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Publishing’s dark secret

After a long meeting with Bob Costanza, director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, on Friday, Rachel and I stopped in Montpelier, the lovely capital of Vermont, ((I first visited Montpelier last May, with my son Tom. We talked about Howard Dean’s having been governor of Vermont as we approached the town and the state capital’s gold dome came into view. It’s almost in the middle of a neighborhood and the entire town has a population of only 8,000 – barely larger than Great Barrington. “This is awesome!” Tom exclaimed, and that’s how I feel, too, to think that that tranquil place produced a man who has transformed some aspects of U.S. politics over the past five years. I’m proud to have been part of the Iowa campaign in 2004 and to have seen and heard the speech that was so inaccurately reported.)) to see Ethan Atkin, whose company Cranbury International handles our budding sales in India and Latin America. Ethan’s father was a publisher so he is sympathetic to the challenges we face. In fact, he knew the challenges so well that he chose another form of employment. But this makes him a fine adviser as well as a rep, and because he has lived and worked around the world, in Africa as well as in the regions he handles now, his cross-cultural perspective is really helpful, too.

As we talked about the development of our reference list and the other things I’ve been immersed in, he said, “The dark secret of publishing is that,” he paused, and got Rachel, who was dozing on the couch after a long day at UVM, to look up. “It is a business.”

We all laughed, and with the boost from some Chinese tea a colleague had given Ethan we managed to get down to business, too. Like many people in publishing, I ended up in it almost by accident. I often feel the lack of any education, or indeed any past experience, in areas of the business I now have to deal with – and direct. This is a fantastic opportunity and I love the chance to learn new things all the time, but it is a little alarming, too, and I wish I could cram more information into my head. Someone asked me the other day about my business background and I confessed that I didn’t have one. “Well, you sound like you know what you’re doing,” he said.

That might mean that I’m just talking the walk, when what I want to do is walk the talk. But with the help of an amazing group of advisers, including Ethan, I have a much-needed safety net while I’m learning.

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