Free the Writers! (From Each Other)

Image - iStockphoto: Paha_L / in the Moscow subway system
Image – iStockphoto: Paha_L / In the Moscow subway system


We’ve had a lot of laughs at publishers’ expense lately, about how many “actual readers” they may have met, right? What if our writers know even fewer “actual readers” than our publishers? 


You’ve been around too much lately, Helen, you ought to stay at home more.

Scanned title page from Noel Coward's "Design for Living" (1933) from the Internet Archive
Scanned title page from Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” (1933) from the Internet Archive

That sentence, husband-to-wife, from Noel Coward’s Design for Living, was one of my most successful laugh lines on stage.

Theatergoers: this was many Provocations in Publishing ago, it’s perfectly safe to return to the theater, I’ve turned in my tights.

The reason I could trigger a loud, fast, prolonged laugh on the line was that I was coached very astutely—by a choreographer friend, ironically—to hold still; to turn downstage to the audience as Henry, Helen’s husband, and deliver the line, in near paralysis, directly out into the house.

Not a glance stage-right at the actress playing Helen. Not a hair moving. And not a whit of actorish expression on my face or in my voice.

This was my first experience of the peculiar power of an almost monotone delivery, the pure, unadorned wit of Coward sailing right out into the house. At the moment I said this, I was pretty much a human page, reducing myself to almost nothing but the words for the audience.

What do we need to do, in-community, to keep reminding each other to turn to the audience and deliver our best lines to the world, not to each other?

Maybe the most important lesson about the comedic element, though, was this: The logical intimacy had flipped—the audience and I suddenly were in relationship, a near collusion, while Henry and Helen had become briefly and laughably estranged.

I thought about this for the first time in years when reading comments on our Writer Unboxed colleague Julia Munroe Martin’s piece here, Writing the Rails. (Good headline, by the way.)  The piece, March 1, you’ll recall, is about the Amtrak residency for writers and Martin’s astute observations from her own mini-residency on the rails.

The farting lakes, yes, that one.

After the piece ran, many of us, myself included, carried on about how much we’d love such a residency. Martin and I plan a horrifying and brilliant Racine-like literary showdown at the Continental Divide, don’t ask.

Authors are striding through the sleeper cars and dining carriages of Twitter asking other writers to “buy my book!” This is hashtagged hokum.

Of course, then Amtrak opened its application process for a whole round of residencies and before we’d made it from New York to Philly, many folks became quickly concerned about the terms of the application. If you need information on the situation, Victoria Strauss’ Writer Beware write up, Rights Concerns: Amtrak Residency Program, is a good place to start. It turns out that our National Railroad Passenger Corporation, AKA Amtrak, feels a need to own and even be able to transfer rights to your application writing sample. You will, of course, scour the Official Terms of application carefully before submitting your work under said circumstances, won’t you? Well, of course you will.

In getting back to Martin’s good WU post, let me assure you that no one here is being criticized for any comments on the piece. They were perfectly natural, fun, and even logical in the context of WU and its highly prized community.

Only if you’re selling a “book book”—a book about how to write a book—should you be marketing to other writers as your main sales activity.

But joyfully giddy suggestions of “a train full of writers!” brought into focus for me a singular and growing problem in the author community today.

  • The Internet gives us an unprecedented capability to form and enjoy community. And this is great.
  • The Internet also gives us an unprecedented risk of holing up in a virtual ghetto of writerly camaraderie and forgetting what we jumped onto this bookish train in the first place to do: to write for readers, not for each other. Not so great.

Again, we all know the “train full of writers!” (enjoyed by several of our commenters) was a cheery joke in the moment.

Or do we?

Here’s the issue. I see authors engaging so thoroughly in the online world’s wonderful creative community for support and laughs and inspiration (because you have to belieeeeeeve in yourself, Lena Horne), that they frequently appear to be losing touch with a readership, losing sight of even the goal of a genuine, public readership. Their best efforts in social media marketing are aimed at each other. They’re striding through the sleeper cars and dining carriages of Twitter asking other writers to “buy my book!” This is hashtagged hokum.

Only if you’re selling a “book-book”—a book about how to write a book—should you be marketing to other writers as your main sales activity. And if you don’t have a “book-book” to sell, thank you and kindly do not write one. We had enough of those things 10 years ago and we do not need anymore, they’re all here, move along please. (Don Maass, you’re the exception, for writing-Writing 21st Century Fiction.)

Your fellow authors are not going to put you over the top as an audience. And yet I keep seeing writers confused by the ready, avid, warm embrace of their associates online into thinking that their colleagues are their prime customers.

Authors I work with are frequently surprised at how easy it is to brainstorm together about “adjacencies,” those large, organized groups of potential readership that could be attracted to a book by elements of its theme, character, setting, whatnot. Until such a session, it seems, they’ve been locked into an idea that books are best understood—and bought—by other writers.

Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh
Provocations graphic by Liam Walsh

We wouldn’t expect the great stone masons of Europe to think their cathedrals would be thronged by other stone masons, would we? No matter how well one might get along with one’s cohorts in that rocky guild of chiselers, one would remember that a far wider flock of the faithful (and tourists) were the target crowds.

And yet, somehow, writers are being lulled by this fellowship of the virtual gathering.

An awful lot of authors have been around too much lately, Helen. Maybe they ought to stay at home more; write; reach out to their readers; interact with the market, not so much with each other.

Know what I mean?

What have you done today to reach beyond your writerly colleagues and shake hands with readers? Have you found those readers? Do you know them? And how much time do you spend with them through the marvelous activity of these digital media? (That’s still a plural word, damn it, one medium, two media). What do we need to do, in-community, to keep reminding each other to turn to the audience and deliver our best lines to the world, not to each other? 


About Porter Anderson

@Porter_Anderson, BA, MA, MFA, is a journalist, speaker, and consultant specializing in publishing. Anderson is The Bookseller's Associate Editor for The FutureBook in London, a sister site focused on developments in digital publishing. He is also a featured writer with Thought Catalog in New York, writing on publishing and on #MusicForWriters in association with Q2 Music. In 2015, Anderson has programmed the IDPF Digital Book Conference that opened BookExpo America (BEA) and is programming the First Word event at the Novelists Inc. (NINC) conference later in the year. And he is working with the Frankfurt Book Fair on special programming for its new Business Club suite of events and facilities, now in its second year, 13-16 October, in the 2015 Buchmesse. More on his consultancy, which includes Library Journal's and BiblioBoard's SELF-e among its clients in 2015: | Google+


  1. says

    Well I guess it had to be said. Thank you, Porter. I’m a realist, and I understand the incredible pressure put on new writers to “get out there” and “build your platform!” (in 30 days or less). So the nearest, and easiest, target is their fellow writers. But it is a bit annoying that, whenever I friend, follow, or otherwise electronically bond myself to a colleague, the only time I hear from them is when they’re promoting their latest book. Even worse, I sometimes feel guilty when I can’t read them. No, I cannot read a novel per day. I understand that’s not acceptable. I’ll work on it. My plea, to anyone who actually reads the comments (I do, writer comments are often the best entertainment of my day), is to use your author contacts to talk about THE CRAFT. Followed by the business of THE CRAFT. After that, we can get into rumors about various agents, publishers, spread gossip about the same, and enjoy one another’s company. Let’s face it, my friends, no one else really wants to talk to us. They just want to read our books. No one wants a lengthy discussion with the engineer on the inner workings of his car. So don’t scare one another off. #getthedrift.

    • says


      I should have had you co-write this piece with me! A couple of beautiful lines here. I love “No, I cannot read a novel per day. I understand that’s not acceptable. I’ll work on it.”

      I cannot tell you how many folks shove books at me, and, of course, they mean well and I would truly love to read them all but, yeah, how many novels can we read per hour, right? LOL

      Seriously, thanks for picking up so well on this. I’ve had a ew folks on Twitter this morning confused, thinking that I mean we shouldn’t read each other — far from it! We all must read heavily to be good writers (and who else to read heavily than each other?). But it’s the marketing I’m trying to get at, really — read each other, one per day, lol, but then try to reach the reading public when it’s time to sell the work.

      Here’s your best stuff from this great comment, and thanks again!
      “Let’s face it, my friends, no one else really wants to talk to us. They just want to read our books. No one wants a lengthy discussion with the engineer on the inner workings of his car. So don’t scare one another off. #getthedrift.”

      Love it,

    • says

      As I mentioned on Twitter fellow authors are for support. Readers and everyday people are your buyers/ideal readers/target market.

      When I’m coaching authors I recommend they find the intersection of interest – theirs & their target market & talk about those topics on social media as well as their blog. Why the intersection? Because it won’t feel like work as it’s interesting to the author. If you have nothing in common with your ideal readers you might be writing the wrong genre.

      I also recommend blogging about things related to what they write about. If writing romance include romantic ideas: easy dates, how to keep romance going, romantic recipes, etc. If they write about paranormal/supernatural talk about TV/books/history/mythology/etc. Mystery/thrillers talk about crime/spy/etc. Just a few starter examples.

      Don’t forget to be personable – let people get to know you as a person – hobbies, foods, you don’t have to share really personal information to give people a feeling of “friends” and makes them want to read and promote you.

      • says

        Hey, Tasha,

        Exactly. And thanks for the tweet, too. Much of what you’re describing here in that “intersection” (which you nicely point out embraces the author’s interests as well as the readers) is what I’m referring to as adjacencies — topics, trends, issues, whole communities engaged in material that’s relative to what an author’s work addresses.

        I find in my coaching, as you likely do, that as soon as an author gets hold of how this works, it’s like a light goes on. So many opportunities to take almost any subject matter forward (into the world, not deeper into the publishing arena).

        But it frequently takes that prompt: “What is your book about?”


        Thanks again!

  2. says

    This is a real conundrum for writers. I can only speak to what I have done to focus on readers. I have made an effort on my blog to post more book reviews, which I also post on Amazon and Goodreads. I’m pleased to report that I get feedback from real readers, not writers, who find my reviews helpful. Goodreads is a great site for engaging with readers, though I find it a little clunky and not user friendly. I enjoy participating in online and in-person writing communities but there is an opportunity cost to it. Thanks for another thoughtful post, Porter.

    • says

      Hey, CG!

      Thanks so much for the good comment, and I really like the way you’re thinking of reviews as a service to readers, very apt.

      Also agree with you on the value of Goodreads, I’m a fan. I’m hoping that their ownership by Amazon (they’ve just been installed on the Kindle Paperwhite, which is great) will mean eventually that their back end gets an overall. That doesn’t sound very nice, lol, but I mean I’m hoping their tech is given a good bit of work by the geniuses at Amazon (if they can’t make a site a dream to operate, nobody can) so that clunkiness disappears.

      In terms of reaching readers, I’d just add that you might try thinking about “adjacencies,” yourself. What’s in your writings? — Boats? Gardeing? Water polo? Whatever it is, find those communities and ingratiate yourself as a member, a mover, a shaker. Then, they convert to readers because you’re singing their tunes with them.

      Thanks again, sir!

  3. says

    Hi, Porter,
    As usual, you have placed your finger squarely on the crux of the issue. In my opinion, the problem’s origin is the pressure on authors to do all or most of their own marketing. Nobody really likes a sales pitch except other salesmen, so we have a great time pitching to one another. The easiest way for authors to add Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc. is through their writing community contacts. We pray that it will spill over into the world of readers, but I suspect we are just dreaming.

    That said, most writers are readers, too, so it makes some sense to connect with each other with promotions. Reaching out to readers by newsletter, etc. can be a good idea, but it can also be annoying. I have become hesitant at conferences and workshops about giving my email to author presenters because I know what will happen next – a flood of newsletters and email promotions for which I have neither the time nor the patience.

    I guess the secret to connecting with readers is the old fashioned way, one reader at a time.

    • says

      Hey, Linda,

      You know, I totally agree with you that part of the problem here is authors feeling compelled to market and shying away from the read job. MUCH easier to stay in the fold where we all understand each other (and the distaste for banging the drum out in the marketplace among strangers), so everybody retreats to the safety of the cave. Totally, totally understandable. It’s just not selling the books well enough.

      You’re also right that writers DO read and, in many cases, they read more and better than do members of the general public. Writers really must read other writers, this is not only fine but important.

      The real distinction, though, comes in where we market. It’s fine to read each other and to offer our books to each other (gently, once, and only if a friend), but then we just have to turn outward and speak to the world we need as a lay readership. Not fun for many, quite daunting to almost everyone, but utterly necessary. And this new capacity to form a “loving hands at home” network on the Web, alas, can make it all the harder to get out of that nest and start workin’ it.

      Basically: Read writers; sell to everyone else. If you’re out there and your writer friends are interested, they’ll find you and read you, no marketing needed. It’s the rest of the planet we need to flag down. :)


      • says

        Absolutely! It is “the rest of the planet we need to flag down.” Why is it the simplest answers are so often the most difficult to implement? Huge sigh, here, while trying to dream up new ways to wave my flag! :-)

  4. says


    Found this to be interesting. It is like in my profession preachers preaching to other preachers to here the applause. What purpose could that serve but stoke the egoes. But, our messages are not to serve our egos but a higher calling.

    I am new to this “writing guild” – however, I have been engaged in communicating to various audiences for over 15 years. My own website exists to communicate to those who have found value in being challenged in what they believe.

    For the first time I am venturing into writing a story that is a sharing of my hopes for us as a people searching for God in this world. It is a fiction story but challenges us to persevere to discover the providence of God intersecting our lives along life’s journey. My goal is challenge myself to expand myself beyond the 1500-5000 word exposition of thoughts to something bigger that a larger audience may choose to invest their time and imaginations. It also is my desire to leave a legacy for my grandkids and I now have the time and resources to underwrite the project.

    Do I see the risk of hanging with a throng of writers who are looking to hear applause and attaboys, but are not the audience of my writing? Yes, I do. However, I do believe there is value in stopping by and listening and watching to the successful writers. As a retired coach, I know the inspiration to my players and myself when a famous player or coach would show up and encourage us, maybe leave a nugget that can make a difference in our own journey.

    It is daunting none the less to know how challenging it is to risk putting one’s thoughts onto a page and then casting it out to be read hopefully by those we believe would be interested. Just as some of my best sermons were slept through and some of my worst received so much attention, it is not always the quality of the writing but the message received at the right time by the right people that marks the response, “Well done!”

    Stop in for an attaboy, but know your audience is why you write. Maybe that is why I am not a fan of the Oscar Awards…they are awards given by the movie industry to the movie industry!

    Just responding out loud….

    Coach B

    • says

      Yo, Mike, from a Methodist minister’s son, yes,

      I surely know the preaching to the preachers syndrome.

      Also preaching to the choir. :)

      But you’ve got it here exactly: “Stop in for an attaboy, but know your audience is why you write.”

      It’s not that we dont’ want to nurture and enjoy and participate in our community, it’s just that we can’t afford to confuse that community for the reading public. Eventually, they’re the congregation, not somebody with us in the chancel, right?


  5. says

    Porter, I’m glad you said it, because I’ve thought it, but been afraid to put it into words lest I be stoned or drummed out of the community of authors. We–myself included–spend too much time on loops populated by writers and blogs aimed at them. (Of course, WU is the exception). We need to use our energies to market ourselves and our books to readers, not to each other.
    Thanks for some good advice. Now I’ve got to get off this blog and start to put it into practice.

    • says

      You’re calling that ambulance for me as the stones fly, right, Richard? LOL

      Seriously, I did, indeed, have to pause at my beloved writing hour of 3:30a this morning before committing to this one. But you’re exactly right and you’re NOT alone. I feel fairly safe — 80% or so — in saying that most of us, surely, can at least understand the sense of safety and acceptance and nurture we all feel in the writerly community. And the online availability and enhancement of its immediate support is simply very, very, very hard to resist. Like getting out of bed on a very cold morning. Who want it?

      But I’m convinced that in the aggregate (some great exceptions among us), many writers are being held back from finding their true audiences because it’s so much more comfy in the warmth and fireside friendliness of the community.

      It’s a tough issue and hardly one we’ll be able to take care of quickly. There might even be a place here for a sort of organization of “outward bound” authors who develop and follow a regimen of customer outreach AS part of their community. It could help a lot of folks.

      Thanks, as ever, and all the best. You’ve nailed it right here: “We need to use our energies to market ourselves and our books to readers, not to each other.”


  6. says


    You had tights? I mean, your own pair on hand in order to perform Shakespeare on short notice? Wow. I used to keep a spare suit in the office. That was in a case of sudden lunch invitations. It dated, and grew dusty, so finally I donated it.

    Thanks for giving me a pass on writing books about writing books. I’m thinking about writing a book on writing books about writing books. What do you think?

    But to your point. The ways in which I most notice writers riding the rails in the company of other writers more than in the company of readers are these: easy character stereotypes, safe plot choices, familiar genre voices, obsessing over the industry.

    There are writers who write to get published and there are writers who are true storytellers. I can tell the difference not only in the way they engage with the public but in their pages.

    BTW that’s a shapely post, Porter. It’s almost like it’s wearing tights.

    • says

      I feel sure I can trust you, Don, to create our first book-book-book, and I forgive you in advance, special dispensation, dominus vobiscum.

      And here’s a true story (not that other kind):

      When I was in English rotating repertory at the Asolo State Theatre, we had three full productions in rep at once, eight performances per week. About four months into the season, you got so totally over it that you had no idea which show you were doing as you left for the theater. You’d arrive for the matinee or evening show and look at the color tights the costume crew had left at your makeup station. “Oh, blue tights, good, Othello, I’m doing Roderigo tonight, thank God it’s not the Congreve.”

      What I like about your take on all this is that you’re seeing the craft-ish ways this problem is getting into things, as well as the marketing ways I see. As you write: “The ways in which I most notice writers riding the rails in the company of other writers more than in the company of readers are these: easy character stereotypes, safe plot choices, familiar genre voices, obsessing over the industry.”

      Exactly. There’s this new level of what we might kindly call “content exchange,” lol, that’s almost inevitable when the entire creative corps lives in an 18×22-foot apartment in the Bronx.

      Not in our stars but in our pages, as you say, Don-o.

      And you know, when it WAS the Congreve matinee, there was always special appreciation in the stalls for “the turn of his pretty leg.”

      OK, I’ll stop right there.

      • says

        Ah, the Asolo! Wonderful place. Been there. Maybe even saw you on stage. And now we’re riding the rails together, railing about being together in an (un)boxed car.

        BTW, did you know that King Lear had a take on Twitter? He did. “Nothing will come of nothing.” Was he mad? Perhaps not.

        • says

          I swear, I think I RT-ed Lear on that tweet. Favorited it, too.

          Glad you know the Asolo. Such a gorgeous house the Ringlings brought over. Duse’s home theatre, you know. (And Duse died in Pittsburg — isn’t that somehow perfect?)

          Give me enough Campari some time and I’ll regale you with what a large company of actors gets up to during long, long rotating rep seasons. Like having your fellow cast member change “Make love’s quick pants in Desdemona’s arms” to “Make love’s quick arms in Desdemona’s pants.”

          Pardon me as I rid myself of this ticket to ride ‘n’ rail at the readership as we roll into the sunset here. :) A pleasure tracking along with you,, as always.

  7. says

    I shan’t, in my best Noel Coward voice, wax witty upon the irony of a post advocating the dissolution of writers digitally gathering dropped on a blog where writers digitally gather.

    Nor shall I blithely (in spirit, mind you) throw a wet blanket upon all incipient writing instruction (especially as your humble preceptor has released an innovative and original take on the subject matter).

    I would put it this way: come for the fellowship, hang around for the tips, and offer your own if you have them. But then, yes and truly, don’t be so “around” that you aren’t producing your top work, alone, at the keyboard. The best connection to readers is new stuff.

    Alas, the best stuff of our theatrical heritage is mostly lost (I was so glad to find the Robards Iceman Cometh on DVD, from the early TV years). If only I could have seen Laurette Taylor, or Lunt and Fontanne! Not to mention the luminous work one Porter Anderson, now housed only the musty corners of distant memories. Would that I had heard that line he delivered in all its living glory….

    And speaking of Coward, a few years ago I saw the great Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit on Broadway. Worth every farthing.

    • says

      My dear Mr. Bell, by all means, continue to write about writing. There are many writers, such as myself, who suffer from over-stimulation, a possible early onset of oldtimers disease, and teenagers. We find it necessary to ingest the same information, over and over again, until it is said in such away that it snakes into one of the quickly closing crevices in our minds and settles in for a spell. Even then, I fear it’s lodging temporary. I eagerly await your next instruction. Preferably in Kindle format and on sale. God bless you, sir.

      • says

        Ron, you’ll love our dear Mr. Bell’s latest book-book. It’s here (I owe him that for having put off on book-books so mercilessly today, lol.) It’s all about how you should Write Your Novel from the Middle. Of your novel. Which isn’t written yet. So there’s actually no middle there. No beginning or end, either. No alpha, no omega…tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… Christ, I’ve slipped into tights again by mistake, I’ll just nip out now.

    • says

      Mad dogs and Californians (and Floridians, yes), go out into the community to say get out of the community.

      Quite so, Bell, incisive as ever, it is a post fraught with irony.

      And we’re all keen to try your breakthrough approach in your new book-book, don’t worry. It’s about reading your book-book from the middle, right? Frontwards or backwards? :)

      Seriously, yes, that getting back to the writing thing, it’s the real vortex, isn’t it, and so easily avoided when the klatch konvenes.

      You know, the Robards Moon for the Misbegotten with Dewhurst is on Prime Instant Video, Jeff Bezos will stream it to you for $2.99. I’ve just added it to my watchlist, maybe even for tonight, thanks for the prompt (and where were you when I forgot my lines in the Congreve?).

      You’ve got it exactly: “Don’t be so ‘around’ that you aren’t producing your top work, alone, at the keyboard.”

      Here’s to being around less and being read more!

  8. says

    Well Porter, you’ve landed upon a topic for which I have no impulse to wield my community sword. It can stay firmly entrenched in its sheath. As a moderator of the WU group during our initial growth spurt, I witnessed this sad mistaken concept long before I had a notion of connecting with readers myself. Even when we were but a few hundred huddled writers in the social media (plural, I know) storm, and before we had prohibitions against it, I saw no few writers who seemed to suffer from the delusion that if they could only convince *us* to buy and read their book, they’d be set. (Hence our current restrictions against promotion on the page.)

    Speaking of sword-wielding, I think this “reader versus fellow writer” element is one in which my chosen genre has served me well. From early on, it was a stretch for me to believe that my fellow writers would even be willing to take my namey-namer habits (named swords, horses, et al) seriously, let alone believe they could ever become my readers. (I’ve occasionally been surprised on that score, thankfully. Several of my colleagues have not only taken me seriously, but have read and critiqued my work, and it is undoubtedly much better for it. I am grateful. But that’s a separate matter.)

    Another side-benefit of “the Geek Genres” is that there is no shortage of role models for connecting with readers in social media (plural!). Of course the first to spring to mind is @neilhimself Sir Gaiman of Tumblr-Twitteria. But I’m also inspired by the efforts of fantasy writers like Jacqueline Carey, Robin Hobb, and Patrick Rothfuss, to name a few.

    I suppose my first efforts at connecting with readers are mostly lying dormant for the moment, but I do have a few Pinterest boards that could only interest my fellow geeks. Modest and as yet lacking in yield as these efforts are, they are not the workings of a fallow mind. At least not where it concerns the distinction you rightfully make here.

    I’m thankful for my writerly community, as you know. But this is a much needed reminder. Thanks for being a human page today, Henry. As to doing my part, I’ve shared your take on the WU group page. Hopefully, if we have any remaining Helens, they’ll get the nudge.

    • says

      Amanda: China must be very interesting.
      Elyot: Very big, China…
      Amanda: And Japan–
      Elyot: Very small.

      There you go, your Private Lives fix for the day, Vaughn, and thanks for the great input here — AND for keeping the sword-of-many-names sheathed.

      I’m a little dismayed to find some folks thinking that I’ve implied here that writers shouldn’t read other writers. Not at all, writers MUST read other writers, it’s part of the job, an important part. It’s the marketing I’m talking about. You’ve got it exactly right, it’s “he delusion that if [writers] could only convince *us* [fellow writers] to buy and read their book, they’d be set.”

      The Net seems to exacerbate this kind of confusion for so many folks (I’m sure not just in writing, too). And it’s great of you to work on shooing folks back to the keyboards (for writing) and the marketplace (for selling).

      When I first began covering writing conferences a few years ago, I was struck by how many writers seemed never to produce a page of copy but went to every conference. This was another form of community trap, of course, that thing of telling yourself that you’d write on the other side of the next conference where you were sure to discover the silver bullet.

      Never works and the Net is so good at making us feel at home with each other that we likely are going to need you to set up a Recovering Communitist (not to say Recovering Communist) wing of the operation. :)

      Cheers, as ever, and why don’t you namey-name this syndrome of entering the community and…never coming back out? :)


      • says

        …not to mention Taiwan! (Or would Noël have said Formosa? Forgive me. And I’ve yet to Taiwan on.) Thanks for the Coward fix!

        Let’s see. Off the top of the namey-namer noggin, how about Transpirational Tribalists? Fractional Fiction Factionalists? Coeternal Cultists? Oh, I know: (with a nod to Tolkien, Lewis, et al) The Incompletion Inklings!

        Cheers, Porter!

    • says

      Hello, Jillian,

      And yes, good point – the Net’s presence and effects are still very much developing and, even more pivotal, our understandings of how to use it and what it can mean to us and do for us in publishing and writing? — all a work in progress. It’s a time to take everything with a grain of salt and to keep as open a mind as possible, knowing that anyone (especially me!) may be totally off base in these early days. :)


  9. says

    As Richard said: “We need to use our energies to market ourselves and our books to readers, not to each other.” I’ve thought this for quite a while but do not ever say it. Thank you for giving reality to my musings.

    • says

      Hey, Patricia!

      Sorry for the long delay — I’ve been moving my flagship Writing on the Ether column to the wonderful folks at Thought Catalog this week , and I’m running a bit behind on comment response!

      But I’m delighted to hear that this line of thinking makes sense to you, too. One of the best things we can do for our writing fellows is to pass the word and help them all catch on to the danger of getting caught in the “author ghetto,” too, so easy to have happen!

      Thanks again!

  10. says

    All great points. I would say the one benefit to writers connecting with each other on social media which hasn’t been mentioned (I don’t think…I didn’t read every comment) is that it gives readers a way to find more authors they might like to read. If I follow Author A on Facebook and I notice that Author B says something clever or amusing on Author A’s page, I might go check Author B out.

    • says

      Hey, Erin,

      Agree completely – I’ve actually found several extremely fine authors in my Tweeterie, I know exactly what you mean.

      In fact, your good thought gives me a chance to clarify that I’m NOT saying writers shouldn’t read other writers. (A few folks have been confused on this point.) Quite the contrary. A good author must, must read other good authors, always. (Even bad authors have lots to teach us! lol)

      So yes, your concept of discovery via the various social media is right on the money. My only caveat is to say that we then must move forward with the authors we meet, read, enjoy, and support and get our own work on out into the world — and theirs! — so the reading public finds it.

      Thanks again!

  11. Tanis Mallow says

    What you say makes sense, focus on your target market. Having said that:
    1/ Approximately half of the 50 or so books a year I buy/read/review are written by my writer friends so I am definitely part of their their target market;
    2/I find writers to be an unfailingly supportive community, willing to help promote each other, and;
    3/ I’ve learned a heck of a lot from my fellow writers over the last few years all of which makes me a better writer and a better marketer.

    • says

      Hey, Tanis!

      If anything, you’ve just enunciated three of the main reasons I think writers are getting stuck in the “Author Ghetto,” lol.

      Who WOULD want to leave and brave it among the heathens when there’s so much (a) good to read, (b) support, and (c) good things to learn in the community?

      No disagreement hear at ALL. I’m right with you on your three points. And, in case you’ve misunderstood, I’m all for you reading your writer friends’ work, and vice versa. Totally. Read it twice. Clearly, writers are among other writers’ most avid and most valuable readers. Totally. Amen.

      BUT. The world needs your work and their work. And most authors need those sales.

      So rather than defending the beauty of community, with which I’m saying I have NO quarrel whatever, I propose that we move things on down the road a little bit and get better at finding the Reading Public.

      I hear they’re very nice people, too. :)

  12. says

    I think connecting with readers involves getting dressed and going outdoors. Before I was a writer and was just a reader, I rarely looked up authors online. In fact my kids never do. My son is a Lightning Thief fan and he doesn’t know what Rick Riordin looks like, nor does he even really consider himself a fan of Riordin (which apalls me of course!). He’s a fan of the books, not the man. Just like he’s a fan of movies, but couldn’t tell you who directed. When I drill my friends on what they are reading, they always forget the authors’ names (more apalling behavior!).

    But readers will wait in line for a signed book! I think we need to reach out to bookstores and offer ourselves as speakers. I speak at libraries, schools, churches, and community centers about writing, publishing, or I teach children about writing, or I speak to inspire, drawing on personal experience. The book orders follow. I’m a bit of a homebody, and I was scared to speak at first, but I was thrilled to discover that it’s easier to speak to hundreds of people than to make small talk at a party. And since writing is my favorite topic, I’m passionate about it and I come to life!

    This post is a great reminder of our goals, but we can accomplish both. We can connect with readers out and dressed, and we can chat online with our writer buddies in our jammies, assuming good time management skills of course! But the readers should probably come first.

    • says

      You know, Jennifer,

      What you’re saying about readers having no idea of authors has been true for a long sector for so long. But I tell you, it’s changing. And the reason is the various social media.

      I can remember writing letters to authors as a kid and having to send them to their publishers (no other way to find them) and never knowing if they got through. Now? You check Twitter. There’s your author. You tweet a nice hello. Your author is talking to you.

      One of the things I do as part of my consultancy service is tweet about new releases of note coming onto the market and I cannot tell you how many authors are very fast to tweet me right back to thank me and be in touch. This is pretty revolutionary on a generational scale, at least. And I think it’s going to be changing the (correct) perception you’ve had in the past.

      Is your son on Twitter? @camphalfblood — that’s Rick Riordan, with a fantastic following of 259,000 people. Even if your son isn’t into being in touch with an author, more than a quarter of a million people are, and I really think this is so important for us all to remember. What the Net means to many, many people (especially our readers) is that they should be able to be in touch.

      Love your interest in speaking in local settings. I’m not always sure the response of bookstore owners and others is as positive and welcoming as we’d like, but you’re absolutely right to pursue it. (Many bookstores are frankly looking like their own worst enemies these days and it gets harder and harder to hear them complain as if everything is being done to them, never by them.)

      And you’re right. We can do both. I don’t want anyone to cut off their interaction with the writing community. But I really want them to remember the readership — and probably the vast majority of the readership — is not at home. I want authors’ genius out there. The choir is already convinced. :)


  13. says

    This article was great, as are so many of the comments and ideas. I too find it hard to connect with readers and/or most reader-reviewers on Twitter. I think that, just as its overwhelming as a writer to be bombarded with nudges from fellow authors to read their latest and greatest, it’s equally (or more) overwhelming to be a reader (especially a reader with a book review blog) under such a barrage.

    Some days I’m pessimistic about the ability to genuinely connect with readers over social media. A wide reach only seems possible for the already famous (or at least semi-famous) or those who are deliberately controversial and eventually post something that goes viral and skyrockets them into the spotlight for five minutes. Most days, I try not to think about it, though.

    • says

      Hey, Cornelia,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      While trying not to think about it does sound like the easiest solution, LOL, I think that connecting with readers through social media is easier than many authors realize.

      If you are successful in feeling connected with other writers through Twitter or other platforms, then you should be just as comfortable with readers. Think about how it works with other writers. You’re in touch about things in common. That’s exactly what it is (or should be, to work) with readers.

      You want readers whose interests are in some way related to yours. Which isn’t hard. They’re not going to be reading you if their interests don’t dovetail to some degree with your own. If you step out every morning into the social media mix saying, “Now I shall engage readers,” you may fall off the front porch. But if you head into these media with specific issues that bear on your work — is it about ancient craftspeople? modern musicians? travel? food? pole vaulting? — then you’re going to find others in those fields. THEY are your readers, not some amorphous group of readerly creatures.

      The specificity of what you do in your writing holds every single clue you need to find its readership, as long as your material is worth reading. (I’m talking quality here.) People who love the medical field will be interested in medical thrillers. Go find them. And then talk to them about medical issues, not about your book.

      Bottom line: The social media are not sales tools. They’re not the marketplace. They’re not bookstores. They’re conversation hubs. If you go to them to have a conversation, not to sell, you’ll enjoy them thoroughly and you’ll eventually attract buyers who come to know you as a person with interests they recognize first, an author second.


  14. says

    Well, Porter (or should I say Henry?)… pretty sure I shouldn’t have read this while I was working in a coffee shop this morning (yes, I did laugh out loud, thank you very much)….although I *am* getting out and about. I’m very glad I (or at least the comments) brought back those good memories for you. And I’m also glad to find someone else who’s preferred writing time is 3:30 a.m…

    Like most writers, I’m guessing, I’m most usually at my dining room table (or some facsimile), but one day last year a (non-writer) friend chastised me when we met for lunch and I admitted it was my first public foray in “a while,” telling her I was all linked up with all the writers and resources I’d ever need. “How will you ever get any new ideas, Julia?” She exclaimed. I was taken aback initially then realized how right she was (I don’t write about writing) …Since then I’ve tried to get out more, work in cafes (like today), and there was that solo Amtrak trip…which was exceptional in many ways…yes, there were those lake farts!

    Great piece, Porter, I’m so glad you enjoyed and were inspired by mine. By the way, #Amtrakresidency not withstanding, I’m still thinking the showdown at the Continental Divide is on…you?

    • says

      Hey, Julia,

      The Declamatory Moment at the Continental Divide will be sponsored by Campari, I’m sure. I’m working very hard on this sponsorship, although Milano continues to turn a deaf ear on me so far.

      I think getting out and writing “in the world” is a very good way, in fact, to get some distance from the “authors ghetto” unless you keep all your social media outlets flying and remain hunkered with your writerly buddies in cyberspace. Simply having to communicate with people who — mercifully! — are not trying to write books (I hear there are several left in the USA) can be a relief and can give you all kinds of character insights and conversations that are NOT about writing.

      So carry on with the de-obsession therapy, you’re doing it all right and as soon as I get that Recovering Community-ist program set up (For Those Who Really Ought to Stay at Home More), I’ll let you know.

      Nourishing isolation!

      The peace of your own thoughts!

      Nobody talking back to you!

      I think I’ve got a hit on my hands already.

      :) -p.

  15. says

    “We just have to turn outward and speak to the world we need as a lay readership.” Porter, so so many marzipan treats in this post to choose from.

    Shilling, of any form, rude. I block same on Twitter. Equally, puzzling, all the writers blogging about writing. I get wanting to talk to other writers, but the messy, bitchy, exhilarating give and take of a crit group, ahh, now there’s where the rubber meets the road. (Or perhaps the boots hit the boards?)

    As I design my writing website, I see in my mind’s eye “my people” and seek to give as much of myself as they might find interesting or intriguing.

    • says

      Hey, Morgyn,

      Go for “your people.” And don’t get too stuck in this “service” mentality you hear a lot about around writing. “Your people” — as in your readers — owe you a few things, too, and remember that you’re giving them a lot of good storytelling and the time of your life it takes to produce it.

      I think one of the more pernicious concepts cultivated in the “authors’ ghetto” is that authors are some sort of service industry workers slaving away out of “love” of their readers.

      Hold your own and look for ways your readers serve you, too. Soon as you get in touch with them, you’ll find out :)


  16. says

    Oh dear, Porter, shaking hands with readers is too threatening: there’s all that unknown bacteria and other effluvia, and the tics, those unspeakable tics—really, no one should go in for that sort of thing. Oh, oh wait—you don’t mean actually grapple with readers, you mean make one’s writerly engagement sorties where readers congregate online, do most of one’s glad-handing where the hands hit the keyboard and not slapping a series of shoulders, eh? Thank goodness; I won’t have to shave.

    But yes, I read you. Like Helen, I get around too much in writerly enclaves, because it’s a comfort to hear the syncopated gnashing of teeth and the wailings of kingdoms lost for want of a verb. Readers, I can’t quite make out their faces, and that’s a problem, as you point out. Relationships with readers—strange how in our socialized-to-the-gills globe, it stills seems like a novel (groan) concept.

    Thanks Porter, your stuff is always provocative, with or without tights.

    • says

      Tom! Sorry, I thought I’d gotten back to you and now find I must not have hit Submit!

      I love this line from your comment:
      “Readers, I can’t quite make out their faces, and that’s a problem, as you point out.”

      This is it in a nutshell, and honestly that’s one of the best ways I think any good author can test just how well he or she feels about that critical relationship with the audience: Can you see their faces? Can you envision them with your book, working over your text, talking about it to others?

      A couple of very wise author coaches I’ve met have talked to classes they were doing about choosing a specific person to represent one’s audience — actually narrow it down to a single person, get a picture of that reader, and put it on your desk by your computer. What these coaches advocate is actually aiming your work directly at someone, a specific personality, asking, “Would he understand that line? Would she still be with me after that chapter? Would he want to tell somebody about this character?”

      I’ve always thought this sounded like a good idea, really. Just so you don’t have that blurry idea of who the audience might be.

      At any rate, thanks, Tom, so good of you to read the post and comment. Sorry it’s taking so long to get back to you and some of the others — definitely high season on the beat right now. :)


  17. says


    Until today I never visualized you with legs. Quite nice!

    I check in with WU to cleave through (or add balance to) the desk-keyboard-window-mind existence of the creative life, to verify that there is a cultural form of STORY truly alive and ongoing out there. Ahh! There is! I take this community as a virtual coffeehouse in Paris, not a market.

    You posters and commenters here–bright, verbal, funny, sad, dedicated, struggling–are a resource, a rainbow of humanity that just might help if I ever come up with a worthy question. I stop in, listen, sip a cup of something and split.

    Speaking of which, I’ve got to go home.

  18. says

    Ah, yes. How do we become outward facing. It’s one of the best ideas I’ve gotten from reading Writing on the Ether (had the urge to put the hashtag in.) I’m not sure how many months ago (at least six) that you first talked about being outward facing, and it inspired me to start hunting. I’m not sure if many of my new non-writer friends on twitter have become readers (I know a few have) but I know I’m having a blast interacting with them. It’s kind of funny, because the writers keep finding me, but (because we met not talking about writing, I think) it’s a much more interesting conversation!

    My blog posts are mainly funny photos on friday, with a prelude at the beginning of things I want to share or talk about. People really like the photos, and I get alot of search traffic for “funny animal photos.” So, even though they weren’t looking for me, hopefully some people decide to stick around.

    The thing that I wasn’t prepared for was the sense of insecurity that not hanging around the writer water cooler created. I barely read blogs, my facebook involvement with other writers became minimal, and it was only on Twitter – where an interaction can be in 30 sec. or less – that I really interacted with other writers. I wondered if I was losing an important component of my life. Because my writer friends are, indeed, friends. I don’t look at any of the people I’ve met on social media as a means to an end – be they writers, readers, or just interesting people. So, like most things, I’m working on balance, trying to be a good online friend and author. :)

  19. says

    Yes, agreed!! Every time someone follows me on Twitter, I
    look at several things before following back. Have they followed me
    as part of a mass follow? (If they just followed me, and there are
    30 people after me that they’ve followed, they clearly are in a
    following spree and don’t actually care about what I have to say.)
    What do they post on their page? Is it all retweets of other
    authors (no thanks), or all tweets about their own work (again no
    thanks), or do they actually engage in conversations with people?
    I’m not looking to follow people just to increase their numbers, or
    mine. I’m looking to engage with people who are interested in
    engaging with me. I don’t exclude authors but I’m careful about it.
    The analogy I use is that restaurants (or the people behind their
    marketing) don’t go following other restaurants, except if they
    have actual relationships for some reason. No, they go for
    customers. Because they’re smart. Like we should be. I do know I
    have a long way to go in figuring out this marketing stuff, but I
    also know that building up my numbers by following (and being
    followed by) every author out there does me no good. Thanks for the
    discussion, Porter!

  20. says

    Okay, I feel weird. I write nonfiction for creative people, and other than as my readers, I don’t hang out a lot with writers. I read writing blogs and the occasional book-book. But I don’t have a community off writer friends. And I guess my question is, should I?

  21. says

    It’s almost time to start the pre-launch marketing for my book so this has been on my mind a lot. Fellow writers are my friends and support, but I want to know my audience…to keep my first best friend and enjoy getting to know a new best friend, as it were. I’ll be taking a number of the suggestions in the comments to work on this weekend. Thank you for the post and to all the folks who commented for giving me a good education today. :)

  22. says

    Sometime last year I twigged on to this very thing. Sure, I
    wanted to populate my blog with interesting posts. But interesting
    to whom? I was focusing on writers when I should be focusing on
    readers. So I changed my focus. But I had to do some serious
    thinking. I’d spent so much time prior focusing on improving the
    craft, networking with fellow writers and studying, I wasn’t
    completely sure what readers would want to read about. What could I
    write about that would supplement my books? What could I write that
    would complement future projects? If I could draw and appeal to
    future readers, I could pre-build my audience for future projects.
    Also, I had to change my voice and approach, from authorial How-To,
    to friendly we’re-mates. I’m still in progress in building a steady
    brand. I am gaining readers. Right now it feel very unidirectional,
    as I’m not getting much interaction (via comments, etc). A blog
    that simply puts info out there, and one that interacts with
    readers have very different feels.

  23. says

    A very pertinent point and one which, I agree, far too many writer-bloggers lose their way over.

    Yes, there is of course a benefit to engaging with other writers, but that’s a symbiotic learning experience, not a sales opportunity. Unless your business is educating up-and-coming writers from a position of experience, of course. I’m thinking of well-established bloggers who do indeed offer great value to relative newcomers.

    The piece I’m missing in this post – and with others making the same point – is exactly how one taps into an online audience of readers. It’s easy to find other writers as we all share a hobby/profession/obsession and tend to hang out in the same places. Readers, however, come in every conceivable size, shape and preference. Unless one writes in a very specific genre (e.g. historical romance) trying to target an audience of relevant (and relevance is the key point) readers is rather like throwing gravel into a lake in the hopes of hitting a specific fish.