In spring 2020, at the start of the pandemic, several publishing professionals from around the world launched a Facebook group called Publishers Without Borders. The founders included Simon de Jocas, the publisher at Montreal children’s illustrated book publisher Éditions Les 400 Coups; Emma House, a U.K. publishing consultant; and Prashant Pathak, the publisher of Wonder House Books, a children’s publishing house in Delhi, India. They, along with 150 of their friends, used the group as a forum for socializing, sharing memes, and staying in touch about developments related to the pandemic.
Shortly thereafter, with publishers canceling plans to attend international events, membership jumped to 1,700. For many, PWB became an important place to stay connected to the broader global publishing community, particularly during the isolation of lockdowns.
“I had numerous people reach out to me to say just how important Publishing Without Borders was to them throughout the pandemic,” de Jocas told PW at the Guadalajara International Book Fair. “Many people remarked on how important it was to share what was going on with their colleagues. One person even said that they were feeling suicidal, but being able to connect with people in the group helped save their life.”
Today, PWB has grown to 4,800 members and new moderators were brought on board. While activity in the group related to the pandemic has tapered off, PWB has become a hub for international networking and education, offering webinars on such topics as diversity in the workplace and book market trends, as well as informational posts on fellowship and translation funding opportunities at international books fairs.
Using the group to transact business is strictly prohibited. “We ask people who want to do business with each other to keep it off the Facebook group, where it is prohibited, and to instead use our LinkedIn page for that,” said Pathak, who emphasized that the Facebook group remains focused on socializing.
Pathak has also become a central figure in organizing real-world meetups at book fairs through the creation of event-specific WhatsApp groups. This started with the 2021 Sharjah International Book Fair, where active members in the group were given black polo shirts embroidered with the group logo and their names, and, more recently, included book fairs in Guadalajara and Istanbul.
In 2022, PWB became, for a brief time, a forum where Ukrainian and Russian publishers confronted one another, though the increasingly caustic exchanges were soon curtailed. The group is now focused on offering support to colleagues in Ukraine, providing links to places to make donations and a means to make connections, and even going so far as to help organize transportation at the Polish border for Ukrainian evacuees. The PWB logo on Facebook includes the line “No War, Only Peace” and is surrounded by the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag.
PWB plans to extend its influence through mentorship. “We have established a group of nearly 30 experts, who can advise people on various questions they have about the industry, and we’re encouraging others to offer mentorship to those who need it,” de Jocas said. The PWB group experts include a wide range of industry leaders, such as Italian literary agent LeeAnn Bortolusi, Egyptian publisher Sharif Bakr, Latvian children’s book publisher Alise Nigale, City University of New York publishing certificate program director David Unger, Indian publishing executive Kumar Vikram, and Austrian publishing consultant Ruediger Wischenbart.
“Our hope is that by providing a forum for connection, fun, and mentorship, we can offer our colleagues around the world a sense of community and continue to have a positive impact on their personal and professional lives,” de Jocas said.