“The job of a writer is to write” and other delusions

“The job of a writer is to write” and other delusions

As seen on Reddit, someone brought up this quote from an old Guardian article. I agree in spirit, but not practice, which is interesting enough to reflect on briefly. Here’s the quote:

Those who insist that the job of the writer is simply, only, to write are deluding themselves. Editors whose advice is to get off Twitter, put your head down, and do the work are missing something fundamental and indispensable about digital media. It’s that all the things that invite derision for influencers – self-promotion, fishing for likes, posting about the minutiae of your life for relatability points – are also integral to the career of a writer online. At least if you want to be visited by that holy trinity when it comes time for your book launch, you must be an influencer in all the ways that matter.

So here’s the thing: social media marketing is not required, or particularly effective, at book marketing. It is great at relationship building, via the sharing of authenticity – things you like or dislike. Letting people know you and bond around your shared love of your topic or genre. It’s a way to create the repeated, long-term exposure necessary to create real trust and support. And all that stuff can be huge in terms of launching new books, but it takes a lot of work and it probably can’t be done intentionally (you can’t just hire someone to take over your social media profile and post crap… or you can, and it’ll work for awhile, but it won’t be real or feel authentic).

Real social media use is about transparency and vulnerability. Those authors one Twitter retweeting each other’s book promos get deleted fast, because nobody is on Twitter to see that stuff. Million follower social media blasts fail because it’s not a cultivated audience, or people you like YOU and like YOUR GENRE – unless you’re cultivating those specific types of people, by sharing personal anecdotes or pictures and genre-relevant news, articles or topics for discussion (and even if you DO all of that) it still won’t convert well when you finally ask for a sale.

What *works* is direct advertising, as long as your conversion is good enough and prices/content is valuable enough to make more than you spend – a very challenging tasks for most authors, though easier in some less-competitive genres.

Do you need social media marketing?

Going back to the original quote…

YES: writing is just a small part of it. And the authors who focus on the writing, probably haven’t gotten around to writing books readers enjoy, which is a whole other thing. But refusal to learn publishing/marketing is a mental excuse to justify bad behavior.

NO: the fishing for likes is BS – most authors have no idea how to do any marketing, feel icky about it, do it anyway out of hopeless desperation, justify it when it clearly doesn’t work, and then give up and go back to “I’m just going to write.” It’s an unnecessary cycle – but there are things that work (cover, blurb, reviews) that most authors never fix; and ways to market without being spammy.

That’s where *some* authors definitely work very hard and feel exhausted, but are also making great money.

Most new writers somehow expect things to be quick and easy, and get disillusioned when their reality doesn’t match their expectations, and then either blame everyone or feel like failure, when they’re actually probably doing decent, at least in terms of self-educating (the inescapable need to fail a lot and make mistakes before you figure things out; most authors are adverse to adversity.)

What if you feel overwhelmed?

Great, you’re a live, and human. Some philosophies posit non-attachment as the cure for suffering, but the most common cultural attitude since Faust has been that we need to create to thrive.

This means, doing something *more difficult* than you are currently capable of. Something that is infuriating and frustrating and for that reason alone feels profoundly gratifying and satisfying. You are going to suck at this. And if not this, then something else soon. Everybody sucks at everything, until they don’t.

You need to be OK with sucking at all things, and then deciding which thinks you strive to suck less at. You can’t be great at everything. But you don’t have to be. You’re going to need to let some things slide. Do things poorly. Assume that everyone is as big a miserable mess at everything as you are (I’m DEFINITELY a dumpster fire of creative ideas and soul-crushing binge procrastination, fueling myself with snacks and media consumption).

The two crippling questions of creative self-doubt are “am I good enough” (craft) and “does this have value” (market).

You can’t get better at everything all at once. But you can tackle one small project a day, create a habit, invest time or money into education, practice in public to overcome the fear of failure, and gradually become good enough and aware enough to succeed.

Sidenote: Many authors say they’d prefer to publish traditionally, because they don’t want to do any of this stuff and just want to write. The thing is…

A) trad publishers are looking for authors who have some platform already
B) trad publishers won’t actually do much for you

C) you’ll need to spend just as much time or more learning how to submit and query, it’s a whole different business model, you’re going to have to learn to find the market and selling points yourself, first anyway (nobody else will figure this out for you).

D) there’s an opportunity cost of giving up control and hoping somebody else will do everything; in the meantime you’ve learned a bunch of useless skills and wasted time you could’ve been writing waiting on someone else’s permission and acknowledgement.

For these reasons, I prefer and recommend self-publishing, even THOUGH this leaves you open to being responsible for every mistake that hurts book sales, and MOST authors never survive past this point because they don’t invest enough time in learning what their book really needs to be successful.

Addendum: it was pointed out by several commenters, that the original article/post is by a handful of influencer/nonfiction authors who aren’t particularly successful and have had their own challenges with writing successfully – I don’t think it matters, but it adds context. However, the majority of commenters also had very strong reactions. My favorites (and most upvoted) being:

“I get the feeling that much of today’s published writing will age horribly and future generations will cringe so hard.”


“If these are the behaviors of all successful writers now and in the future, then I will remain a curmudgeonly failure and suppose that all of the best novels have already been written anyway. In other words, fuck that noise.”

This is the knee-jerk reaction most authors instinctively support: that everything popular is crap and it’s better to write well for yourself, even if you have no readers, than to attempt to care enough about readership in order to satisfy them.

There’s an impossible divide between these self-limiting beliefs – all great books are beloved. All authors want to become beloved; but actively avoid interacting with readers or even attempting to figure out what they like and write commercially successful books on purpose. In my view, the difference between a good book and a bad book is always a craft issue, and most books don’t succeed because readers just didn’t want to read them.

Projecting publishing failure on the readership or market in general or impossibility of marketing or the demand for social media or anything else, is a self-protecting mechanism authors use to escape the fact that nobody enjoys their books (or, potentially, people would LOVE their book but they never buy it or read it, because it has an ugly cover, unconvincing blurb, or too few reviews – things an author *COULD FIX* if they dared venture honestly towards the question “why isn’t my book selling?”

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

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