Does Talent Eventually Get Discovered?

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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