Does Talent Eventually Get Discovered?

Many writers attend conferences to pitch their work to industry professionals, and nowhere is that more true than at our BEA event that we held on May 27, where more than 400 writers showed up to participate in our Pitch Slam with 70+ agents/editors.

One of the writers in attendance, Lystra Pitts (also an Editors’ Intensive graduate), wrote up a reflection on this event that illustrates what I’ve seen happen to many thoughtful and sensitive writers:

There is nothing like a convention room filled to the brim with writers to illustrate how desperate my situation is. These writers, who I am sure believe in their work as much as I believe in mine, all paid their hard earned money, money they didn’t earn writing, to be there. THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF US IN THAT ROOM. Hundreds, who like me crossed great distances and spent extravagant amounts of money to get a few precious moments with an agent. Writers are not in short supply.

I wondered what would happen if every person in that room had a brilliant masterpiece, a novel of unequaled quality, the magnum opus of their genre in our time—would the agents be able to take them all? Would they all get published?

I believe that the sad answer to that question is no. There are too many of us for all our talent to be recognized. The system cannot take everything it is offered, no matter how good it is.

Luckily, I am sure that only a handful of the people in that room had good stories. Right? That is what they would have you believe, that is how the system is set up. But I don’t know. I heard a lot of pitches, both practicing with strangers and overhearing the guys and gals in front of me and I liked most of the story ideas I heard. I am sure that a lot of people in that crowd had mediocre stories or mediocre writing skills and they will be rightfully culled from the herd. Won’t they? Again I am not sure. I have read a lot of really bad books, and I know you have too.

The system cannot guarantee that it will discover all the talented writers nor can it weed out the untalented. So I have to wonder how does one succeed in such a fundamentally flawed establishment? The only answer I have is luck. You have to get lucky, bottom line. It sounds bad right? But it isn’t as bad as all that. You can work with luck.

[Read the full post from Lystra here.]

I’ve debated this question for years:

Does talented work eventually get discovered? Does it bubble to the top?

Or do many talented writers go undiscovered?

For many years, I’ve thought that eventually talent gets its due. It gets discovered. (Yes, I’ve been called naive.)

Now, I think differently. But not because I’ve become cynical.

Talent isn’t enough.

Frankly, luck plus talent isn’t enough either.

Of course there’s persistence, that’s key. Because lots of people give up when success is around the corner. (I blogged about that here.)

Then there are those who are persistent but stubborn in their ways. It’s those writers who can’t seem to change direction or vision when they’ve received the kind of consistent or expert feedback that calls for a course correction.

Some people are stubborn and refuse to change. And sometimes bitterness follows. These are often the talented people I see who won’t get discovered.

If you feel like a stranger or outsider to this whole publishing business, if you get downtrodden and bitter and start to beat yourself and others up about it, and try to make the publishing world submit to your will, it’s a big problem.

Which side of the question do you fall on? Does talent eventually get discovered?

Photo credit: wstryder

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0 thoughts on “Does Talent Eventually Get Discovered?

  1. Dave Malone

    I’ve enjoyed the responses here, and I concur with Jim about attitude. And now I may get called naive!

    Why not view the pitch slam as one where the room is brimful of writers who are not desperate but instead passionate! And why not imagine that some of the writers there have been making Dollar Bills from their writing–or who have discovered that one can have Resources, so less time can be spent making a lot of Dollar Bills to survive. Because I have Resources, I spend most of my waking moments creating art or spending just as valuable "wasted time" germinating art. Why not view the world in a better light, where the publishing world is one where "those invisble helping hands," as mythologist Joseph Campbell called them, are opening doors for you?

  2. Kate Lord Brown

    Hi Jane – you have to hope so! I’ve been lucky to get a great agent after years of writing and honing my craft – but it is a really tough time for debut authors. The old saying ‘never give up, never give in’ is more apt now than ever. All we can do is keep raising our game and hope publishers will soon be ready to take a chance on fresh talent.

  3. Angie Jennings

    I attended the Writers Digest pitch slam on that Wednesday and felt like I was participating in a cross between 8-minute dating and America’s Next Top Model just waiting for someone to discover me. Although there were a lot of great novel ideas floating around the Javits, agents and publishers are looking for ideas that they think they can sell. Sometimes, the greatest ideas are missed because they industry professionals have dollar signs in their eyes. One thing that I believed before attending was that because my book is self-published, that a major publisher would jump at adding me to the roster because all the "grunt" work was already done. Not so. Leaving the WD conference and BEA just reaffirmed my belief that everything a publisher is expected to do for me to get my project out there, I’m probably better off doing myself.

  4. jim duncan

    Honestly, if you can’t believe that talent, luck, and persistence will win out in the end, what is the motivation to try and publish? It is something like faith in god. There is no sustainable proof, yet you believe. As a writer desiring publication (in the traditional sense of the word) you have to have unwavering faith that if you keep trying and keep working at being better at your craft, you will eventually hit that little sliver of a window in the magical mechanism of timing that allows you to set your dreams in motion. Talent of course is something of a requirement. Talent can be developed, but you need some core of it there to begin with. Too many writers who believe they have talent and have written a good story/book, think they deserve to be published simply because they have something of quality to give. Anyone who has made it in the business or art world can tell you that you aren’t owed anything simply because you create.

    I certainly want people to read my stories. I believe in my ability to tell a good one. Perhaps my skills aren’t honed to the point to make publication a reality, but I am working on it. And I will keep working on it until I get lucky or I die. I’m not owed a chance at anything. I’ll just keep doing my damnedest to make it happen. So, to those bitter writers out there, suck it up. Be patient, write another story, become a better writer, and have faith.

  5. Rebecca Woodhead

    If you have talent, all you can do is work at it and do what makes sense to make a career out of it. I spend time working on my writing, researching and trying to find out all I can about the ‘business side’ of writing. All the people involved with the publication of written work have their own goals and criteria. My hope is that what I offer and what they are looking for will be the same thing. If not, I shall take their suggestions on board and edit accordingly.

    Eventually, with enough hard work and diligent tweaking I know my novels will be published. How do I know this? Because if they’re not published by a publisher via an agent then I’ll publish them myself. Even if you don’t find somebody who believes in your writing, that’s no excuse not to see it in print as long as you are certain that it is really good work and deserves to be published.

    It is the start of the journey for me. I only just started to send out my work. Hopefully it will be published without too many hurdles but I am prepared for that not to be the case. Meanwhile, I have ‘met’ numerous really interesting publishers, agents and media people online and learnt a great deal about how the industry works. Doubtless I have made and am making numerous errors along the way but the journey is fun and the destination will arrive when it does.

    Twitter: @rebeccawoodhead


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