EDITH updates, v1

We published our first newsletter! For now we’re keeping it super simple. To sign up, please email megan@tryedith.co with “updates” in the subject line.

Full text below.

First, a big thanks to everyone who has poked around EDITH and informed me of bugs, glitches, or other awkwardness. I am so very grateful. And I’m sure some of you are wondering why these things pop up‚ or are even issues in the first place. There are software development answers which I’m barely qualified to convey, and as I’m discovering with these technical things, much of it comes down to money. A perfect site takes money and time, and preferably lots of both. For now we just have time, and you. Anyhow, some background: 

EDITH is built atop an existing marketplace software platform designed by a Helsinki-based company called Sharetribe. I met the COO of Sharetribe at a conference in Lisbon the fall of 2019, because I’d chosen a quiet corner in the Academy of Sciences atrium where I could eat my meal undisturbed, as my left wrist was hurting after a fall on slippery cobblestones earlier in the day, and I wasn’t in the mood for chit-chat. (Unbeknownst to me until the next morning, one of my wrist bones was in fact broken, but that’s another story.) Antti Virolainen, said genial, flannel-clad COO, was there speaking about platform cooperativism—a loosely organized movement of tech people and activists who seek to build and support user-community-owned online businesses, or, failing that, at least facilitate the growth of independent online platforms that sustain a genuine sharing economy and lessen our dependence on tech monopolies. Antti told me that Sharetribe offered two products; “Go” is the fastest, cheapest way to set up a marketplace, while the “Flex” offering lets you customize nearly everything about the user interface, but you have to work with developers to get it done. This conversation was exciting because I’d been looking to find a solution to make EDITH happen for a long, long while.

If you’re wondering, “what is a marketplace?” Airbnb is the best answer.

Skipping ahead several months: EDITH runs on Flex, which means that right away, we had the functionality to process payments on Stripe, pass messages between users, send automated emails, all that. We drew up wireframes for the customization during long nights of the pandemic winter, when there was nothing else to do, but found along the way that these designs were of limited use. It reminded me of an outline for a nonfiction book that you discover, months into working hard on the manuscript, no longer fits. Broad strokes, yes, they were fine. But good websites are an inch-by-inch, every corner of the screen thoughtfully considered, proposition.

We had to adapt as we were building. This also means we are constantly finding tiny things that were overlooked. Every change then requires a “card” on Jira—you describe the problem (what and where on the site) in excruciating detail (because software developers want it all spelled out, nothing left to intuition), determine how big a priority it is, get an estimate from your project manager as to how long it will take to resolve, and then decide: Is this a big enough problem that I want to spend 60 EUR/hr fixing it now, or can it wait? And so on.

One can do this several times a week, in between bouts of wondering when your over-subscribed developer will be able to get to it, because you’re sharing him with other people and other projects, like a yacht rental marketplace. True.

But the project manager working with us on EDITH I like a lot. Her name, anglicized, is Kate. For those who haven’t gone down this technical route, the project manager is like a managing editor; they sit between the product manager, i.e. me, and the software engineers. I’ve only met Kate on Google Meet as she lives in Riga, and I’m mostly in New York, but I’ve spent enough hours in her company to be able to testify that she is the most Gen X person. Sardonic, resourceful, deadpan, with a bone-dry wit. I find this comforting. Kate seems to actually care about EDITH. I mean, getting EDITH going is just a temporary gig for her. Her involvement will end as soon as I can’t afford to keep her on, and yet, since she seems incapable of feigning anything, least of all enthusiasm, I’ve chosen to take her professions of liking us and what we’re doing as sincere.

And when we were having a very hard time getting some styling issues worked out—those of you on the site right after launch know the uncomfortably large font sizes I’m talking about—Kate successfully lobbied her boss not to charge us for that time spent. (Turns out, it was a huge hassle thanks to some suboptimal way Sharetribe had set up the Flex template, so we can take it up with Antti, if we choose, but probably won’t. I am, no joke, more immediately worried about making all the dumb quotes that still appear on the site into smart ones.)

There’s a lot left to do. I’d love for EDITH to offer:

  • Gift cards, so your loved ones can buy you a book jacket for your birthday. Related, I’d like to be able to offer promo codes. We’ll talk to Kate more about this.
  • Calendar integration, or some more elegant way of dealing with the scheduling function. I remember well that when Reedsy first launched, their out-of-office indicator didn’t work properly for months. Good software is hard. Have you noticed how awkward the calendar app is in the new iOS update? I don’t yet understand why even Apple struggles with making scheduling user-friendly.
  • As I’ve shared with some of you, we’ll be adding a category for Sensitivity Reads. This is, of the three above, by far the least labor-intensive next task. Thanks to Jed Bickman for underscoring its importance.

What else is in the works? Some new pages that better describe our payment and payout structures, and how we take a smaller commission than any competitor—for sound moral/ethical reasons that we believe will be sound business reasons as well. I’m also working on an EDITH manifesto, or statement as to why I think all of the above is more than worthwhile and why I won’t let it fail.

In other news: Hachette is buying Workman for $240 million. The New York Times calls it the “latest expected acquisition in an industry whose power is increasingly concentrated in a handful of major companies.” I’m glad for Carolan Workman, who put forty years into her company, and don’t begrudge her a single cent. But I would not want to be involved in any way. These acquisitions all have a shuffling-the-deck feeling. A lot of work for everyone involved, but it’s not leading to more or better books, or happier authors, as far as I can tell. It just changes the revenue calculations for the high-overhead, risk-averse parent companies.

Thanks for reading thus far. If you know of anyone who might be a good fit for EDITH, please send them our way. If you have book- or publishing-related news we can share via the EDITH blog, please let us know. And if you find any bugs, irritating bits, etc., on the site, please also just write to me directly, and I’ll be thrilled.

O.k. off-topic but this was all pretty foreseeable, you know

“The pandemic memoir An American Crisis has become a financial and ethical headache for Penguin Random House, dragging the company into the scandals that prompted the governor’s resignation announcement,” reported the New York Times yesterday. It amounts to “a publisher’s worst nightmare.”

Hmm. I’m not saying that EDITH is a direct response to trends like “let’s give prominent person millions of dollars to author a crappy book no one desires to read” which we see in big publishing. But stories like these do fuel our motivation.

Here’s the thing: The problem is not that the publisher is being drawn into scandal—and are they really? They just stand to lose a big pile of money. The problem is that the only conceivable reason for pursuing this Andrew Cuomo book deal in the first place had to have been sheer boredom. For the publisher, it never made commercial sense. Most political memoirs aren’t exactly art, or even sentimental favorites. Boredom is the only rationale for publishing it that I can think of. Meanwhile many more worthy books weren’t pursued or published with the support they deserved. Point is, the energy in publishing is moving toward the edges, toward the independents, and the startup collectives taking risks out of joy and conviction, and for the pleasures of collaboration, not out of cynicism (or—have I typed it enough times?—boredom). Or so I’d like to think.

Help text

A new user who kindly looked around the site has suggested—and she’s absolutely right—that we need to spell out the “what now?” steps for those successfully logged in for the first time.

Do people looking to provide services need to do something in particular, for instance? We’ll work on this explainer text in the next week! Will probably hijack one of the onboarding emails.