Tag s | Book Business

Confusing Hindsight with Wisdom

Book publishing is filled with people having substantial experience and who know a lot about how things work in the publishing world.  Authors, publisher staff, retailers and agents have a bevy of information and make informed decisions every day.

But book publishing is a humility-building pursuit because a good amount of this great wisdom is nothing more than 20/20 hindsight.

“I knew it wouldn’t work.”

“I knew it would sell well.”

“I knew this would happen.”

Everyone is smart in hindsight. In hindsight, we are all 100% correct in our manuscript assessments and budget estimates. But book publishing is a lot like hitting a baseball. If you are right 30-40% of the time, you are a hero.

A mediocre baseball player might get 25 hits in 100 chances. A great player will get 30. A legendary player will get 35 hits in 100 chances.

Everyone strikes out and commits errors on a regular basis.

So it is in publishing.

There are a lot of people in influential roles at publishers and very successful who are right only about 30-40% of the time.

Same for a successful author. Of their first ten books, one or two will probably sell really well, a couple sell pretty well, a couple books are so-so and then the remaining were a little more on the “not so good” side of the ledger.

Your first book might not sell well, leading you to think you are finished. But striking out in your first time to bat doesn’t make it impossible to succeed later. You practice hitting and one day it all comes together, when you will only fail 60-70% of the time and considered an all-star.

So what is the point of all this?

Book publishing, whether traditional or self-published is a humbling venture. Everyone involved fails more than succeeds.  Don’t give up at the first sign of failure.

If you are a new author and are rejected and feel the person rejecting your work is making a mistake, you might be right.

Or not.

But if you think you have it all figured out or someone says they have it all figured out and can make guarantees of success, you are both incorrect. If “having it all figured out” means you miss the mark only 60% of the time, then it is okay to brag.

If you attend enough writer’s conferences, you might come away with ten steps to succeed 100% of the time. Not true.

The best you can hope for is to succeed about a third of the time.

One of the great frustrations for new (and experienced) authors is when they follow every instruction, do exactly what is required by every seminar leader or editor and still cannot be published.

The reason?

All the wisdom, advice, steps, actions or to-do lists will make it so you only fail 60% of the time.

Sure, 20/20 hindsight can help anyone avoid big mistakes in the future, but no one knows with absolute certainty what readers will like two or three years from now.

The reason is (here it is again) because writing and publishing books is an art form, not a perfect science.

In a few years, readers might begin to abandon Amish-themed romance fiction and want to see what happens when a Lutheran marries a Methodist or a conservative Presbyterian is unequally yoked to a liberal Presbyterian.

Now there’s a suspenseful plot!

And who knows what non-fiction books will resonate in 2020.

The deepest, darkest secret in all book publishing is no one really knows with 100% certainty what is going to happen or what will sell. We know a lot about what happened already and hope it might lead to something similar in the future, but we are not one hundred percent sure. 

Everyone is smart after the fact, but making decisions for tomorrow contains a good measure of humble flexibility.

If you hang around too many “hindsight-smart” people you could end up frustrated and discouraged because they make it sound predictable and cut-and-dried, which are terms never used to describe book publishing.

Humility, a willingness to learn something new and ability to change direction quickly are helpful traits to cultivate in your life and look for in others.


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