There are so many metaphors we can use to describe what goes on in book publishing. Baseball, medicine, astronomy, physics, factory assembly lines, beavers gnawing on trees, hamsters on treadmills and many more each contain appropriate examples of various aspects of writing and publishing a book.
I believe one of the strongest metaphors is that of target shooting.
Ready. Aim. Fire.
Three simple words that can be used to explain everything from what an author does to how a publishing company operates.
Get Ready. Now Aim. Fire.
Take them out of order and you will not be an effective target shooter, or author, publisher, agent or anything. Each of the three parts require some attention or else the next step is wasted.
Ready – education, training, practice, practice and more practice. Maintain your equipment. Feed your intuition with knowledge. Important to keep learning and growing.
Aim – If you don’t aim or have nothing to aim at, you definitely won’t hit a target, at least on purpose. You also cannot aim at two things at once. Speeding bullets do not ricochet in a controlled manner. It hits where it is aimed. Knowing what you want to accomplish focuses the training and practice. Knowing your author message platform, what you want to say or do is critical. Knowing your audience is paramount.
Fire – A lot of emphasis on this today. “Just do it.” “Ship it.” Send it. Let someone see it. Ask forgiveness rather than permission. Make the decision and live with it. Minimum Viable Product.
Maybe you can hit a bulls-eye by shooting at random targets with a dirty gun, but you will waste a lot of bullets and probably hurt someone.
Okay, now I am going to push this metaphor to its breaking point.
There are two kinds of writers and publishers of books. The marksman and the gunslinger.
Authors and smaller publishers primarily need to be marksmen because their resources are more limited.
Authors…it is just you. Each year has 365 days (or 366 every four years if you want to be a stickler) each with 24 hours. Time is limited.
Being a gunslinger is a lot more fun. Creatively, you write this and that, over here and then over there, try this and then that. This is just fine if you want to satisfy your creative desires and enjoy yourself by writing whatever you want.
Oh, you want to be a successful author?
Then you need to become a marksman. And an author-marksman prepares, practices and aims before they shoot. Not as spectacular as the wild west rodeo show with spinning six-guns, but focus usually wins over fanfare in publishing.
Smaller publishers need to be marksmen, with a clear purpose and goal (targets) simply because they need to be good stewards of limited resources.
Larger publishers still can’t be reckless, but they can be a little more like gunslingers than smaller publishers. Trying something new and different has a little more potential for the bigger publisher.
Publishing books is not a science, rather a mix of art and science, so this entire marksman vs. gunslinger comparison doesn’t mean that clear targets are discovered through some sort of computer program or scientific analysis of the word combinations in a manuscript.
But for authors, work needs to be a healthy combination of preparation, focus and a deadline (either self or publisher-imposed) so you know when it is time to fire.
Or hit “send”, which seems a lot less violent.