PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2013
by Angela Bole, CEO, Independent Book Publishers Association —
When I’m asked to describe the independent publishers and self-published authors who choose to join IBPA, I say they’re the kind who understand that publishing is a business and, knowing this, join IBPA to become better business people.
But what does this mean? How do you become better at business? And what does a successful business person look like?
As I’ve transitioned into my new role as IBPA’s executive director, I’ve had occasion to think about these questions a lot. If IBPA is tasked with leading and serving the independent publishing community by providing advocacy, education, and tools for success, how are we meant, in the end, to measure this success? Both for ourselves and for our members?
For sure, someone who is successful in publishing understands the dynamics of our industry. Such people know which metadata elements are essential and which are nice to have. They have researched different distribution platforms and understand pricing models. They cringe when they see “i.e.” mistakenly used in place of “e.g.” The thought of learning new acronyms no longer keeps them up at night.
It’s likely IBPA played a hand in providing some, if not all, of the understanding above. That’s what we’re here for! And there’s no doubt this understanding will take a person a good distance down the road toward developing a successful publishing business.
I’ve always thought, however, that all great business people have something beyond base industry knowledge. It’s something about the way they see the world, and their place in it.
I’ve tried to distill this idea into specific character traits and have come up with the three below.
Take a look and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know which traits you agree with, which you don’t, and any additional ones you might add to the list.
Inquisitive: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”—Albert Einstein
Successful business people actively seek out education and conversations that have the potential to expose their ignorance. They’re not know-it-alls. On the contrary, they project a genuine openness to new people, ideas, and experiences. This often means there isn’t a single brass ring they’re reaching for, but a never-ending series of brass ringlets that, once gained, open up new challenges and opportunities.
It also means they’re a lot of fun to be around.
Grounded: “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”—Andy Warhol
For successful business people, the ends and the means are inseparable. These people have an unmistakable fascination with the way little things, properly done, can make all the difference. In The E-Myth Revised, a book I often come back to for its wisdom and common sense, author Michael E. Gerber describes it this way:
And so the great [business people] I have known seem to possess an intuitive understanding that the only way to reach something higher is to focus their attention on the multitude of seemingly insignificant, unimportant, and boring things that make up every business. (And that make up every life, for that matter!)
Those mundane and tedious little things that, when done exactly right, with the right kind of attention and intention, form in their aggregate a distinctive essence, an evanescent quality that distinguishes every great business you’ve ever done business with from its more mediocre counterparts whose owners are satisfied to simply get through the day.
Good to consider when you’re trying out multiple cover options (again), assigning proper ISBNs, writing flap copy, and taking the time to respond personally to every person who DMs you on Twitter.
Insightful. “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and I look at it, until it begins to shine.”—Emily Dickinson
To be fair, I understand that most of you didn’t get into the business of publishing because you wanted to be good business people. Business for business’ sake is a hollow goal, after all.
Instead, many of you got into this business because you wanted to share stories. This is important because it points to the essence of what, as a successful business person, you’re actually doing.
Just as someone selling training is actually selling the promise of success, and someone selling a dishwasher is actually selling more free time, someone selling books is actually, for me, selling refuge.
I say refuge because I know how books can make us laugh and cry and care. I know how they provide a break from loneliness and speak to a common human experience that can feel, at its core, like a refuge.
Of course, the truth about what you’re actually selling may be different from what I described. All the better. The main point is that successful business people understand the higher need being met by the work they do. They can tap into the fundamental truth of why their work matters. On the hardest days, this is the thing that keeps them pushing forward; this is the well that never runs dry.