Sometimes when I hear certain statements spoken, what I understand is probably different than what was intended by the other person. I do a quick translation in my head, based on experience.
For instance, whenever someone says to me, “It’s just business,” I prepare myself to be cheated, lied-to and taken advantage of. “It’s just business” is a disclaimer intended to make one party feel better about their bad behavior. In my opinion.
Whenever someone says “It’s not about the money,” it is about the money.
In book publishing circles, the most common mis-communicated phrase has to be, “It’s not personal.”
Of course it’s personal.
It was your manuscript rejected and your platform not big enough. Your blood, sweat, tears and time. It was about you and no one can talk you out of it. It hurts deeply.
At this point, I am not going to give you a “There, there, keep your chin up,” message or attempt to convince you it is not personal. Of course it is.
Sometimes, but not always, when a publisher or agent declines a proposal for lack of a marketing platform it is simply their less-personal way of saying, “I didn’t like the writing.” Blaming the platform is more objective than subjective and therefore, less personal.
Most of the time it is lack of platform. You can’t deny you only have 124 Facebook connections and the agent or publisher is looking for 124,000. But writing quality could be argued and be made personal, so we’ll use the platform reason to decline.
To be clear, great writing of a great concept will sometimes be published without a sufficient platform behind it. Those exceptions make this situation even more complicated.
Let me explain it a little and try to calm that throbbing pain in your head.
A common weakness of writers everywhere is an acute lack of understanding that they are in a highly competitive environment and it is getting more competitive every day.
While writing is a solitary pursuit, getting a book published successfully is anything but solitary. Even the most experienced authors have no real sense that their book is swimming in a virtual sea of other books.
At one point in publishing history (less than ten years ago), it was a competition simply to be published. There were twenty times the number of aspiring authors than the number of books published and there was nothing you could do about it.
Now with indie publishing, being published is something anyone can simply decide to do. With more titles published directly by authors than by traditional publishers, the competition shifts to a thing called “discoverability.” There are so many books available for readers there are now twice as many options for readers than ever before, making the battle for attention even more competitive.
Understanding competition in the publishing process is the most important issue for authors. How well you write, what you write about, how you organize your work, how you position yourself in your platform…everything you do will be evaluated in competition with something or someone else.
Your great idea might be someone else’ idea as well and maybe they might write faster and better than you.
Even agents feel the competition. At one time or another, every agent has been blindsided when they pitch what they believe to be a unique and strong proposal to publishers only to be declined because the editors say, “I’ve got seven more just like it on my desk.”
Pick a subject and there are multiple new books on that subject, covering it from a variety of angles, maybe slightly different than yours, but still similar in the eyes of an agent, a publisher and yes, a reader.
Did you ever play a board game for fun with a group and realize one or more of the others playing was treating it like a death-match?
“Hey, come on, it’s just Chutes and Ladders. Relax.”
That’s publishing. You have an idea, you are inspired to develop it. Everyone is encouraging and you press on. You are energized, happy and enjoying yourself. It is fun.
But when it leaves your hand (or computer), every step along the way the book is evaluated against competition. There is friction at every turn. There are critical “chutes” and literary “ladders” to climb and the fun just left the game.
An avid book reader will read about 5-10 books per year. So, of the 700,000 new books published by traditional and indie methods each year in the U.S. alone, you are hoping you are the one in 100,000 that an avid book reader will notice. For the mega-reader of 50-100 books per year, your odds of being read improve to one in 10,000.
And that doesn’t count the millions of books already published.
Spending time at a casino is starting to look like a better way to make a living.
But “published author” looks better on your social media profile than “competitive gambler.”