Knowing What We Don’t Know
When facing massive uncertainty, as exists in today’s highly interconnected global economy, it is essential to appreciate both what one does know as well as what one does not know. ~Vikram Mansharamani
In some ways, the entire publishing industry is still operating “business as usual.” Most of us have years or decades of experience behind us. We know things. Based on our experiences from the past, we’re reasonably accurate at making predictions for the future and making decisions accordingly.
And yet, things are changing. There is truly so much we don’t know. I think it’s crucial that when discussing career paths, when making decisions for the future, we acknowledge what we don’t know.
I know publishers are still making traditional advance/royalty deals, they’re still printing paper books, and they’re still taking a year or more to get a book out. I don’t know how long this will continue.
I know print books are still selling, and I also know e-books continue to become a larger proportion of sales. But I don’t know if/when the sales of e-books will level out, and I don’t know if/when print books are going to become nearly obsolete.
I know my clients are free to self-publish a book any time they choose, and they’re free to do it with or without my involvement. I don’t know exactly how it will affect their publishing future.
I was talking with a client who was telling me about the advice “her friend’s agent” had given her friend, which was different from the advice I was giving about the advisability of self-publishing a novel. But I reminded her that (in this new area of e-books and self-publishing) none of us are operating out of any great body of evidence or data. We’re often speaking from a limited amount of personal experience, a bit of evidence/data, and a lot of our instinct based on years in the business. But it’s a mistake if we fail to acknowledge what we don’t know, and instead act like we “know” what we’re talking about.
I do think agents and others in the business have a body of knowledge that’s valuable. I also think that authors (and everyone) should be aware that when it comes to the future of publishing—and by extension the right decision at every given juncture—there is a great deal that is unknowable.
What do you KNOW about current and future publishing? What DON’T you know?