Books, butterflies and facing change

Books, butterflies and facing change

Personally, I’ve never been wild about CHANGE – and I suspect I’m not alone! I think this is why we’re all so eager to read predictions about the latest trends or forthcoming changes in the publishing industry, and why I’m so often asked what I think will be the ‘next big thing’ in YA fiction, or the next innovation regarding e-books or other publishing formats. Over the years we’ve seen lots of articles telling us that e-books would take over and nobody would be interested in print any more (in fact, recent studies suggest young people, who you’d think would be most interested in the digital revolution, still prefer print), or that sci-fi would be the ‘next big thing’ in children’s fiction (personally I love sci-fi, but with the exception of Dr Who it remains a hard sell).

Everyone likes to be prepared. It’s natural to want to get ahead of the game and the future seems less scary when you feel as though you have a sense of what’s coming. The thing is, though, that I can’t answer those questions with any certainty, and without specific insider knowledge – or a crystal ball – the truth is that nobody else can either. Trying to predict the trends is like finding fool’s gold – all glittery and exciting at the time, but a bitter disappointment when the gold proves false and things don’t go as predicted, which, of course, they rarely do because the market is in a constant state of flux and you never know when someone will suddenly come up with a brilliant innovation that no one could have foreseen and which turns out to be a complete game-changer.

The only real way to tackle future change is to embrace it and adapt – which I have always felt is easier said than done. But it has struck me recently that it’s much easier to feel excited about change when you have more freedom and control over how you respond to it. I recently founded a new literary agency, Skylark Literary, along with my old friend/now-business-partner, Joanna. It’s been everything you might expect a new business to be – exciting, inspiring, nerve-wracking – but we agree that the best bit is having the power to decide for ourselves how we react to whatever life throws at us.

We have the freedom to decide how (and even whether) we engage with changing events – and that’s a great feeling. Unexpected new developments and twists of fate are much more fun to deal with when you control the way you choose to respond. I think it’s harder to be so enthusiastic about what might come along unexpectedly if you’re working for somebody else and have a sizeable workload and constant deadlines – a situation that will probably sound familiar to most people working in publishing. Companies want staff to greet change with creativity and innovation. Everyone is looking for new ideas that will tip the balance in their favour – but creativity and innovation don’t just happen by magic. People need time and head-space to innovate. More often than not, great ideas come from bouncing around bad or barmy ideas which somehow turn into something brilliant during the bouncing. It’s hard when you’re busy and struggling to cope with your day-to-day workload to find the time and space to greet change with enthusiasm, let alone innovation.

The most successful companies, though, are the ones that somehow enable their teams to do just that. Often this tends to be smaller companies, which by their very nature can be more dynamic and agile in their responses to new ideas/opportunities – consider Nosy Crow’s brilliant and super-speedy response to the 2012 John Lewis Christmas advert: a hugely popular picture book. But larger companies too can be powerful innovators, provided that they value creativity and give their staff space in their schedules to brainstorm and be creative. All of us can enjoy change a great deal more when it isn’t ‘just one more penny on the pile’ of our workloads, but rather an exciting chance to discuss the opportunities that a new development in the industry offers up for our particular company or area of the market.

This might end up sounding like a call to everyone to start their own business – and I can certainly recommend that – but actually it’s more of a call for people to give more space and value to creativity. We rightly celebrate and support the wonderful creativity of our authors and that’s one thing that must never change, but all of us working in publishing need to be creative in our own ways – especially when dealing with new developments. Companies need to be willing to give their teams the freedom to innovate and to abandon old processes in order to give new ideas a chance.

Ultimately, the ability to embrace unpredictability is a more powerful tool than attempting to ‘predict the trends’. Creativity and flexibility are vital skills, but they are by no means easy to come by, and the more we appreciate that, the more we will be able to support and, crucially, enable those skills, so as to embrace change and enjoy the opportunities it brings. After all, as some wise person once pointed out – if nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.

Amber J Caravéo is the director of Skylark Literary.