I was talking to a friend the other day about blogging. I enjoy her blog posts and I asked her why she doesn’t blog more. She said, “I think I sound bitter.” I thought about that, and while I didn’t think that was true, I realized she had a point.
Writing is a bitter business.
When I say writing, I mean all aspects of it. Finding the time to write, the building of your writer’s platform, publishing, and finding readers.
Why is writing a bitter business?
- Writing is hard.
No one appreciates what you go through on a daily basis. Writing words is hard, and lonely. And no one can make you do the work. It’s not like going to a real job where you get paid every two weeks, and you can get fired for not showing up. Sometimes it takes months to earn royalties; sometimes it takes years. Sometimes the only payment you receive for your writing is your own sense of of accomplishment. If that isn’t enough for you, how do you keep going? What makes you turn on your laptop or open that notebook or open that Google Docs app on your phone day after day after day? Besides raising children and being a faceless trash collector, I can’t think of a more thankless job.
- There’s no pay.
I touched on this a bit in number one. Not only is writing hard, you’re not getting paid. I’m not getting paid for writing this blog post. I’m not getting paid for the books that are on sale on Amazon right now. I don’t get paid to tweet, update my Facebook author page, or write a long description to go with a photo on Instagram. If you feel bitter because money isn’t flowing to you, you need to think about what you can do about that.
Do you not have books for sale? That should be your main priority. Do you offer helpful, evergreen content on your blog? Maybe sign up for Ko-fi and ask for consumers of your work to tip you for it, or start a Patreon account. The problem is, when you’re new and just starting out, getting paid is hard. No one knows who you are. But to be fair–this happens in every profession. They are called interns.
And they work for free. Sometimes if the internship is a part of their university curriculum, they PAY to intern for credit toward their diploma. I pay to blog. I pay for my domain name, and I’ve upgraded my WordPress plan.
I’m doing the opposite of getting paid, and probably so are you.
- No one cares.
This is a big one, and the one that trips up my friend. In a sea of writers and free content, no one cares what you’re doing. I feel this myself when I release a new book. I press Publish and get on with my day. There is no big cover reveal, there’s no blog tour, there’s no FB author page takeover or FB party. There are a couple reasons why I do this. One, I’m building a back list; I’m always writing the next book. And two, I know on certain platforms like Twitter, that’s not where my readers are, and announcing it won’t do anything for me. Sure, there might be a couple of people who will congratulate me, and that’s nice. But anyone cultivating their social media accounts hoping for sales will come away bitter. So I publish and keep writing.
- You feel like you’re screaming into the void.
Let’s be real–that’s what blogging is at first. You blog to no one. You have zero followers, and when you check your analytics, you have zero visits.
But that happens to absolutely everyone who starts a new blog. Everyone. It’s made even worse when you don’t have a solid social media presence to announce your blog on. Blogging is hard for writers. Do we blog for other writers? Do we blog for our readers? How do we do that if we don’t have a book out yet? What do we blog about that hasn’t been said a million times? You put in a couple of hours writing, making graphics in Canva, push Publish . . . all for nothing. It’s very easy to become bitter. To read my thoughts on starting a blog, look here.
- You don’t have support at home.
Your significant other says you’re not making money, so you’re better off investing your time somewhere else. Like at a real job. Your kids want you to play. Your husband won’t help with chores. No one wants to walk the dog or scoop litter. You get accused of wasting time online when you’re trying to build a social media platform and/or write through a sticky scene in your story. Laundry needs to be done. You feel like a trout swimming upstream and some days you feel like there’s no point in fighting all this resistance.
The problem with this is everyone needs their own life outside of who other people perceive them to be. You’re more than just a partner, a mom, a dad, a daughter or a son. People can’t see you writing, or rather, they can’t see the results. When you relax in the bath, you’re taking an hour to yourself. When you go for a run, you are doing something for your health. When you spend an hour doing almost anything else, people can see that. Appreciate it. Why is writing different? You spend an hour in front of the computer for months, sometimes years, and you walk away with your hands empty. Never mind that during that time you might have published two books digitally on Amazon. It still looks like you’ve wasted all that time. And if you don’t have sales, it’s easy to agree with the crabby husband who wants you to get a job, already. Yeah, it feels like all that work was for nothing, and bitterness takes hold.
- There are too many of us.
Holy cow–the writing community has exploded on Twitter in the past couple of months. There are more writers online than lice on a kid’s head during an outbreak at school. It’s easy to feel invisible. What’s worse is we all want the same thing. We want agents and book deals and readers. And it hurts when we see other writers
earn those things. (I do say earn, because querying is hard work!) We’re told over and over again there’s only so much shelf space at the bookstore, there are only so many agents, so many publishers. While Writer Twitter is supportive, no one can deny there’s a current of competitiveness underneath the goodwill. We’re competing against each other. The saying is true–lighting someone else’s candle won’t put out your own flame–but it’s hard to watch someone get what you want. Especially if you are really trying your best.
What can we do to shake the bitterness?
- Define your success.
What does success mean to you? For some people that simply means finishing a book. For others, it’s pushing the Publish button. Still for others, it’s their first five-star review. The thing with success is you need to be realistic. We all know EL James didn’t become famous over night, nor did Hugh Howey. We all start somewhere, so you need to start small and celebrate the small successes, no matter how tiny they are. That might mean buying a bottle of Prosecco for your first ten blog followers, or going out for a night of dinner and dancing with friends when you finish the first draft of your book.
- What do you want from social media?
I know a few people with a love/hate relationship with Twitter, and I understand the struggle. I do. You put all this time in engaging with other people, tweeting, connecting, networking–and for what? That depends on why you’re on there. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. It will show in your lack of engagement and lackluster content. If you don’t like Twitter, focus on a Facebook Author page or cultivate a following on Instagram. Because the fact is, you may hate social media, but even if you do the bare minimum and only have a website for an author landing page, you still need somewhere to announce you have one. This is especially true if you’re not publishing and you don’t have back matter in a book to use to direct your readers to your website or newsletter sign up.
So what do you want from your social media platform? Twitter is a great place to connect with other writers. A Facebook Author page can give your readers a place to find you. Start a Facebook reader’s GROUP and form a book club or place to talk about books. If you live in a cool place like my friend who lives in Hawaii, or you have lots of pets–whatever you think will interest an audience–if you’re more visual, maybe post pictures on Instagram. But the sooner you realize that social media is more for being social and networking than selling whatever you’re peddling, you may form a truce with start to enjoy yourself. I like Twitter. I keep up with industry news that way. A ton of agents and book bloggers hang out on Twitter. If you ever plan to query, befriending agents and creating a professional connection can’t steer you wrong. Social media is about caring about other people. Think of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your content needs to be about other people. If you care about other people, other people will care about you.
- Realize that writing is a long game.
No one got famous overnight for writing. It just feels like they did. That debut that turns into a blockbuster is few and far between and usually has a team of people behind the launch. This year will be my third year in indie publishing. I don’t make much in sales. I only have 226 people subscribed to my blog. I have barely 100 likes on my FB author page. I have 14.7 followers on Twitter, but when I tweet something I’m lucky if I can get five likes. I could get bitter about it, but why?
In fact, in a delicious piece of irony, on Twitter I asked writers what made them bitter about the writing/publishing industry. No one answered.
I love to write and all of the stuff I mentioned would just be a bonus. But I’ll get there. Three years might seem like a long time for someone who wants instant gratification, but guess what? Publishing doesn’t work that way. I’m still a baby in this industry and I’m smart enough to realize it. If you’ve been writing for a year with nothing to show for it, realize this is common. People have wildly exaggerated expectations when it comes to self-publishing and while 12 years ago it could have made you rich like Amanda Hocking, it’s not true anymore. There are too many of us and times have changed. It doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel, but it does mean you have to change your way of thinking.
If it helps, think of the intern. She might be an intern now, but in ten years she could be CEO of the company. But she’ll never make it that far if she quits.
Or lets all those coffee runs make her bitter.
- Remember this is about craft.
Sure, those people who are selling crappy books might have a sales bump every once in a while, but are they are selling to new people all the time, or are they cultivating a loyal readership with well-written stories and lovable characters? It’s easy to get caught up in the other stuff–Facebook, blogging, Twitter likes, but the fact is, none of that matters if you aren’t working on your craft. Build a foundation on good stories.
- People may be cheering for you without telling you.
You could have fans without knowing it! People who want to see you succeed. They follow your blog, look for your tweets. They’re disappointed when you don’t update your author page on Facebook. You can’t assume you’re in this alone, because that probably isn’t true. Snowstorms begin with a single snowflake. Your core readership will begin with one reader. Don’t disappoint her by being bitter.
In closing, I know it’s hard. I’m right there with you. I entered All of Nothing into the RITAs, and it didn’t advance. I tried not to be bitter. Especially since I think All of Nothing is my strongest book so far. And especially since I compared it to the books I had to judge as part of my entry, and especially when I read the list of finalists.
This isn’t anything a writer wants to admit. We should all be supporting each other and be happy for one another. And I’m delighted for the finalists. But I wish I had been one.
It doesn’t mean I’ll never have the chance to enter again, and that doesn’t mean I won’t advance in a different contest some day.
But if I let my bitterness win out, then no, there will never be other contests in my future, or other books, either. So I need to keep my focus on why I write.
Because I love it. Simple as that.
And that may not be the case for you. There’s no judgment here. If you can’t write without the support of a loved one, if you can’t blog because no one has subscribed to it, if you don’t want to finish your book because when you tweet about it no one encourages you, then don’t.
Writing isn’t for everyone. Circle back around in a couple of years when circumstances in your life change. Circle back around when your priorities have shifted. Circle back around when you’re ready to put in the time and the work.
Writing is between you and your readers. That’s it.
And there’s nothing bitter about that.