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 revising or planning your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions!
Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where 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, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She is also a contributor at Pub(lishing) Crawl, and Writers in the Storm.
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