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On one of the books that my friend Peg Streep and I did with Viking– almost twenty years ago now– we had an editor who was fairly new at the business of shepherding a book from manuscript to mechanicals to galleys to bound books. She was fond of making very detailed to-do lists. She would go over her to-do lists with us, so we would all be on the same page (as it were).
The problem was, that was as far as she ever got; she thought that listing the things that needed to be done was the same as actually doing those things.
Listing does not equal doing. It’s not even a rough equivalent. Listing is a guide to prioritizing what needs to be done, but the tasks still need to be done after they are listed. We often ended up doing the listed tasks ourselves, even though they were within the publisher’s area of responsibility (this was in the days when a mainstream publisher provided more than simple printing and distribution services, unlike the current sad state of the business).
At the end of the day, our books were our babies, and we felt that the ultimate responsibility for their care and nurturing were ours. So we did what we could, nagged our editor about what we couldn’t do, and had a very respectable run of successful projects with that publisher (though not that editor) and others for quite a few years.

Fast forward to my current life: In the past few days, there have been hours and hours of meetings around an incident that I posted about last week but am no longer free to discuss. The last of those meetings was supposed to be about getting certain services that should have been available immediately after the incident in question. Those services were never offered; we had to pursue them. I am certain that if the incident in question had occurred in a wealthier, more fair-skinned part of the city– say, in Douglaston, or the Upper East Side, or Park Slope– those services would have been on the doorstep before the sounds of the sirens faded.
But no; instead of services, timely, we have two days of meetings, and still no services, nine days later. But we are told that those services are coming (like Godot? I don’t know…I’m waiting.).
As listing tasks does not equal doing them, so meeting about services does not equal delivering them. And, although time is of the essence is a phrase you will find in almost every publishing contract, the only instance where that is essentially true is when it applies to human beings– not to ink on paper.
In the meantime, we bind the wounds, dry the tears, listen, speak, and do our jobs. While we do so, we wonder why meeting about helping those for whom you are responsible is more important than actually helping, and we wonder why we had to wait so very long for even that small gesture of care and concern.


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