It’s entirely possible that what you know about the publishing industry is killing your chances of being published.
I’m not referring to perky and/or snarky agents* who tease you forward with a one-in-a-thousand opportunity they call “querying,” or clueless editors* who wouldn’t know brilliant literature if it bit them in the Franzen. I’m not talking about the endless hoops writers have to jump through whether chasing the graying hope of traditional publishing success or the shiny silver promise of self-published glory. I’m not talking about the dearth of bookstores or the preponderance of ebooks or the utter unpredictability of bestsellers.
I’m talking about the thing that lies beneath all these other things.
I’m talking about information.
It’s ancient news that technology and the Internet Age (social media in particular) have changed and are still changing the publishing game. Not long ago the industry was the privileged child of Monopoly and Aggravation. Now it’s the bastard son of Hungry, Hungry Hippos and Trivial Pursuit. Imperfect board game analogy aside, the biggest difference between then and now is what we know (or can know, provided we have great web-surfing skills).
Logic seems to tilt in a writer’s favor here: Information leads to knowledge. Knowledge leads to power. Ergo, writers who know lots of stuff are powerful.
Yes. We know more. Lots more. We know who stirs the waters and who tries to still them. We know where to find writing advice that makes a difference. We know what it takes to self-publish a book. We know the kinds of bribes agents definitely can’t accept because that would be unethical but as long as you brought that bottle of wine to the conference, sure, I’ll take it.
We know a lot because most of what there is to know is available on the Internet. But knowledge alone isn’t enough. What knowledge really affords us is opportunity. Power comes from knowing how to take advantage of that opportunity.
And don’t forget that with opportunity comes responsibility. Try querying an agent without first studying her query guidelines and see what happens. (No. Don’t. I hate to see a writer cry.)
And no. When everyone has access to the same information, none of us is more powerful than the next. In many ways, it’s even harder to get noticed, now that everyone with a computer, an iPad, a smart phone, or a heartbeat thinks he can write a novel.
About that novel…
Did you forget about your novel? You’re not alone. Most writers I know struggle to stay focused on their story, and it’s not just external distractions (children, spouses, Kardashians) that have them wedged between the rock of industry knowledge and the hard place of writing.
The abundance of publishing information (and easy access to it) may well be the number one cause of writer’s block. When writers should be listening to the protagonist’s plea for conflict, instead they’re worrying about whether or not the book is marketable. Or they’re praying for the perfect agent. Or they’re suffering the metaphorical flop-sweat of query-fear.
But there’s an easy solution. Right? All you need is one of those writing programs that can go full-screen with the click of a button. Or a legal pad and a pen. And maybe a writing spot without Internet access.
Apart from all that you know (and don’t yet know) about the publishing industry. You know a lot, remember?
This isn’t going to get easier. The publishing industry is shedding more and more of its clothes every day. It’s all there for everyone to see. Not quite naked, but still NSFW. And once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it.
Except that to write well, that’s exactly what you must do.
The publishing industry needs to go away while you write.
Maybe you write in short bursts between games of solitaire. Maybe you prefer day-long marathons. Whatever your mechanics, you must not let the publishing industry intrude on the mystery of storytelling. While you write, the industry no longer exists. It’s just you and your characters and all the things they do.
When you’re not writing (I don’t mean in the pause between sentences), go crazy on the Internet. Read the agent blogs, the writer blogs, the industry blogs. Surf and search and study and worry all you want. Become powerful.
But when you’re writing? Let it go.
Your characters have no idea there is such a thing as a publishing industry. Don’t screw up their story by distracting them with it.
*I actually have lots of love for agents and editors. This was just me playing with a popular notion for the sake of an interesting sentence.