An open letter to the Internet on a ranty Wednesday

Dear Internet,

I am grumpy with you today.

See, when I woke up this morning, the first thing you did was point me to a link by a writer that was all about how, if I just did what she did–just planned out my book the way she planned out her books–I could write So Much More every day, no time wasting required.

Then, just as I’d decided not to argue with you about that, you sent me to another link, one about how the most important writing skill a novelist needs to develop is … the art of writing promotional copy about her books.

Internet, we’ve been through this so many times before. I’ve endured your posts about how if I’m serious about my writing I need to be writing two or three or who-knows-how-many books a year, about how if I think I need more time then I’m just not professional enough or serious enough or following the right system enough or something enough for you. I’ve listened to you refer to a book a year as a “luxury” pace that no professional writer can afford. I’ve even put up with you telling me that if my book isn’t done in a year, it’s probably so fundamentally flawed there’s no point writing it and I should throw it away and write something else.

I’ve also listened as you’ve told me, over and over and over again, that writing a book is the “easy” part of writing and that the “real” work is all about marketing, because whether or not my book sells has nothing to do with what I’ve written and everything to do with how I sell it. Not surprisingly, you have all sorts of opinions about how I should do this, too.

So Internet, I’d like to tell you a few things. Like that I don’t have to work hard at all to start listing writers who write far less than a book a year, and who have not only viable careers, but amazing ones, writers whose books I and lots of other people are waiting for with bated breath, because as I turns out readers actually will wait for awesome books. Also that while it’s true I’ve seen slow careers crash and burn, I’ve also seen fast careers crash and burn, because speed is no more a guarantee of anything in this business than anything else is. Maybe it ups the odds a little. But awesome ups the odds too. It’s even possible awesome ups them more, but we don’t really know, do we, Internet, because you seem to be much more fond of anecdotes than of data.

And yes, I know that there are writers who manage both fast and awesome. I’m happy for them. But those writers are not all writers, and their way of building a career is not everyone’s way of building a career. Also, if we had only books by the fastest writers, awesome or not, filling the shelves, I suspect we’d have fewer types of books overall, and that would make me sad.

As for the marketing thing–oh, Internet, the marketing thing. You love to talk about the marketing thing, don’t you? You’re so convinced that the quality of my books won’t sell my books, and that my publisher won’t sell my books, and that the only thing that will sell my books is how well I personally market my books, but when I think of the bestselling writers I’ve read, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen most of them market their books directly to me. They don’t seem to spend all that much time on twitter or facebook either, or rehearsing their elevator speeches in cases they have 10 seconds to sell me their books. I have never interacted with most of them at all, online or offline.

I do know lots of writers who have tried very hard to sell their books to me, though–your advice has had an effect, after all, but interestingly, with a few exceptions, they mostly aren’t bestsellers. Though you do like to tell me about those few exceptions, because, again, you seem to like anecdotes so much better than pulling back and trying to make sense of the bigger picture. You may want to work on that, Internet, because you’re very large, and whatever thing you want to convince people of, it’s not hard to find someone, out there in all that largeness, who that thing has worked for. Everything’s worked for someone.

That’s sort of my point, actually. You like to talk about each someone as if they’re everyone, when they aren’t. And you’re so eager to teach me one true way, any true way; to tell me that if I’m not doing what someone else is doing, what I’m doing must be the thing that is broken. You sound so sure of yourself, too. I guess that goes with being the Internet and all.

But it’s also part of what worries me. See, I’ve been writing for years, and so when I see you being wrong, I get angry and write ranty blog posts and then I get over it and go back to doing the things that work for me, because I’ve had enough time to learn to trust those things, to listen to them, and even, yes, to be on the lookout–in my own ways–for when I do need to question them.

Not every writer knows how to do this yet. I didn’t always know it. And when a writer, especially a new writer, hears you saying she’s doing it all wrong, sometimes she’s going to believe you. And then she really will waste time, not by writing too-few words a day, but by writing in the wrong way for her entirely, or else writing in the right way but mistrusting every step, and so not writing as well as she could.

She might even stop writing entirely, because if you tell a new writer they’re doing it wrong when they’re not, sometimes–not always, but sometimes–they just give up.

So do you think maybe you (and by you, I mean all of us) can be a little more careful the next time you feel like talking about writing, Internet?

And about everything else, too, while you’re at it?

Thanks for listening,


P.S. But please don’t be careful about the cat pictures. I know we all like to give you a hard time about the cat pictures, but that’s only because we like them so much and don’t want to admit it to you.

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