There were fourteen people peering benevolently at me from around the table. The effect would have been overwhelming, if it wasn’t so comforting—rather, as I said later, like being lifted up by a particularly cosy tidal wave. Each one of the people nodding and smiling had their own specialty, and each specialty was something I wanted to know more about.
Best of all, all their specialties and mine were going to combine into a force heading for one goal. And there was nobody on top, nobody ‘in charge’ (except where it was somebody’s job to be in charge of some specific project), nobody who could suddenly and capriciously bring the whole thing to an end…nobody who would want to, anyway. I could tell that right away, looking around the table. This was a group of people who were happy in their jobs and absorbed in their work.
It was my meeting with the distributor Consortium, a book distributor specializing in the needs of independent and small publishers. Their list is an impressive one—many of the small publishers I’ve admired over the years turn out to be parked there—and the atmosphere in the office is a pleasant, functional, get-on-with-it-and-have-fun-why-don’t-you kind of a thing that you can feel right away.
Consortium has a policy of spending a full day with any new publisher, so you (the publisher—me) can meet everyone, put faces on functions, understand what they do…and so they, presumably, can get a look at you (the publisher—me). A little overwhelming by the middle of the day, when I have a stack of handouts and cards in front of me, and my mental hard drive is beginning to call for back up. But exciting. Really exciting.
Faces on functions. Jaime covers Amazon, Nan does Barnes and Noble, Bill sells to wholesalers. Michael knows production. Natalie settles the catalog. Heather can tell me everything I need to know about libraries and schools…
My notes are all over the place, and all over bits and pieces of paper. But when I’m back at my desk and survey them, they do (satisfyingly enough) make sense.
Here’s what made the most sense, though, when I had time to settle and think things over: this is a nonhierarchical way to work. This is not a pyramid arranged with someone on top, and people spreading out, with various rights and responsibilities, on varying tiers, below. This is an equity of work. The point is the work, not the structure; the structure serves the work, not the other way ‘round. When someone’s in charge, it’s to get something done; it’s properly situational.
It is, all ‘round, the way I like to work. The way I’ve started and mean to go on. So I think EAP’s ended up in the right place.
(And by the way, the above is why I get nervous hearing people talk about ‘submissions’ to EAP, when I think of them as ‘contributions’. ‘Submissions’ makes me think a piece of work is being submitted to my judgment of its worth, and that’s something I don’t feel at all competent to do—how many things of worth have been ignored or scorned because the person doing the ignoring or scorning just had no judgment at all? ‘Contributions’, though, that’s about sending something in to add to the general conversation. And if I say no, that’s not EAP, I’m not judging its worth—whatever that means—but whether or not it adds to the conversation. We’ve gotten a lot of stuff sent over the electronic transom that was competently, even beautifully, written, but that seemed utterly oblivious to the subject of partnership and equity, and how they can be achieved in a culture based on domination and hierarchy. And when I say, well, this piece should go somewhere else, those writers sometimes get very, very annoyed. Because, I suppose, they’re used to being judged on a whole different set of criteria, and not fetching up somewhere where the judging function is not exactly the first one we reach for. What function is the first one EAP reaches for? Hmmm. The curiosity function. Is this telling me something I didn’t know from someone who knows better than me? And since anyone writing, or photoing, or filming, or any other form of expression, exactly what his or her own experience truly is knows that subject much better than me, that’s the kind of expression that gets my attention every time.)