In today's writing and publishing industry, knowing how to change and quickly adapt to change can be your biggest competitive asset.
This has been a key takeaway for me from the weekly Twitter editorchats that I started participating in last week.
The discussions often focus on industry change and trends, especially in relation to new media and technology. Part of the discussion last night was about the generation gap in publishing, sparked by Time's article on how by 2019, leaders will have to manage and motivate people in new ways due to generational changes.
I read the Time article and thought: Yes, but this kind of change can't wait 10 years! Just like magazine and book publishing can't wait 10 years to find a new model for survival.
The editorchat was insightful, but I don't see a generation gap. Rather I see a gap between those who can adapt to change and shape a new vision of the future (on a daily basis these days!), and those who get stuck and/or have pessimistic outlooks on the change.
There's a stereotype that "old" people can't adapt to change as well as "young" people—but my experience has shown it's more of a mindset or attitude.
Some people have the ability to act as soon as they know a change is needed, while others think so long and hard about making a change (in order to make the "right" decision and feel comfortable) that it's too late.
Here are 5 specific ways that writers/publishers need to embrace change now.
- Writers: The book is not the beginning or the end. Let me restate that: Do not make it your life's work to get that first book published. It's not the Holy Grail any longer (if it ever was to begin with). The book is only one piece of a much larger effort that you need to focus on. Stop thinking you need a book to accomplish your goals (E.g., "I can start speaking/promoting once I have a book.")
- Publishers: The act of reading is not tied to books. Stop thinking that if physical books disappear, that reading will also disappear, or that reading will be diminished, or that your jobs will evaporate. Books are not tied to the act or survival of reading. It's a romantic and lovely object, I agree, but it's merely one (sometimes limited) vehicle for something much, much bigger (storytelling, innovative ideas, inspiration, instruction).
- Writers: Power lies in your reach to readers, not in the prestige of your publisher. Kevin Kelley has become famous for saying that it only takes 1,000 loyal followers to really make a go of something. If you develop those followers, you can have a much more stable and rich career that is not dependent on publishers to distribute and sell your work—because you already know where and how to market to your audience.
- Publishers/agents: Be a true partner and add value to authors' careers. Or become irrelevant. Because of #3, publishers stand to suffer more in the long run, because today's (and tomorrow's) savviest authors already have the tools they need to be successful without a publisher's distribution strength. (Just not all of them have learned this yet!) Publishers who truly partner with authors, and start offering support in new and meaningful ways (see this great idea of a Digital Concierge over at PersonaNonData), will attract the best authors, the best content, the best value, the best readers, the best community.
- Publishers and authors alike should focus on vertical communities/niches. The more connected to a specific community you are, the more you understand what it values, what it is willing to pay for, and what sparks action. Paradoxically, the wider you cast your net in terms of audience, the harder it is to get anyone to notice or care.
When you take these 5 things together, I think authors will partner with publishers who offer a community of other like-minded authors (networking/growth potential), who offer diverse opportunities and methods of support, across all types of media, and who share the same values.
New media and technology has made the world transparent. Everyone is going to partner and invest based on mutual benefit/support and values. Those who don't stand for anything special, who lack a great story (or myth) to share, will struggle. (See this cover story from Inc. magazine for an example of a company and CEO who intimately understands this.)
The world is changing, and I'm grateful for it.