Society can give its young men almost any job and they’ll figure how to do it. They’ll suffer for it and die for it and watch their friends die for it, but in the end, it will get done. That only means that society should be careful about what it asks for.*
When writing or publishing for young men, it’s crucial to visualize what outcomes you’re hoping for. Are they worthy of the readers you’re serving? Are you aiming high enough? Young men, properly motivated, possess an irrepressible will to achieve and prevail. Honoring your reader’s potential is the lynchpin of your message.
* This statement appears on page 154 of War, by Sebastian Junger. A sobering and thought-provoking snapshot of the war in Afghanistan, War also speaks to the nature and strength of America’s young men.
Here’s a timely slice of publishing history from Michael Korda’s book, Making the List:
[Before World War Two] the mass-market paperback business was still in its infancy. The war decade to come would change that. Pocket Books had been founded in the thirties, to sell books at twenty-five cents a copy. These paperbacks were distributed by magazine wholesalers to drugstores, candy stands, and news stores, but bookstores as such didn’t carry them, or even acknowledge, for the most part, their existence. Pocket Books soon had plenty of rivals in the paperback business, which was already fiercely competitive and fast growing, but it would take the war, when millions of men had time on their hands to read, in training camps or on troop ships, and millions of women were at home, waiting for their return, to make the mass-market business really take off, and indeed, for a time, to achieve dominance over the hardcover book business.
Successful mass-market paperback titles sold in the millions of copies, dwarfing the numbers sold in hardcover by conventional booksellers. . . . In short, after the Second World War, there would be two different book markets: the “mass” market of paperback publishing, which mostly sold in outlets other than bookstores, and the conventional hardcover book business, centered on the bookstore, which, despite the growing help of the book clubs, sold fewer books, but at much higher prices (from page 76).
The how of publishing is in constant flux. The what and why remain constant. People love to read. The key for publishers is learning to think like readers.
Amanda Ripley made this point in her WSJ piece from last Saturday:
The all-important issue is not how easy it is to fire the worst teachers; it’s how to elevate the entire craft without going to war with the teachers.
In her mind, both sides are crucial to the health of the system. Not unlike the relationship between writers and editors.