December 13, 2011

What Is the Internet Missing?

Set of number blocks with number 3 missing

That seems like an odd question, doesn’t it?  After all, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out Google knew what I had for lunch on Wednesday five weeks ago.

In fact, computers and the internet have captured so much information that we sometimes don’t want to memorize facts, figuring we’ll Google it when we need it again.  But if we stop and think about it, I bet we could come up with a whole list of things we wish existed out there for us to research.

Writers of historical stories run into this problem all the time because only a small percentage of historical knowledge and documents has been digitized.  The rest of us only think we have the world’s information at our fingertips.

Internet Searches Take Us Only So Far

I’m proud of my Google-fu, but no matter how cleverly worded, there are some things an internet search can’t tell us.  There’s no eHarmony for writers where we answer questions about our personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and where we weigh the importance of those qualities in others so we can find our perfect match of:

  • Critique partners: “Mary is the ideal blend of kick you into gear and supportive friend.”
  • Beta readers: “Joe can find all the spots where you missed writing down the thoughts in your head.”
  • Agents: “Susan is trustworthy, will go to bat for you, and likes you as much as she likes your story.”
  • Publishers: “Brian will make sure you get bestseller-level marketing and publicity.”

And yes, I’m joking about this, but there’s also a very real wish to get harder data on agents and editors.  Those writers who want more editing help would love to know which agents have editing experience and are willing to bring clients up to speed.  Other writers want an agent more knowledgeable about contracts.  While those who want a particular publisher would drool over a database listing every agent who’s sold to them in the last year in that same genre.

Our Knowledge Has Holes

More seriously, some agents have entered the publishing game, triggering a conflict of interest fear among writers.  Yet as far as I know, there’s no master list of which agents have gone down this path.

For some writers, agents who also publish would be a deal-breaker, but short of doing several searches and asking in forums, there’s no way for us to know upfront which agents do it.  And there’s certainly not an easy database to check.

What about publishers and contracts?  We’d probably see fairer contracts if we could learn about a publisher’s standard clauses ahead of time.  Instead, we see only our own contract and have no way to compare its terms.

If a master database of publishers’ standard contracts existed, we’d be able to avoid publishers that paid less than all the others.  They’d soon find themselves having to adapt or run out of submissions.

Personally, I’d love a ranking of which publishers still do a decent amount of editing, or marketing, or what have you.  Or for those self-publishing, wouldn’t a list of the strengths and weaknesses of freelance editors be useful?  Or a place to rate the services of various outsourced tasks?

The Writing Wiki Is Community

So much data exists in the experiences of others, but there’s no way to access it without asking.  This is yet another reason why the writing community is important.

We can find the answers to some of our questions by asking around on Twitter or by digging into forums like the Absolute Write Water Cooler.  But this method works only if we’re willing to help each other.  So for every question we ask, we should go out of our way to answer a few more.  Our virtual writing wiki will be stronger for it.

What information would you love to be able to find on the internet?  Do you know of any databases that answer my hypothetical questions above (Is there a list keeping track of which agents are publishing too?)?  What’s your favorite source for finding answers to those tricky questions?

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Angela Quarles

Would love an eHarmony for writers! And yep, the historical info on the web is an abysmal fraction of what’s stored in archives and often what’s posted on blogs about historical info is so wrong. I don’t know of any place to answer your questions, but there is another site worth mentioning that kind of posts info from its users about agents and that’s at

Susan Sipal

As always, Jami, you ask the great questions. And I think a Writing Wiki is a fabulous idea and YOU should put it together! 🙂

On one of your questions, I think there MAY be an answer out there. It seems to me that RWA had a collection of standard publishing contracts online somewhere for their members. But I’m not positive, and I’m no longer a member. I wonder if anyone else knows for sure.

Suzanne Johnson

Publisher’s Marketplace is the spot to go to for sales info. You can plug in a specific editor or publishing house and see what they’ve bought for whatever time you’ve specified. Great way to track which editors are buying what genre, and which agents are selling what. Not free, but worth it IMHO.

Nancy S. Thompson

I use a plethora of sources to glean info: Google, AgentQuery, QueryTracker, Publisher’s MarketPlace, Publisher’s Weekly, LadiesWhoCritique, and AbsoluteWrite. After that, I just start picking the brains of my writer friends, especially those who’ve been published, through texts, email, Facebook, Twitter, or their blogs.

But hey, a Writer’sWiki is a grand idea! Though I don’t necessarily trust all the info found in one place. I still need multiple sources to guarantee authenticity.

Julie Hedlund

You are so right about the morass of information but no easy way to find it all. I love the idea behind a writer’s wiki. Isn’t the whole idea behind a wiki that it’s collaborative? That people could write in their own experiences/data?

But no, I’m not volunteering to launch it either… 🙂

Sonia G Medeiros

I love the idea of eharmony for writers! The writing community is so powerful. I am still amazed at it all. I had no idea when I started blogging that there was such a wonderful, wise, encouraging resource online for me. 😀

Jemi Fraser

eHarmony would be great! I love how easy is to find generalities on the Internet, but sometimes it’s really hard to find specifics!

Todd Moody

Great post as usual Jami and timely for me. I am stuck on two sentences trying to get into the head of my female lead. I’m also about done with the revisions on my WIP and am looking for one more good alpha reader/writing partner. I’m going to make an announcement this week also for some beta readers. This service you spoke of … great idea!

Laura Pauling

I guess it’s asking. But authors aren’t allowed to share so contract specifics…And authors hesitate to reveal bad agent experiences b/c they don’t want to get black balled in the industry so….

But yes, I hear about these horror stories and I’m like please share who the agent was? But, a different writer might have a terrific experience with this agent.

So though this would be nice. I don’t think it will ever happen. Realistically. Though some things have come out about certain publishers through the Passive Guy.

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