Ranting in public

I’ve discovered a great new blog – The Writing Runner – written by an American novelist. Obviously most of his stuff applies to the American market but he also makes points that writers over here would be wise to heed.

Today he’s talking about internet forums. His claim is that people do read what novelists write on blogs and comment threads and that this can seriously affect your career. He gives an example:

Today I asked an old friend of mine — who happens to be an editor at a publishing company — why his company no longer published a certain author they had worked with for a couple of years and who has not been seen in print since his last book.  I thought maybe a case of writer’s block or poor sales had felled another emerging career.

My friend’s reply was simple: ‘I got tired of seeing him bitch and moan about us on message boards, and his books were borderline sellers, so we turned down his last manuscript so we wouldn’t have to deal with him anymore.’

The author referenced above has still not sold his new novel in the four years since his original publisher turned it down.

It’s an incredible claim but one that tallies with experience. Internet writing carries a sense of shouting into a void but people really do read blogs and threads (so that’s why Random House aren’t knocking down my door). There was a discussion on Authonomy recently where some guy said that he’d just been to a conference of literary agents and apparently a lot of them are scanning the site for potential new clients.

It’s one of the curiousities of blog writing that you can attack someone in a post and moments later they leave a furious counter-critique in your comments box. This has happened to me a few times, most memorably when the novelist Julian Gough wrote an eloquent response to some sweeping generalisations I had made about literary awards. It appears to be a myth that people have better things to do with their time.

Bottom line, every blog post or comment you write is published, forever. You must exercise discipline while being aware that no one writes well when they’re looking over their shoulder.

And there’s a final point from the Writing Runner that I would like to highlight. It bears out Robert Crumb’s observation that the underground can be just as stupid and corrupt as the corporate mainstream – sometimes more so.

One other memory from my days of working in publishing while I’m belaboring whatever point I have:

The real jerks to deal with were not the bestselling authors whose names you, the reader of this post, would instantly recognize.  Those authors — the ones who had made lucrative careers in the business — were almost always polite, professional, and understanding.  And from what I understood from those who had been around longer than me, those authors had started out that way before they were successful.  Their professionalism was not based on income or success.

Instead, the worst authors to deal with — the ones with all of the demands, all of the whines, and all of the complaints — were the authors you, the reader of this post, have never read and probably never will.  They were the first novelists and small press authors who had a few fans on a message board and decided somewhere along the way that being a ‘real writer’ meant treating everyone else like they were crap and the author was the most important person in the world.

And here’s something to consider in these tough economic times: these oh so important authors were also the first ones we cut from the list when the budget had to be tightened.


3 Responses to “Ranting in public”

  1. The Writing Runner Says:

    Hey, I just wanted to say thanks for reading my post and responding.

    Something else I should have added was that most editors and agents are now Googling new authors to see if their claimed credits are legit, so that’s how they often stumble across something you posted months ago and forgot about.

    — TWR

  2. Annie Says:

    this is really interesting, no surprises but all the same it makes me think. I don’t think I slag people off or moan too much.. gosh I hope not.

  3. maxdunbar Says:

    Don’t worry Annie, you’re like the most polite person ever

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