EDITH updates, v2

Biweekly newsletter number two! This one contains newsy items about what we’ve been seeing online, and how it might impact us—in the broader sense, not just our small, but growing daily, cohort.

But first, many thanks to those who have started to draft profiles. As an incentive to start drafting a listing page, friend of EDITH and renowned portrait photographer Beowulf Sheehan is offering a free remote headshot session to one person chosen at random from the first fifteen people to publish a listing page. (So I suppose you’d have to publish your page, and then once you get a new profile photo, update it. But it’s really easily done.) His work is beautiful and you can browse his portfolio of remote portraits, all done in the last year, mostly with just an iPhone, here

Newsy items:

  • A new professional networking site called Polywork is under construction; it’s currently in beta. They are going after Linkedin, or trying to make a LinkedIn alternative that’s more palatable to young people. I received a “VIP code” from someone—and ugh, why not simply call it an “Invite code”? I just know a guy who knows a guy, nothing very or important about it—and checked it out. The only feature I think is notable is one that reminds me of plans we had for EDITH a while back: To display a project timeline on profiles. We also wanted to let people tag collaborators, so ultimately users could click on a book title and see everyone who worked on that book, and in what capacity. It would be like an acknowledgments page brought to digital, dynamic life. Someday.
  • On the tech and democracy front, I thought The People’s Declaration from Europe was interesting. They too have the yellow highlight design motif. And I saw the ad below on the NYC subway earlier this summer (you may have to zoom in on the word “flow” to see it). Then I saw IDEO uses it too. Yikes. Maybe we’ll switch to a lilac or geranium red highlight. Maybe we’ll change colors every season. Suggestions welcome.
  • Many very minor site updates went into effect this week. One quick note as we still haven’t fixed this yet: If asked in the listing wizard whether you’re open to meeting in person, please select “Video call only” while we sort out the quirky (and confusing) way the “Yes” and “No” replies displayed on listings. You can always change it later.
  • Next updates issue: We need to talk about the Therapy category. 

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.