Too Much Information

Standard

The good thing about living the Age of Information is there’s a lot of information readily available. The bad thing is there’s a lot of information readily available. I find myself wedged between my thirst for knowledge relating to writing/publishing on one side and the overwhelming sense that my brain is about to explode on the other.  In the last week alone, I bought three writing magazines filled with helpful articles covering writing tips, reference sources for agents, publication listings, websites, submission checklists, and advice from bestselling novelists. I’m soaking it all up like a dry shammy, but I’m fairly certain all the pieces of information I highlighted in purple are going to get lost in the shuffle.

Information Overload!

I always feel like I’m on a steep learning curve because I haven’t been published (beyond a little blip in the local newspaper) and I think a lot of other unpublished writers feel the same way.  We are constantly researching the industry and trying to figure out how it all works – knowledge is power, right? However, I can’t help but question how much is too much.  There are a million books out there with a tried-and-true methods of writing a novel, magazines that come out every month with loads of do’s and don’ts, and websites that teach everything from writing query letters to crafting the perfect sentence.  When do we stop listening to what everyone else says and start relying on our own instincts?  I’m torn between wanting to follow the rules in order to be a publisher pleaser and wanting to break every single rule in the name of creativity.

Agents are looking for fresh voices and strong writing that stands out above the rest, but there is also a strict code of rules when it comes to the format of query letters, synopses, and manuscripts. The most frustrating part of it all is that some of these rules are infuriatingly vague. Each agent is looking for something different, but they all speak the same secret language.  Now, I say this as an outsider looking in and perhaps this reflects my naïveté concerning the whole process.  There’s also the fact that I’ve been staring at a blank page for months every time I sit down to write a synopsis. Even after reading multiple how-to articles and books, I still have no idea how to tackle this mountain.

As with most things in life, balance is the key.  Information gleaned from other people will help, but only to a certain level.  The rest has to come from me, which means I have to start making decisions on what pieces of advice I will follow and those I will ignore in favor of my own ideas.  In coming to this conclusion, I realize it’s not what I know that gets my foot in the publishing door, it’s the chances I’m willing to take to get my work noticed.

– – –

c.b. 2012

38 thoughts on “Too Much Information

  1. True words – very true. Decisions have to be made – and listening to your gut is probably the best way to do this (in any case your head is exploding – so giving it a rest might be a good idea).
    The thing that always gave me the sh**s was how much of the advice was conflicting.
    Best of luck which ever way you go, and let us know how it pans out.

    Like

    • Thanks for wishes of luck – one can never get enough of that! 🙂

      At the moment, I put the magazines aside in favor of doing some actual writing and it definitely calmed my nerves. I can’t let the information overload get in the way of my muses voice. 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      Like

  2. “I realize it’s not what I know that gets my foot in the publishing door, it’s the chances I’m willing to take to get my work noticed.” <— I LOVE this line. And I must agree with you on this too. I'm in the querying world and it's scary. (No nibbles on the fishing line just yet, but we'll see. I've only cast out 5 times so far.) What I have done for my query letter was create a standard, run-of-the-mill, textbook-style one based on my story. Then I tweak it appropriately for each agent I send it to. Some agents want special questions answered (my favorite so far has been "If I were talking to your character, what would he or she say to me that would make me want to represent them?"). Some agents want to see the letter in a particular format. It seems like a majority of agents with websites will tell you in their guidelines what they expect to see. If that agent has a blog, check it out! Chances are there will be information about query letters and/or their own personal guidelines or pet peeves. It might also give you a better idea whether or not the agent you are looking at is potentially right for your work. What it boils down to is what you've already figured out: do your best to learn a little about the industry, but when it comes down to it you'll be learning along the way no matter what and you have to do it your way or it won't seem come across as an authentic voice. I believe in you!!!!!

    Like

    • Thanks for all the great advice and words of wisdom!

      I’ve got a base letter as well, but it is very tricky to make it fit a particular agent. I have an entire folder on my desktop filled with agent websites and whenever I have a few minutes I check them out. There’s a learning curve for every step of the way!

      Thanks for reading . . . and for believing in me. 🙂

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    • I hope I can fill that spot with a really good book! 🙂

      Yes, it is overwhelming, but writing about has made it much easier to handle. It’s amazing how much relief a little venting can bring!

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      Like

  3. I love that last line too and it applies to so many aspects of writing and life, for that matter.
    Learn what you can and then make a decision on that knowledge and your intuition and stick with it.

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    • That’s my philosophy as a teacher and now as a writer. That realization has been nothing short of empowering. I think that’s partially why I’ve been so motivated. For the first time, I believe in trying and taking chances.

      Like

  4. The overload of information can be daunting, and as you said, it can leave you questioning whether following the rules is the way to go, or if boldly ignoring them is the only chance you have of getting your work noticed. All that time we spend learning about the craft of writing is time spent AWAY from writing, and makes me wonder if I haven’t become some sort of professional reader instead. Good post, and thanks for sharing your ideas.

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    • You make a point that is on my mind quite a bit. Every time I sit down to research agents, synopsis formats, or about a million other things, a little voice in the back of my head tells me I should be writing instead. At the same time, I know the groundwork has to be done so I bite the bullet and promise myself I’ll write as soon as the research is done. It’s like a little reward system. 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading!

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  5. That last line does indeed say it all. We have to be thick skinned and ready to be ignored by just about everyone. Then we might get a sniff at the back door of some office willing to read our work. Good luck with it all. Do it now! Send it out. Then all you have to do is wait. 🙂

    Jim

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    • Ignored with rejection to boot. 😉 Last night I found a literary magazine that might be a good fit for one of my short stories – I’m going to send it in! And wait (that part is so hard!).

      Thanks so much for reading! 🙂

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  6. I think you’ve hit the nail very concisely on the head there. One of the issues I’ve found (certainly in the UK) is that there is such a difference of requirements. Some agents want a 2 page synopsis, others want ‘a VERY brief synopsis’. What qualifies as a VERY brief synopsis though? A paragraph? Two? It’s very frustrating. Add into the mix that it’s a very subjective industry that moves (who’s to say that something accepted today wouldn’t have been rejected 12 months ago) quickly and you have a nightmare for new authors. I guess this is why so many are now moving onto self publication.

    As far as the synopsis goes, when I struggled with mine she suggested I write it in the first person to start off with, and while I knew I couldn’t send it off like that (unless the book is written in the first person) it really did help me get my head around what was happening to the lead character and from that sprang the synopsis I submitted to agencies. It’s no mean feat to compress 300+ pages into a couple and capture every significant event though.

    And yes, the problem is too much information, as much as the Internet is a boon it’s also a curse. You can look on two different sites that give advice to authors and get conflicting advice in much the same way you could probably get two different people telling you how to change a chapter/paragraph etc……

    Good Luck!

    Like

    • The “brief synopsis” conundrum has been an issue for me, too! It’s hard to know what to send when requirements are so sometimes so vague.

      Thanks so much for the advice about using first person. I never thought to do that before and I’m going to try it. 🙂

      So much of this is sending the right thing to the right person at the right time. It’s a game of chance where luck and fate intertwine.

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  7. Information overload is right! I’ve been reading and attending workshops, seminars, webinars, and conferences for 5 plus years trying to get things “in order”. I have realized there are repeats, so I guess that’s good that I’m remembering what I’ve read! The hardest part is going from taking in the ideas/suggestions, and actually doing something with them. I find that most of the information available is directed at nonfiction. And with the publishing industry changing with the use of ebooks and more authors self-publishing, I think those who offer “the way things have always been” will be left in the dust. Perhaps a way to go about utilizing what you’ve read/learned is to tackle one small aspect at a time. Facebook. Then Twitter. Perhaps contact people about reviewing your book. Send out those letters to editors and agents (if you’re going the traditional route). If you try to do it all at once, it will be overwhelming and nothing will get done. Good Luck!

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    • So true . . . like all things, one thing at a time is always best. 🙂 As is taking all advice with a grain of salt. There is no right or wrong way to do things if you are being true to yourself as a writer. Even if I don’t break into the industry, I can say I did things honestly and I didn’t sell out.

      I admire self-publishers so much as it’s not an easy task. It’s a tough market out there, even with so many options available.

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    • Lol! I used that phrase because the old cliche of a “soaking it up like a sponge” wasn’t strong enough. Shammy’s can soak up 10 times as much as a sponge! That’s the kind of capacity I needed! 😉

      Thanks for the positive thoughts . . . that always means so much to me. Patience and trust are two very important things to remember in order stay grounded. Thanks for the reminder!

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    • That’s very true. 🙂 Sometimes I’m tempted to see just what the writers of these books have published in order to be considered an “expert.” Most of probably legitimate, but others are pretty questionable. 😉

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  8. Gosh, thanks so much for posting this. I have read some, but not tons of books and websites on how to do this and that in the publishing world, and I get lost in what I should or shouldn’t do. I’ve spent the last two years working on query letters, or thinking about them, only to have sent off only one, to one agent. And like you said, we are outside looking in. Maybe it will make sense once we get in. keep your chin up. (psst, I’m trying to as well) I think we all feel like we are floundering alone.

    Best of luck on the synopsis. I’m still trying to figure out how to do them as well, along with a catchy ‘hook’ in the query letter.

    Like

    • We are definitely not alone and its always nice to feel the company of others who are on the same journey. 🙂

      I’ve got about four different hooks for my query and I figure I’ll decide which one to use depending on the agent. The other trick is figuring out where to put it in the letter – some agents like it first, other like it at the end, and some don’t like it all. Ahhhh! Wait, I have to step back and keep my chin up. 🙂

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  9. I think your last line sums up the challenge beautifully. At some point, all the “how to’s” become just another obstacle to finding your way. As one of your commenters said, I also have an empty place on my bookshelf for your novel, and I know it’s going to be there!

    Like

  10. Too much…wayyyyyy. Scares the boogers out of me–enough to turn me catatonic. When i was published in the 80s, i never had a rejection by agent or publisher until the outline for the 3rd book. Makes it all that much tougher to contemplate now….
    -lynn

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    • I think part of the confusion lies in the fact that the industry is changing so quickly. Publishing houses have a certain way of doing things and e-books turning everything on its head. The market is flooded and no one is certain on what the book industry is going to look like 10 years from now. All the old rules are out the window and I’m starting to wonder if there are any new ones worth following.

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  11. C.B., this is a good post and what I like most about it is your sincerity. I expect some of that purple underline suggests putting your story, chapter, poem in the drawer for a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes. I say put the publisher in the drawer and lock it and forget where you put the key for a while and “break every single rule in the name of creativity.” Let your story live it’s life, give your voice free reign. . . Play. And, you don’t need these words cause you already know it.

    Sometimes I need words and Pablo Picasso said a few I like:

    “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. ”
    -Pablo Picasso

    For what it’s worth, write your work, first.

    Here’s my disclaimer: When I was well enough to write a sentence again, a poet friend sent me a box of prompts. I said, “But it’s all chaos.” She said, “Then write chaos.” Those words set me free to write my first poem after three long years of silence.

    Thank you, C.B., for remindng me.

    Like

    • I have indeed, put my novel in the drawer. It’s been a good two months since I’ve looked at it, but I think its the right thing to do while I figure out the game. Meanwhile, I’m writing like a lunatic and letting my imagination go nuts!

      I love that Picasso quote – thank you for reminding me of something so powerful! Like you, I gravitate towards chaos, always curious of what will come out of it. 🙂

      Thank you so much for reading!

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  12. Very wise post! You are right that eventually you just have to choose an approach and go with it. I also find that the longer I’ve “been around” so to speak, the more information I can set aside because I’ve already learned as much as I can about it (or all that I want to learn about it). I’ve also learned to weed out things that might apply to me in the future, but don’t now – like novel-writing tips. I trust all the information will be there once I’m ready to start writing a novel. Since I’m not writing one at the moment, I can safely skip over it…

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    • You make such a good point about sorting what is useful and what is not, depending on the project. I’ve been able to safely put any non-fiction writing tips in the “do not need” pile. 🙂

      The process is a long one, but as Michele said in her comment, handling one thing at a time makes it all so much easier. 🙂 Now if I could just remember that!

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  13. I think there is such a thing as trying too hard, sometimes you just have to rely on yourself to stand out from the rest. The time you waste trying to be the best isn’t what will get you noticed. Trust your work… confidence has a funny way of speaking for itself.

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    • That’s true. I think the hard worker in me always wants to do my “job” correctly and that naturally carries over to the business side of writing. I like knowing the rules just as much as I like breaking the rules in a creative sense. 🙂

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  14. A friend of mine is working on a novel, and we talk often about “writing” vs. “the business of writing.” It’s a difficult thing to find a balance between the two – especially when “the business” part feels so much more contrived than the natural flow of what we are supposed to be doing: WRITING.

    Like

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