Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Can We Know Too Much About the Publishing Industry?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If we want to have a career in writing, it’s a good idea to understand the publishing industry. There’s plenty of informative sites and publications out there to keep abreast of what’s popular, who’s working where, what authors and editors are doing, and which agent is selling what. Educating ourselves, prepares us for being a published author and helps us avoid mistakes along the way.

However, knowing too much can just as bad as not knowing anything. Reading articles on how your favorite genre is no longer selling might cause you to abandon your novel. Seeing stats on how many debut novels sold fewer than 500 copies last year can make you want to give up before you begin. Reading an interview with a first-time novelist who got a seven-figure deal can give you unrealistic expectations, and make you feel like a failure because you "only" got enough to pay off your mortgage.

The problem with having a world of information at our fingertips, is that we have a world of information at our fingertips.

This can cause different problems at different stages of our careers. Sometimes, it's better to stay a little ignorant. (Note: I’m not saying we should ignore educating ourselves about the industry—this is merely a discussion on when that industry focus hurts our work vs. helps it, and how we might manage that aspect in our careers).

The Brand-New Writer

Let’s face it—publishing can be a soul-crushing industry. When we’re just starting out, knowing the darker side of our life-long dream can put a serious damper on that dream. We don’t need to hear jaded complaints about publishers or horror stories about deals gone bad. We need to write the best novel we can, and hold on to that dream of being published to give us the strength to endure the difficulties that journey entails.

If the realities of the industry are hurting your creativity and learning process, maybe leave that door closed for now. You’ll have plenty of time for it later.

The Pre-Published Writer

When we’re -this close- to selling our novel, it’s easy to be swayed by what’s going on in the publishing industry and change what we’re doing to suit someone else’s needs. After a rejection, we tell ourselves if we just added a love triangle we’d sell it. If we just switched it to first person instead of third person it would catch an agent’s eye. We might compromise our stories and not write with our usual passion, because we’re more interested in selling “a” novel than writing our novel.

If knowing too much about the trends and recent sales are making you change who you are as a writer, try scaling back how much you research or follow. It’s okay to only know your market and genre, who handles it, or who the big sellers are, and don’t delve so deep you lose yourself.

The Debut Author

For some writers, this is when we actually start paying attention to the industry and try to learn as much as we can. We’re in it now, and it’s an exciting time in our lives. We want to know how bestseller lists work, who’s reviewing our book, where it’s selling, which books it’s up against, etc. All good things to know, but the constant checking to see how we’re doing and how we stack up against others can derail our writing and keep us from working on the next book—which is where our focus needs to be, especially if we have another book under contract. Sometimes, the more we know, the scarier it gets until we find we can’t write anything at all.

If knowing all the things that can go wrong (or right) with your debut novel is making it impossible for you to write the next novel, then take a step back and keep up only with what you need to know to do your job.

The No Longer New, But Hasn’t Hit it Big Yet Author

We all want to see our names on a bestseller list, but that’s a small list and there are a lot of books in the world. There’s comfort in knowing most of us are in the same boat, but it’s also a terrifying time that can block our writing and sabotage our creativity. We might fall back into pre-published habits of trying to write what we think the market wants, tossing aside half-finished novels for the promise of something new that might hit it big. We know not to compare ourselves to other writers, but we do it anyway, and are envious of friends who are doing well (even when we’re delighted for them). A random author’s success can even sap our energy and keep us from writing, wondering, “why can’t that be me?”

If the outside publishing world is making you wish you never published in the first place, shut it all out and focus on what you love about this job. The writing. That’s the only thing you can control, and you don’t have to worry about the rest.

It can be a tough line to walk, but finding a happy balance between education and blissful ignorance can also give us a happy writing life.

What do you think? How much do you want to know about the publishing industry? Has knowing too much every hurt you?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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  1. Oh you're so right about knowing too much.

    I'm a chronic over-researcher. I thrive on splitting hairs and digging deep. But when I do that about publishing I find it becomes like a fata morgana in the desert: The more I stare, the murkier it gets, and the more I try to reach it, the farther it slips into the distance — all the while I get more and more exhausted and thirsty, until I find I can barely walk anymore.
    And I completely forget about the bottle of water in my backpack.

    The publishing industry — especially the ever-changing self-publishing area — is very tempting and rich with informationg. And it can completely derail your efforts.

  2. I agree, Janet. I believe we've created a world of writer wannabe's, meaning they enjoy reading about HOW to publish, and what's going on in the industry, instead of writing. And the crazy thing is they blame what's going on in the industry for not writing. Too much information can be a crippling thing, IMHO. Some days I have to turn it all off and just write, to remind myself why I started in the first place.

    Thanks for your posts! They're always on target. Just completed your book, Planning Your Novel, and it's very practical. I'm using it for my current WIP.

    1. Thanks! Glad it's helping.

      A great point about how the industry can distract new writers from writing. It can hit them even harder than the typical writer.

  3. I like your advice to shut out the world and focus on fun.
    As well as that great piece of advice...
    Two things helped me...
    -self-publishing. Self-publishing helped me understand what is involved in publishing and marketing a book. This helped me see that they're is no me versus them, but rather that we are all a team working toward a goal.
    -changing my mind set: I now see building my author career as a journey rather than a race.
    Why haven't I reached that goal, yet?
    Simply because I'm still journeying down that road.

    1. Good tips. People often call publishing a marathon vs a race, for the reasons you mentioned. It's a "long haul" kinda industry.

  4. What a wonderful article. Thank you. This is very timely for me as a no longer new but hasn't made it big yet.

    1. Most welcome. That's a tough spot to be in, I know, so hang in there :) I've found turning off the world and just focusing in the writing helps a lot.

  5. Definitely advice I should take! Right now it feels like I'm throwing everything I have out there in the hopes that something will stick.

    1. And that can be frustrating (or liberating, too I guess). My husband keeps me grounded and reminds me to write the books I want to write, and forget about an audience of two (agent/editor). Feel good about your own work and it'll show.

  6. As I understand it, the traditional publishing business model is very different from that of the self- or indie-publishing model. The former depends on the occasional mega success story to fund all the risks and costs of publishing the others; they can't afford to devote ongoing time and energy to market the mid-list + unsuccessful (in the public eye). The self/indie model is a longer term one, where you aren't working towards a startling overnight success, but trying to earn it step by step over many years.

    1. That's a pretty good overview. This was written with traditional publishing in mind, but it's due for an update to include indie. That's a different path, and anyone choosing to go indie NEEDS to know how that side of the business works.

      In days past, the midlist used to be a publisher's bread and butter. Not so much these days.