Nobody Knows Anything
“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” — William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade
In this quote, William Goldman was referring to the motion picture field, but I think the same can be easily said of storytelling in general, of books and movies, of video games and shorts. Anytime someone has a creative idea, a new story to tell, no one has any idea what’s going to work or not.
I think this is a prime example of something to keep in mind when you’re dealing with people in just about any industry that involves the sale of stories.
This is one of the reasons why I think it’s so important to write what you want to see. No one knows for sure what’s going to sell and what isn’t, so why spend time trying to chase it?
Sure, there are things you can do to make your novel more saleable, but there’s no guarantee that it will sell. Your story must be sound, yes, and it needs to be the best story it can be. It needs to look and function like a story and have correct grammar and spelling. Otherwise, it could be the greatest story in the world but no one will buy it. These are things you do with your craft. You need to hone your craft to the best of your ability and then tell the stories that speak to you, rather than chase a trend of someone else.
That’s why every book I’ve written seems like a departure from the last one. I couldn’t swing to more drastic poles between each of my novels, but I write what interests me.
I have no idea if this works or not. Will the people who find me with The Serpent’s Head, which is a sci-fi western, care about The Aeronaut, which is a steampunk World War I espionage love story? I have no idea. But people seem to like them both and they’re both selling, so that works well enough for me.
The truth is this: I don’t know what is going to work for sure. I can make an educated guess, but that’s all it will be: a guess.
But why would I spend time writing something, anything, if I didn’t believe in it and it wasn’t what I wanted to write? Life would be so bland and boring if I spent my time trying to chase every bestselling trend. And I’d be behind the curve significantly. By the time I could write a book that chased a current bestselling trend, there’s no guarantee that would be the trend anymore. Better I work to write what I want and try to set the trend.
It’s also important that you take this notion, that no one knows anything, and apply that to the bad feelings you might get when you get a rejection. People might not be rejecting your story because it’s bad, but because they don’t think it will be easy enough for them to sell. They could be wrong, though. All they’re doing is guessing.
And isn’t that a heartening thought? The publishing and motion picture industries are predicated on a variety of guesses on a daily basis.
I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel a little bit better about this whole process.
Bryan Young works across many different media. As an author, he’s written the bestselling comedic novel Lost at the Con, and the critically acclaimed sci-fi novelsOperation: Montauk, The Serpent’s Head, and the steampunk World War I novelThe Aeronaut. He’s also the author of the non-fiction book, A Children’s Illustrated History of Presidential Assassination. He’s worked as a film producer, distributing two award-winning documentaries through The Disinformation Company. He’s also published comic books with Slave Labor Graphics and Image Comics. He contributes regularly to HowStuffWorks.Com, the Huffington Post, StarWars.Com, Star Wars Insider, and is the founder and editor in chief of the geek news and review site Big Shiny Robot! He’s also the host of the popular podcast Full of Sith.
He blogs regularly about writing at his writing website, BryanYoungFiction.com.