I've been reading a lot of blog posts lately by aspiring authors clearly disillusioned with the current state of the publishing market and daunted by the ( admittedly ) tremendous odds against achieving a traditional publishing deal.
Some have questioned whether it's worth approaching agents any more; others whether it's worth trying to complete with X millions of other titles, digital or traditional. Many show hints that they may abandon the chase as they don't relish maintaining a strong on-line presence to help advertise their novels and feel that their chances of success, in any published medium, are hopeless.
While it is very true that breaking through these days is extremely tough; that the publishing industry is going through immense change; that the ability of aspiring authors to self-publish via Amazon has changed the game, and that it may seem impossible to gain the attenion of a major publishing house, people were saying the same thing 30 years ago. It's just that the reasons for everything being so tough were different to those of today. It's ALWAYS been hard to break through.
No author, agent or publisher can predict the "next big thing". If they could we'd all be rich and famous. Except we wouldn't, because we'd all be doing it and the next big thing would therefore no longer be unique. The only way to stand out, to agents and to publishers, is to write the best book that you can. It may be galling when terrible novels like the Shades of Grey trilogy achieve such incredible success, but it should be noted that the author ignored the publishing industry and simply wrote what she wanted to. She self published, did well, got a traditional deal and the rest is history.
The moral of this story is not that self-publishing will propel you to global fame and fortune. For every E. L. James there are probably 100,000 self-published authors who have sold not a single copy of their treasured tomes. The moral is that you should write what you want to write about. Pick something about which you are passionate, that makes you feel that you cannot wait to put the story down on paper. If you want to buy self-help books on writing, go ahead. Attend conferences and speak to industry professionals, read other novels similar to your hoped-for best seller. But above all be passionate and excited about EVERY project you start because if you're not excited about it, believe me, that luke-warm enthusiasm is what will end up on the page and in front of an agent in months, or years, to come. Why take half-measures? Pick a subject that fills you with a great spark of excitement and your novel will be all the more vivid and colourful for it. THAT is what publishers and agents are looking for.
I recently read several Tweets by my literary agent, Luigi Bonomi Associates, ( paraphrased ) : "I'm reading a manuscript that is so good I want to live in this book: and they call this work!"
That author, whoever they are, probably just got through as you are hoping to and as I once did. It happens. If it didn't, there wouldn't be a publishing industry.
Stick with it.