“What are you reading?”

Yesterday, BookExpo again hosted its book blogger conference, an event largely focused on the issues faced by the online community that reviews, discusses and promotes books. To start the day, Cookstr founder and CEO Will Schwalbe offered his take on “Who knows what works?”

Although Schwalbe noted at the outset that he used a question mark “because there is no punctuation mark to convey a shrug”, his keynote offered a coherent and ultimately inspiring collection of six perspectives about “what really works” in book publishing. Borrowing liberally from his talk, those six ideas are:

“If a book wins, we all win.” Noting that “any (good) book can win”, Schwalbe reminded those attending that it’s easy to let the noise exceed the strength of good signals about books. He encouraged everyone working as part of the business to both respect roles and try to remember that a rising tide lifts all boats.

“Success is not numbers.” Schwalbe told a compelling story of The Dragon Hunt, a book he published with very limited commercial success. Years later, visiting a friend, Schwalbe found a copy of the book on a small shelf of carefully curated titles. His friend describe how The Dragon Hunt had changed his life, a measure that Schwalbe encouraged people to keep in mind, even when the sales numbers lag.

“We all need to cut each other some slack.” A call for a healthy share of forgiveness, coupled with …

“… but not too much slack.” Here, Schwalbe noted the value in policing our online behavior. Specifically addressing book bloggers, he expressed his admiration for honesty and truthfulness, but asked his audience to remember that there is always a human being behind the books we read and review.

“Kindness rocks, and communities built around kindness really rock.” For “commenters and lurkers alike”, the presumption of goodwill conveys an important and powerful message.

“Books really do matter.” In closing, Schwalbe returned to a story he told at the start of his talk. In it, he recalled how his mother – the inspiration for his most recent book, The End Of Your Life Book Club – had traveled the world and found that books were the one thing widely dispersed audiences universally sought and valued.

Schwalbe used his last point to explain that he actually was on a crusade, one he hoped we all would join. Wherever we are, whoever we are with, whatever else we choose to discuss, Schwalbe wants us to ask one another, “What are you reading?” In his telling, books change lives, and more talk about books helps connect people. By the end of his talk, I was ready to join in.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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