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The Secret to Winning in Publishing

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It’s been a rough year in publishing. (Isn’t it always, though?) We keep getting hit with articles about sales and consolidations and literary agencies folding or firing people. Then there’s the AI problem—don’t get me started. I’ve been on the road to various events and writing retreats in the last six months, and I’ve spoken with a good number of author friends and I keep hearing about “soft sales” and fear of what’s next. It’s all too much doom and gloom for my taste, because you know what? There is something next. Storytelling is fundamental to our existence, so we will find a way to deliver those stories, even if things have to change a little bit…

Speaking of change, putting all of that doom and gloom together has validated something for me that I’d long ago suspected, and it appears to be true now more than ever. It’s the secret to winning in publishing. And it’s in plain sight.

The secret to winning is to learn how to pivot. To be flexible. To get loose and stretch and change directions.

You may need to pivot if you’ve suffered endless rejections on a particular project (or several), if your sales are flat, if it’s “not the right time in the market for this book,” if you’re burned out on your genre because no matter how many novels you write in that category, you can’t seem to make any traction…and more. There are lots of reasons to pivot. And there are lots of reasons we despair and become bound up over the idea of changing directions. Moving into unknown territory can feel scary. The truth is, however, that pivoting isn’t a bad thing. If fact, it may be the best choice you’ve ever made.

First and foremost, pivoting equals freedom.

When you pivot, you’re freed from your past and your track record and your numbers. Pivoting offers a new beginning, breathing room, and plenty of fresh opportunities. You may take a new pen name. Try a new genre. Work on a collaborative project. Find an agent or publisher better suited for your work. Become the publisher yourself, and be the one you’ve always wanted. It may spark ideas you’d never considered. Perhaps you learn a new aspect of storytelling beyond books.

Authors who are “winning in publishing” learn to pivot over the years of their writing career, and they lean into the freshness and the freedom it brings. It’s how they create their successes. When they hit a bump in the road, they buckle up their seatbelts and put their foot on the gas. They don’t despair (for long). When they find themselves in the midst of an emotional reaction to some perceived failure, they don’t free. And they don’t keep doing the same thing over and over again. They don’t beat themselves up (for long). They learn to let go. They lean into the new and fresh. They relish the idea of being free, of finding the fun in the challenge again.

Pivoting may also mean a whole other kind of freedom. This kind of freedom is understanding and accepting where your boundaries lie. Perhaps you’ve had enough of the rat race, the thin promises, or the ups and downs of a business that never offers a guarantee. In this case, pivoting away from the business of publishing is the best answer. That’s perfectly okay, too. Listen to your needs. Take a break from writing, or perhaps let it become a hobby you enjoy doing to nurture yourself. Let it become fulfilling rather than depleting. Sometimes learning to let go is exactly what you need, for a time.

Ultimately, it’s important not to view pivoting as a failure. Creative pursuits—or rather, careers in the creative arts—are more challenging than most. They are only for the lion-hearted and some would say, the foolhardy (raises hand). So, look ahead at your path. Where might it deviate from the one you’ve planned? Where might you venture in a new direction? Where might you grow into another part of your creative self that you didn’t really know existed? Go there, when the time is right. Don’t become bogged down in the doom. It’s fleeting, like everything else in this life. Instead, pivot, refresh. It might just be the best thing that ever happened to your writing journey. It may just be the secret to winning in the way only you know how.


Have you had to pivot during your publishing journey?


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