DON’T DO THIS, EVER (An advice column for writers): Dudley Dursley edition

Believe it or not, one of the questions I’m most often asked by people who don’t already know that I know absolutely nothing is, “Do you have you any advice for someone who wants to be/is a writer?” I’m the worst person to ask. Everything I have in my writing career, I got by falling into it ass backwards. Sure, I’ve worked hard for a long time, but to be honest, most of that work has been pointed firmly in the wrong direction. Then fate or some cosmic entity sees me struggling like a wind-up toy in a corner, and it’s like, “Awww. That’s really sad for her. You know what? Let’s just turn her around.” Something just happens, and I’ve arrived at some goal or achievement I feel I’ve done very little to earn. So, I don’t generally have any advice as to how to be a successful writer. Also, I have very little social media savvy. I talked about cutting my vulva with a pair of scissors on my twitter feed last week (@Jenny_Trout, in case you want in on all the vulva-maiming action).

I am a gossipy little streak of nonsense, though, so allow me to use someone else’s drama to craft some advice for you. Or, like Willam Belli says, “I’m going to teach you how to be better, through the faults of others.”

An author wasn’t happy the week that her latest book released:

chelsea cain 1


Writers, and I’m gonna be real here, especially female writers, have a really rough time balancing work and family pressures. I know that even though I’m the primary income in my household, my job is the one that’s most flexible and doesn’t require me to leave the house, so it’s always going to fall to me to make dinner, keep things straight for school, do the bills, do the phone calls, let the dogs out, give the kids baths, etc. It’s not that my husband is just too big and manly to help out, but he works a weird schedule and his job is pretty stressful, too. He’s always tired, he’s always asleep when the rest of the world is going on, so it falls to the person who is conscious (mostly) to do a lot of this stuff. And yes, the pressure is overwhelming when you’re sitting there, cooking a grilled cheese, and you know that you have a ton of work waiting for you in the next room, but your co-parent can’t exactly tell his job, “Hey, I’m going to need to leave for an hour so I can go make my kids’ dinner because my wife needs a solid eight hours to work.” It sucks so, so much to work from home, in this aspect.

So, I understand Author’s frustration at having to leave a sick kid to go on a book tour. I missed my kids so much on a two-day tour that my husband had to drive to Columbus, OH to get me, because I was a wreck. I know it must have sucked to go to a huge, mentally and emotionally draining expo when she wasn’t a hundred percent. That must have really sucked, and I know, believe me, I know, what it feels like when you work hard on something and it doesn’t do as well as you’d like it to (See also: Jenny’s entire career, 2009 to 2012). But there are a couple different reasons why authors cannot put out a message like this.

One of those reasons is that, wow. It sounds extremely entitled, doesn’t it? I’m not the only blogger to think so. In fact, I found out about this whole kerfuffle from Tez Miller’s blog. I’m linking because I don’t want you guys to think I’m straight up stealing her post when I now go on to say basically every single thing she already said. The reason our opinions are going to line up so neatly is because, well. Common sense.

The first mistake Author made was announcing that her book didn’t achieve list placement. Just a heads up: you don’t ever have to tell anyone how your book is performing. Ever. None of her readers would have noticed the book didn’t place, unless they’re particularly interested in the list placement of every author they’ve read. In fact, the first time you make a list, you get to keep saying, “Blabbity Blah Bestselling Author” for the rest of your career from the very first time you get placement, and pretty much everyone keeps on assuming all your books are bestsellers because of that. Seriously, I’m “USA Today Bestselling Author” Jenny Trout, because one book that came out in 2006 made the list one week and then dropped off and nothing of mine ever sold that well again. You just throw the title around and everyone assumes things are fine. The only people who notice that you’re not making a list is your publisher, your agent, and any of your particularly dedicated adversaries. But if you feel like being real about how a book is doing, you can. Nobody’s stopping you. Just know that you don’t have to.

If you are going to say something about your book not selling well, you might want to go with, “I’m disappointed that this book isn’t doing better, because I was really enthusiastic about it. Oh well, I hope everyone who’s reading it enjoys it!” I have heard from some readers that this kind of thing makes them uncomfortable; I’ll often refer to my fantasy series as “the one nobody read,” and I suppose that can come off a little ungrateful. After all, what about the people who did read it? Are they chopped liver? On the other hand, as someone who thrives on thinking I’ve got access to something secret, I love hearing that I’m a part of something obscure, so I guess it could go either way.

But what Author does here isn’t just, “Oh, my book isn’t performing the way I’d like it to.” She blames her readers for not pre-ordering. She can’t “count” on her loyal readers to boost her numbers and assure list placement anymore, and that’s why she’s disheartened with writing. That seems unfair, and that was her second mistake.  The people Author has a real issue with here are the people who aren’t buying her book. So why shit on the people who did buy it, by accusing them of not delivering on the promise the author assumed the readers have made? Why tell “core fans” that they’ve let you down, instead of saying, “Hey, thanks for buying and enjoying my latest book?”

The third mistake Author made here was to mention that all of her previous thrillers had made the NYT list. As in… none of her thrillers had ever not become New York Times Bestsellers. It is at this point, dear readers, that the patience of pretty much any author would wear thin. Making the New York Times Bestseller list is a dream of every novelist. If they say it isn’t, they’re lying. Everyone who says, “I don’t really care about list placement,” is going to be on the phone with every member of their extended family, their graduating class, and their dentist’s office staff within minutes of hearing that they placed on the list. People go their entire careers without ever getting close to the NYT. It is the very definition of “brass ring” for genre fiction authors. If the worst thing happening in your career is one of your books not making the New York Times Bestsellers list when all the ones before it did, you might wanna reframe your complaint. This comes off a little like Dudley Dursley counting his birthday presents. Or, as one twitter user put it, “But I ALWAYS win first place!”

She goes on to say that those thrillers that did make the NYT “didn’t sell gangbusters.” But they made the New York Times bestseller list. Here’s another tip: keep your career in perspective. You’re always going to feel like you’re not doing well enough, or that you could be selling better. That’s called insecurity, and if you’re a writer, well, congratulations, you have a wealth of it. If your books are becoming New York Times bestsellers, they’re selling well. Unless every other book under you on that list had extremely bad sales all at once, trust me. Your book is selling just fine.

The last tip I want to impart here is, don’t threaten to withhold from your readers. Whether Author intended to or not, she implied that she wouldn’t continue writing her series unless her fan base pre-ordered and got her on a list. And that’s crappy. It’s crappy when an author doesn’t finish a series, anyway–and I should know; I have two unfinished series out there, mea culpa–but it’s extra super crappy when an author claims their bestselling series is in danger because readers aren’t doing enough to directly benefit the author’s wallet.

So, if you’re a writer, or plan on being one, there’s some advice. Do not blast your readers on social media for getting you thirty-six presents this year instead of thirty-seven. And if you do… avoid zoos.

21 thoughts on “DON’T DO THIS, EVER (An advice column for writers): Dudley Dursley edition

  1. I’m thinking she’s going to wish her next book did as well as this last one after writing that. If I had any idea who she was, I wouldn’t buy a single book of hers ever again. I read because I enjoy what I’m reading. I’m not any author’s personal ATM. Geesh!

  2. Well said Jenny! I hope that this Author will get some prespective with time. It’s fine to be bummed out but it’s not fine to crap all over your fan base. If I were a fan, it would make me feel like never picking up a new copy of their book for a while.

  3. I know who this is, because I read and loved all of her “Archie/Gretchen” books.

    I didn’t want to read the new series. The Archie/Gretchen books were great, but they got progressively weirder and less carefully crafted as they went on. And the last book in the series was, I was certain, the end of the series. Not just because the books wore thin, but because she kind of got Mulder and Scully together at the end, which means the tension is done and the series is over, y’know?

    So I’m one of those “loyal fans” who didn’t buy her new book. Because I’m sure she’s got plenty more books in her, but I didn’t really care to get into a new set of characters, and I was concerned that her writing in general has gone downhill rather than her series just running out of gas. (And I discovered Tana French, whose thrillers have gotten better over time, not worse.)

    I’m really surprised that she said she wanted to write more about Archie, and I’m even more surprised to find this attitude coming from her, for I-know-too-much-about-her reasons. It’s a shame. The lessons in this post still apply, of course, but TL;DR 1) I was sure the series was finished, as it doesn’t read as unfinished at all, and 2) coming from this writer, this attitude is news to me.

  4. It also doesn’t exactly sell me on the greatness of the book she has now. “I wanted this to sell so I could go back to writing what I actually wanted to be writing about.” It’s like when George Clooney talks about how he does movies that he rolls his eyes at so that he can make money for his weird indie stuff. It doesn’t exactly make me want to go support the projects they could care less about.

    It’s a shame, because I do enjoy when writers let me in on the “behind the scenes” expectations of and production of their work. But it just seemed like so much of it should have been worded differently.

  5. I can understand someone not enjoying all the self-promotion and advertising work that goes into being an author. But at the same time, it’s part of the job. So an author publicly complaining about it like that makes me wonder if they maybe just didn’t do their job very well.

    On a different note, I watched The Hunchback of Notre Dame last night (Disney version) and now I can’t read “mea culpa” without thinking of the song “Hellfire”. Which makes everything I read after that phrase seem far more dramatic.

  6. Ah heh, I may have left one of those “but how do write??” questions on Tumblr. Mea culpa indeed.

    I’ve never had anything published (or even a finished first draft of anything more than a short story), but this made me feel a little better. Especially knowing you can surf one best-seller hit for the rest of your book blurbs forever.

    I’m not sure whether it’s comforting or not to know that all authors struggle with insecurity. I think I still harbor delusions of a Best-Selling Author state of mind where, once you get there, ideas flow seamlessly into book after book after book, and I’m still in the doldrums with my brain telling me “This is terrible, why are you bothering?” I’ve been trying to drown it out with Blind Guardian.

    I would like to hope that if the day does ever come where I have the luxury to complain about one book not doing as well as all my others, I would do it in private.

  7. I can’t believe authors who act this way. I just published a book and I’m grateful to each and every person who reads it, even the people who have problems with it or who said it wasn’t really for them. If I got all one-star reviews or only sold 2 books, I wouldn’t say “Gosh darn you readers, how dare you fail me like this!” I’d say, “Shit, it must be ME, not the readers.”

    I do occasionally get frustrated with some reviewers, like “Well, she didn’t explain X” and I want to say “HELLO, WHERE WERE YOU FOR THE ENTIRE CHAPTER THAT I SPELLED IT ALL OUT?” but I know that that’s another thing you’re never supposed to do as an author, so I vent to my boyfriend and compose an explanation in my head for the event of someone directly asking about X. As a writer, readers are the most valuable part of being a successful author. They’re the only people I’m nice to 100% of the time (I can be a real bitch) because I know that without them, I’m not going to make it.

    That being said, thank god I have no plans to ever start a family. I’ll get an automatic dog feeder and shut myself away for days to write and no one will call child protective services on me.

    1. Ding ding ding! I’m always so incredibly thrilled when someone buys my books. And if they read them after that? It’s like candy and rainbows are falling from the sky just for me. I can’t imagine getting to a point where everyone loves me so much that I can’t be bothered to appreciate how rare and awesome that is.

  8. Wow. Never read this Author and now I never will. So not only has she alienated current readers, she’s repulsed potential readers. I’m thinking that’s a real smart way to get herself right back on that NYT list. Boo hiss.

  9. I agree with most of this, but I think the way that writers are now expected to do all of their own promotional work is legitimately awful.

  10. wow. THAT sounds jerkish. I’m sorry but it does. I don’t know the author and I don’t read thrillers. I am a writer…well aspiring one, I’m murdering fanfiction at this moment and I know it’s sad when you don’t see many reviews under your work and you start feeling insecure and all “OMGOMG what have I done wrong. It must be crappy and horrible” but really. I’ve never ever failed to thank and appreciate my reviewers. Because THERE IS ALWAYS someone who reads. There wouldn’t be a meeting with said author if NOBODY bought the book. They did. There were people there, people who came all this way to see her. People who were excited about this book. So people buy it and she’s being a dick to them. and as you said Mrs. Trout many authors would LOVE to be in her place with more than one book being NYT bestseller. This title means something all around the world. Even in my mundane small Poland it’s something that is a sort of advertisement to make people buy books.

  11. As an author, I am thrilled when my books sell. I’m thrilled when people email me or facebook me and tell me they love my books. Do my books make the blah blah blah best seller list?? Nope and I don’t really care. As long as I love writing and my readers love reading then I am “as happy as a kitten in a room full of yarn balls.”

  12. Social media is really a curse for some people I think (I refer to some rather famous or perhaps infamous faults lobbed at readers out there by other authors). It gives me such second hand embarrassment and a case of, “Whyyyyy??? Why would you do that to yourself?” I mean I can sort of see how and why it happens (too long to type out on my phone however), but cringe inducing at the least.

  13. I got the lovely message below from an author named Christian Cianci. He sent it to me after I was unable to read his book in a timely matter because of my depression issues.

    “I figured you would do that already…

    Let’s be real. You’re a cunt bitch with no life and serious man issues. Trust issues and hardcore relationship problems.

    You are unsteady and probably on heavy medication. Thanks for nothing you dumb bitch. “

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>