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A Little Happier: “To Succeed in Business, Plan to Publish Bestsellers Only.”


I’m a writer, so I pay a lot of attention to what happens in the publishing industry, and I have a podcast, so I pay a lot of attention to what happens in the podcasting industry, and my sister is a TV writer, so I pay a lot of attention to what happens in the TV industry.

And there’s an old, funny teaching story that I think about often, from the world of publishing that's relevant to all those industries, and beyond.

This story has always been told to me as if it were fact, but I suspect that it’s actually apocryphal—but that doesn’t really matter, because the point is the same.

The story goes that a big publisher decided to hire a fancy management consulting firm to come in to analyze their business and tell them how to make more money.

So the firm does a top-to-bottom study of the publisher’s business. They investigate, they analyze, they interview, they write a big report.

The senior people at the publishing house and the management consulting team sit down for a big meeting where the results of this study will be revealed.

With a dramatic flourish, the management consultants announce, “The way for your publishing house to make more profits publish more bestsellers!”

The joke is that the publishing team says, “Sure, yes! So now tell us, how do we know what books will be bestsellers?” The management consultants didn’t have an answer for that.

Book-industry people love to tell this old (probably apocryphal) story, because it illustrates the temptation, and the folly, of deciding that your plan for business success is to do only those ventures that will be highly successful.

Because that’s not an easy thing to do. This sounds obvious, but it’s surprising to me how often I find myself telling this story. To myself, and to other people.

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