Living in a Transparent World

Today, we live in a world of near-total transparency. Google, Wikipedia, and many other websites make it possible to check any fact almost instantaneously. As a leader, speaker, or author, you have to be particularly careful with your statistics. If you exaggerate the facts, you will be found out. And the results can be embarrassing—or worse.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell, Image #6975040

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

For example, we occasionally get proposals from authors who claim to have a blog that draws thousands of visitors. In fact, about a week ago, I had an agent claim that his client was “the most popular Christian blogger on the internet.” Perhaps he was just taking the author’s word for it. Maybe he was using hyperbole. Unfortunately, for him—and his client—this kind of claim can be easily checked.

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I immediately went to Compete.com and entered his blog address. I compared it with some of the top Christian bloggers I know, including several of our authors. (If you register with the website, they will allow you to compare up to five sites.) In less than 30 seconds, I had a pretty good idea of what his traffic was—at least, relative to the other bloggers—and that his claim was bogus. He was no where near having “the most popular Christian blog.” In fact, his traffic was unimpressive. The agent instantly discredited himself and his client with me.

Today, thanks to Bowker PubTrack and Nielsen BookScan, publishers can also verify sales on previous books. Most literary agents I have dealt with are honest, but a few still “round the numbers up”—some round them way up. This is just stupid. It is a very dangerous game.

Publishers can quickly figure out who is blowing smoke and who is not. The available information is not perfect, to be sure, but it is only going to get more accurate and readily accessible. Within the next year or two, publishers will know exactly what an author’s previous sales were. Since previous sales are a major variable in determining royalty advances, there will be fewer publishers suckered into overpaying for books because they don’t have access to the data.

I am using the publishing world as an example, because it is the one I am the most familiar with. This same phenomenon is occurring in almost every other field as well. People are not going to get away with embellishing the facts much longer. It’s just too easy to validate the claims.

So how do you survive in this brave new world of total transparency? Simple. Tell the truth. This means at least four things:

  1. Commit to total transparency. Because of technology, you don’t really have a choice. You might as well embrace it now; it’s a much easier way to live. You will never have to worry that someone is going to discover something about you that you don’t first reveal.
  2. Be the first to “air dirty laundry.” If you break the news, you control the story. For example, one of my authors was recently arrested. He made an honest mistake, and it could have happened to anyone. But he immediately blogged about it, and took the wind out of the media’s sails. No one could accuse him of covering it up, and the story quickly died.
  3. Understate the facts. Get in the habit of “rounding down.” Don’t inflate the numbers. If you say that you have 10,000 unique visitors a month, and the person double-checking your claim discovers that you actually have 10,970, your credibility goes up. The opposite is also true.
  4. Manage others’ expectations. The bigger the gap between what people expect and what they get, the bigger the WOW they experience. By the way, this is the dirty little secret of big royalty advances. I have seen many, many best-selling books be perceived by publishers as a failure simply because they paid the author more than the book recouped.

The truth is that this is how we should live with or without modern technology. This is the very essence of honesty—making our words line up with reality.

Question: Can you think of an example where someone was embarrassed because of how easy it was to double-check the facts? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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