A Facebook group called Publishers Without Borders, which launched at the beginning of the month, has attracted nearly 1,700 followers in a single week. The group was founded by Simon de Jocas, publisher at Montreal children's illustrated book publisher Éditions Les 400 Coups, with the help of Prashant Pathak, publisher of Wonder House Books, a children's book publishing house in Delhi, India. Patak is serving as the site administrator.
"With Bologna and London canceled, I wanted a way to hang out online with my friends that I would miss seeing," de Jocas said. "So I got the idea for this Facebook group. Initially, it started with a small group of just about 150 people, but has ballooned since then."
The priority, said both Jocas and Patak, was to foster friendship and not conduct business. "We want this to be fun for people and are actively discouraging people in discussing business," said Patak, who closely monitors who is allowed to join and is actively keeping out vendors and others who might want to data mine information from the group. "I have deleted numerous accounts of people who have broken our rules."
The rules are simple. When you are allowed, you must share who you are, where you are, what you do, and what interests you. The emphasis is on establishing comraderie by sharing personal experiences of the quarantine. Posts have focused on the day-to-day life of publishers and their allies around the world, and include photos of people's home offices, pets, and what they are reading.
"I am posting a question each day that provokes an interesting response, such as 'what software are you using to work from home?' or 'what are you eating?', to keep people engaged," Pathak said.
The core group of people posting most often includes publishers, agents, sales directors, and others one would typically encounter on the international book fair circuit. Participants in the group span the globe, from Brazil to Turkey to New Zealand. "I like to think of it as the people you might run into at the Gleis in Frankfurt at the end of the book fair," de Jocas said, referring to the famous dive bar next to Frankfurt's central train station.
The group also hosted its first live online chat earlier today, with Patak moderating a conversation with International Publishers Association president Hugo Setzer.
"We want people to stay connected and engaged through this pandemic until we can next meet again," de Jocas said. "Maybe it will last beyond the crisis, maybe it will end in two months. If this helps people feel even a little bit less isolated, it will have done its part."