Too much information

If you have ambitions to be a novelist, you need every shred of advice and information you can possibly lay your sticky mitts on, don’t you?

book-2869_1280When you’re trying to figure out about structure and plotting, or how to write a killer opening paragraph or a compelling protagonist, there are myriad sources to go to for help – on the internet, in paperbacks, pdf’s and e-books and of course, all those training courses and seminars I wrote about here.

Ready to launch your manuscript on an unsuspecting literary world, you might want to know how to hook an agent. If you’re a detail person, like me, you’ll want to know what font-size and margins you should choose for your sample, exactly how many paragraphs your query letter should have, what pushes agents’ buttons and what pips them off. There are seminars, dozens of websites and a gazillion blog posts from writers who have hooked their agent and writers who haven’t, and jaded agents who have tired of their expectations not being met. You’ll need to know how to pen the perfect synopsis too; precisely how many words should it have, what you should leave in and what you must take out – and here again there are courses and seminars and a whole slew of paper and web-based pointers to plough through.

Then, when like me, you finally acknowledge that ‘it could be you’ is a lottery slogan, not a promise of literary recognition and riches, you’ll be ready to learn about self-publishing. And here, the volume of advice and information surges skyward like the Himalayas.

It’s fantastic to have so much help and information to draw from, isn’t it? It’s brilliant!

But then again…

Last weekend, embarking on the latest leg of my writer’s journey, I read no less than three e-books on self-publishing, multiple pages on Amazon’s website and in their downloads about e-publishing on Kindle, and an e-book on turning your writing into a business (I have mixed feelings about this incidentally – for another time).

At the end of my marathon, my bum had created a sink-hole in the sofa and my brain was… fried. I had to go and lie down in a dark room with some wind chimes. And a brandy.

I read once that a person alive in the Middle Ages would, in their entire lifetime, need to process about as much information as is found today in an average daily newspaper. I processed twenty times that amount in one weekend. And I’m dazed and confused.

I went into this writing lark because… I wanted to write. I’ve learned some important skills over recent years and now I want to use what I’ve learned to write some more. But in the meantime, unless I simply want to fill my bottom-drawer with unseen manuscripts, I know I need to get a handle on the business of writing.

Over coming weeks, I’ll go back through what I read with a notepad at my side. I’ll filter what I need, and extract useful take-aways from the glut of information and advice.

I don’t want to be negative, because it’s great that we can so readily access so many remarkable sources of help, enabling us to expand our skillset, get a head-start or avoid pitfalls. The writing community is a particularly encouraging and supportive one and that’s part of the joy of writing. And great deal of advice and learning is coherent, wise and worthwhile. And I want to take it, make use of it and be a better and more successful writer as a result. But sometimes it all just feels like…. too much brain-fodder.

I wonder, does the glut of helpful advice and information make you feel like a kid in a candy factory, or, like me, does it sometimes make you feel just a little bit overwhelmed?

18 thoughts on “Too much information

  1. I feel overwhelmed sometimes for a different reason which I talk about in my blog post for Monday so I won’t go into it here, but I agree, there is a lot of info out there. I haven’t self-published yet, and as of now, I’m still thinking small press for my second book, but if I do consider self-publishing, I suspect I’ll be experiencing the same head-swimming as you. I guess we just absorb it in pieces and keep revisiting the material. 🙂

    1. I look forward to your Monday post. My head is still swimming, but at least I know what direction I’m going in now. Meanwhile, I’m still finding things I want to edit out of my manuscript!

  2. I agree about the overwhelm! For me it has become almost a daily feeling as I have this need to research, research, research, and yet at the end of the day my brain is too full and I can’t sort out one thing from another.
    Love your blog – always informative and entertaining!

    1. Thank you! I have without a doubt spent too long on learning and research at some points in my ‘writer’s journey’ – most notably when I disappeared up my own behind in pursuit of the perfect synopsis! I’d like to think I learned from this experience – learned to let-go a bit. But self-publishing is a big new area, and it’s very fast-moving too. So advice from people who have figured out what works and can help you avoid pitfalls is very useful. But as always, there’s a limit to how much one can take in. In the end, you have to just go and DO. Great to hear from you. x

  3. Oh how I agree – and much of the time you’re reading the same thing over and over again. Sometimes it feels as if everyone who has written a book has decided to tell me how to write mine, to plot it, structure it, develop its characters … and then market it through twitter and facebook and … STOP

    I’ve learned a lot – and I’m sure all of it is useful in its own way. But now I just want to put all that knowledge to use and just write. After all, that’s the really fun bit.

    1. Time to step away from the advice and….. write! Yes, there comes a time when you’re reading the same things over again, and it has to just stop. 🙂

  4. Think back to when you first learned to drive. That moment, just after being shown the controls, when the instructor tells you to move off. That combination of terror, confusion and excitement. That’s where you are with self-publishing.
    Take things one step at a time. The good news about self-publishing is that if you make a mistake, you can correct it. If something doesn’t work, you can change it. God knows I’ve made a fair few of my own but thankfully I’ve come out of it relatively unscathed.
    Unless you are lottery winner lucky, your first book will not be a roaring success straight-away. Publish it the best you can and then spend the majority of your time working on your next. Play around with how to market your book and how it is set-up on Amazon by all means (and I know you have the skills to do this) but always focus on the next book. Most of all…

    1. Oh Dylan! The voice of good sense and reason and my role model for that next terrifying and confusing venture into self-publishing. I thank you. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. There is so much information out there. I started self-publishing back in 2011 and was pretty overwhelmed at the time. I read every how-to and self-help article and found myself trying to do everything I possibly could to market my novel. But, what I didn’t realize (right away) was that I was spending a lot of time NOT WRITING! 😀 It’s easily done. Three years later, I’ve learned what works best in terms of marketing and social media and I focus my energies where I get the best return and where I feel I’m making positive contributions to the community of writers. What you’ll eventually learn is that writing the book is the easy part. It’s all the other stuff that’s the real work. Good luck!

    1. Yes, I’m hearing that all over the place. I only hope I can filter enough of the real-life experiences to to avoid some of the pitfalls. The key does seem to be, don’t forget to keep on writing!

  6. Like Dylan, my sense (at this late point in my life) is that one can’t micromanage every single new step one is about to take, and that you should learn just enough to know how to turn over the big stuff to a pro recommended by people you trust. And if that turns out to not work as well as you had hoped, you’ll learn from your mistakes. Thus, in publishing one’s own book, you still own the book — and can publish it all over again once you’ve got a better idea of how to do it.

    Although I’m not at the point of having a whole book I’m happy with, so cannot personally contemplate self- or any other kind of publishing yet, I think if I were the author of Singled Out, I would put the e-books away at this point and forget about notes. Armed by the reading with some general opening questions , I’d go ask people you know what has worked for them, and then start checking out those leads. Here in the United States, several acquaintances have self-published memoirs with i-Universe, with gratifying results. One book is in a second edition, offered by i-Universe without charge based on its track record through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I don’t know if i-Universe works with clients in the UK, but if not there must be comparable organizations that your colleagues have explored — and you don’t have to commit if you make exploratory contact with them. Of course, once you’ve signed a contract and have a published “product,” it will be up to you to chat it up, give readings, etc. But I understand that i-Universe — and probably other companies too — help out with counsel and materials to distribute in libraries and booksellers.

    Of course, advice is cheap…. In the end, Julie, I’m confident you’ll make a good decision by trusting your own good sense.

    1. What you say is very interesting. I don’t imagine I can micro-manage the process, but I do think I can probably do most of it myself, given computer literacy, a background in marketing and a generally systematic mind. I’m not afraid of it anyway. This part of the journey for me was about finding out as much as I could, to pull out the key/important things and hopefully do them in the right order. I’m certain to make mistakes but if there are some I can avoid by reading about the experiences of others, then that seems like a good thing. I just think I tried to digest too much at once!

      I’m struggling through a final final final edit of Singled Out. I know it’s the final final final one as I’m deleting things and then putting them back in again. I plan to finish editing in the next couple of weeks. I’m taking the (bold) step of not hiring an editor for this book. I’ve been through and through it so many times, aided by a mentor and several beta readers. This, I am prepared to acknowledge, might be an error. But it is one I’m making with my eyes wide open.

      So I’m beginning to get my head around the self-publishing process, with my eye on publishing in January next year. I’m inclined to keep it simple and go for Kindle e-book for starters, followed by a print-on-demand via CreateSpace/Amazon. That seems to be a well-trodden path and I see no reason to venture into the undergrowth. iUniverse is one way to go, but I think for now, I’m going to proceed solo.

      1. Wow, Julie! You’re amazing! I didn’t realize you were already thinking in such a focussed manner, and with such confidence about a book I’ll actually be able to read in just three months! I feel wilted and little-woman helpless in the face of such confidence and (to me) courage.

        I do have just one suggestion, though. I met an American woman, an early-retired academic, at a literary party in New York last fall who was about to do what you will be doing, only under her own imprint. And she did do just that several months after our meeting. I mention her because she now lives in England with her partner — in Bristol, I think — and would probably remember me if you got in touch with her and mentioned my name. (She still nominally “follows” my blog, launched a month or so after we met, although I haven’t heard from her since her enthusiastic comment under my “About” page.) Her book, about Hannah Arendt, is a non-fictional critical appraisal and therefore nothing like yours, but she was very friendly when we met and might be helpful to you in discussing her own experiences during the past year. Her name is Kathy Jones and her website, through which you could contact her, is Her small publishing imprint (perhaps less useful to you, but you might want to take a look) is

        Just a thought, which you can of course leave alone. I’m really so impressed!

        1. I don’t know about ‘amazing’ – I’m currently having great heaving doubts about the very substance of my story and whether it’s the ‘right’ kind of thing to put out there! When (if) you ever read it, you’ll understand. I worry what people will think. My crises of confidence are by no means over!

          I’ll a look at your friend Kathy’s sites – thanks so much for the pointer.

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