I've lived in New York working in book publishing for the last 11 years, and the longer I've been here the more obvious it has become that New York has declined in its power as the epicenter of English language publishing.
I grew up on a farm at the end of a long dirt road, and I came to New York because I really wanted to be a book editor (and because I was in love with a novelist who lived in Brooklyn). Being a book editor here used to carry a fair bit of cultural cache. In the days before the Internet, book editors, much like magazine and newspaper editors, had access to ideas, to new thinking, to new storytelling forms, before the general public. Being in this particular place gave them an advantage over the average reader because they saw more, were exposed to more, and were given the power to choose which pieces of writing, thinking, and storytelling were worth everyone else's attention.
As a young editor at Oxford University Press and at Viking Press, I could see that the hobbyists (independent bloggers, self published writers) were catching up with the professionals sitting inside the big publishing houses. Having the time and interest to delve deep into a niche and become an expert was what really mattered. All that was required to build microniche expertise was time, interest in participating, and an internet signal. If editors weren't given the time to deeply engage with the audience they were serving, the hobbyists - Maud Newton , Brain Pickings -- would beat them to it.
The importance of the Internet bloomed, and I married the aforementioned fiction writer. By watching him work, I was learning how important early readers are to the creative process. He was in a writers group with very limited exclusive membership; someone would have to die or leave New York (same thing) in order for them to really consider adding a new member. And if this happened it would trigger months of sensitive agonizing over who would add the right blend of qualities to the group - who was a good enough writer that their membership would reflect well on the others, who was effective at giving critique without being cruel, if the group was mostly men, should they find a woman writer to balance the discussion?
I edited a number of women writers who were not born or raised in Manhattan or Brooklyn, and I wrestled with how to build more inclusive, collaborative ways for writers to begin their careers. I began to think about all the writers in other places who didn't have access to other writers (nevermind agents or editors), or to the critical feedback they needed to improve their book. Who could share war stories with them, and help them learn all they need to know about the craft and the business of writing.
At work, I was reporting to marketing and publishing extraordinaire Susan Petersen Kennedy, President of Penguin in the US, and getting very involved in digital and ebooks. I heard that writers who'd never met each other in person were sharing pieces of writing on a site called LiveJournal, publishing ebooks on niche websites, and finding small but dedicated audiences.
This was a beginning, and I was inspired to build a place online that was welcoming, fun but serious. A place where it's easy to post drafts and share feedback, participate in discussions with new and established writers, and choose the best way to publish your book once you are finished revising. So I set out to build a platform called Book Country to help writers help each other. I was excited by the idea that geography could be removed as a factor, that merit could be brought to the fore, that a writer at the end of a long dirt road could get equal respect from readers as one "living in Brooklyn."
I founded Book Country to empower this movement of community collaboration, to give writers better tools for finding the most appropriate colleagues, bettering their work by engaging with each other, and beginning to build the natural audience for their work while they were still in the writing process.
Cities, this one included, are incredibly fertile creative places. But I am happy to say that New York no longer has a lock on being "Book Country".
Your desk, your laptop, your tablet, is book country.