Sifting Through Publishing Advice on the Internet

These days, it seems like everyone and her dog has an opinion about the best way to get your work from your desktop to your bookstore—and more often than not, none of those people seem to agree with each other! What’s a struggling writer to do? How do you sort out the diamonds from an Internet full of—well, coal? Here are a few tips that will help you navigate the uncharted seas:

1. Consider the source.

Some writers are just looking for folks who are struggling with the same issues, and find a sense of community to be the most helpful thing the Internet can offer them. If that describes you, look for a blog whose voice or personality resonates most strongly with your experience, and don’t worry about that person’s credentials. But if you’re seeking out nuts-and-bolts advice on the mechanics of querying, or how to deal with a frustrating editor, you’ll want to make sure you’re depending on a trustworthy source. What’s the blogger’s experience in the industry? How successful is she in her field? If you’re reading an agent blog, is that person established?  Or is he an intern or assistant who may not have much experience? Does the editor you’re following work with a well-respected press? Does the self-published writer seem to have a solid track record of sales? If you’re looking for general industry news, is the blog published by a reputable source—for example, an industry magazine or a major newspaper? These are all things you’ll want to take into consideration when you’re deciding which blogs are most useful to you.

2. Take ultimatums with a grain of salt.

One of the most frustrating—and serendipitous!—things about publishing is that there’s really no “right” way to do anything. While the basic etiquette rules of the professional world always apply, individual journeys toward publication may look completely different from one writer to the next. So if a blog you’re following insists there’s only one “right” way to, say, format a query, write a book, or break into the industry, think twice before taking that advice to heart. If you have your heart set on working with a particular agent, and he has very specific requirements outlined on his blog, you’ll absolutely want to follow them. Otherwise, look for a second opinion before you rewrite your entire query or throw out your pitch.

3. Follow blogs that dovetail with your interests.

Of course, you may follow some blogs simply because they’re entertaining, or because you enjoy being a part of a commenting community. But the blogs that are most pertinent to your career will probably be by agents, editors, or writers who have goals in common with your own. For example, if you’re looking at agent blogs, check out the agent’s client list—are her books similar to the one you’re writing? Agents who work specifically with genre fiction may have a different approach from agents who are more interested in literary fiction. Agents who represent mostly YA might offer different information than agents who primarily work with nonfiction. The same is true for editors and writers. While bloggers whose interests aren’t the same as yours might offer plenty of general useful information, you may want to depend more heavily on bloggers whose focus is the work you’re producing.

4. Have fun!

Spending time on the Internet should feel like a source of information and community—not a discouraging chore. If you can’t take in another debate on Courier versus Times New Roman, or you’re just feeling overwhelmed, take a break! Head outside for a walk, or turn your focus back to your writing. It might help you to limit your querying research to just before you’re actually ready to query, or to worry about what agents you’ll submit to only after you’ve finished your book. There’s no real need to keep abreast of every single trend in the industry, especially if it’s making you feel crazy instead of well-informed. If you’re like me, it’s easy to fall into the trap of spending all day on the Internet, only to realize you’ve completely forgotten about the thing that really counts—your book. So close that browser window, and get back to work!

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