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Should Writers Just Write?

25 January 2013

“A writer should do what they do best and only this: write.”

I heard this statement again at the Digital Book World conference in New York City last week, and I began really considering if I agreed with it.

So for you, the author, you get to choose whatever type of writing career you would like. There is no single path anymore. Yes, you can just write and do nothing else. No marketing, no social media, no book tours, no worrying about cover design, or translation, or rights, or file formats, or metadata, nothing. Just write. Go ahead, I don’t mind.

But…

With 1.5 million books published last year, what we are seeing is that lots of folks are doing just that: writing. Which is why I focus more and more not on getting one’s work published, but ensuring it is read;

Read it all Writer Unboxed

Guest posted by Barbara Morgenroth.  Hat Tip:  Lynn Blackmar

Marketing, Self-Publishing, Self-Publishing Strategies

30 Comments to “Should Writers Just Write?”

  1. I agree with just write, but I’m learning from the editing process about using language, voice, and pacing. If that is included in writing then I apologize, but my best educator about writing is from my editors.

    It seems that many people want to earning a living writing. It appears to me, since I’m retired, that a living doesn’t seem to be possible for most writers. If it is possible I think it takes years to accomplish and a very aggressive nature to do those other things beside just publishing.

    But for those who have a book inside, write it. The expectation is that if it tells a popular story many will find it and enjoy it. That would be a goal I could work toward, the satisfaction that at least one other person knew my story and read my work.

    I enjoy giving away short stories on a blog and it seems a few people are reading. Success known many forms.

  2. “With 1.5 million books published last year”

    Barbara,

    Good gracious.

    That’s 4,110 a day, (or thereabouts-I am not to be trusted with mathematics.)

    Yew writers shaw gotta lot to say fer yerselves:)

    As fer the article. I’d be bored to death doing the tea routine all the time.

    Impressed with Howey’s mental strength and organization. I’d have been a bag of nerves.

    brendan

  3. This suggests there’s any career path where all one has to do is write. What a joke. Even trad-pubbed authors have to market themselves.

  4. So tradpubs are going to stop telling authors to get blogs and Twitters and Facebooks and go on book tours and do media interviews?

    “Hot damn,” I bet they are saying. “Now I can just write.”

  5. If someone is paying you to write, your job is to write.

    If you are a self-publisher, your job is to sell books.

    • Scott,

      Are there jobs out there where your job is to just write? Journalist, technical writer, and such, yes, but writing fiction? Obviously, you’re right about a self-publisher’s job, but it seems like even a trad-publisher is hiring you to do more than just write, regardless of what they say when explaining why they still matter.

      Al

    • The only people I know who get paid to just write are technical writers. But then again, they also have to attend meetings, interact with other employees or contractors, use a product to understand it, etc. Fiction writers, traditionally- or self-published all have to market themselves, attend meetings or conferences, connect with readers in some way. I can’t think of a single career path that allows for “just writing.”

      • The only people I know who get paid to just write are technical writers.

        Television and screenwriters are paid to just write.

        • I’ve been a full-time technical writer for over 30 years and I can’t think of even a full day when I was able to “just write”.

        • Not really. They have to attend meetings and work with others in the process. That’s more than just writing in my book.

          • Okay. I was a television writer and I consider it part of the writing process to meet with the producer and writing team to develop the story to write but if you say it’s not then I guess it’s not.

            • I guess if you want to define “just write” as “just write and have meetings and coordinate with others in the process” just writing, that’s your prerogative. :)

              • By this strict a definition I’m not sure how many other jobs or careers, either simple or complex, are just . Thinking back on every job I’ve ever had or observed enough to know the full range of duties there have been tasks that were expected to be performed outside of those things that are obviously part of the job.

                A server in a restaurant has cleaning or restocking duties, not just “serving.” A software developer (or computer programmer if you’re old school like me) is never just a dumb coder. At a minimum, they have to study specifications, meet with analysts about their project, coordination meetings with team members/users, etc. I suspect most jobs have duties that aren’t readily apparent to those unfamiliar with the job, but are considered standard parts of the job by those who are.

                Writing in any environment surely has these same kinds of things. I guess in the strictest sense this means there is no writing job that is to “just write.” Even writing fiction requires some research in many cases, rewriting, some self-editing. Do those count as “just writing”?

    • Writers, write.

      Publishers sell books

      Self Publishers do BOTH.

  6. Everyone is responsible for his own career path. Fiction writers, accountants, firefighters. Nobody else will do that for us.

  7. Those who “just write” will fail. There’s so much more, even if it’s not sexy.

    • So true RD –and most trad authors know this. Oddly enough though, its only trad authors who always keep telling me ‘writers should just write’ but then I visit their website and they are all over the place with marketing, conventions, tweeter, ads on google etc etc.

      I say to them: “did your publisher do that?”
      They say: “of course not I did.”

      disconnect.

  8. Why is someone saying “I” should “just write”?

    I mean this: What is their angle in saying it? Do they make money off of writers who want to “just write”? Do they want to elevate themselves somehow? (“I’m more than just a writer. I’m a Writing Mogul.”) Do they want the world to change so they can “just write”?

    I could just read the article and try to figure out their motives for myself. But I’d rather just go along my merry way and do the tasks other than “just write” I wish to.

  9. The “just write” path is only realistic if you are doing “work for hire”. If you aren’t, you are running a business. Here is a question for folks to ponder. Why is there so little work for hire in the narrative publishing industry?

    If you compare book-length fiction, memoirs, biography, etc. to every other form of writing, the single distinguishing feature is the almost total lack of work for hire.

    Is this just a cultural issue?

    Is it a supply issue, i.e. are there so many people who write on spec that there is no market for work for hire?

    If you think about it, we subsidize storytelling to an enormous degree in this country. Writers sacrifice a lot of economic potential to write. If you look at non-fiction story-telling market, you see that most of it is knowingly subsidized by the writer’s day job. Is it this subsidy that inhibits work for hire?

    • Actually, I’m not sure it’s as small a market as it seems, mainly because the hired writers are often hidden under a particular byline, think series books. I personally was hired for fiction work-for-hire, and I know that memoirs go that route, too, because not everyone who wants to tell their story knows how. The celeb’s name may be on the outside, but someone else wrote it, unless the hired gun is sufficiently famous, such as Walter Isaacson.

      That said, I think the lack of work-for-hire may depend on genre. I don’t know if they exist in the romance genre (someone correct me), but if you’re into YA, sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, the work is there, see Star Trek, Star Wars, Dungeons & Dragons, and World of Darkness. I know of several childhood favorites that were actually works-for-hire, but were hidden under a single byline, e.g., Francine Pascal, Virginia Hughes, Carolyn Keene. So I guess I would tweak the question to be whether a franchise is required to generate work-for-hire opportunities.

      As for culture and supply — I think that’s part of it, as well as the writer’s mentality. Most writers don’t intend for others to play in their sandboxes, nor want to play in others’ sandboxes. See the arguments about the rightness/wrongness of fanfic for examples of this attidude. I believe Lovecraft wanted other people to write stories in his mythos, and I know David Weber allows others into his Honor Harrington universe, but I think they may be unusual (and also a franchise). I was initially offended on Frank Herbert’s behalf when I saw his son and another writer putting out more Dune books; I thought they were poaching. I’m not sure if I’m alone in that mentality.

      When I considered doing work-for-hire I approached it with a different mindset than the one I have when I’m writing my own creation. Even with that, I first had to get over the belief that this type of work is for people without original ideas. I’ll note that mercenaries in general are not favored in Western culture, which may play into your observations here.

      • I think the reason why writers-for-hire are popular in franchise fiction but not stand-alone titles is because creating a successful book — one that will break out and earn a fan following and all that — takes up a tremendous amount of time and energy and passion. You have to have one person standing behind it with a real vision to make that happen. Writing the book is the least of your worries when you’re a newbie with no name. Which is, I think, proof enough that “just write” doesn’t work.

        I’m a freelance writer whose job is “just write” about as much as anybody’s could be. I’ve done a lot of projects of various different kinds, but I tend to avoid ghost-writing fiction for that reason. Sure, I can write a book to your specifications (and I’m pretty confident I can do so — I’ve written in-universe for video games, which is a very collaborative trade), but once I had it over to you, are you going to be able to market it? Will you be able to query it ? Can you handle the revisions, the book tours, etc.? If you don’t, the book will sink.

      • There are two areas of narrative fiction where there are substantial numbers of writers doing work-for-hire. Franchises and ghostwriting. That means this is really about branding. The franchise is the brand in the first case and the celebrity is the brand in the second. Otherwise we live in a world where the writer is the brand. The thing that leaves out are imprints as brands. Yes, there are a few (Harlequin, Tor, Baen, etc.), but they don’t engage in work for hire for the brand.

    • I see your point, William. I don’t know that I have the answer. I would guess it was related to supply-demand though, in that most people can only reasonably consume a certain amount of material. Each reader can read any of the 1.5 million books published in a year, but they can’t even approach reading 1% of all of them. Even if you filter that 1.5 million into fiction genres and non-fiction topics, it’s too much. Not many content creators have their work representing 0.000007% of the year’s addition to the market.

      It also goes a long way toward explaining why the early adopters of e-publishing had so much less trouble establishing themselves. Konrath might be right that we aren’t competing with each other for readers’ dollars, but we are competing for attention.

  10. I was wondering what the logic behind “just weite” always is, especially inthe context of not having a day job. Here was what i came uo with; apologies for the trolling nature of this comment, i just dont feel like retyping the premise from smart phone :)

    http://lilywhitelefevre.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/can-you-drudge-twelve-hours-a-day-six-days-out-of-every-seven/

    • Well, Konrath has jumped on that bandwagon, but he’s getting constant free promotion from the e-retailers’ algorithms. Stephen King doesn’t need to promote, either.

      DW Smith and KK Rusch seem to favor putting out work as rapidly as possible. No obsessing over it, no constant rewriting, no spending significant money on any single title. Get it done, get it out there, finish the next thing. Along with this they say not to expect much in the way of sales until you have dozens of titles. It’s a stronger focus on having a broad catalog, where nothing is a breakout and you don’t care about bestseller/popularity lists.

      You have to look at these writers and ask if you can replicate what they do. Can you go back in time, put up a bunch of good books in the dawn of e-publishing, and rack up a lot of good promotion from algorithms? No? Then you can’t follow Konrath’s model. Can you write ten novels in a year, as well as several short stories? No? Then you can’t follow DWS’ model.

      I think, outside of these two extremes, the rest of us will have to write the best book we can, publish in the highest quality we can, and try to get it noticed. That, in addition to being accessible, branding, etc.

  11. I think (speaking as someone who hasn’t yet self-published) the key is to strike a balance. Some people swear you have to do marketing all day every day, others that you have to write all the time. You need to write, or you won’t have any products to sell, but I agree with other commenters that ‘just writing’ won’t work anymore than ‘just marketing’.

    Also, if you’re active online anyway, marketing shouldn’t be that hard. Spamming Twitter for hours every day isn’t marketing, it’s annoying. Interacting on Twitter, *networking*, however, can be part of it. Taking an active part on forums with just a little link in your signature can be part of it too.

    Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that, and I’ve been trying to learn. This much, however, seems like common sense to me.

  12. I think every writer should decide this for themselves. If someone wants to “just write” and wants to hire someone to do all the business stuff for them, great (just don’t ‘hire’ a trad. pub., because they won’t do anything for you – they’ll demand that you do it all, and then take all the money).

    Or, if a writer wants to learn about the business and become a promoter great.

    But there are no ‘shoulds’ here. Every writer’s path is individual.

  13. .
    Balance is necessary.
    .
    If you only write you will not see the trends or how to match what the readers want to read. You need to see the market and that takes writing, testing, feedback of results, and then more writing.
    .
    .

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