Stop worrying about how to keep your job
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
At the Digital Book World Conference held in New York earlier this month, one presenter made a comment that I think is a guiding light to everyone engaged in the publishing industry. “Stop worrying about how to keep your job and start asking yourself how you can help people.”
Although Tim O’Reilly, the presenter, was speaking to industry insiders (publishers, editors, agents, etc.), his statement struck me as applicable to authors as well. If you regularly read what publishing prognosticators forecast for the future, any sensible person would be scared spitless about how to obtain a contract or build a writing career. According to various forecasters, we can expect: Barnes and Noble to die, which will effectively render our country bookstore-less; Amazon will become so dominant in book sales that no other outlet will be worth giving a second glance; ever steeper challenges will confront new writers to be noticed among the tsunami of self-published books; the big publishers will buy each other up until only two remain, creating a severe shortage of traditional publishing slots in which to fit manuscripts, etc.
It’s a daunting list, right?
That’s why O’Reilly’s advice is important for us to consider. Ultimately, what he was getting at in his comment is the need for us to take risks. If you decide what to write next based only on the criterion that you want to assure obtaining a contract, then you’ve abandoned concern over whether what you’re doing will help others. O’Reilly is calling on us to concentrate on helping others. We’re talking about more than being nice, we’re talking about being generous.
What does that mean? I think about one of our agency’s clients who decided to help a high school student write a manuscript about a unique plan she created to campaign for a year to raise awareness about human trafficking. The high school student had no money to pay the writer, but the writer chose to use her abilities to help extend a message she believed in. So she took a financial risk–not because she could afford to but because she believed she couldn’t afford not to–to collaborate on that project.
The same others-centric principle applies to those who work at a publisher’s or who agent books. If the marketing director at a publishing house stops worrying about her job, abandons the boilerplate marketing plan, and tries innovative ways to market each book that focuses on its audience, that’s someone who has freed herself from fear of job loss. If the publisher stops focusing only on one safe segment of readers but instead makes a conscious decision to serve a growing but under-served audience as well, he’s stopped letting job preservation dictate his actions. If an agent stops worrying about literary agencies being expendable in an era of self-publishing and concentrates on meeting clients’ urgent needs for help in navigating a complex publishing terrain, that agent need not fear turning irrelevant.
Bottomline: Stop focusing on job preservation and start thinking about what you can do to help people.
In what ways do you see writers concentrating on keeping their jobs?
What kinds of behavior might a writer indulge in that would focus him or her on helping people?
What do you wish publishing personnel or agents would do that focused on others rather than job protection?
What would u do differently if u quit worrying about losing ur job? Click to tweet.
If you concentrated on helping people, how would your job change? Click to tweet.
What would happen if publishing pros quit focusing on job loss? Click to tweet.