Conversations that make a difference...
New Press's books clarify or redefine issues, spark change, build movements. Books are read alone, but nurturing the growth and igniting the forces of ideas can’t happen in solitude.
Outside the academy, people gather to discuss books within two models:
1. Author talks follow predictable (and somewhat hierarchical or “clubby”) patterns.
an author reads from the work or gives a short talk and uses the extra time to answer questions
a "celebrity" interviewer asks the writer (or a group of writers) questions meant to elicit discussion around a theme, as the audience observes behind the 4th wall.
These events provide food for thought or inspiration, and may spur book sales, but they rarely give audiences a chance to go from listener to participant who can actively grapple with the author's ideas and join the author in making change. Change cannot come from one man alone on a stage, even if he had a fully funded charity and a bestselling book. (though it wouldn’t hurt.) These events can even reinforce a feeling that just listening and donating money is “enough” When the ideas are engaging, and the speaker is inspiring, the audience craves more engagement. For example, when I heard Bryan Stevenson speak – and I bet it happens all the time, he was mostly asked “what can I do to help?” Often authors can only suggest – buy and read my book, stay informed, or donate to my charity.
When Obama said - you are the change - what was that community organizer suggesting? Can The New Press help?
2. Book Clubs' popularity hint at how we want to engage with books, and Book Club Guides give the publisher and/or author an opportunity to shape these group's discussions. Like the best author events, book clubs can uplift and inspire and even better they give people a chance to grapple and digest the ideas. But they rarely, if ever connect to a wider community or a strategy for using that meaningful conversation as a springboard (?) to change. People feel better after these conversations, but they too may leave wondering…what’s next?
This is at the core of what I've been working on and thinking about for the last 15 years- what more can a great book do to change the way things are? I truly believe that a book- the ideas, arguments, scientific facts, agreed upon principles in writing - needs to be at the center of discussions and circles of change. But what makes that change? I have been studying the influence of meaningful, democratic conversation and the power of expanding social networks or circles outside of one's "tribe" or social strategy. Consciousness raising like the women's groups of the 60's - were part of first wave feminism. But intersectional feminism was never going to be discussed by 10 white women in a living room. How do we break through... Can it be done on-line using tools like Zoom and Circl.es to meet across divides? Must it be in person? I've been working with educators, academics and have trained in facilitation techniques and read widely to figure this out - as a publisher and an activist for underserved audiences. I think The World Cafe is an interesting model (here's a link to their website and below is a video that explains it and if you look on youtube you'll see more. I also think leadership programs for corporate America have come up with some really interesting theories of change. (My Berret Koehler fascination comes from this, the authors they publish and they way that they as an organization are trying to "eat what they cook" in a way Universities do not.)
How do we make books and ideas, and the individual's personal struggle part of a collective discussion at a time when we are anesthetized by an overload of media?
This is not an "event" marketing leading to books sales strategy- this is educating and organizing. This is the evolution of publishers using a printing press to give Patrick Henry, Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger's ideas a megaphone in the marketplace of ideas. Today books and a PR tour from a reputable publisher are still a great stepping stone into the marketplace. But now more than ever, we need to go beyond the elite sharing and shaping with the elite.
How can The New Press (and Simply Put) publish books that inspires change, and then build opportunities for readers to make those changes - whether they be personal behavior modification, or large societal shifts in attitudes or knowledge or behavior? I've been building and facilitating live and on-line professional development trainings, courses, and community of practice meetings for 10 years - and I think publishers are the ones to help lead this change.
This is the difference between creating programs for passive audiences and sharing vital information that opens people's eyes to their their personal power and their community's possibility - this is networking and talking across the usual boundaries and building new strategies. This is the difference between titles published by corporate entities and independent ideas published in partnership with revolutionary thinkers.