Business Musings: The People in Your Office

So, it happened again. A big name fantasy writer made his fans angry because the next book in his series hasn’t appeared in years. And, in a passing remark, he compared the comments fans make on his overdue book to those comments people make to their unemployed adult child about getting a job or to their single grandkid about getting married.

Patrick Rothfuss made the foolhardy decision to let a reporter shadow him all day and of course Rothfuss had an unguarded moment. He said, on the record,

“[The fans] don’t realize this is so wearying,” he said with a sigh when we spoke a few weeks ago. “It’s like asking, ‘When are you going to get married? When are you going to go to law school?’ It’s like, just fuck off. Just die. I don’t need any more of that in my life.”

It’s not a good plan to tell your fans to fuck off and die. Nor is it a good idea to tell them that their favorite author “is not your bitch” the way Neil Gaiman did for George R.R. Martin several years ago.

It’s especially not a good plan to tell the reporter who is also covering the fact that The Kingkiller Chronicle superfan Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) will be the executive producer on a version of your series that’s going to be aired on Showtime in the next year or two.

But writers are who writers are. And most of them (most of us) spend our time alone in a room, making things up. Writers tend not to realize that their fans are people. Nor do some writers—especially newer writers who have fast success—realize that the only reason they’re going to be remembered as artists is if they have fans of their work.

I have watched writers behaving badly to their fans for years. The worst I ever saw was a big name fantasy writer (maybe there’s a trend?) reduce a fan to tears. The fan brought a well-loved book up for an autograph, and the author held up the book and mused, loudly, rudely, I can’t believe people love this thing. It’s so awful.

Insulting. Rude. Terrible. And that writer (now dead, thank heavens) isn’t the only one I’ve seen treat fans that way. If you can’t properly appreciate your fans—even the ones who lack social skills—then don’t do autographings and stay off social media.

Rothfuss did not make this comment on social media. He made it to a reporter who had been invited to trail him all day at a convention. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was treating that reporter like a friend. Reporters report. I’m sure Rothfuss did not want that comment out, but he uttered it, in public, perhaps thinking he was talking to a like-minded person.

Instead, he insulted his fans. I actually saw a link to the article above because another writer friend of mine and a fan of Rothfuss posted an angry response to being told to fuck off. Then a big-name writer came on board and explained how Rothfuss might have come to that emotional place where he would make a comment like that. The younger writer backed down as he gained some understanding.

But most fans of Rothfuss won’t end up with that understanding and many of them will remain angry at him, perhaps never buying his books again. (Think that doesn’t happen? I have nothing kind to say about Margaret Atwood who insulted an entire group of young writers at the University of Wisconsin nearly forty years ago. I was in that group. I’m still insulted. She may have changed and I know I have, but I still hold that no one should treat other people the way she treated us. I refuse to buy her work, even now.)

I know some of you reading this right now are fans of mine, not writers. I hope I’ve never treated you that poorly. If I have, I’m sorry. I value you all, and the support you give to my work.

I also want you all to understand one thing about this post: The rest of this post is directed solely at writers.

When Dean and I teach, we talk about trading up for problems. Having fan voices in the middle of your work is a problem that writers trade up for. Once you have fans, they will have opinions about what you do. They will also want more of what you do (if you’re doing the job right), and they will be vocal about it.

They have that right.

It’s your job to understand that.

Yes, I know it’s a burden at times. And right now, some of you are scrolling down to the comments section to write me a reminder that it’s a burden you all want.

Well and good. Figure out now how you’re going to handle it.

Because this is one of the biggest career killers there is.

Not because of the fans, but because the writers can’t make the transition from hobbyist to professional writer to famous person.

When we start out, we’re writing for ourselves. We are telling stories we want to tell in the way we want to tell those stories. Eventually, we figure out that we want to have others enjoy those stories. Some writers never go beyond sharing stories on fan boards or with a few close friends. And that’s perfectly fine.

But a large portion of us start taking classes, attending workshops, submitting our work to markets, or publishing that work ourselves.

And then the work is in public. Once the work is out in the world, the world will respond—for good or for ill.

It’s up to the writers to guard their offices. Once they go inside their office and sit down at their writing computer, every other voice should be silenced. The only voices in the writer’s head should be the voices the writer makes up.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

Early on, we learn that we “need” other people to “hone” our craft. I’ve dealt with this in a book called The Pursuit of Perfection, created out of three blog posts that you can still get for free on this site.  I suggest you read them.

You need to learn to clear out the voices, particularly if you’re publishing in a series, particularly if that series—like so many fantasy series—is one big story published in several volumes.

Most writers publish a volume as soon as they finish it, leaving the overall story arc incomplete. Some writers, like Robert Jordan, die before ever finishing their series.

It’s tough to write one volume at a time as more and more voices enter your office. Your agent, your editor, your readers—they all have opinions, and most of those opinions will be wrong.

If you read the article about Rothfuss, you’ll realize that he let his agent into his process before the book ever sold, and now Rothfuss is paralyzed by perfection. He even says it in the article:

The best advice he ever received, Rothfuss says, was from the writer who ran the workshop he attended after he won that first short-story contest: “It’s late once, but it’s bad forever.”

I have a hunch I know who told him this, because I know everyone who teaches at that workshop. And frankly, that writer who gave him that bad bit of advice should be ashamed of himself. But that writer is one of those people who no longer makes his living at his fiction, if he ever did. Because every word has to be perfect, at the expense of the story.

Rothfuss is susceptible to other people’s voices. That’s clear throughout the article.

At a certain point, though, every successful writer runs up against this problem. And it is a problem. Whether you read your reviews or let an editor’s comment lurk in your head, or whether someone you care about disparages the genre(s) you write in, those words will reverberate.

And it’s the writer’s job to figure out how to shut those words out.

I suspect—but do not know for a fact—that this problem is one reason Nora Roberts does not tour for her books. She doesn’t go to conventions, except for RWA, and she rarely interacts with her fans.

She’s deliberately hanging onto the passion of writing for herself, telling stories that interest her. If she continually listened to everyone around her, she probably would have quit long ago.

Book tours, and all of the sundry work that is extraneous to the actual writing can get in the way of writing itself, and not just in time wasted.

The multiple #1 New York Times bestseller who wrote to my other writer friend told facts about demands on a #1 New York Times bestseller (published traditionally), demands that I’ve heard from other writers, other bestsellers.

Think about this for a minute: Until your book became insanely popular, you had one job. That was to finish your next book. The next thing you know, your previous book is a huge success, and everyone puts demands on your time. You’re to give up a month of your life doing book signings, readings, and interviews. You’re expected to go on social media and be cheerful and upbeat and oh, yeah, talk about your book. You’re supposed to be witty and charming and a great deal of fun.

And if you’re like most writers, you’re an introvert.

But even if you’re an extrovert and you get a charge from being in front of a crowd, you’re still not writing. Your deadline doesn’t change. You now have to produce the next book with a month’s less time on your hands and, to make matters worse, all those comments you heard on the trail—the good and the bad—are now in your brain.

  • I don’t like your protagonist. He’s mean.
  • All of your women characters are cardboard.
  • The entire structure of your fantasy world is racist.

Or…

  • My favorite character is Gwendolyn. (Crap, the writer thinks, I was planning to kill off Gwendolyn in the next book.)
  • The books showed me how to be a good person. (Crap, the writer thinks, the next book is all about the anti-hero.)
  • I would love to go to that world and stay. (Me too, the writer thinks. Oh, me too.)

Should the fans stop making comments? Heavens no. They won’t, any way. The online ecommerce world is built on reviews and ratings, and those will continue whether the writer wants them to or not.

Any writer with a modicum of success will have these problems—indie or not.

The bigger problem comes when the writer moves from professional writer to famous person.

Most writers whose books do well flirt with Famous Person for a while. They do the TV interviews. They give big talks to large auditoriums full of people. They do cameos in films made of their work.

And then…most of them stop.

Why? Because if they don’t, they’ll never write again.

Truman Capote became a case in point. He became famous for having written, not for what he was writing. When you cart the expectations of every fan you’ve ever met, plus every reviewer who has even looked at one of your books, plus the expectations of the entire culture—when your books get mentioned casually on TV sitcoms—then you’re probably having a great financial year and a terrible writing one.

Because all of those people—the entire world, in your mind—has joined you in your office. And instead of listening to the voices in your head, you’re listening to voices that you think you know, voices of actual people who have expressed their opinions about what you do.

It’s hard to remember that those are just opinions, and you should probably ignore them.

In fact, when you’re a storyteller, you should always ignore the opinions of those who are listening/reading/watching the story. It’s your job to surprise them after all. Because fans are fickle. They like what they like until the work becomes predictable.

Then they get bored and move on.

If you give them exactly what they ask for, your work becomes predictable, and they will leave you, given enough time.

How to remain pure?

You haul out my favorite word for writers:

NO.

No touring, no matter how much someone begs. No interviews with a morning show with the best ratings in the country. No special guest appearance at the biggest convention in the world. Nada. No. Zip. Zilch.

Or if you do those things, realize it will take a toll. And that toll will be on the writing. Make sure you push your deadlines back, if your deadline is with a traditional publisher.

Indies are now sitting smugly, thinking that they don’t have to worry about the demands of their traditional publisher. They’re in charge of their own schedules.

Which can be a serious problem.

I know too many indies who are writing a series with an overall single story arc, and the indies publically set up a punishing schedule for the books in that series.

Sure, in the best of all possible worlds, the indie can finish the books according to that schedule, but what about illness or a death in the family or maybe something uplifting like a new baby? What about a move or—God forbid—a book that takes longer than planned?

All of these things happen, and most indies don’t account for it. They either work harder to stay ahead or they get further and further behind. I know several writers who have just faded away, series unfinished, because the fan and reader response has gone from patient to the kind of response that Patrick Rothfuss talks about in the article.

When is the next book coming out? Why are you blogging about a movie when you should be writing? Okay, you had the flu. You’re over it. When will the next book be done? You promised it in March. It’s November.

If the writer hadn’t announced the schedule, then the fans wouldn’t be expecting the book on a timetable.

Yes, that means you’ll have to answer emails and comments on social media—if you handle your own fan mail and social media accounts. You might have a canned response, something about the book is being written or sign up for the newsletter to find out when the book will actually be published.

Or you set up a FAQ, saying that you’re working on the book (if you are) and that it’ll be done when it’s done. Sure the fans won’t be happy that there isn’t a set schedule, but they’d rather have a new book than no book at all.

I have never had a series go as big as Patrick Rothfuss’s series—yet, although two of my series are growing rapidly. Yet I also get those letters and those comments. Plus one I’m sure most series writers don’t get.

The moment I drop a book in one of my series, people write and ask when the next book in a different series comes out. And you know what? I understand that. Most of my readers don’t like all of my series. They have a favorite series, and they’ve been patient, and now they want their book, now that this other book has come out.

If I were a different writer, or a less experienced writer, I would probably schedule myself the way that many indies are scheduling themselves. Four books a year, one book per series per quarter.

If only I could be happy doing that. Everyone would be content. Maybe.

But I like surprising myself as well, and sometimes that surprise is how complex some stories get and other times it’s how some stories—not related to a series—push their way to the fore as possible novels.

I let that happen or I’d stop writing altogether. Writing has to remain fun for me.

I do have some tricks, though. These are my process. Yours might differ. I offer them up as ways to clear out some of the voices.

First, make writing fun again. Get back in touch with that hobbyist. Find whatever you loved about writing fiction in the first place. If that means writing an unsalable book under a secret pen name or trying a brand new genre, do it—and don’t blog about it. Just have a great time. Tell a story just for you, and only you. Have fun.

Second, if you’re telling a story arc that requires several books, finish the arc before publishing any of the books. Sure, that might mean waiting an extra year to publish (indies), but it’ll be worthwhile. Then the reviews and comments won’t interfere with the final books in the arc. You’ll have the story done before anyone from outside comments on it.

If you’re writing a series with stories that standalone, then don’t read your reviews. As in, ever. Keep the series pure. If people don’t like what you’re doing, fine. You don’t need to know that. You just keep writing.

Here’s the thing: generally speaking, the most vocal people about anything are the people who hate that thing. The people who like it share it with their friends and family and often don’t comment, don’t review, don’t feel the need to pat the writer on the back and say, Great job. They’re too busy enjoying. Besides, they get lost in the story. Who cares about the writer?

It’s not the reader’s job to care about the writer. The reader’s job is to read and enjoy whatever they’re reading. If they don’t like fantasy, then they might not read your book. If they liked the first few books, but not the latter books, fine. That’s their prerogative.

If you start thinking like a reader, rather than like a writer, you’ll remember that. You start reading series all the time and quit because the writer goes in a direction you don’t like. You have books that you’ll reread every year because you love that book so very much. You know of series that sound perfectly awful, yet your best friend loves that series to pieces.

You’re a lot more understanding and tolerant as a reader.

As a writer, you take everything personally.

And, honestly, it’s not personal. Once you release your book into the world, your book is on its own. You can’t fly out with it and defend your decision to end where you did. You can only write the next book.

Or not.

If you let the voices into your office—the voices that are not your storytelling voice—then you are making a mistake. Find a way to protect that space.

And if you feel the need to tell your fans to fuck off and die, do it in the privacy of your office. Without the wireless turned on. With the internet shut off.

Don’t tell the people who spend good money on your fiction that they’re the problem when they aren’t. Accept the fact that you’ve done a really good job. They like what you do.

If you can’t handle the questions, don’t put yourself in the position to hear them. Hire an assistant to handle the fan mail. Don’t do book signings. Don’t go on social media.

If you don’t want to keep writing, stop. You have no obligation to finish your series. The fans will go elsewhere over time. They’ll be disappointed that your series never ended, but they’ll find enjoyment in someone else’s work.

And that’s okay.

If you want to continue as a writer, though, then you need to figure out how to hang onto the joy of writing. You are a professional writer, so you should act with a modicum of professionalism in public. You have no obligation to become a famous person.

If you have become a famous person and don’t like it, step out of the spotlight. Go back to your office. Write your stories. Remember you have a choice: You can be J.D. Salinger or Harper Lee and stop making your writing public. Or you can learn how to survive the fame like J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, and Stephen King. You can choose when you go out into public, if you choose to go into public. You can choose when you release your fiction, if you want your fiction out in the world.

You can choose.

One last observation: writing is, by definition, a lonely profession. It’s gotten harder to measure success in the past ten years, not easier. We used to have a ladder by which we could measure our success against that of other writers.

Indie publishing has blown up that ladder. Even the venerated bestseller lists have shrunk down to easily obtainable numbers (rather than hundreds of thousands of copies sold in a week to hit USA Today, it takes as little as 5,000 copies some weeks). Now we no longer have the drumbeat of attainable goals—get an agent, get a publishing deal, get a book published, hit a bestseller list, sell books in translation, get a movie deal.

Now anyone can publish a book, and many of those books sell better than books that hit the old-fashioned attainable goals.

No one pats writers on the head and tells them they’re doing good when they make $10,000 a month as an indie writer. Heck, most people don’t even notice.

And all that does is make writers feel even less important than they felt before. Which makes writers scour the internet for reviews or compare the size of their mailing list with the size of some other writer’s mailing list.

The writer is looking for affirmation, and not getting it from the outside. Except from readers who want the next book right now.

So the writer turns himself inside out trying to keep up that drumbeat of success.

When, in reality, the measure of success should be the process of telling a story—a good story—one you enjoy telling to yourself, alone, in your office.

Just like you did in the beginning.

Find the love for your work all over again.

And get those people out of your office.

The only person who belongs in your office is you—and all the voices you make up. The voices that are, in reality, as much a part of you as your elbow.

Find that again, and the writing will become easier.

The writing will become fun.

Just like it was in the beginning.

 

******

So here’s what I learned a few years ago when I took a hiatus from this blog to write the remaining six books in the Anniversary Day story arc: I learned that I love doing this blog. I like the learning. I like the interaction. I like the chance to think about things that I haven’t thought about before.

I’ve thought a lot about this topic. I know how hard it can be to have a world of attention on your writing, whether you want that attention or not. I’ve fought hard to reclaim my office, and there’s a lot of things I don’t do because in some areas my writing is fragile.

That’s why my Patreon page is for my nonfiction only. I have always worked collaboratively on nonfiction. I got my start as a journalist.

I don’t want other people involved with my fiction. And I’ve learned that just having the expectation of others on it can harm it. So if I were to, say, promise a monthly short story or a finished novel twice a year to my Patreon supporters, well, I’d blow that up in about six months in.

Hard-fought lessons. And some joy as well. Because the interaction on the nonfiction is great fun for me.

So thank you all for everything you do. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

If you liked this post, and want to show your one-time appreciation, the place to do that is PayPal. If you go that route, please include your email address in the notes section, so I can say thank you.

Which I am going to say right now. Thank you!

Click paypal.me/kristinekathrynrusch to go to PayPal.

“Business Musings: The People In Your Office,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © Can Stock Photo / Kakigori.




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32 responses to “Business Musings: The People in Your Office”

  1. Adrianne Middleton says:

    I’m so glad it’s not just me. Rothfuss lost me with Wise Man’s Fear because he made a promise in Name of the Wind to write a trilogy – the chronicler who can only stay 3 days. But WMF didn’t advance the plot enough to get us to the thing I most want to know – why Kvothe is hiding. So I haven’t bought anything else of his.

    I love it when you say, “When, in reality, the measure of success should be the process of telling a story—a good story—one you enjoy telling to yourself, alone, in your office. Just like you did in the beginning. Find the love for your work all over again.” That’s where I’ve gone wrong with my own writing. And where I want to get back to.

  2. Catrin Lewis says:

    Kris, thank you so much for this essay.

    It’s all too true that we writers (and artists in general) live in our heads and it’s so blasted easy just to blurt out whatever we’re thinking, without considering the effect our words will have. We also can fall into the trap of thinking we’ve cornered the market on aesthetics, like that now-deceased writer who insulted her fan’s taste. And we justify it in the name of humility. As you’ve written before, perfectionism is bad for us, but when we inflict our need for it on our audience . . . disaster. I started out in the visual arts, and knew I’d grown up a little when I stopped feeling I had to disparage my artwork to anyone who praised it. Oh, I never insulted anyone like that writer did— at least, I don’t think so— but the message was probably the same: “Thank you very much, but you don’t know what you’re talking about. This piece is crap. You must be crazy to think it’s good. I don’t value your opinion at all.” By now I’ve learned to stop at “Thank you,” whether I have doubts about my work or not.

    Now that I’m writing but haven’t yet published, the people I have to be careful about admitting to my “office” aren’t fans, not yet, but beta readers and fellow authors. It helps that I have a clear sense of where my stories will end up. I can filter the input, keep what’s useful, and ignore what isn’t. Like if I were to say, “I’m going to take a driving trip to the Oregon coast, and this is the route I plan!” and you were to reply, “Great! But this road here is really bad, and if you can, you should try to stop and have lunch in this little town on the way.” That’s information I can use. But if you insist I have lunch in that town, or worse, if you say, “Why do you want to come to the Oregon coast, anyway? You should visit San Francisco instead,” I’m done with you. You’re not getting any input on my trip. And those who say the equivalent about my works on progress aren’t coming into my writing space with me.

    I quit my writers’ group because the strongest voices kept insisting I change my plot. Not only would it have altered my storyline, it also would have pushed the book into a whole different subgenre. Sorry, no.

    Thanks again for the work you do writing and publishing these blog posts.

  3. Rachel Leigh Smith says:

    I’m not a fantasy reader, but I read The Name Of The Wind after one of my friends gushed about it so much. I could see each place where he’d taken someone else’s advice–and shouldn’t have. Parts of it were downright painful to read, because there was such a jarring difference in his voice. It’s the third-person parts. When he’s in first person, yes, lyrical is the only word to describe it. It’s beautiful, and you get lost in the beauty of it and Kvothe’s depth.

    But the “framing” parts others had him add? They’re a painful slog and I thought they detracted from the story. I started skimming them, and skipped the last one altogether.

    There’s this other fantasy series that I stumbled into from a POV choice, and I fell so beyond in love with the world and the main character that I joined the author’s Patreon to get the monthly snippets set in this world. Last fall, the week after the election, she sent out this unbelievable rant that I found intensely offensive and couldn’t believe an author would be so stupid as to say those things. The last book of this series that I love so much came out this past summer, and I still can’t bring myself to buy it. Nor have I reread any of this series since she said that. This was something I read at least once a year, sometimes twice. It was part of my Christmas/New Year traditions. An email she sent in anger ruined her entire world for me. All I can think about is the hate she spewed at people.

    Contrast that with the goddess of paranormal romance, Sherrilyn Kenyon. She’s figured out, for the most part, how to be famous AND give her fans multiple books a year. I devour her books. A couple of them have been read multiple times. One of them, the first time I read it I immediately started it over when I finished it.

    She doesn’t compromise her series plan for what we say we want to see, nor does she deviate from a pairing she has planned no matter how much a vocal set of fans says they’ll stop reading if she does it. She’s learned to say such-and-such will get a book, if he/she doesn’t die. Two of her heroes changed my life, and I finally got to meet her back in the summer. The experience was everything I hoped it’d be, and more. I started crying on her as I was telling her what these characters meant to me and she held me until I got ahold of myself again.

    That’s how you interact with your fans. I wanna be like her and Nalini Singh if I ever get that many. They love us, and respect us, but they don’t compromise their series vision for us. Nor do I want them to, because what they have planned is far better than anything I could do.

    • I’m sorry that this happened to you with one of your favorite authors, Rachel. I understand. The author who insulted the reader while I watched had written what I consider to be one of the most important books I’d ever read. By the time I saw her insult the fan, I knew the author was an unpleasant person; I just didn’t realize how unpleasant.

      What writers don’t realize is that our worlds live beyond us and have meaning to readers that we can’t even fathom. The response is to the world we’ve created, not to us. But we can shatter that world if we’re not careful, just like that writer did for you.

      You’re right about Sherrilyn and Nalini. Wonderful writers, and fun to follow on social media as well. Thanks for the post.

  4. Jaws says:

    One side note that I’ve unfortunately observed professionally, more than once:

    The transition from “writer” to “famous person” shouldn’t be a one-way thing in which one forgets where one came from. It might be great ego-boo to be famous, and is probably more lucrative for most values of “writer” and “fame.” A focus on fame certainly involves less time with one’s behind in a chair writing (and I mean ALL PARTS of “writing,” including “research” and “business management” and “false starts” and…). But the fame will eventually fade without more writing, or perhaps worse transform itself into notoriety, and an entourage, and parastic minions, and after your death into battles over the estate and the legacy by people with a huge sense of entitlement and less talent than Our Gracious Hostess’s toenail clippings. Examples — purposely limited to obvious ones that I haven’t been involved with — include Raymond Carver, J.R.R. Tolkein, and perhaps most notoriously of all Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

  5. Thank you so much for this. I read your post yesterday, and put it into practice today. The people in my office have been yammering in my ear this entire fourth book of my series, and it has been agonizing trying to finish.
    Today, I made a conscious effort to silence the people who have written to me requesting this or that, and so far 3000 fun words have flowed beneath my fingers.
    You and this blog have been a godsend. Thanks again.

  6. Jean Lamb says:

    Even though I only have a few fans from my first Tameron book, one or two are wondering when Dragon’s Pearl is coming out. And seem unhappy even when I explain that in 2014 my husband’s lymphoma was in remission, in 2015 it um, wasn’t. And it’s been a interesting struggle since. Real world stuff happens. Oh, the writing is getting done, but it’s difficult (you wrote a post about what happens when a writer has to do All The Stuff instead of having time to write).

  7. […] BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTER F. Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in “Business Musings: The People in Your Office”, says doing this is bad for a writer’s business – not that you had any […]

  8. Kat Simons says:

    Fantastic post, Kris! Thanks so much. Very well timed for me, too.

  9. Maggi Fox says:

    So wise and down to earth. Thank you

  10. Paul Duffau says:

    A couple/three of responses, Kris. First, hallelujah, it should be fun.

    Second, I have a series, not standalone, I’m working on. The plan was to finish all four books and publish at quarterly intervals. The problem came when book one sat in my head, keeping me from writing book two. I had to put it out so I could move on. Process difference.

    Last, I have to do it my way. I’d give blood to have more fans, but they’re my stories, for better or worse. I’ll keep telling them because I need to, but even if I didn’t, they’d still have life in my head.

    Thanks for all the good advice.

  11. Sally says:

    Given the choice between rich or famous, I’ve always said rich. Because I’ve known some famous people (athletes, actors) and it didn’t look like fun to me. Whereas the rich people I’ve known who weren’t famous had pretty nice lives, just going about their business.

    But there’s absolutely NO reason for an indie writer to promise dates on any deadline whatsoever. That’ll just get you in trouble. If you must do that, be like Scotty and pad them by a factor of 4. 🙂 Readers will LOVE IT if your next book comes out “early”.

    If you don’t have a deadline — or don’t keep promising one like GRRM does — you’re going to get a lot less grief and it’ll be so much easier to throw the voices out of your office where there are fewer of them.

    GRRM needs to say “It’ll be done when it’s done,” and stop giving any “progress” reports. We all know it ain’t gonna get done to any schedule, and a lot of us figure it won’t get done at all. Hooray for the TV show; at least we’ll know what the basic ending is. People will still buy the next books full of wars, plots, and endless banquets.

    Aside: Rothfuss has always irritated me with playing up his “country bumpkin” thing. Yes, it’s a small town he lives in, but they have the internet. Which is where I heard about “Hamilton”. And it’s not THAT small — I have some dear friends who live there. There’s a university (at which one of my friends taught). Yeah, they don’t have fancy specialty stores, and only one vegan restaurant, and there’s only 26K people — but it’s not some rural village out in the deep woods where the news and mail only comes via horse-drawn wagon. They have corporate headquarters there. Radio, TV, all that. Ranks high in livability. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevens_Point,_Wisconsin

    Don’t give reporters unlimited access, either.

    That’s interesting info about Nora Roberts, Kris. She never goes to events or talks to the press, and she manages to crank out a bazillion words a year and people love her for it. I’ve read a ton of her books, and one of my besties buys every single JD Robb book in hardcover the day it comes out. She hasn’t suffered for lack of contact. And people still read Salinger and Lee.

  12. My parents are theater people. They taught me very early that the folks who don’t read the reviews last the longest.

  13. Spent much time and effort getting book number five in the series out this summer. Not two weeks later, a fan asked “When’s the next one due?” I grinned and said “Thank you!” To have people who cannot wait for your latest work, and gobble it up and love it, is so wonderful, and such a reward for the many long hard hours we put in. Of course, having people badger you without cease can get to one, so I do understand the point of view of those being badgered. Polite inquiries are one thing, but some people are rude and demanding, which is why that piece on not being someone’s b**** was written. If they follow you into a bathroom, that’s over the line, but sadly, some will. Boundaries, people, and authors must be allowed their space like anyone else.

    • I’ve had a lot of people follow me into bathrooms. When I was an editor, writers would actually slide manuscripts under the stall door. (Yep. Happened more than once.) I never went nuclear on them, never called them names. I tried to train people to proper etiquette with classes and writing and things like that, but I too much of a business person to call the average socially challenged person a name.

      Of course, that said, I have blocked harassers and reported them to the convention officials or the bookstore where the harassment happened. (None of it was bad enough for the police.) Those harassers are rare, though. A blanket blaming of all fans is a bad idea, just like a blanket blaming of all writers is a bad idea. A little understanding goes a long way.

      And I agree. It’s a wonderful thing to have fans want more of your work. That means you’re doing something right.

      • SeanR says:

        I’d have been tempted to say something to the effect of “Thank you. How did you know this stall had run out of toilet paper?”

  14. Jeff H. says:

    Kris, I have a serious question…

    Why are you so awesome?
    Seriously, it is like what you write speaks to my soul. Thank you for all your wonderful blogs!

  15. Kristi N. says:

    “You have no obligation to become a famous person.” Thank you for saying this. I’ve wrestled with this problem for years now, letting it become a fear that if I published I would necessarily have to become a witty, sociable celebrity renowned for my intellect and friendliness, present on every social platform known to humanity. But I don’t want to–I want to write and leave many, many stories for people to enjoy and live a very quiet life outside of the spotlight. Some people who knew that I write seemed horribly disappointed that I had no interest in book signings, writer’s critique workshops, social media and lectures to the point where I wondered what was wrong with me. Thank you that this is one burden I can drop into a deep, dark hole and not carry any more.

  16. Kris, thank you so much for this post. It’s just what I needed at this time.

    I’m a long way from famous, but I’ve had enough modest success to start hearing from fans what they like and don’t like about my books. And worrying about it.

    I wrote three books in my first series, but by the third book, writing it had become work. I had learned about reader expectations and was worried about not meeting them. I felt like I had to have a checklist to meet those expectations. And even though I had a hint of an idea for book four, I avoided starting it.

    Meanwhile, for fun, I wrote three books in a different series during three consecutive years of NaNoWriMo. I had no intention of publishing them. They were just for me. After NaNo was done, I’d go back to the work of finishing up my current serious novel. The one that felt like work.

    Then I did publish those just-for-fun novels because I realized they were a lot better than I thought they were. Readers liked them. So I started writing book four in that series rather than the book I “should” have written in the first series. As I’m writing book five, I’ve realized the new series has become work. Because I’ve heard readers say they like one thing and don’t like another. I’ve mentally started building another checklist to use.

    And daydreaming about yet another series I can write for fun.

    Then, Bang!, I read this and realize you’ve put your finger firmly on the problem I’m having. This post ranks right up there with The Pursuit of Pefection, a post I’ve shared with other writers more times than I can count.

    Thank you!

  17. “The fan brought a well-loved book up for an autograph, and the author held up the book and mused, loudly, rudely, I can’t believe people love this thing. It’s so awful.” Sigh. I’ve heard writers express their dissatisfaction with their earlier books without sounding quite so dismissive of people who like them.
    “Mistake number two was treating that reporter like a friend. Reporters report. I’m sure Rothfuss did not want that comment out, but he uttered it, in public, perhaps thinking he was talking to a like-minded person.” Speaking as a former reporter, people forget this a lot.

  18. Bill Peschel says:

    Sharyn McCrumb berated me at a booksigning for using a negative to describe her in a feature article promoting her event and favorably reviewing her book. Her publicist sent me a fruit basket to apologize and told me she was dropping her because of her behavior.

    And I’ve had a local bookseller tell me that she stopped handselling a major romance author after seeing how she treated other writers at an RWA event. And this is a woman who can handsell a couple hundred copies of a book, and hold a signing for her favorite authors that jams the store (I saw this myself).

    This post can be boiled down to one phrase I’ve been keeping in mind lately:

    People may not remember what you say, but they remember how you make them feel.

  19. “The moment I drop a book in one of my series, people write and ask when the next book in a different series comes out.”

    I get that all the time! 🙂

    But I thought this was such an excellent article that I am actually commenting on it. I really think that two of the keys for long-term maturity as a writer are 1.) learning to ignore everyone’s opinion about your work but your own, and 2.) doing so without being a jerk about it.

  20. Alan Spade says:

    Hi Kris,

    Great post! What are you thoughts about the process of hiring an advanced readers team (coming from your mailing list) before publication so as to get another point of view on your work and fix your novel? We indies often do that, and one of the side benefits is to acquire comments on Amazon earlier, and more easily.

  21. Vera Soroka says:

    I remember the Neil Gaiman comment and thought what? The fans are the ones who put you there so maybe you shouldn’t be insulting them like that. Some writers put themselves on a pedestal. That’s a dangerous thing.
    It also reminds of the writer of the Vampire Diaries. I think she has pretty much disappeared now. Readers hound her for the last book of The Night World and I don’t think it will ever be out. She almost died in 2015. She said she was doing better but the last interaction she had was on her Facebook page in January of this year and there has been nothing since. So fans don’t know if she is still writing or not. I wish that writers in that position would make an announcement and just tell fans what is going on. Be done with it. I think sometimes you do owe your fans an answer.
    I agree that you need to keep the voices out of your writing room. I see so many indies writing by committee.

  22. I have a friend who’s a long time actor. He’s been a cult film, a couple of Bond films, and a science fiction TV series. So he gets lots of interview requests, usually about the cult film. He’s very conscious of how he comes across in the interview, very focused on professionalism.

    He was doing an interview for a new horror magazine coming out. The cult film had a major anniversary, so it was going to a huge article in a magazine and a book. When the magazine came out, I bought a copy. I was horrified! It was f-this and f-that and one word referring to another actor that was rather shocking. I’d read many of his interviews and talked to him in person, and those were not words he used! Had the reviewer added profanity to it?

    Yes, every one of those words was his. He’d gotten a lot looser with the reporter, and the interview had been over drinks. He’d asked the reporter afterwards to leave the profanity out, and the reporter said, “Sure!” The actor was furious. The actor pulled the interview from the book. I said privately to myself, “If he didn’t want the profanity to be in the interview, he should have never said it.”

    The thing that amazes me is WRITERS, whose stock and trade is WORDS, don’t seem to grasp that when they say something, their words are out there, just like their books. It’s one thing to have a moment of stupidity like my actor friend; it’s another thing to never even grasp that what you’re saying has an impact.

  23. Ferran says:

    “Think that doesn’t happen? I have nothing kind to say(…)”

    GRR Martin, for me. Liked him since I got my hands on an old Spanish translation of Sandkings. Then… Not. And neither him nor Gaiman (liked him as a scriptwriter, not so much as a novelist) are new shiny kids on the block.

    “They have that right”

    Writer might want to start thinking of readers not as fans but as customers. A lot of that self serving crap would vanish.

    Is there any left, in fact, in indie?

    “You might have a canned response, something about the book is being written or sign up for the newsletter to find out when the book will actually be published.”

    I think I first saw it on J. Butcher’s: progre’o’meters. Not perfect, but it does allow fans to check and tune their anxieties down.

    Publishing a series in short timespans… I’d love to. Had my fingers burnd with Wheel of Time (which was WAY worse in Spanish), didn’t read anything but novellas in the Thrones series (I’d planned to read the series once it was finished, the Martin happened. Twice). Besides Anniversary Day and some minor series here and there, I’m not aware of anything close.

    ..hmm.. What you write later on about success… That looks a lot like ranking. Different fish. You can be successful without a lot of those things. And you can fail with many of them. While I do accept that success can be defined from the outside, turning it into a limited competition of peers is… Dangerous.

    Take care.

    • Sam says:

      “Writer might want to start thinking of readers not as fans but as customers. A lot of that self serving crap would vanish.”

      I think that’s a good point. There was one author who had one series I really enjoyed, but wasn’t impressed with her other work. I stopped reading her mostly because her newer works just weren’t as interesting to me as that one series, but also because she refers to her readers as “minions” and that got rather grating. Like, I’m not your minion, lady. I’m not some servant you can command. I’m a customer. I know you’re trying to be cute and approachable, but maybe have a little more respect for your audience.

  24. Amy says:

    Thank you SO much for this article.

    “You have no obligation to become a famous person.” <– You have no idea how much I actually needed to hear this. In the modern publishing era there is SO much pressure to build a brand, be a brand, advertise, market, promote-promote-promote that it seems utterly inevitable that being a successful writing would be synonymous with being A Personality/Internet Famous.

    I want more than anything to be a professional writer.
    I fear more than anything having to be a Famous Person On The Internet, because I’ve seen too many times the crap that authors have to put up with because of this associated fame, even to the point of legitimately endangering their families.

    The idea that I can have one without the other is refreshing, liberating, and wildly joyous.

    Part of me still doubts that it’s possible to be a ‘successful’ author without being a marketing/promo/publicity expert and Public Persona, but wow, I’d sure like to try.

    So thank you. This article means a lot. <3

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