Is Our Writing Culture In Mortal Danger? Part III

benjamin-franklin-62846_640I’m going to try to wrap up my thoughts on the mischievous missive delivered by Mr. Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed. The first part of my response is here. The second part is here.

There are three issues outstanding:

Issue 3 – Is the Party Over?

Issue 4 – What Counts as Writing Success?

Issue 5 – Can Fiction Writing Be Taught?

Last week I upheld the view that this is the best time on Earth to be a writer. Lest you think I only mean because writers can now self-publish and make real dough, here’s some news that rippled outward from the traditional side of things: Sci-Fi writer John Scalzi inked a $3.4 million deal with Tor Books. That’s for thirteen books over a ten-year period. I’d say that counts as good times. Mr. Scalzi explains his thought process here.

Ah, but is the party over? Or about to be? Has there been a “tonal shift” in what Porter calls the “palaver” from the indie writer sector of the publishing world?

I do sense a shift, but not a negative one. It is, rather, the natural maturation of a revolution. During the Early Konrathian period of indie publishing, the talk was all about waking people up and stirring them to action (“Give me liberty, or give me death!”). There was an exuberance. There were fight songs around the campfire. Free beer.

It was Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry time. Yes, there was plenty of vitriol, too, which is always part of an uprising. What the American colonists said about the tea tax was not intended for polite society. Nor were the words of indies when reacting to representatives of the Authors Guild.

Now, it seems, the tone has changed from revolution to constitution. From muskets to quills. Giddiness has been replaced by plans and purpose and increasing success.

But just what is success? This is Issue #4.

One type is, certainly, traditional, bestselling, A-list status. Another type is having the freedom to publish what you want, when you want, and making steadily growing income. When you read surveys of traditional authors and how frustrated they can be with their publishers, this type of success might even be all the more attractive.

For some writers the “validation” of traditional success is the most important thing. Others find more satisfaction going directly to readers…and to the bank.

We are all free to define success for ourselves, and should. What does it mean specifically to you? Talk about it in the comments.

Finally, Issue #5. The title of Porter’s post was The Dreaded Training Debate: What If It Can’t Be Taught?

The question implies that a negative answer might be possible. Or, worse, that there is a possibility the whole enterprise of teaching fiction is little more than a racket. That’s what brought me and a couple of my teaching colleagues—Donald Maass and David Corbett—into the comments with some admonishments.

Porter, I’m happy to say, qualified this impression, kindly mentioning my name and my two fellows (and others) as exceptions. But he added this in a comment:

It’s been interesting to see some of these folks I’ve mentioned struggle with this piece. On the surface, of course, that looks natural in that no one wants to be painted with too broad a brush. But you note that I mentioned none of them, nor would I — they’re not the kind of problematic how-to players I’m talking about. And yet, to some degree, they seem unsettled by even the discussion of the problem.

This makes me think (I’m speculating here, they have not told me this) that the problem of “the toadstools” — who are NOT these writer/teachers — is much on their minds.

I can’t answer for my colleagues, but I’m happy to clear up any confusion on my part. No, “the toadstools” were not on my mind at all. What set me off was even entertaining the notion that writing can’t be taught. In point of fact, virtually all writers have been taught how to write in some form or fashion. It’s just that not many talk about it. As good old Ernest Hemingway once said, “It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

Writing is taught in many ways.

It is taught by editors who know what they’re doing.

It is taught by teachers who know what they’re doing.

It is taught by books by people who know what they’re doing and how to teach others to do the same.

It is taught by critique partners and beta readers.

It can be self-taught by reading novels and analyzing what other authors do. That’s fine. What I do when I teach, however, is save writers years of trial and error by showing them right away what successful authors do, and how they can do it themselves.

The proof of all this, I add as a former trial lawyer, is in the testimony of credible witnesses. The successful writers who themselves give credit to writing instruction.  

Let me offer just one example. This from critically acclaimed author Sarah Pekkanen, who gave an interview to NPR about getting published:

I needed advice before I tried to write a novel. The usual axiom — write what you know — wasn’t helpful. I spend my days driving my older children to school and changing my younger one’s diaper — not exactly best-seller material.

So I turned to experts. Three books gave me invaluable writing advice. One, by a best-selling writer [Stephen King]; one, by a top New York agent [Donald Maass]; and one, by a guy who struggled for years to learn how to write a book and wanted to make it easier for the rest of us [some joker named Bell]. 

The full interview is here. That was six years ago. It’s nice to see how Sarah’s career has prospered since. I’d say she’s offered credible testimony that writing fiction can indeed be taught.

Whew! That’s three full posts all sparked by the incendiary flying fingers of one Porter Anderson, provocateur and good sport. If you bump into him at a conference, don’t dislodge his keyboard…buy him a Campari instead.

Now I’m done. Next week we return to our regularly scheduled program!

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36 thoughts on “Is Our Writing Culture In Mortal Danger? Part III

  1. On issue #5…can fiction writing be taught?

    I’d say, “Absolutely,” when referring to competent, professional writing, but perhaps great writing cannot be taught. Seems to me that no matter how many years I study the craft and put words on the page, I won’t ever win a Pulitzer. (I have another excuse: I’m Canadian.)

    I think some people are born with more talent than others, however, whether it be for finding the right word and rhythms, or whether it be for storytelling. I see this in writing groups: one novice writer will take feedback and make huge leaps in progress, and others will be turtles, plodding along for years until they finally take another step forward.

    • Sheryl, this is a good sub-topic and I wish I had time to do more with it. Maybe in a future post.

      I’ve known gifted, natural writers who failed, for one reason or another. Fear, arrogance. I’ve known many more writers who reached higher levels because they studied the craft and wrote, wrote, wrote.

      It’s like the gifted athlete who lets indolence keep him from his full potential, while some grinder who never stops working surpasses him on the field.

      Another part of this sub-topic is the question: what makes something “great”? We can tell at the outer edges what’s great and what’s trash. But there’s a big cross-over middle where both Gatsby and The Maltese Falcon live.

      Good thoughts, thanks for sharing.

  2. Excellent post! Thanks for this. I should expand but I have so much reading, writing, and learning to do.

  3. I don’t think feelings and insight can be taught. What is writing, a story, without those?

    • Yet we all have feelings, don’t we? And even insight, if we’re over 18. On that aspect, another kind of teaching applies: coaxing those things OUT of the writer. Teaching writers how to ask the write questions at the right time. Giving them ideas how to bring expression. A good writing teacher or editor knows how to do that.

      On the flip side, readers don’t care about an author’s feelings or insights unless they are filtered through a story that actually works.

      • ‘Yet we all have feelings, don’t we? And even insight, if we’re over 18.’

        To varying degrees, yes, we do. Maybe writing can be taught, but not the ability to write well.

        I love music, took guitar lessons over the years. I still cant play the guitar

        • You may not be able to play “Brown’s Ferry Blues” like Doc Watson, but I’ll bet you can play a folk tune or two as well as early Bob Dylan. And sing better.

          • Thanks. Give me your home address and I’ll send a demo tape for you to hand out to those LA types you rub elbows with

  4. My writing has benefitted from instruction. Perhaps what can’t be taught is storytelling. How do you create a story from scratch versus how to you the right prose to explain the story in your head.

    I have learned from my editors, my first readers, Stephen King ( I hear him scream every time I use an adverb), and an audiobook from a University of Iowa creative writing professor. I’ve learned something different from each of them.

    I’ve also accepted that I won’t write like some of my favorite authors. I love Louise Penny’s use of the English language. She says on her website that she takes a year to write a book and plods along at 250 words a day. I lack the patience to take that long to finish a story.

    As for the definition of success, my bar is low. All I need a few 4 or 5 star reviews from complete strangers saying they loved my book. After all my favorite classic, Lord of the Flies only has a 3.71 rating. Reader tastes vary widely. I have been trying to read a recent Edgar award book for 6 months and it’s just not drawing me in. My taste is not always aligned with the award readers.

    It’s the best time of earth to be a writer!

    • And our favorite authors can’t write like us, either. I do believe there is benefit in copying (as an exercise) passages we admire. Also in reading poetry. It’s all about expanding our mind’s use of language.

      As Terry Pratchett once put it, “This book was written using 100% recycled words.”

  5. I think writing can be taught, especially if the mind is open and wanting to learn. Even if the writer toils away by themselves, teaching themselves by dissecting their own work, they are still learning how to write better.

    Of course, learning from other people does cut some of the years off the learning curve. I floundered for a while, knowing something was wrong but not knowing how to fix it until I start reading books about writing and then I had light bulbs moments.

    There is some criticism toward bad writing advice or people giving advice that haven’t finished books themselves, but as in all things you need to be a smart consumer and evaluate each thing before you embrace it dismiss it.

    Great post as usual!

    • Elizabeth, I had exactly the same experience. I didn’t know how to “fix” what was wrong. I really hit the books, and one day got an insight that immediately shot me strides ahead of where I was.

  6. Great post, Jim.

    I loved your analogy of a “maturation of a revolution” for the “tonal shift in the palaver from the indie writing sector.” I read your FORCE OF HABIT series this past week. I believe there is some analogy there for the establishment vs. the independent. Loved Sister J. I’m certain she’d have a few choice lines for Mr. Anderson.

    And it was good to hear your encouragement/reassurance for all of us who find some identity with the tortoise (tortoise and the hare). Your response to Sheryl’s comment about the athlete and talent vs. perseverance, reminded me that many of us follow this blog to scrounge for any tidbit that may improve our talent.

    And finally you asked us to comment on what “success” means for us. To me it is the ability to “get it out there.” I am just beginning. And I have been fortunate enough to find a small publisher who wants my writing. I have no illusions about making much money, but I have the freedom to try. And if someday the small publisher no longer feels that I am worth their effort, I will go the indie route. So, as the analogous Tea Party dumps the crates into Boston Harbor, I stand on the dock and observe, knowing that I will have the freedom to publish and have more routes to that goal.

    Thanks for a great post.

  7. This:

    “Writing is taught in many ways.

    It is taught by editors who know what they’re doing.

    It is taught by teachers who know what they’re doing.

    It is taught by books by people who know what they’re doing and how to teach others to do the same.

    It is taught by critique partners and beta readers.

    It can be self-taught by reading novels and analyzing what other authors do. That’s fine. What I do when I teach, however, is save writers years of trial and error by showing them right away what successful authors do, and how they can do it themselves.”

    I’m one of those fortunate people who’ve always been able to ‘tell a story.’ However, it didn’t take me long to discover that I didn’t have a clue how to write one. The journey was a long one with much trial and error. When I reached the point where I couldn’t ‘see’ what was wrong never mind how to fix it (in spite of taking many creative writing classes) I turned to the work of two men who’ve been there, done it and got the gold stars. Jack M Bickham and James Scott Bell. Now, I’ve reached out to James a handful of times in the past five years, mainly to tell him that I’ve dog-eared and defaced his books with highlighters and sticky notes. If Jack was alive, I’d send him the same messages, too. I really ‘get’ how Jack and James instruct and had many a ‘eureka’ moment. I can honestly say their advice and expertise has made me a better writer and competent story-teller.

    I went down the indie route for a variety of reasons, but the main reason was to take control of my destiny (I’m a cancer survivor and the life lesson learned from battling the disease was to lose the fear of failure).

    As for validation, I receive it from tens of thousands of readers. My writing goal is to entertain those readers. For a few hours/days my stories lift them out of whatever storms, stresses and strains life has tossed them.

    Next April I’ll have twenty-one books published in two genres. I run a global publishing business, employing seven people around the world – editors, copy-editors, proof-readers, cover designers etc. – all are freelance and from traditional publishing. I have designated representatives from digital distributors to help me market my work. I’m a member of Novelists Inc. And last March became a USA Today Bestselling author. (James, take a bow.)

    Today authors are free to write what they want to write when they want to write it. And if they are sprinkled with fairy dust, their readers enjoy their work, too.

    As for craft, well, that’s the sheer joy of being an author. I’ll never know everything about anything. And always, always strive to utilize every tool in my writer box and not just stick the tools I’m most comfortable with, safe in the knowledge that Jack and James are right there to help me hone and constantly strive to improve. I do not know one successful author who does not practice improving their skills on a daily basis. Not one.

    As ever, a wondrous post, Mr. Bell. And one day I’m going to buy you a drink!!

    • Wow, CC, thanks for those very kind words. And for including me alongside the great Bickham. In fact, it was reading his book Writing Novels That Sell back in ’90 that gave me my first big epiphany, and started me on the road to publication.

      Congratulations on your success and work ethic. Well done.

  8. Actually, I have a slightly different take. We are ALL taught how to write from the time we read our first books–from nursery rhymes through the Hardy Boys and on upward as we read. The difference is that for some, writing is a tool to get by with homework assignments and work related projects. For others, sparks fly and words take on a much deeper meaning and create a much different life than for the person who just wants to be able to turn in their book report or dissertation or project to their boss.

    Writing can most definitely be taught. From many avenues. So the idea that writing can’t be taught is completely ridiculous.

    • Right, BK. You have to have the “sparks fly” desire in you. It’s not talent per se, it’s the NEED to tell a story. If you have that, you’ll find a way. And teachers will help you.

  9. I can’t count the times I’ve heard this debate on panels and in conference bars — is it natural talent or training and tenacity? I say you need both to be a writer. We could go to the usual sports examples: Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team, didn’t get recruited by the college team he wanted and in his first NBA draft two teams bypassed him for other players. But the guy became renowned for working hard at mastering his craft, practicing longer and harder than any player in the NBA. He also often acknowleged the role failure played in making him a success. (Go watch his Nike commercial here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45mMioJ5szc)

    But the man had talent. That inborn undefinable gift that lifted him into the ether. (literally and figuratively). Talent and training go hand in hand. Or as Stella Adler once said, “Craft makes talent possible.” And I believe this is true for writers, musicians, artists and anyone in a creative field. I’ve seen too many examples in my teaching experience to make me believe otherwise. As someone above said so well: some writers learn from teaching, reading and critiques. Others plod along and just never get it.

    I always fall back on music metaphors when this discussion comes up. I can play the piano a little. I’ve taken lessons, I’ve practiced until my fingers crabbed up. I can bang out a pretty decent rendition of “Misty” and Satie’s Gymnopedies. But I will never be really good at it or make money at it. Because I lack enough talent. And as much as I want to be great, it won’t happen and no amount of lessons and hard work can make it so. And I lack confidence to play for anyone. (I’m working on that one…like writers who don’t want to submit their manuscripts for scrutiny!)

    I think writers and musicians share a soul. We can hone the skills, learn the theories behind our arts, practice or rewrite for years — and we can want it so badly it aches. But if we don’t have the “ear” we can’t produce anything that will move others emotionally. And that, to me, is the bottom line. With my piano playing, I’m happy as a clam noodling around and playing “96 Tears” for my dogs. But with my writing, I want to make an audience angry, scared, sad — and satisfied enough to come back and listen to me again and again.

    • Good thoughts, Kris. I like your Jordan analogy. I always think of one of my favorite baseball players, Pete Rose (not one of my favorite gamblers, though). The man simply MADE himself great by hard work and always, always hustling. He never jogged to first base after being walked. He RAN. He wasn’t the natural DiMaggio was, or Ted Williams. But he became one of the all-time greats. Robin Yount, who I went to school with, had natural athletic talent. But he worked HARD (and had a big brother, Larry, who was an MLB pitcher and could really work him). We can multiply these example almost infinitely.

      And in the end, what does it matter how much talent? If you want to write, you write, and you keep writing, and you don’t stop till your cold dead fingers can’t pound the keys anymore.

      Music. I was pretty good on the guitar in high school. Not a lot of musical talent here, but I got to plucking pretty good. Didn’t pursue it, because I went to college to play basketball…but I think I could have become better. Now, for fun, I play my ukulele. No, I’m not going to win a gold record, but I could actually busk on Hollywood Boulevard with my had on the sidewalk and make Starbucks money.

      • Ha! They would pay me NOT to play, Jim. Great post. I love this discussion.

        I really wanted to be a ballet dancer. Took classes all my life until my toes bled. But I was chubby, with no hip turnout, not near enough talent, and stubby legs. So I became a ballet critic. Which got me to…Michael Jordan at one point. He was in the middle of his second comeback tour playing the Heat and I wanted to do a story comparing him and Baryshnikov, how they both could float in the air. In the Bulls locker, I elbowed past the sports guys and asked him “how do you get such great hang time?” He laughed and said it was a gift. But he was fascinated when I told him male dancers bragged about their “ballon” (which is the ballet term for hang time). He was a nice guy.

        And for the record, Spud Webb, who is as tall as me (five three) has the best recorded hang time in the NBA. Which says something about talent triumphing over stubby legs maybe.

  10. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, James. You asked, “What does it [success] mean specifically to you?”

    I read to be transported to another place. For entertainment, to learn, to grow, to explore other ways of thinking. My writing aspires to do the same. Success is when it does one or more of those things. And I’d like more readers for validation and valuation—that’s success too.

    • I like that word “transports,” Richard. I think for most writers–and actors and dancers and painters, etc.–it’s that feeling of being transported yourself, by great work, that make you want to create the same feelings in others. There’s nothing like the feeling of having a reader tell you just how much a story meant to them, right?

      So we go for it. And keep trying to get better at it.

  11. Maybe a more useful way of framing the question is not, “Can writing be taught,” but, “Can writing be learned?” I first considered this in terms of acting, back when I was doing a lot of amateur theater, and I think the same principle applies. Anyone can be taught, but it requires a certain mindset to learn. First, you have to understand that there IS something to learn, that you don’t know it all. The person who knows everything can’t be taught anything. It demands an openness of mind, an honest, almost brutally honest self-appraisal.
    It also requires an openness to the world, the ability to see things around you and mentally record them and let them become part of your process.
    You have to be willing – even eager – to grow. That means you have to stay green, because green things grow.

    • Excellent insight, John. I was an actor who learned a lot by watching…Brando, Spencer Tracy. But I also was taught because I wanted to learn. By Uta Hagen, and a local L.A. teacher named Tracy Roberts. One of the main things I had to learn as an actor was a fearlessness about being vulnerable and open. That took some time, but these teachers taught me how. Same would apply to writing, I’d say.

  12. Great post as usual Jim,

    Can writing be learned? For me, as a newbie, I surely hope so.

    As I ponder the question, my love of sports sends a flurry of thoughts bouncing around in my head. God-given talent is instantly recognized when watching the elegance of a pure baseball swing. Who doesn’t marvel at a soaring Michael Jordan slam dunk. “That man was born to play basketball,” folks would say. The product of innate talent is instantly recognized, in the sports world as well as in the literary world, but it would be a lonely game if no others were allowed to take the field or court, if those who honed less than ideal talent into hall of fame careers were not allowed the opportunity to play the game.

    Seminars (JSB’s Plot and Structure being one), conferences, instructional books and critiques have helped me grow over the past few years as I continue to feed that thirsty writing bug stirring within. I know I’ve grown as a writer. No doubt. Perhaps one day this journeyman will look back and appreciate the hours of diligence, the nights of toil and have someone say, “that boy may not be Stephen King, but I can’t put his books down.” For now, success for me is finishing a scene or chapter and feeling like I just hit the winning three pointer in the championship game.

    Thanks Jim and all the KZ writers for ll the great instruction.

    • For now, success for me is finishing a scene or chapter and feeling like I just hit the winning three pointer in the championship game.

      Yes. Those incremental victories mount up. Good on you, M. J.

  13. I believe structure must be taught, at least it was that way for me. If it weren’t for you, Larry Brooks, Blake Synder, and the like, I’d still be pantsing my way through book after book getting nowhere fast. So, a big thank you for all you do!

  14. When I get into this debate, I break it down to art and craft. Yes, you have to have some natural tendency and talent. Because without that, the “art,” you’d never be willing to tackle the drudgery of learning the craft. That goes for everything from writing to car mechanics.

    My late husband was a talented artist, but his brilliance was as a craftsman. He could take raw work, remake it, and then cast it into perfect form. Then paint it with the precision of a machine. Yes, he had talent. He also had the drive and willingness to devote thousands of hours to learning his craft.

    What a good writing teacher does is take the raw talent and hone it into craft that is as precise as my husband painting the eyes of miniatures with a brush or dotting the I’s on a stone with a sandblast nozzle.

    It’s been written in various forms, but one interview with a young violinist brought it home. He said he hated the phrase “god-given talent.” Like it just came to him. He said it was an insult to him and his teachers for the long tedious years of training and tears it took for him to be able to pick up a violin and make it sound effortless.

    It goes back to the old saying, “First you make it look good. Then you make it look easy.”

    As for success, I’m not there yet. The ultimate is to be able to generate income that falls somewhere between, “Enough to do something” and “Not enough to do nothing.” Although a few signposts have been passed, like getting a royalty payment every month, month after month, and having people I’m not related to ask when the next book is coming (And, yes, I took your advice on the first page critique, the part about the upcoming execution party is now in dialogue about 20-pages in and the first page is front-loaded with the job interview of the mysterious sexy waitress. Oh wait, that would be you teaching me writing. Oh no! My art has been sullied!)

    See ya next Sunday! Terri

    • I love what that violinist said, Terri. It reminded me of that old joke about the guy in NY who walks up and asks a fellow how to get to Carnegie Hall, and the guy says, “Practice.”

      And I like your marker: “…having people I’m not related to ask when the next book is coming…” That’s an awesome feeling, isn’t it?

      Nicely done.

  15. Hi, Jim,

    Sorry again about the delay. The combination of BEA and the IDPF Conference there (which I programmed, a six-month project with 80+ speakers and 35 sessions over two days during BEA) sent me home with a lot of catching up and digging out to do — the week has been a blur. (And no, it’s not just the Campari, lol.)

    I tell you where I am after all this back and forth — and thanks again for your long-running enthusiasm for the original Writer Unboxed post, seems like I wrote it in the 19th century now.

    I’m actually left wondering whether we mean the same thing when we say “teaching writing” and ask “can it be taught?”

    I see I’m not alone, either. Some of the commenters here are essentially asking the same thing.

    Can you clarify this? Are you talking craft or art?

    -p.

    JSB here: Comments were closed by the site, so I’ll just briefly respond: a good writing teacher can teach craft techniques and prompts for getting to the art. The writer brings to the table a certain amount of talent and, more important, desire and drive. Examples abound. Thanks again for the debate you started back in Victorian England.

Comments are closed.

Is Our Writing Culture In Mortal Danger? Part II

firefighter-593728_1280Last week I began a discussion sparked by a provocative post by Mr. Porter Anderson at Writer Unboxed. The first part of my response is here. We had a robust debate in the comments, but I’ll try to summarize the first issue I’ve addressed, which is the plethora of teaching and “author services” appearing, in Porter’s words, like “toadstools” all over the internet. My view, in agreement with Porter, is that many of these are not worth the money and some are downright scams.

Porter would like me, and other “legitimate” teachers (I thank him for carving out an exception for me and colleagues like Donald Maass and David Corbett) to cry foul and go after charlatans publicly. But that is not my job or responsibility. Others have taken that on. My solution is the old but still valid rule: Let the buyer beware.

And yes, that is enough. I’m not a nanny.

Now, on to Issue #2: Is it the best or worst time to be a writer?

Here we come to a piece quoted by Porter, written by an anonymous literary agent in the UK. Calling him/her self “Agent Orange,” he/she wrote a post for The Bookseller which opens:

On the face of it, it is paradoxical that while it’s never been easier for authors to get their books into print, there has never been a worse time to be an author. Author earnings are down and the number of writers able to make a living out of their work is at an all-time low.

While this was mainly a jumping off point for Orange to complain about writing courses and teachers, I can’t let this sentiment go unchallenged.

I’ve been expressing exactly the opposite view since 2009. I give my reasons here. To save time, I’ll just refer you to that post, which I stand by. Further, both Porter and I have cited the amazing work being done by Hugh Howey and Data Guy and their quarterly Author Earnings reports.

Bottom line: in terms of making actual money, and even an actual living from writing fiction, it is beyond all question, doubt, cavil, or dispute that this is the best time on Earth to be a writer.

As the old political rejoinder goes, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

Now, to be fair to Agent Orange, I do think there’s a bit of context we have to understand. I haven’t spent a lot of time studying this out, but there seems to be a more entrenched traditional book publishing culture in the UK, and it is those authors who are seeing their incomes go down significantly. It’s happening here in the U.S., too, of course. But across the pond there’s a greater concern over the survival of the “writer as artist” ideal.

To which I respond: This is nothing new. It’s always been difficult for any artist to cobble a living from their art. And by art I mean singular vision as opposed to commercial production.

How many artists in history have ever been able to support themselves by doing, for want of a better phrase, “their own thing”? How many Jackson Pollock wannabes have tried to out Jackson Jackson, only to be completely and utterly ignored? (And there are those who think the original Jackson should have been ignored, but that’s another discussion entirely.)

How many structure-hating novelists have poured their souls onto the page, only to be rejected fully and finally? Or, if managing to get a small press to take a flyer, seen ten book sales and no publicity, not even from their local paper?

If you want to pursue the life of a solitary genius, that’s never been a road to riches. If you expect to be treated with a velvet backscratcher, and have the literary elite fete and fawn over you, then yes, times are not great. But they have never been great for this kind of artist.

I believe this is the “writerly culture” that Agent Orange sees as doomed.

But consider: writers who love to tell stories, who entertain, who work at their craft, who are productive, who keep striving to get better, who don’t see plot as a four-letter word (irony intended)—these writers now have a better chance to realize a return on their work than at any time in the history of storytelling. From Og the cave dweller, who told the first story (you know, the one about killing the mastodon) to Geoffrey Chaucer and Jonathan Swift and James Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack London and Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and Dorothy Sayers and Erle Stanley Gardner and Herman Wouk and Nora Roberts and Stephen King and John Grisham and Michael Connelly and J. K. Rowling and James Patterson…

…to all of the new (or formerly midlist) writers who are now earning five, six and sometimes seven figures a year because of the disruption called digital self-publishing, I say without any qualm – and eschewing dew eyes, Kleenex, and exclamation points – that it is indeed the best time on Earth to be a writer.

Is there still room for the solitary, literary genius? Yes, and even more room than before. If the artist is not insistent on a traditional print run and New Yorker reviews, he or she has a good chance at finding readers via self-publishing. Or by partnering with a digital company that knows what it’s doing. (Unless your goal is to win the National Book Award. Then all I can say is, good luck to you, because that’s always been a matter of “writerly culture” roulette. Lightning may strike. But be prepared to have some stamina, and a day job. I refer you to Mark Z. Danielewski, whose 27 volume, 22,680 page experimental epic is only now leaving the starting gate.)landing-stage-sea-holiday-vacation

So to all writers I say, jump into the indie pool. Even if you’re trad published, establish some sort of indie footprint with short-form work. Talk to your agent and editor about a plan going forward.

And tell them the water’s fine. We’re even serving margaritas at poolside.

So which is it – the best of times or the worst of times to be a writer?

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27 thoughts on “Is Our Writing Culture In Mortal Danger? Part II

  1. Good morning, Jim.

    Wow, it’s 10:00 am Eastern time, and no one has jumped into the discussion yet. I thought maybe everyone was afraid to get caught in the cross fire between you and Porter, then I remembered this was a holiday weekend.

    I agree with your comments. That’s a strategy I plan to pursue. And I like the intermittent short-form idea. In fact, I’m working on two short stories now for a writing competition.

    Just to get everyone armed for discussion #5 (if that will be “Can Fiction Writing be Taught?), The current issue of WRITER’S DIGEST is on creativity and improving your writing.

    And an aside: Having bought every book I could find on writing the short story, I think there is a niche out there for a James Scott Bell book on writing and self publishing the short story.

    Thanks for the post. Have a great Memorial Day weekend.

    • Thanks for kicking things off, Steve. And the kind words.

      I’ll have to noodle on the short story idea, but for now I think I capture the essence of it HERE.

      Happy Memorial Day to you, too, Steve, and all of our TKZ community.

  2. The soul of a balanced retort, sir, as ever, and I can allow you every point here without my irritating efforts at contradiction.

    You’ve always made your case for the “best” argument well. And I think that many of us might see #AgentOrange’s “worst” characterization with some surprise — if for no other reason than that we hear so many in the independent camp, like you and Howey, saying otherwise so frequently.

    I think that the agent’s — any agent’s — interpretation of this is based on a different purview. Perhaps agents who see things as #AgentOrange does might agree with the procedural and access advantages of the independent model that you rightly extol. Their disagreement — and #AgentOrange’s concern for the monetary factor — may lie in the question of inventory. Too many books, Mr. Gutenberg, eventually will water down even those margaritas at the pool.

    We can focus a lot on discoverability, of course, and will. “Putting Readers First” is the theme of the IDPF Digital Book 2015 Conference I’ve programmed for this week at BEA with 90 speakers and 35 sessions, some fine, fine people with us.

    But what if there just is too much to discover? Is the water still fine when the pool is over-capacity?

    That, too, is digital at work.

    Thanks again, my friend.
    -p.

    • I think you’ve hit on the main issue, Porter, as is your wont. While it may be the “best time,” will the “tsunami” of content dilute that pitcher of maggies?

      Only for those who take a quick dip and expect the party to focus on them. “Discoverability” (and I’m getting tired of that word) is not some automatic thing that every writer should expect to magically happen with their first book. I have coined the term QUIME (Quality + Time) to describe the only foundation for true and lasting success. Quality lifts content toward the surface. Reviews, word of mouth, algorithms do some of the work. The author, with a little bit of training in business principles, can do a lot as well. The vastness of the ocean is not the problem–it’s the buoyancy of the product. Keep working on product quality and output, and there will be an upward climb, guaranteed. How high the climb, or how long it will take, are both variable. But upward it will be.

      Now, compare that to the “old system.” If a writer’s trad books failed to catch on, esp. with a big advance to recoup, that writer would get slapped with a CIO–Career Is Over. There was often no place to go. They were “damaged goods.” Some small publisher with no clout might take them on, but never again would that writer be in a position to hit it big, to make a living.

      And only a small percentage of fiction writers ever made enough to depend on writing for their food and housing. Most realized only small gains.

      But the “new system” has changed all that, for a huge number of writers. And that percentage is growing.

      The pool can take all of us. And there’s a bunch of us here who teach swimming.

  3. To my mind, if you’re a writer, it’s ALWAYS the best of times~ whether or not you make a ton of bucks or rake in the statuettes ~ if you relish the challenges of good craftsmanship and working within the rules to understand and break them for a reason other than because I can, then I think the satisfaction is the reward that fame (and notoriety?) only serve as the flowers on the icing on the cake.
    So sure, I’m unpublished, and only minimally recorded with my songwriting, but it’s always a good day to take pen to scrap paper or put finger to keyboard, because you never know, you just never know~ you know?
    g

    • And that’s the best of all worlds right there, G. To find satisfaction in your work, and allow it to be a joy. Those things will make the writing itself better. (I always liked the flower on the icing).

  4. I’m always amazed by the amount of authors who are very casual at making a couple hundred dollars a month, as if that’s chump change. And compared to the 100k people, maybe it is. To me, that would be a major income increase.

    The people making good money are the ones who advertise regularly in the book newsletters. They have well-edited books in popular genres, with eye-catching covers. Basically, they’re indistinguishable from trad pub authors.

    There are people writing “artiste” books alongside their “bread and butter werewolf romance serials”. And artists have always supported themselves that way, right?

    • Kessie, it is indeed a very good thing to generate three figures a month from writing fiction. In the old pulp days you made a one-time sale to a magazine, and that was it. Now you own the work, forever.

      You’re right about the fundamentals of large incomes: genre, editorial, covers, some advertising. Add to that series and production.

      But even if the income is modest, it is still….INCOME.

  5. I have a foot in both worlds now (or is it three?) — once traditionally published by a Big Six, now with Thomas & Mercer, and self-pubbed my back list after a fight to get the rights back. The first experience was a heady one, but as Jim points out, if you don’t make back those advances, you are at high risk of being CIO. That’s the nature of the biz. No one in publishing is there to hold your hand; they’re there to make money. But I’m lucky to have a tidy monthly income now from my back list. And that, as others have said, is nothing to sneeze at. This wasn’t possible just a short time ago because if your tree books went out of print, tough noogies. And don’t even get me started about how hard it has become for even traditionally published writers to get ANY tree title into what is left of the bookstore distribution network. So I have to come down on the side of “it’s the best of times.” I have too many writer friends who were dropped by traditional publishers and are now making good livings and building their audiences. You just don’t hear much about them via the usual outlets like bestseller lists and reviewers. But trust me, they are out there and smiling all the way to the bank. This said, it remains extremely difficult to launch yourself via self-publishing. If you have the foundation of the traditional publishing experience behind you, it’s easier. But you still have to work hard and take nothing for granted.

    As for new publishing models causing more books to be available: Can someone explain to me why this is a bad thing? Like readers can’t tell the difference between quality and crap? Gimme a break. {{{grumpy. am getting more coffee to calm down}}}

    • Kris, any comment that includes the term ” tough noogies” deserves wide recognition. Your thoughts are right on. More coffee is always a good idea, too. Thanks!

  6. Well, I certainly *hope* you’re right, since I decided three weeks ago (with my agent’s encouragement) to take my YA novel indie. For a year and a half publishers said “We like it, but …” and that “but” always had something to do with not believing there was a market for an adventure about pirates. I know there is, not a Harry Potter market, but I know I’ll be able to sell it. It’s beyond the point of wanting to make lots of money, or even any money. I really love the story and just want to share it with some of the thousands of people I hear from every year. They’re going to love it.
    So I have got to side with you on this argument. I don’t know if it’s the “best” time to be a writer, kind of depends on your definition. But it’s certainly a good time to be a writer. My novel was dead in the water as far as traditional publishing goes, but at the end of the summer it’s going to be launched on the waters of self-publishing and find an audience I really believe will enjoy it.

    • Excellent to hear, John. There use to be no answer to the “We like it, buts…”

      Now there is.

      I think there’s a market for pirate stories, too. Go get it and good luck.

  7. a 2-part comment.

    First, last week’s Part I. Yes, the toadstools. But not all that different from generations of correspondence courses advertised in the back of magazines. No, you won’t learn to be a chiropractor through the mail. Heck, in Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad warns Connie about the “learn to fix radios” correspondence course.

    I am thinking of taking a 6-week online seminar that is offered by a legit program via our local junior college. The course is well reviewed, even if the instructor’s creds are on the thin side. I’m thinking more the structure, the “you will have 20 pages by Friday to workshop with the class” deadlines and the possibility of meeting like-minded souls. At $89, I think it is a decent bargain.

    Yes, it is a good time to be a writer. Things have changed. The advice from someone with 30 books in print about how she got her first contract in the 1990s isn’t really helpful. Things have changed that much. Said author’s newer books are getting more and more cookie-cutter, but have a fan-base that was nurtured by author’s publisher back in the 90s when it was a different game. Yet, if she slips and falls, author’s downward trajectory will be different (and author will suddenly change tune about self-pubbing.)

    And the reality is, someone can wait their entire career for that one brass ring. There is not enough room at that table. I liken agents to searching an over-stuffed rack hunting for the shirt they want that day. That book or query has to appeal to their mood and business sense based on what they want right then and there. They don’t have time or resources to indulge in whimsy. So, when one shirt is plucked off the rack, what does that say about the rest of the shirts? Not a damn thing. It just wasn’t what the agent/editor wanted/needed at that moment.

    I do most of my day job in the secondary collector market. And you know what? Those dealers don’t give a flip about what is fashionable at Crate and Barrel right now. Sure, there are fads and trends and you try to ride them, but everything sells at some point, even if not for what you expected. Like writing, it is about volume and churn and finding a way to stand out from the background noise.

    I’m not into pay-the-mortgage yet, but a week’s worth of groceries shows up in my bank account every month. The delay in the second book is only on me, no one else. I plan on self-pubbing the rest of the series, but also have a new idea that I will query and query hard when it is ready. Why? Because I can.

    “Writerly culture” can bite me. Those ivory towers were too dark, stuffy, and filled with pipe smoke anyway. What I consider to be great books weren’t written by delicate flowers, they tended to be rougher types.

    Back to work with me. I have orders to pack and words to write. Great series. Look forward to the next installment.

    Terri

    • And the reality is, someone can wait their entire career for that one brass ring.

      Indeed, Terri, this is the gamble. When you talk about “odds” in this game, you need to look at the number of writers who were given that shot who missed. It’s no dishonor to have tried. But it is a years-long proposition just to toss the dice.

  8. I’m going to come down on the side of “the best of times.” I’ve been working toward traditional publishing for years. I haven’t been rejected (yet, give it time) but it was extremely hard to pervere through book after book while the entire publishing world talked about how glutted the genre was. I know there’s an audience for my genre but it’s harder to break into it because publishers don’t want the same exact book that’s out there, but are also too scared to try anything really new either, leaving new writers in a lurch.

    I’m really glad I have options now. I can write a series of novellas if that’s the shape the story takes. I can write short stories and not despair in their never finding a home. I can write novels and if I hear “thanks but” I’m not doomed to trunk the novel.

    I think traditional publishing still provides value, and heaven knows more books out there means it’s harder to be noticed, but I think overal it benefits everyone. Peoples backlist is suddenly an option. Publishers are even getting behind the idea of a lower risk novel by releasing it to ebook first and then seeing what happens. Less pressure on everyone is s good thing.

    And even if I’m not clearing six figures at one go with my soon to be self published efforts, it still gives me time to build up my list, one book at a time. A list that allows my books to stay available to new readers for years and years to come. I feel like self publishing has made being a mid list writer a via income again.

    • Good thoughts, Elizabeth. I especially like:

      I’m really glad I have options now. I can write a series of novellas if that’s the shape the story takes. I can write short stories and not despair in their never finding a home. I can write novels and if I hear “thanks but” I’m not doomed to trunk the novel.

      Love those options. Absolutely.

  9. I like the pool analogy; but where it’s wrong, is that an overcrowded pool makes it difficult to discover ‘good’ content. Amazon and other sites make it very easy for readers to discover the books they are looking for, and that they’ll enjoy.

    But the author needs to do their part – do a few things right – to get up to a minimum level of commercial viability. If it has zero reviews and the authors aren’t giving away review copies or soliciting reviewers; if the book cover sucks; if the description is poor; if the first few pages have weak beginnings or spelling or grammatical errors – and I’d guess that fully 75% of self-published ebooks have these problems – then of course the books will sink and visibility will be an issue. But you aren’t really competing against those authors. You’re only competing against 100 books or so in your small category. You need to be as good or better at exciting readers with a beautifully written description and cover design, and also meet reader expectations by delivering a satisfying story. I think it’s true you probably need to boost your launch with some advertisements, time and effort, but after that your sales will roughly correlate with how closely your book fulfills genre expectations and readership numbers. If your book doesn’t stay near the top of the bestseller lists after you’ve gotten your first 100 readers, it probably wasn’t satisfying enough for people to enthuse about it – in which case more marketing and advertising won’t help. But what will help is writing more books. $100 a month per book isn’t great money… until you have 10 books. Then it starts to be pretty good. And out of those 10, probably one will take off and outsell the others considerably. I think writers spend far too much time and effort considering how to market their books (it’s important, but you can do it cheaply and easily and reach far more people than most authors imagine – they are just focusing on the wrong things). I’ll spend a week during launch and not much time after.

    • . But what will help is writing more books. $100 a month per book isn’t great money… until you have 10 books. Then it starts to be pretty good. And out of those 10, probably one will take off and outsell the others considerably.

      Wise words, Derek. QUIME: Quality plus time. “The most critical thing a writer does is produce.” – Robert B. Parker

  10. When my co-writer and I got our first contract in 2004, it was “sit and wait”. Wait for feedback, wait for cover design, wait for publicist input, wait, wait, wait. Then I learned that in order to get anything in the way of information or details out of a traditional publisher was considered top secret, just slightly harder than access to the Oval Office.

    Now, as indie authors, there’s no more waiting for anything. We make the decisions, we call the shots, we are in charge. Fail–our fault. Succeed–our fault. There’s never been a better time to write books, Jim. I get confirmation with every royalty payment.

  11. “The vastness of the ocean is not the problem–it’s the buoyancy of the product.”

    Memorable quote, Jim. I’ve saved it in my favorites.

  12. Very well said Mr Scott Bell. A voice of considered reason amongst a lot of knee jerking.

  13. I’ll have to vote for best of times. I’ve been traditionally published and indie published and it’s great to have both options. I like having the freedom of options.

    As for the “glut” mentality, I’m not sure how that’s really new. Even a small library has more books than you can possibly read and gives you the ability to order more. No one says that libraries are destroying reading. Throughout my entire lifetime, there have been more books published in any given month than a single human can read. This is not a new phenomenon. Somehow, as a reader, I’ve always managed to find books I like. I still can.

  14. Pingback: #FutureChat from BEA today - Porter Anderson

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Is Our Writing Culture In Mortal Danger? Part I

Kant_fotoThe philosopher Immanuel Kant was sipping his morning coffee one day, reading the philosopher David Hume. That’s what philosophers used to do––drink coffee and read each other’s work.

At some point, Kant slammed his mug down with a great thunk, for what he was reading was an outright challenge to the whole enterprise of philosophy. Hume, the great skeptic, was saying, in effect, “Dudes, you can’t really know anything. Deal with it.”

Kant would later write that this provocation awakened him from his “dogmatic slumber.” He had to answer! So he went out and wrote one of the towering works of all Western philosophy, The Critique of Pure Reason.

I was thinking about good ol’ Immanuel the other morning as I quaffed my own warm brew. I’d traveled over to that great writing blog Writer Unboxed to read a post by my friend Porter Anderson. Porter is one of the more astute observers of the publishing scene.MwNaNqJY_400x400 You can and should check out his work here.

This day Porter pulled a Hume on me. Like the Scottish skeptic, Porter has doubts. They are somewhat evident in the title of his post: The Dreaded Training Debate: What If It Can’t Be Taught? By “it” Porter means the art and craft of writing fiction. Since I am one of those who believe it can be, he definitely had my attention.

There is a lot of material in Porter’s wide-ranging and expressive rant. He challenges the notion that it’s the best time on Earth to be a writer, suggests a definition of writing “success” that seems to me too restrictive, and intimates that “better books” and indeed our “writerly culture” itself may be doomed.

My coffee mug came down with a thunk. I was awakened from my own dogmatic slumber. I would have to reply! I left a comment, but deferred a fuller critique until now.

This is Part I.

I see the issues raised by Porter this way:

Issue 1 – The Toadstool Effect

Issue 2 – Is It The Best or Worst Time to Be a Writer?

Issue 3 – Is the Party Over?

Issue 4 – What Counts as Writing Success?

Issue 5 – Can Fiction Writing Be Taught?

It’s always good to begin a discussion like this with points of agreement, and that’s what Issue #1 provides. Porter writes:

“Like toadstools,” one seasoned observer called it in a note to me recently — this sudden proliferation of “author services,” especially the ones there to teach you, instruct you, train you. They’re everywhere, these kitchen-sink companies, and many of them seem to be peddling (or claiming they do) parts of the job we’re not even sure can be taught.

As he made clear to me in the comments, Porter is concerned about the onslaught of less than “adroit” training:

I do believe, however, that we have generated here an overheated “training wing” attached to this new everybody-into-the-pool stage in the industry’s development. I think the mushrooms are getting pretty thick on the ground and that many, many offerings are neither as adroit nor as potentially valuable as yours. Beyond the buyer-beware rule, always good, is an implication that I think overstates what many people believe they can learn to do on the receiving end of instruction.

Porter and I agree on this, though I don’t find the “toadstool effect” unique to writing. The digital age has unleashed a veritable planet of multiplying fungi, making promises about everything—business, sex, health, wealth, writing, acting, plumbing, fame, “dogs and cats, living together. Mass hyseria!”

The only antidote to this in a free market is the ancient and wise admonition, Caveat emptor. A writer-in-training simply must be about due diligence in these matters. How?

Look at samples of the work. Look for recommendations. Distinguish mushrooms from toadstools.

I note in this regard that none other than Mr. James Patterson is offering an online course on writing for $90. Were I a newbie I would reason thus: James Patterson has sold a few books. He seems to know how to tell a story. The course is 22 lectures. The price is quite reasonable. People who’ve taken the course seem to be pleased. If I’m going to invest in being a writer, this looks like a winner. Sign me up!

But what about some high-falutin offer by someone I’ve never heard of? I’d look at what’s being offered, the cost, and the background of teacher. From Porter in the comments:

So I’m saying that if someone is instructing other writers but has not had the experience of success AS a writer — if they’re teaching you fiction but their own fiction doesn’t sell — then I think, yes, that’s reason to stop, think, and carefully assess whether this is the person to study with.

Completely agree. Which, I quickly add, does not rule out taking a flyer on someone whose artistic output is limited. Some of the best teachers are like that. Michael Hauge in screenwriting. Lee Strasberg in acting. You just have to dig a little deeper to make an assessment. Look for what other students say about them. How have those students fared themselves?

As far as dollars go, you can spend a lot for a course, but relatively little for a book. I love books on writing. My shelves (and my Kindle) are filled with them, all highlighted. My philosophy has always been if I learn only one thing from a book, and it helps my writing, it’s worth it.

I can think of only two writing books out of the many hundreds I’ve read where I did not learn something. Exercising mercy, I shall not name those books.

A further note. There are toadstools that are extra toxic. Right now there is a class action lawsuit against one of these services. Such services will always be with us. The Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross could have run one of these, believing as he did that people are “sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it?”

Well, we’ve only covered Issue #1, and I’m happy to say a general agreement has been reached.

Next week, not so much.

So what is your view of “author services” out there? Good, bad, ugly? How can you tell the difference?

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32 thoughts on “Is Our Writing Culture In Mortal Danger? Part I

  1. Hi Jim,
    Workshops, courses and books all dealing with the craft of fiction writing have proliferated, thanks to the power of the Internet and the Digital Age we now live in. I see this as a good thing. Opportunities to learn abound, both online and at conferences and workshops. Studying the craft of writing, taking workshops and courses, and reading books, books and more books has made a huge improvement in my own writing.

    I see all this as a good thing. Some great opportunities have come to me because I learned about a workshop or a class (or a book) online.

    The bad comes from those who are peddling so called “services” that cost thousands of dollars and don’t teach you anything in the process. If I want a strong content edit of one of my novels, I will search for an accomplished free lance editor who will help the book, and me, improve. Same goes for copy editing, or hiring someone to do cover art. If I’m self-publishing a novel, I’m not hiring a vanity press, I’m hiring pros to help me in the process. Caveat emptor definitely applies.

    As for the ugly, beware of anyone saying you must, must, MUST do exactly as they instruct. If they say you must outline, or you must never outline, or never tell, only show, or you have to use mythic archetypes and answer detailed character questionnaires, watch out. I agree with what one of my writing mentors said about writing rules: “there is only one rule, and that is to affect the reader emotionally, the rest are principles.” They are fiction writing’s Pirate Code: “more like guidelines.” Very useful guidelines, but not absolutes. So when a fiction writing book or service claims to have the one true way keep the Pirate Code in mind.

    The good services (books, workshops etc) will stress the importance of reading fiction, like you do in your own books on writing, such as Super Structure and Write Your Novel from the Middle, which have helped me a great deal.

    Looking forward to Part II!

    • Thanks for the comment, Dale. I’ve said something similar about writing “rules.” I have three: Don’t bore the reader, put characters in crisis, write with heart. Then there are the techniques which have stood the test of time that will help writers do those things effectively. Writers can choose to ignore technique, but when they find the story is not connecting, they will at least know where to look for a fix. That’s my philosophy of teaching.

  2. Jim, thanks for a second-cup-of-coffee post this morning. My mug didn’t “thunk” since it was already sitting quietly, waiting to service me. But your post, Porter’s post, and your comments on his site certainly have me awake.

    I don’t know if I can wait four weeks to read and discuss Issue #5 – Can fiction writing be taught? After all, his intimation (that it can’t) is the basis for all his other points. I expected Porter’s arguments to lead back to the MFA as the only “legitimate” route to writing anything worthwhile. I was surprised at his appraisal of most (or many) of those programs as commercialized routes for the wealthy and pampered.

    I won’t get into a discussion of Issue #5 (since you plan to write on it later) other than to say, it is extremely rare for someone to “know” a skill without learning it. Even child prodigies begin with lessons.

    Thanks for the call to battle this morning. I look forward to reading the coming discussion.

    • Steve, depending on what I have to say (which I’m still saying to myself) I may mercifully condense the next parts…but we’ll see. I may find myself going off to parts unknown, but that’s one of the things I love about blogging here at TKZ. It’s a chance to think through issues like this, and Porter is a worthy provoker of thought and a gentleman. I enjoy our back and forth.

  3. Yes, people coming out of the woodwork with products and services is not exclusive to writing and is not new. But I don’t have the gloom and doom view of this plethora of services that apparently Mr. Porter has. Personally, I think it gives people more options.

    How many times here and elsewhere have we heard “spend the money for a good editing job, a fantastic book cover,” etc etc etc. Someone can TELL me to shell out 2-3k for a thorough edit, but if I don’t have that kind of money, guess what? I’m going to look elsewhere. Hence this big market.

    Same with teaching of writing. Oftentimes traditional conferences price some people out of the ballpark. Having a variety of options as a learning writer is nothing but good. The same thing applies now as applied 50 and 100 years ago—you still have to use discernment and guess what, sometimes you’re going to make the wrong choice. That’s life.

    I’m thankful that books on writing are now on Kindle because my physical bookshelves can’t take any more. 😎 And I have a similar philosophy–if I take away one good tidbit from that book, it has done well. But I’ve reached the stage in life where I have over-absorbed everybody’s tips and tricks on writing. Truly, nothing will help me from here on out except to be busy churning out manuscript after manuscript and learning from each of them. But all those resources are still out there for me if I have a moment of panic or a loss of confidence.

    • Right on, BK. We learn the most when we write, finish what we write, and then look at it. I view my writing books as a neighborhood of writing friends, so if I need to brush up on something, or a word of encouragement, they’re right there. I can drop in on any one of them whenever I like.

  4. I agree with many of the comments here this morning. I read Porter’s thoughts and some of the comments and there is good stuff there too. I do believe that getting our hands on as many books as we want to read about craft is a good thing as I wrote about on Rachelle’s blog a few years ago. (http://www.rachellegardner.com/are-you-a-craft-junkie/)

    However if those books just sit there and you don’t utilize the expertise you won’t get far and I think that is partially what makes some writers successful and others not so much. Then we have to explore what “successful” means to each of us and I see you’ll be addressing that later, Jim.

    Many of us who are passionate about what we write will continue to grow and publish but we won’t necessarily get rich or even be able to make enough money to quit our day jobs. We probably won’t be as successful as James Patterson or Nora Roberts but we can still strive to make a living. But all of us have to be wise as to how much to spend on developing our skills. Just be wise and write.

    • “Be wise and write” is dang good advice, Jillian. Maybe I should have written that. My post would have been about 1000 words less.

      I also like the word strive. That’s what any artistic (or business) venture is all about. And the striving itself, done with purpose and intention and, as you say, wisdom, will make you stronger.

      Write on, Jillian.

  5. Jim, I’ve heard you say (and seen you write) that the craft of writing can indeed be taught. Matter of fact, you’ve proved it. (I quoted you at least three times yesterday in a talk). But the teaching must come from an individual who has proven the advice in their own life–as you have. Then the student, along with gaining knowledge of the craft, must have at least a bit of talent, along with willingness to work.

    • Thanks, Doc. That’s the right combination, a bit of talent (and almost all have at least some) but most of all the work. Thanks for quoting me, too. If I decide to go into medicine, I’ll be coming to you for advice.

  6. Interesting way of putting it, the Toadstool Effect. Porter seems surprised at the proliferation of services. I’m not sure that there has been that great a proliferation as much as the services are now visible. The backs of magazines carried little ads for years on most of these services. With the doors open to writers who opt to take charge of their writing careers (be charitable, friends – not all of the self-pub stuff is dross), we have an influx of new folks who seek to learn. We also have a huge learning curve to adapt to the new business environment and a goodly chunk of the materials out there address that specific issue. Given it’s a moving target, new courses emerge all the time.

    Likewise, many a writer has made more money from a book teaching craft than they have off of their fiction. That’s been the case for decades, longer before the digital tsunami. That doesn’t warrant sending them into the dustbin. I still gobble the craft books up, looking for clues to improve. After the first hundred or so, they start to blend as you see the same advice offered for the fifth time, but I haven’t come across any books where there hasn’t been something useful to be gained. Dollar for dollar, I think it’s the best and most immersive way for a new writer to learn craft.

    I take online courses for the same reason, to learn. One, with a prominent writer, ended up being a huge learning experience when I realized that they (using the plural to avoid naming gender so as to hide the instructor) had a tin ear. You can’t write great dialogue without really listening, feeling the inflections and word choices to build a subtle and powerful accent. It wasn’t what the instructor had intended as part of the course and there were other components that were very worthwhile, but the nature of listening was my big take-away.

    The proliferation that bothers Porter objects to is simply the new marketplace responding to the increased demand by advertising more prominently. It’s a lot easier to check out an online source than a three-line ad with a bolded title “Want to be a #1 New York Times Author?” at the back of a magazine.

    • That’s a great point, Paul, about the greater ability to “check things out” now, whereas before you paid your money and took your chances.

      There’s a great story on a scam from the 60s that was exposed over at
      David Guaghran’s blog. It was a long, hard road to get this story into print. Now, we have instant access to all sorts of information and consumer reviews.

      We of course have to be wise about these, too, but there’s no excuse for skipping due diligence.

  7. Hi, Jim,

    I’m hoping you’re not splashing that coffee around after all that thunking of philosophical mugs. A cup of coffee is a terrible thing to waste, and an even worse thing to wear.

    Great of you to take such a collegial tone to what turns out to have been a real weekend-eater of an article.

    I do not consider what I wrote a “rant,” but if you insist on calling it that, then I will invoke what Webster and his wife Merriam say is the archaic meaning of the word: “to have a noisy good time with dancing, singing, and drinking.” Especially the drinking, I like that part. All critical commentary online today is not a “rant.” Perhaps this is something you could teach your many students in your fine how-to books and courses.

    I also didn’t challenge the notion that this is the best time to be a writer (a concept I know is dear to you, you write of that frequently) — that was “Agent Orange,” the literary agent in London I quoted.

    I also didn’t mention “doom” and I didn’t intimate that all is going to hell in a book bag, although it may be and perhaps I should have written so.

    If you find my idea of “success” restrictive, that’s fine. I’m sure many do find it so. I’m also sure that I am not alone in that idea’s shape and size and character.

    To pause here on a point of the debate itself: I’m taking care to set straight what I did and didn’t write here because I care more and more — after spending much of the weekend trying to respond to so many Unboxed comments — about these “you said this” and “you said that” allegations from people who are not reporting what I said but what they want others to think I said. It reveals much about their own thinking. And it misleads others about mine. How to avoid it? Quote me, which you do well at many points, and I thank you.

    As to what I actually wrote, I’m most happy to stand by it. Indeed I am standing now at my desk, as is my wont. Perhaps next month I shall make my Provocations in Publishing article on the topic of “What You Write Sitting Down Isn’t As Good As What You Write Standing Up.”

    A hornet swarm is a lovely thing in the sunset, you know. 🙂

    Okay, I shall return to the issues so tediously at hand here. Because it is Sunday, because I am a minister’s son, and because I can, I think I shall take a device from the Nicene and other creeds chanted regularly by Protestants in the pews. That way I might get an “Amen, Brother Porter!” here and there.

    I BELIEVE that the digital dynamic– which has unleashed on the publishing industry (and others) an unprecedented surge of untrained participation — is also responsible for enabling a lot of charlatanism.

    I BELIEVE that the bozos are leading the bozos in many cases, as I wrote to David Corbett.

    I BELIEVE that this is NOT the case in the instance of every teacher and how-to writer working the field at the moment.

    I BELIEVE that you, Jim, are neither a charlatan, toadstool, parasite, or a premeditated thunker of coffee.

    I BELIEVE, however, that many, many, many others who are sharing your “author services” bus-stop shelter on the digital route to amateur dreams of publication are, in fact, just that: charlatans, toadstools, parasites. Sadly, few are philosophically inclined enough to thunk coffee with any dexterity whatever.

    I BELIEVE that it is inadequate simply to yell “buyer beware!” at the horde of newcomers pouring into “the digital era’s obsession with being published.” (I stand by that concept of populist obsession, you may want to consider offering us a few words on it — to my mind, this is a far more interesting and worthy and revealing concern than this business of “author services.” I wish I’d written about the obsession, frankly…not that we saw any of that in the comments, did we?)

    I BELIEVE that those of you who are legitimately teaching and writing about the craft and business of author-ness (and I specify a number of you in this comment at Writer Unboxed http://bit.ly/1KdoXRg ) should be the FIRST to be saying what I am saying — not castigating me for saying it but distancing yourselves aggressively, eagerly, forcefully from the bozos, the toadstools, and the parasites. You should come and sit by me, Ms. Parker, and stop acting as if I have said an unpleasant thing in the parlor about pretenders to what you do for a living.

    Sadly, I BELIEVE that you and some of your legit teaching/how-to-ing cohorts are afraid of condemnation from a boisterous and rancorous online dynamic (after all, there are now at least 111 comments dangling from my article at WU). I’m afraid that this fear of the rowdy response is part of the reason you suffer far more quietly than you should these misleading, often gouging, occasionally ruthless “author services.” Which of you is willing to state in public that one or another how-to-write-a-book-book is pure crap? I haven’t heard you do that, Jim. And you, of all people, should be taking the responsibility to do this. It’s one thing to talk about your great love of learning that one thing in a book. This is appreciated. But it’s quite another thing to stand by quiet while bozo after bozo comes out with his or her own badly conceived, know-nothing how-to and say nothing to protect the writers you talk of caring about.

    Is a giddy “Oh, right, buyer beware!” adequate? Really?

    Is taking me to task when I try to say a bit more than that, Jim, really the correct response?

    I BELIEVE that I have said enough. Because I have done what I came to your wonderfully redesigned and legible Kilt Zone here to do: I am asking why you and your good cohorts are not willing to take up the responsibility of your legitimacy and specifically flag and warn the unprepared “aspirationals” against the humid, fleshy rise of the toadstools beyond a mere and pitifully ineffective “buyer beware!”

    Stop thunking your coffee and think, man. You have called me your friend in a tweet today. I am so, and I appreciate that. As a friend I’m saying to you: You should be saying what I am saying — it is more your job to do so than mine. Do you really want to fly at me?

    Now. I think I know that there is a deeper concern playing into this, involving my own misgivings about the genuine potentials of writer training. I imagine that your next commentary on this, if there is one (you seem to be forewarning us) will be about that painful issue, which I raised in my article, of how unsure we are — how divided we are — on the issue of how much of good writing can be taught.

    If so, that’s fine. Maybe one reason I get such a kicking for the “buyer beware” issue is that the “What If It Can’t Be Taught?” question is so much more unsettling? I certainly find it so.

    And it’s actually one of those matters that defies argument’s intent, in that no one changes anyone else’s mind on this, you know.
    (1) Those who need to think that they can learn “good writing” (we can’t even agree on what that is) do think so and they hate you for saying otherwise.
    (2) Those who don’t need instruction and are working at higher levels of competency and ingenuity may have another view entirely. They find that if they say so, they’re upbraided.
    (3) Those who make their money “taking in students” are quick to declare that it can — of course! — be taught. And surely good instruction in mechanics and structural elements of writing is valid; somehow this level of training is always confused (sometimes deliberately) with the more aesthetically intangible factors.
    (4) Those who are not making their money “taking in students” in some cases will differ.

    These patterns in the long-running debate are not likely to change, as you know, just as I do. And so maybe it’s easier for you and others-legitimate in the teaching/how-to sector to jostle me for mentioning bozos, toadstools, and parasites than to look with me into the misty forest of profound wonder and mystery that is bona fide artistic efficacy — and the horrible fear that its provenance may be beyond us.

    Lovely, dark, and deep. Like the current obsession with publication — the publicist Sharon Bially in her comment at WU called it “a growing need to be seen and heard” — we now touch on the reachier, scarier ranges of what this whole business could be about if we weren’t so busy assuaging the hurt feelings of aspirationals on group blogs, don’t we?

    How are we spending our time here, my friend? How much coffee shall we thunk over the exigencies of an explosion of writerly hobby-ism that’s greater than any we can recall in history?

    When Gutenberg’s press went into high speed, there were members of the reading elite who complained that he was actually making too many books available — too much to read! Just think what a glance at our “tsunami of content” today would have done to those folks. You’d have scholars turning to stone at their desks.

    Anything that enables the misguided, the wrongly hopeful who are drawn to sense of writerly entitlement sweeping the land should be called into question. And I will keep questioning it, my friend. I hope at your side.

    Thanks,
    -p.

    On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

    • Your fingers should be donated to the Smithsonian, Porter. The amount of content that you’ve put out over the last few days, including here, is a wonder to behold.

      I’m glad you stopped by and welcome your clarifications, as I am most interested in the issues raised, and want to be precise.

      I like your chosen definition of “rant” and can imbibe, I mean abide by it. I’ll even toss in one from Mr. Webster: “A noisy jollification.” I sense when you write you like to make a little noise (which is not a bad thing) and you are certainly jolly about it. That’s what makes discussions with you fun.

      To the merits, I of course will quote Agent Orange (I feel a little silly even writing that) and you precisely. The gist of your comment here, and the Nicene creedal tone of it, is, I think exactly what I wrote about in today’s post. I know you’ve been getting hammered and tonged all over, but pause for a moment and reflect that we AGREE here.

      That’s why I led off with “The Toadstool Effect” and pointed to our agreement. And as I go along, I’ll keep looking for those points, and where we differ, and we can discuss them and raise our mugs (I mean the ones with the coffee in them) to the glories and benefits of debate without rancor.

      So I will incorporate some of your message today into subsequent posts, and always strive to be clear on what’s being said, and who says it.

      That said, there are two points in your comment I want to address:

      You write:

      I also didn’t challenge the notion that this is the best time to be a writer (a concept I know is dear to you, you write of that frequently) — that was “Agent Orange,” the literary agent in London I quoted.

      But these are your words from WU:

      But those many, damp-eyed, Kleenex-clutching “never been a better time to be a writer!” people among us — and they do love that exclamation point

      That doesn’t sound like a warm-up for a warm fuzzy about what a great time it is to be a writer. It sounds like Porter’s jollification, only with a very sharp petard. Damp-eyed? Kleenex-clutching? Not the most complimentary of terms, wouldn’t you say?! (I threw in the exclamation point for fun).

      Second point, re: “toadstools/bozos” (which, I remind you, we largely agree on):

      Which of you is willing to state in public that one or another how-to-write-a-book-book is pure crap? I haven’t heard you do that, Jim. And you, of all people, should be taking the responsibility to do this.

      Rejected, Porter. I’m not a muckraker. I’m not an investigative journalist. And I’m not in the habit of going around in public calling other people’s work “crap.” There are plenty of good places that carry this burden in a professional manner, including Writer Beware and David Gaughran. I applaud their efforts. That’s their business. I have my own business.

      So no, sir, it is not my “responsibility.”

      And doggone it, my desk has coffee splashes on it again. Thanks a lot, Porter Anderson!

      • Which of you is willing to state in public that one or another how-to-write-a-book-book is pure crap?

        Um… isn’t that what reviews are for? If someone buys a how-to book and doesn’t get anything out of it, believe me they’ll let others know just fine on Amazon. 🙂

      • Apologies for coffee-ing your desk this way, Jim, LOL. I’m ready to switch to Campari here, myself. 🙂

        All appreciated, your comment-to-my-comment-to-your-comment, etc.

        My reference to all that Kleenex clutching was not, actually, supportive of the #AgentOrangery. (I know, I really don’t care for that pseudonym — or even the use of it — either.) Instead, it was (or was meant to be) a reflection of the emotion that seems to grip so many in the aspirational camp on the subject. The Kumbaya set has arrived at publishing on a mission more therapeutic than literary, in many cases. Does a person have a right to try to get into writing as therapy? Of course. Is that necessarily good for the art and business of writing? I don’t think so. Nevertheless, I’ll concede that my little evocation of that emotional overlay probably muddied my attempt to pinpoint the emotionalism rather than the question of a “best” or “worst” time for writers.

        And your rejection of the idea that you should condemn misleading and shoddy excuses for the work you do with professionalism and expertise is noted and accepted. With regret. That’s your choice, of course. I’ve made it more than evident that I think that you and your cohorts who do it well are very much the ones to discuss how many are out there who do it badly. But you must make your decisions for yourself, as must I for myself. Sometimes my beagle makes them for me and I normally come out better in those instances.

        You know something else I regret?

        In these exchanges with you, I appreciate your attitude, your friendship, your points, even those with which I don’t agree. I find it far harder to handle to stomach the slaps from people who don’t know me, who assume they have me “figured out,” who write “he obviously thinks this” or “he definitely believes that” when, in fact, they have no freaking idea what I believe or think. Indeed, I work rather carefully to be sure that people do NOT know precisely where I come down on many things. It’s always remarkable to me how they don’t realize this. I’m reminded of a wonderful “Religion Editor” (remember those?) at a newspaper I was with once, who told me that people’s first question was always “How religious is she?” She was, in fact, entirely unchurched. But this never occurred to them.

        I tire of rank strangers assigning one position or another to me in such deep ignorance. It’s one of the least happy elements of online discussion these days. As a critic, of course, I have always been on the receiving end of negative “letters to the editor” (remember THOSE?). And once in a theater lobby, a critic of my criticism took a jab at my jaw. I ducked and had several strong actor friends with me to take down my disgruntled reader, fortunately. We were all so well trained in stage combat in those days, remember?

        But online, you sense such seething dislike behind the comments of some that it changes the idea of dialog and exchange and not necessarily in a good way. In that light, I appreciate a point or two here where I see you steering things back onto the issue at hand, thanks for that.

        And thanks for the good discussion. We may need to put this act on the road, bro.

        Now to work out the math puzzle here so I can post this comment…after a weekend like this, I may need a few tries…

        -p.

        On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

        • Well said, Porter. I’m with you (and I know many others are as well) regarding the decline of civility in this crazy cacophony surrounding us 24/7. A lot of reasons for this, but that is fodder for another blog. Suffice to say that here, at TKZ, we value robust discussion, even some heat, so long as it is fair and well-mannered.

          You are welcome here.

    • Porter, I’m a reader of yours. I agree with you often. BUT…You would have a hell of a lot more credibility if your Twitter timeline wasn’t a sewer stream of “pitchslam” offer codes and vacuous microphone-Jesus quotes from conferences hither, thither, and yon.

      • Ack, Celia, let’s keep the ad hominems out of this thread, okay? I don’t want Porter to have to defend himself here over a side issue. Thanks.

    • Wow. That was quite melodramatic. Since I am not presently “a name in the business” and am on the learning curve end of the writing business, I will simply say:

      Yes, it is enough to say “Buyer beware.”

    • Porter,

      Thanks for swinging in and stating your case. I appreciate folks that hold up mirrors. We are in a transitory period and all the rules – and assumptions – for both sides are open to debate. If it’s not the best time to be a writer, it certainly might be the most interesting.

      You raised a point about calling out a charlatan. In my comment above, I offered an example of an instructor, who despite publishing success, was a poor fit for me. It was would be easy to state that he or she was a fake, a fraud, but that would be unfair. It also would needlessly stir animosity when none is warranted.

      I’m new to writing, probably newer that most of the writers here. One lesson that I learned running my other businesses is that I can’t please everyone – and not everyone will meet my needs or expectations. When that happens, I lose money and learn. The lesson seems to stick better with a skinned knee or a pocket lightened.

      Your concern, of the minor frauds (which exist) of the various training programs, pales in next to the behaviors seen at the more rarified reaches. Where major fraud does exist – at Author Solutions, for example, which is warming the bed for the several large publishers – it seems to get swept under the coverlet. Author Solutions operates the same way a con man does, by finding a mark that wants to believe and will do anything to prove that belief.

      You offered a bit of your wisdom in the form of a creed. Let me do the same.

      I believe . . . that the digital dynamic has unleashed a stunning diversity of ability, of all levels, for all tastes.

      I believe you’re right – Jim is not a charlatan, but I’m open to the premeditated coffee thunking, if only for dramatic effect.

      I believe that humans share the same weaknesses the world over. . .

      I believe that marks look for their con men, wanting to believe . . .

      I believe that the publishing industry has, for decades, acted on the this very nature of men and women.

      I believe that I have the right to go to hell my own way. I may have an audience cheering me along, or the lonely silence that writer’s fear the most, the quiet that comes when people just don’t care, but it is the path that I forge, as an aspirational adult. I don’t need looking after, as though I were a child too simple to comprehend the gap between myself and a dream, that my tender feelings should be assuaged. Bah! If writing can’t be taught, I will learn that, but I won’t be told it. I’ll need proof and years of my labor to convince me. Along the way, I’ll kiss a frog or two and find a toad. I’ll expect I’ll survive.

      Because I also believe that you can’t grasp what you don’t try first to reach.

      And . . .

      I believe that the ultimate failure would be not to try.

      That is at the heart of the digital dynamic. Most of us will lose, but so many at least will get a shot.

      Now, it being evening, I’ll lift a glass in your direction and toast your health and fortune. I ask you not to worry for us.

      • I’ll certainly not worry for you, Paul, you hold your own much better than most, and thanks for your considered input.

        Cheers, yourself,
        -p.

        On Twitter: @Porter_Anderson

  8. If I may, any Kanr rant that includes the great Peter Venkman (ne Bill Murray) at the outset deserves some attention.
    Snake oil salesmen have been hucksterimg since before the internet and will continue on into the telepath-e-net~ To rephrase an old one, those who can, do, and those who can’t, prey on those who want to.
    Yeah, there’s lots of stuff available ~ the trick is finding a reputable and trustworthy “place” – like TKZ – where the pitch is on building community and not on sales (though the occasional mention of “wares” available is seen – at least by yours truly- as an offering for consideration, as opposed to the raison d’etre ~).
    Thanks for what y’all do here;
    g

    • Thanks, G, and that Ghostbusters quote just came out as I typed. It seemed so…right.

      Your use of the term “snake oil” calls to mind the Old West, which is apropos considering many term this digital age a “gold rush.” There were lots of people who sold to people searching for a big strike. Some of the shovels were good, others not so much. We just have to listen and make sure we get good shovels…and where the heck I’m going with this I don’t know. But I do know this: Nobody steps on a church in my town!

  9. Thanks for starting this discussion; I was going to write a response to the news that 50 Shades of Grey author E. L. James is going to offer a writing course soon, a move which raises some of these same questions. People are skeptical because her writing is so obviously, categorically “bad” (so some object, anyway). But she’s a mega-bestseller. If we are learning the craft of writing from mega-bestsellers, as opposed to “great writers” who don’t actually sell that many books, we’re going to need to discuss – as you plan to – what makes “good” writing. For me, if you can string a story together that readers like, that counts as good. I’d rather write something that a lot of people love, than something a few eggheads appreciate as brilliant. But I think a lot of authors are purists and still go for ‘quality writing’. I think there’s also a distinction to be made between high quality prose, sentence structure, word choice and basic story-telling. A lot of authors focus too much on fancy sentences but can’t write a well paced story that holds attention. I think it makes sense to me, if people are offering a course that you pay for, to teach them how to write commercial fiction that has a chance to make money, as opposed to most traditional, university ‘creative writing’ courses that focus more on powerful prose but raise their noses at popular fiction. I think the part of the writing that “can’t be taught” is literary fiction; I think a lot of authors want to write literary fiction and ALSO sell a ton of copies, even though there isn’t really a market for it, and that’s a problem. The part that CAN be taught, is telling mass market genre formulaic story; that is, constructing a story arch that resonates with readers of a certain genre, even if your writing is pretty bad, the story will still be satisfying to the right readers, which will make it much easier to market. I think if you’re signing up for a course, you need to consider what you want to learn to write: “good” fiction that few people enjoy, or “popular” fiction that checks all the right boxes and a lot of people can sink their teeth into. Porter is still old school, and is hoping that “good” fiction will somehow triumph, or be supported or funded by someone. But the truth is, the vast majority of readers aren’t looking for literary fiction, maybe 10% of the market, and the other 90% are normally people who want an easy, entertaining read. Do you want to write fiction that sells? Then don’t focus on word choice and clever sentences. Focus on a strong story-telling structure and outline, make sure to add all the features that readers expect of the genre, twist it enough to make it your own. The same distinctions will apply to rest of the your posts: Is it the best or worst time to be a writer? It’s the worst time if you want to write literary fiction. The publishing industry used to basically subsidize what it considered ‘good’ writing, and that’s what the public was made aware of. They are being crushed by authors writing good stories that readers enjoy more, who no longer need help bringing books to market. There’s no money anymore to subsidize books that don’t sell naturally. But for writers who want to write popular fiction, there has never been a better time: as long as they can produce the book well, get a decent cover and formatting, and take advantage of the marketing hacks that have let indie authors do extraordinarily well (offering books cheap or free to build a platform…). There’s a ton of competition, but the majority of them are publishing amateur, poorly designed books. If you do it right, you’re only competing against the other professional authors taking it seriously, and the competition is not so bad.

    • Superb comment, Derek. You said a lot, and it’s all meaty. And it anticipates a few things I have on the burner for future posts. So if it sounds familiar….

      Anyway, thanks for taking the time.

  10. Thank you for another great post. I look forward to Sunday here at TKZ. I also follow WU and Jane Friedman’s blog. Porter is on her blog frequently. I believe he has many valid points, but I think he caters more to the traditional publishing than to self-publishing. Self publishing is still overcoming the prejudice of its association with vanity publishing prior to the internet and Amazon. I see it in many blog posts, although now many attempt to mask it. Since I am still an aspiring ‘wanna-be”, I do read many of the how-to manuals. I have gotten quite a learning experience from many and what the reader takes away is depending on what they’re seeking. Do they want to learn how to outline? Great. Or not? There are organic “pantsers” out there ready to tell the reader how to do it without outlining. I saw the article about James Patterson’s class, and thought that $90 was quite reasonable, but I am on disability, so I have to pick and choose carefully what books or classes to take. So far, what works best for me are the tutorials at Writer’s Digest. It is easier for me to come up with $25 a month, and I have access to all the tutorials and I can watch whichever one is more pertinent to what I may need help with at the time. I look at it this way too. For that $25, if one tutorial doesn’t work for me, there are many more to choose from, so I get more help from it. Several of them have inspired me to go ahead and buy the books that expanded on the particular lesson. Your book on plot and structure being one of them. 🙂 Thanks again and have a wonderful week ahead! 🙂

    • Rebecca, that’s a fine comment, and I’m glad you mentioned Writer’s Digest. There is a name you can trust. They have proven themselves over the years. That’s how all this will shake out, too. Thanks for the comment.

  11. Phew! For a moment, I thought it was going to be quills at twenty paces 🙂 There are way too many so-called experts when it comes to “How to Write” books.
    I have approximately twenty-three of them – and that doesn’t include print versions as opposed to Kindle versions. Then there’s the “free” how-to books you are generously given when you sign up to a particular web site. Some of which are no more than a glorified marketing ploys.

    I have 374 followers on my blog and of those, I’d say at least 100-150 are after my business for marketing my book, designing me a book cover, or building me a better web site. They always have a list of award winning authors they have helped, but when you go hunting, you can never find these authors, or, they have self-published one book (no mention of which prize they have won though) They call themselves entrepreneurs, but to me, the word “entrepreneur” sounds a bit too close to cow manure.

    The one how-to book that has made a profound difference to my writing is Jim’s book, “Write Your Novel from the Middle.” I was about to give up and delete all the files for a novel I’d been working on for six years until I read it. As I read it, I found myself getting excited as I realised some of what Jim was saying, I was already doing. It gave me hope, because it seemed that I wasn’t as dumb as I thought I was and that I might actually have a half-decent story. Since then, I’ve bought another couple of Jim’s books and if they’re a good as WYNFTM, I’ll be a happy camper and there will be no need for coffee mug thumping.

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