Thursday, February 5, 2009

What American Idol Teaches About the Publishing World

I admit it. I enjoy American Idol.

Permit me a few kilobytes to explain why.
  • Take 100,000 wanna be singers.
  • Narrow them down to the 150 that make it past Simon, Kara, Paula, and Randy.
  • Chose 36 from Hollywood week and stick them in front of America.
  • We choose the winner.
Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of publishing.
  • 100,000 manuscripts.
  • 150 make it past the editors at the publishing house.
  • The pub board chooses to publish thirty-six of them.
  • The buying public decides if the book is a winner.
I like A.I. because of the parallels between it and the world of publishing.

Yes, it's as tough to get published as it is to get a shot on American Idol.

Now some good news:
Most people give up.
Simon tells singers that aren't quite ready, to practice their craft on the small circuit, pay their dues, work their way up. Most don't listen. They want stardom immediately, and when they don't achieve it, they give up on their dream.

Same thing with writers. A few rejections and they hang up their laptop. Don't. Work at your craft. Get feedback. Read blogs. Study books on writing. Join a critique group. Then come back and try out again.

Editors and agents WANT you to succeed.
American Idol wants to find the next great artist. So do agents and editors. They're not against you. They're for you and your success. Truly.

If you've never been to a conference, you'll scuttle away from Florida saying, "Wow, they're really nice people." They are. No fangs on any of them, I guarantee. They're approachable and kind. (But don't pitch your idea as you stand next to them at the urinal, as one writer did with my agent. No, I’m not kidding.)

You'll hear the truth—listen to it.
Agents and editors are not out to waste your time or theirs. While some might placate you because they don't want to hurt your feelings, the vast majority will tell you the truth about your writing. Listen to them. They know what they're talking about.

Many singers on A.I. fight against the judge's comments. "You don't know nuthin. You don't know good singers!"

Uh, Simon & co. know talent. Halfway through season four, Simon said Carrie Underwood would outsell all the other American Idol winners. Bingo.

Agents and editors know talent too. When you get feedback from them, especially at a top tier venue like the Florida Christian Writers Conference, listen. Apply their counsel. You'll see a quantum leap forward in your writing.
That's more than a few kilobytes so let's wrap up.

If you're a fan--and even if you're not--I'd love to hear other parallels you see between American Idol and the publishing world.

And no, Billie hasn't invited any Cowell-like editors or agents to the conference. (I hope.)

Jim & Laura

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  1. I think the parallel might be that there is the slim chance that someone's dream of being published just might come true just as the Idol contestants dream of that record contract.

    I am a fan of American Idol. Sometimes I cringe when I hear critique that sounds too hard, yet I also know after many years of paying my dues that you have to be tenacious and persevering to endure in the field of writing. I saw many people come and go in our critique group because they didn't want any changes to their writing or got their feeling hurt too easily. But the core group who were my mentors remained consistent and I was grateful to have such a wonderful and educated group to learn from.

  2. Donna,

    After I attended my first writers' conference, five of us who'd met at the conference decided to form a critique group. Even though we were at all different levels as writers, we loved and encouraged one another, learned together, and treated one another as equals in respect to writing. At least, I assumed we did.

    I was talking with the husband of a woman who'd attended our group for about a year, and he told me she hasn't written since she left our group. "She's ultra-sensitive," he said. "She just couldn't take the critique of her work, and she gave up on writing altogether."

    It saddened me to learn that, because we were so gentle with one another.

    His announcement reinforced to me that if we're really serious about writing, we have to develop lizard skin. We have to not only expect constructive (and not-so-constructive) criticism, but we must learn to thrive on it...criticism must motivate us to strive to do better.

    Laura Christianson

  3. Great post, Jim! I totally agree with your AI conclusions!

  4. I appreciate your comparison of AI and publishing. So true. "Agents and editors really do want us writers to succeed." "Agents and editors really do want us writers to succeed." My new mantra. Thanks, Jim.


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