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Publishing Note: Quest(ions) for Success


We never know what’s around the corner. To succeed at book publishing, we have to anticipate what we might run into. The quest for success hinges on the questions we ask. Here are five questions that can lay the foundation of success.


1. What do I know? (Data)

Cast as wide a net as we can to gather as much data as possible. These data inform what we know (or don’t know). The more we know, the better positioned we are to see the big picture and make wise, well-informed book publishing decisions.

2. What does my experience tell me? (Experience)

Personal experience is a valuable companion. Successful book publishers have the ability to predict what is likely to happen in the future, because they’ve accrued significant past experience. Let’s not make the mistake of equating valuable experience with decades of work in the industry. Some people can labor for years and miss those “aha!” moments that propel them forward. Significant experience comes at the intersection of being in the right place at the right time and paying attention to what happens, both in real time and through reflection after the fact. Learning from those experiences is the key to future success.

3. What’s the point? (Relevance)

Determining relevance of data begins with evaluating many discrete bits of data, sifting through all that data, organizing them, and prioritizing them. This is the grunt work of the quest for success. Often thankless, always time consuming, the search for relevance is more about sticking with the process than finding a needle in a haystack. Asking about what’s the point forces us to look for connecting points between disparate data.

4. How does the past connect to the present? (Connect the dots)

Past, present, and future are on a continuum. Connecting the dots between data leads to a clearer picture of both the current status of things and where present momentum is taking us. Patterns emerge as we observe the data on a granular level and as these patterns take shape, we begin to see significant details we’ve been missing all along.

5. Where is this headed? (Foresight)

With a clearer picture of the present, based on having connected the dots, we can establish a solid notion of future direction. We may take three years to write a book about an issue or experience not widely acknowledged when we begin. By the time the book is published and on sale, that topic may be on everyone’s mind—dominating the news, the airwaves, and social media. Our book will sell more copies under those conditions than had it been published three years before. Though the circumstances may be beyond our control, we can anticipate the rise in significance of our topic, simply by asking the right questions and choosing a topic we identify as worth our attention.


Data, experience, relevance, connecting the dots, and formulating a vision of where things are headed, paves the way for our success. We can enhance our quest for success in book publishing by posing the right questions and acting on what we find. Asking these questions to create an informed plan for success puts us in a position to succeed when the opportunity comes along.