Joel Dueck ·

Publishing Nerds

What do you call a person who crafts paragraphs, stories and arguments? Of course you call that person a writer. Our culture is familiar with this type of person and we have a handy label for them. Some people enjoy writing: these people are writers.

Now: what do you call a person who publishes or packages paragraphs, stories and essays?

Listen carefully. I’m not talking about an editor. I’m not talking about a book designer or a web designer. I’m talking about a person who enjoys the activity of packaging and producing words in the same way that the writer enjoys writing words. This person’s interest probably includes things like editing, book design, typography, web design — even writing! — but is not focused on any one of them.

We have no ready word for this person. My first instinct is to call us “publishers”, but this doesn’t work very well: it suggests a whole commercial concern, not an individual enthusiast. “Publishing enthusiast” would be closer, but it takes too long to say. So I call myself a publishing nerd.

For a time I thought of myself as “a writer” because I like writing. But in an amateur way I got quite caught up in all these other things as well — coding and typography and bookbinding — because writing without full attention to the reader’s experience hardly felt like writing at all. The juice, for a publishing nerd, is in operating the whole system for packaging words, distributing them, presenting them. It’s the Screech principle applied to all the corners, surfaces and edges of the writing, as well as the words themselves. Whatever I can learn or invent to make the words not just acceptable, but lovely and durable — I do learn or invent.

We don’t talk about publishing-as-amateur-pursuit because we don’t have the words for it. We probably don’t have those words because it wasn’t feasible as an individual pursuit until recently (yay computers), and because its activity is usually blended with the activity of writing. But now that the tools are everywhere, the pursuit is there.

A writing enthusiast can hope to make it as a proper writer — to get some recognition for their work, to earn a living at it. But as a publishing enthusiast I don’t know what to do with my interests. There is no cultural or economic market for them. Publishing nerds end up as inveterate yak shavers and one-man bands performing in their own driveways. Our ingrained preference to control all levels of design, and the facility which computers give us for doing so, tend to preclude us from cross-pollinating and collaborating, which for most of us is a big developmental hazard.