Human Recommendation Engines

[intro]Amongst whitefox publisher clients, we’re lucky to number Gallic; the clever, fleet-of-foot indie publisher of French books in translation. And Gallic are lucky enough to be based in a thriving bookshop in South West London. Here they host events, meet book buyers, and launch their own titles alongside those of other publishers.[/intro]

But besides all that, they’ve grown to become something of my trusted human recommendation engines. Every time we have a meeting to discuss plans for forthcoming publications I ask them what I should be reading in the implicit understanding they already know enough about me to be informed in their choices. After many months, they have yet to make a bad choice (currently Walter Tevis’s haunting classic The Queen’s Gambit). They even have a dog that has started to tweet recommendations (a dog recommendation engine?). Smart pooch.

Many years ago, I used to work with a very brilliant copyeditor who had a similar ability. Everyone in his proximity knew to pay attention to his pronouncements once he’d finished working on a book due to his uncanny knack of knowing which of a publisher’s stable of titles stood a chance of making it in any one season. He was a sales departments secret oracle.

Some people are gifted like that.

Now, I’m not comparing them more favourably than algorithms that tell me titles I may also like after I’ve finished a book on my e-reader. But there is something rather joyous seeing the spark in the eyes of a bookseller or a colleague or friend who wants you to share the pleasure of disappearing into a writer’s world.

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