Announcing… Just World Books!

I am delighted to announce the establishment of a new book-publishing company, Just World Books, an imprint of the recently created limited-liability company, Just World Publishing, LLC.
The first titles in Just World Books’ Fall 2010 list will start to be available in September. The list will include books by:

    Laila El-Haddad, author of the ‘Gaza Mom’ blog, whose first book with us has the working title Gaza Mom Reflects.
    Joshua Foust, a principal contributor to the ‘Registan’ blog, whose book will be a very well-informed critique of U.S. policies in Afghanistan and neighboring countries
    Chas W. Freeman, Jr., the talented (and in some quarters controversial) retired diplomatist, who will be publishing two or more titles with JWB presenting some of his extensive expertise in U.S. foreign and military policy, U.S.-China relations, and the Middle East
    Reidar Visser, who is probably the English-speaking world’s best-informed and most meticulous analyst of Iraq’s internal politics: His first book with JWB will be a study of Iraq under PM Nouri al-Maliki, 2006-2010.

As you can perhaps infer from this description our Fall list, JWB’s business plan is based on the concept of ‘Short Turnround Time for Timely Titles.’ I am confident we can bring out excellent books by these accomplished authors in a very timely way, based on these factors:

    1. The fact that the authors whom I have invited to publish with JWB are all people who can write and self-edit effectively and quickly, and who have already displayed very sound judgment in their writings.
    2. The existence of a number of companies offering excellent ‘Print-On-Demand’ (POD) services. Using POD is kind to Mother Earth, since it avoids the printing of book-copies excess to market needs. But it’s also more important than that for our project: Since we don’t have to make all those complex commercial calculations about print-runs, and then deal with the costs and hassle of inventory management, warehousing, tracking returns, etc., we can concentrate instead on bringing out excellent copies of excellent books. We can be much more agile and timely in our publishing plans than traditional publishers ever could be.
    3. The fact that all these initial books from JWB will, in fact, be compilations of some of these people’s best existing works that the authors themselves are self-curating. So they are not writing these books from scratch. Later, JWB will be publishing a wide variety of books. But to start with—and perhaps also throughout many coming years of JWB’s great future– I see a real value for these self-curated compilations.

Self-curating—What’s all that about?
I’ve been thinking about doing some book publishing for a few years now. Then in February, after I resigned from the Council for the National Interest, the idea came back to me big-time as a project into which I might usefully throw some of my newly released energies. One of my earliest thoughts was to work with some of the fellow-bloggers whose work I most admire, to provide a vehicle through which they could get some of their best work repackaged and presented in a form that would be much more easily accessible than blog archives are to the many readers who need to be reading this important material: Also known as a b-o-o-k. After all, many bloggers have now amassed rich archives of their work… and you can dive deep into them and poke around to find what you’re looking. But honestly, how many people apart from real afficianados are ever going to have the time to do that—or, perhaps, even know where or how to look?
Around the time I started formulating this plan, what should drop onto my desk but a 20-page insert in the February 27 edition of The Economist titled “Data, Data Everywhere: A special report on managing information.” That report, along with a couple of articles in the edition of the main mag that it came in, made the point that the big problem people– including policymakers, along with everyone else– have in the information field these days is not too little information, but too much. “Data surfeit,” as some call it. And the magazine made the strong argument that, given the vast, sometimes overwhelming tides of data and raw “information” that swirl all around us, the big value-added in the coming period will be that provided by people who can edit, repackage, and present all that information in a form that is, as one Economist writer put it, “digestible for humans.”
One writer in the special report quoted the renowned economist (and psychologist) Herb Simon as having said back in 1971, “What information consumes is rather obvious; it consumes the attention of its recipients… Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Well, reading the ‘Data, Data’ report really validated my gut instinct that it could be very valuable to produce compilations of the best writings of bloggers and other smart essayists that are chosen, arranged, and explained by the authors of those shorter texts, themselves.
I decided to call this process ‘curating’. It is like what the keen afficianados and curators of great art have done throughout the centuries. How would any of us today have any idea of the oeuvre of great artists like Georgia O’Keeffe or Gustave Courbet—or of the great movements in the artistic world throughout the centuries– if it had not been for many earlier generations of curators?
My concept for JWB’s first collection of titles has been to invite some of the bloggers and essayists whose work I most admire to self-curate one or more book-length compilations of their own best works. That is, they get to choose what goes into any given book, arrange these texts into Chapters of the book, and to write a Preface to the book, along with any other linking text that they choose, and possibly also a Postscript.
This has, obviously, a number of huge advantages. Most of the text in these books already exists! That’s a great plus. Even though the work of curating will take a few weeks, this model still radically cuts the amount of time these writers would need to produce a very valuable book, beneath what it would take them to complete a single-text book from scratch. That fact, allied with the capabilities of POD printing, mean the material we publish on these extremely important and fast-moving issues can be the freshest and most up-to-date in any book anywhere.
Every item included in these self-curated books will be clearly tagged with its original date of publication. So it will be obvious to readers that that was how Laila or Joshua or whoever saw things at that time. Thus, as these authors set about curating their books, they don’t need to go back and do much rewriting at all of their original texts (though JWB’s editors will do basic, light copy-editing on them, to make sure they maintain our high editorial standards.) I’m hoping the authors will preserve the ‘freshness’ and in some cases quirkiness of their original writing. But the ‘curating texts as dated exhibits’ model means the writers don’t have to go back and endlessly update or second-guess their own earlier judgments, so it will help keep their turnround times for preparing their books as short as possible. It will also allow readers to see how these writers’ thinking and analysis developed over time, as new information became available and as they gained additional opportunities to reflect on the information and experiences available to them.
I am really excited to see the books that these talented—and, as it happens, all very different– writers will produce. I hope you will be, too!
Looking good
While I’ve been working on the JWB project I’ve had the great good fortune to find just about everything I’ve needed to found this new business, right here in Charlottesville, Virginia. A good, experienced intellectual property lawyer? Check. A wealth of great editorial talent? Check. (Even, to my amazement, a real gem of an author: Joshua Foust, whose blogging on Afghanistan I’ve respected and enjoyed for some time now, turns out to live about two miles away from us here in C’ville, though I didn’t realize that until just about the same time as I pitched the book idea to him. So that was one contract we were able to exchange in person—unlike the one with Reidar Visser, who lives in Norway, as longtime JWN readers are doubtless aware.)
One of the other great talents I discovered here in town was graphic designer Lewis Rector, who came up with the company’s fabulous logo and has already designed a template for the covers of the first series of books:

(Truth in advertising: Rousseau is not, actually, one of our inaugural authors. Also, I think we might do a few more tweaks in the template before the first book comes out… But I hope you get the drift.)
Much more to come!
When I started pitching JWB’s business plan to some of the bloggers and other writers whose work I most admire, I was really pleased by how many of them seemed to ‘get’, and respond positively to, the self-curating idea as I explained it to them. I am really awed that Laila El-Haddad, Joshua Foust, Chas Freeman, and Reidar Visser have all expressed such trust in the plan that they have agreed to publish books with JWB, with the first of these manuscripts coming in to JWB on June 30.
I have a list of other great writers with whom I’m at various stages of discussion/negotiation about doing JWB books… and another list of people whom I’m planning to approach in the days and weeks ahead.
By the way, if any of you has a good suggestion of a blogger or other form of essayist whose self-curated work might fit well into the present phase of JWB’s business plan, please contact me! That might be someone you admire; or it could be you, yourself. Either way, put ‘JWB book suggestion’ in the subject line of the email, and inside it put a few lines explaining your recommendation.
I should tell you that, with the business plan that I have developed, JWB is able to give authors a considerably larger per-book royalty than any other publisher I know of in our field—and still, to keep the list price of these excellently produced books considerably below $25 (or even, below $20– depending on the final length.) So, bloggers might also see publishing with JWB as a good way, finally, to capitalize on some of the prodigious work that so many of them have poured into their blogs over the years.
… I was hoping that I’d have the Just World Books website up and running by now, to give you more information about our plans. But it’s taking longer than I thought, so for now you should just check back here from time to time, or on my Twitter feed. If you want to be on the JWB mailing list, send an email to that same e-address above, and put ‘JWB mailing list’ in the subject line.
Finally, you may ask, what is going to happen to this venerable old platform, Just World News? A few things. I’m still working on that re-design I’ve been promising for a while now, though it’s taken a bit of a backseat to the book publishing over recent weeks. Just World News will henceforth be considered to be a project of Just World Publishing, LLC—though the content will still be made available, as before, with a Creative Commons license. And yes, somewhere down the pike there I’m hoping to pull together a book or two of my own from the archives here… But that’s down the road a bit, still.
Stay tuned! I’ll have more info about JWB here soon—and JWN readers will be the first to be informed once I get the Just World Books website up and running, in May.

7 thoughts on “Announcing… Just World Books!”

  1. Congratulations on your new venture Helena. I think the JWB website could become quite a lively forum adding value to JWB titles with supplementary material as it becomes available. For instance whenever I read Reidar’s blogging he actively engages his readers and develops his ideas in response to their comments.
    Best of luck.

  2. Dear Helena,
    Well done! What a great synthesis you have made.
    It’s going to be great.
    All of the best to you and to JWB.
    Please keep on bloggin’, too.

  3. You continue to be wonderfully creative, innovative and value-driven. MANY CONGRATULATIONS!!

  4. congratulations Helena.
    It is fascinating to hear about this new project. You usually surprise us with good news.

  5. This looks like a great and interesting project. Congratulation for having the courage to start it. I wish you and your author great success.

  6. Delighted to see this project shaping up- clever logo to support a brilliant idea. Good luck to you.

  7. I look forward to the new platform and hope that it will have a strong Quaker bent.
    In other news I hope to do some backpacking out of Sherando Lake next week, after catching a bluegrass festival in Ladysmith. Virginia is for plodders?

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