A Thanksgiving Love Letter to Writers…and the Indie Revolution
My blog posts are usually for readers, not writers, but in the light of the coming Thanksgiving holiday I thought I’d make a bit of an exception. That’s not to say that I don’t think readers will find my “love letter” interesting – you will, swear! And I’m so grateful for each and every one of you who take time out once a week to read my musings, buy my books and browse through the quirky photographs I like to post.
It’s just that I want to take this time to say a very big thank you to all of my writer friends and colleagues who have been so supportive to me over the years.
I also want to thank the Indie Publishing Revolution, which I believe has done great things for all writers and readers alike – breathing life into publishing, allowing readers their say, and giving aspiring storytellers a real chance to either sink or swim.
To quote Carly Simon, “These are the good ole days.”
Given how hard we writers are all working and how quickly publishing is changing – sometimes on what feels like a daily basis – I also thought I’d take a moment to write a brief retrospective on what I’ve seen at the Indie Revolution and why I believe it has made us writers better people.
And what an amazing journey it has been so far.
A little over a year ago, one of my fiction writer colleagues was feeling so down in the dumps that he quit all of his writer groups and left social media altogether. He said that ultimately, he just felt a diminishing return. Here’s a guy who had always worked really hard to help his fellow authors, but when it came time to promote his debut novel, he felt other writers’ efforts fell short.
He was probably right. I think a lot of authors silently agreed when he stated his reasons for leaving the virtual watercooler. He basically said – no hard feelings, but I’m just not getting enough out of this to stick around.
But then something happened.
A long thread of conversation erupted that not only urged this colleague to reconsider, but let loose a flow of good will and a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that outlined what is for me the main reason to participate in writer groups and spend some of my precious marketing time on others: it’s the support and camaraderie of other writers.
This, I realized, was a significant change for me.
I’ve been writing in one form or another for a long time. It took me what felt like forever to build my network and fortify my reputation. In the days before social media, I did it the old fashioned way. I drank with people, had lunch, wrote college essays for people’s kids, picked brains, had my brain picked, and shmoozed at every kind of event where someone might need the services of a really good writer. And that worked well for the kind of writing I was doing.
But then – like many of you – I set my sights on fiction.
This was only a few, short years ago, but it was also before the days of indie writers and social media, so it feels like the Paleolithic Era.
And what a different era it was.
I was living in San Francisco at the time, and one of my friends invited me to a wine and cheese gathering for what was (and maybe still is) THE writing group in that city. She said she’d introduce me around and that I should mingle with some of the other fiction writers there – many of whom were beyond aspiring and had actually arrived. I gave her a resounding “yes!” and tagged along on the strength of her considerable credentials.
But while I had a great time sipping wine, cracking jokes, and ogling people with star agents and lucrative publishing deals, the whole thing left me a bit cold. I started out in theater, which has an extremely supportive culture; I then migrated into teaching seminars and more business-centered writing, where people frequently help each other out. Yet, when I entered the world of published (with a capital “P”) book writers – I was surprised to find a circle of otherwise thoughtful and talented people who appeared to subscribe to Gore Vidal’s notion that “It’s not enough to succeed; others must fail.”
I listened as a memoirist and newspaper columnist savaged a man who they both agreed was a good friend of theirs. What did this guy do to deserve it? He got an hour – yes, a full hour on Oprah. Shouldn’t that be cause for a party? But no, the conversation went something like this:
“It was a perfect venue for him,” said the columnist. “He’s always been a little light on content.”
“Did you read his book?” the memoirist asked.
“No, but Laurel said it was thin.”
“Oh, she read it?”
“No, but I think one of her friends did.”
This was by no means an isolated incident. In one conversation after another, I listened as writers slapped-down, disparaged, damned with faint praise and otherwise insulted the work of their colleagues.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about all writers. I’m a writer and some of my very best would-scratch-the-eyes-out-of-anyone-who-looked-at-me-sideways friends are writers, too. They have been there for me like no one else – scraping me up off the floor after a devastating rejection letter, pouring me an expensive whiskey at the mere sight of a potential victory, introducing me to people who could help me in my quest.
What I’m talking about is the prevailing culture of book writers – fiction and non-fiction alike. Even the adorable Anne Lamott, celebrated novelist and memoirist, admitted that when one of her friends got a bad review it “felt like Christmas.”
But that culture has changed dramatically in recent times. And we have the Indie Publishing Revolution to thank.
In defense of the writers of yesteryear (as in, only a couple of years ago, really), our previous system felt like a zero sum game. After all, there were only a few seats at the big table and nearly every writer had to run a gauntlet to get there. And after they had busted their buns making it through several unpublished manuscripts, piles of letters that begin with sentences like “While this writer has talent, unfortunately…” and actually got a publishing contract, they then had to sell books right out of the gate or – buzzzzzzz – get disqualified.
Now that the barriers to entry have been largely removed and even Big 5 authors have to learn the marketing game, we writers have finally been given permission to act like colleagues instead of rivals. We can share best practices, share readerships within our genres, share both victories and disappointments without feeling unduly exposed.
In my San Francisco days, I would have never asked a mere colleague to promote my work. A friend – yes – but a colleague? Uh-uh. Not only would they have probably found an artful way to decline, but I would have had to make peace with the knowledge that they were going to rip me to shreds to all of their friends. Whether they’d read my work or not.
Fast forward and here we scribes are, day after day, baring our writerly souls to virtual strangers in our various online support groups without a second thought.
What happens when you get a troll? You take it to the group, and a swarm of whoever is available on that day will negate, report, counter-review, comfort and basically do whatever they can to help. For non-writers out there, a troll is basically a stalker who has usually not read your work, but is intent on taking you down with bad reviews and basic bad-mouthing just for the sport of it, I guess. Did you make it into the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest? You can count on people who have probably never even met you to read your excerpt and write a killer review.
Does everyone always pull their weight? Well, no. Is everyone supportive? To be honest, most trolls are usually other writers who are out to torpedo the efforts of a colleague. Trolls, however, are in the minority and I pity the troll that gets outed. They will be virtually eaten alive for their shameful behavior.
Do feelings still get hurt and petty arguments flare up from time to time? Of course. We’re human.
But in a profession where it can take twenty years to become an overnight success, it sure is nice to spend that time with people who aren’t hoping you never get there. On the contrary, there’s a feeling that your success – to some small degree – is theirs; a belief that if one of us can make a real living at this, maybe we all can.
So, in that spirit, Thank you, fellow writers, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, readers, for giving new writers a chance and for taking the time to write reviews once you’ve read our work. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your efforts. And thank you, Amazon – you’ve not only turned publishing on its ear, but have almost single-handedly delivered to me a hugely supportive group of friends and colleagues. People who have flown across oceans and borders to attend a reading of my novel, who have invited me on their blogs and into their homes. People who have shared with me and let me into their lives. That has been the greatest blessing of all.
P.S. THE BONE CHURCH will be on sale for $2.99 on Amazon starting Black Friday (Nov. 28th) and ending on December 2nd. Get it while it’s Cold!