 2013

How Does It Feel to Be on Your Own?

Convergence alert!

I had read and appreciated Nash's guest post at Rachelle Gardner's blog. I say "appreciated" partly because, to be honest with you, it feels good to hear someone say they're thankful for the work that publishers do. For example:

Suddenly, it’s not just my writing that’s out there being judged, it’s my eye for design, my sense of how readers behave, my business acumen. I used to wonder why it took traditional publishers nine months to produce a book. Now I get it; it’s a lot of work.

We publishers get dismissed some (a lot?) these days, as if we're just middlemen clinging to an antiquated system that technology has made obsolete and that serves chiefly to drain revenue from authors' and readers' pockets alike.

While I'm sure there's some of that in some publishing spheres, for what it's worth that's not how it looks to me, freshly arrived here at InterVarsity Press from outside the publishing industry. This place looks to me like the lean, hungry and stewardship-minded outfit that you'd expect, given our history and a culture of nonprofit- and mission-driven focus on adding value for readers and authors alike.

No Direction Home

But enough about us — where does Bob Dylan come in?

Well, coincidentally, I am in the middle of watching the two-part documentary by Martin Scorsese, No Direction Home, and Dylan's experience finding his way into the music scene and recording business in New York has some parallels with what Nash (and Le Peau) are talking about:

  • He's little-known (dare I say "a complete unknown"?) when he shows up as a 20-year-old in the music mecca of New York.
  • He plunges right into the only kind of self-publishing there was for musicians at the time: playing "basket sessions" in bars in Greenwich Village — getting his music out there and passing a basket afterwards for small change.
  • His musicianship and songwriting took off after he got tied into the community of musicians there, so rapidly in fact that the trope of a midnight meeting at the crossroads to do a deal with the devil seemed the only way to explain his rapid improvement.
  • But even then, his audience mushroomed only once Columbia Records took a surprising and risky (but in retrospect, of course, brilliant) chance on him.

What got him to New York was his willingness to cut loose from his hometown and go it alone. What got his music to leapfrog ahead was listening closely to and imitating (even ripping off) his fellow performers. And then what rocketed him to international stature was the contributions of the A&R, production and marketing experts at Columbia. (The fact that he's a towering genius didn't hurt any, either. I'm simplifying here, but you see my point.)

All this reminds me of the wise saying, "If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together."

I've heard that used as a tendential argument for always going together — but I don't think that's the wisdom of the saying. There are times one should travel fast, so sometimes it is good to go alone. Living "like a rolling stone" has its advantages. That's what got young Robert Zimmerman from Hibbing, Minnesota, to Greenwich Village in the first place. But all myths to the contrary, he didn't make it from there on his own.

This is one way to see what we at the Press (and many others in publishing) are up to: rolling along, banded together with all the resources and skills a convoy of travelers can assemble, in order to go as far as possible in our mission to enrich the world with thoughtful Christian books.

Posted by Jon Boyd at January 17, 2013 9:43 AM Bookmark and Share

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