How Do You Know If You Can Say No to NaNo?
The Internet has mutated reasonable people into wannabe writers…We are blind to the harsh truth-light-radiating facts such as ‘half of self-published authors earn less than $500’, facts written about in newspapers by professional writers.
That’s Tom Mitchell (@tommycm on Twitter) writing an essay at Medium, War on #amwriting . I must thank my colleague in London, Sheila Bounford, for reminding me of it. It could have been lost in the Bavarian Ether: Mitchell’s article came out during our always intense Frankfurt Book Fair week in Germany.
Bounford joined us for Authoright’s half-day conference there for English-language authors. I moderated two of the panels during that afternoon at BuchMesse’s new Business Club — a true haven at a Book Fair that drew 270,000 people. Every one of them was in my train car from the Hauptbahnhof to the FestHalle/Messe, too.
[pullquote]The Internet on most days looks like a clothesline for all the dirty linen we once knew it was incorrect to display to the world.[/pullquote]
And as our panelists took questions from the floor, I was struck, as I am time and time again, by how basic those inquiries were. So many members of the audience were asking what they should have known from their own research as would-be professionally productive writers (whether self-publishing or traditionally published). Of course, they weren’t doing any research. That was obvious. And that is the problem. We see it everywhere, in this world in which, per Mitchell, the Internet has “mutated reasonable people into wannabe writers.”
Everyone has decided that he or she has a book in them, right? Mitchell:
There’s lots of stuff we all have in us, a spleen for example, but decide not to share.
Mitchell won’t win, of course. We’re likely to see the spleens come out, too. The Internet on most days looks like a clothesline for all the dirty linen we once knew it was incorrect to display to the world. I was recently told by a regular reader and friend that it was great I seemed to be “sharing more personal stuff” about myself in my writing. I pulled back at once. I’m Southern. Bubbas don’t share. We’re better bred than that.
Mitchell’s special target in his essay is NaNoWriMo, which looms once more on the calendar’s horizon. I had dinner in Frankfurt with Grant Faulkner, executive director of NaNo, immensely likable guy. We enjoy talking. He didn’t wear his horned helmet at table, just to answer the question I know is eating you alive. He’s aware that I have my qualms about kamikaze writing efforts, although many writers I respect think the NaNo dive-bomb is a good one.
As I told Faulkner, my worry isn’t about the NaNoWriMo month of November. It’s December. Mitchell says it well:
NaNoWriMo must be the worst thing that’s happened to literary agents since alcoholic lunches fell out of fashion. I almost pity the bespectacled bastards, receiving thousands upon thousands of unedited manuscripts, their December inboxes overflowing like knackered toilets, the only merit to the majority of these ‘novels’ being that they were completed quite quickly.
It’s not NaNo’s or Faulkner’s fault that so many NaNoWriMo participants ignore the instructions saying for God’s sake don’t submit your NaNoWriMo draft for publication (or self-publish the thing) in December.
We all want you to take the time to rewrite, turn that draft into a real book instead of a scribbled seance; get it edited; get it designed; pay for the services required to turn it into a professionally produced work of…but why do we bother? The people who believe that the advent of the Internet means that a major deity wants them to write a novel aren’t interested in such precious gatekeeper-ish twaddle about cover designs created with more than their own Crayolas, are they?
As Mitchell reminds us, the quick answer is always that “the joy is in the writing.” You believe that? Mitchell doesn’t:
Hunger-Games-t-shirt-wearing members of local writers’ groups will retort that the joy is in the writing, and that’s fair enough, I suppose, if part of the [NaNoWriMo] contest conditions were: a) not being allowed to tell anyone you were taking part in NaNoWriMo and b) having to promise to delete the manuscript at the month’s conclusion/when you can’t be bothered to write anymore.
I don’t believe it, either. I have yet, in fact, to believe anyone who tells me that she or he is just writing “for the joy of it, I don’t ever want to sell a word.” Like I said, I’m Southern.
I’m going to take you a little farther with our friend Mitchell here, then we’ll veer off into something “actionable,” as we love to say in corporate circles. One more dose of the NoNaNoWriMo champ Mitchell:
On every tedious click of those desperate book plugs on Twitter, I read the ‘free’ first chapter and it’s staggeringly awful and I understand an increment further that a prime state of mind in the #amwriting community is delusion.
That’s tough stuff. And yet, look at the material around you. How many new releases are actually of substance? Not for nothing was the second panel I moderated titled: “Are There Too Many Books?”
I know one thing going on here. And it was reinforced in the questions for those panels. Here comes the actionable part of today’s Provocation.
What Are You Reading About Writing?
Mitchell, in his articulate lament confesses that he’s been “trying to be a novelist for 10 years.” Awfully gracious of him to say so. The piece suddenly becomes more poignant, doesn’t it? His understanding of the Internet as the great enabler of Jon Fine’s “tsunami of content” is right as far as it goes. But what’s the mechanism of delusion here? How can the Net confuse so many folks into thinking that they’re Nora Roberts in someone else’s clothes?
[pullquote]I suggest that you consider making actual publishing-news reading at least half of your reading-about-writing each day. Spend no more than half that time reading blog posts. The other half? News.[/pullquote]
Well, the Internet doesn’t only provide a way for people to place unfortunate attempts at writing in our faces. No, it also puts into their faces a steadily humming boiler room of blog posts. And those inspi-vational blog posts are where the aspirants go to take comfort in each other’s often ill-informed dreams of…”the joy of writing.”
Go back to the first excerpt in Mitchell’s piece, the last line:
We are blind to the harsh truth-light-radiating facts such as ‘half of self-published authors earn less than $500’, facts written about in newspapers by professional writers.
I propose that if you’re operating now as a genuinely serious writer — or developing yourself to be one — your daily reading about writing, about publishing, about books, should lie more in actual news than in blogs.
The phenomenon of the blogosphere (magnificently rendered in music, by the way, by composer Nico Muhly for Two Boys ) is basically a form of lay journalism. It’s closer to journaling than journalism. We know that, right? And yet how many authors do you know who are passing around half-truths, popular confusions, overstatements, suspect assurances, alarmist rants, and sometimes dangerously incorrect guidance…because they found it in blog posts?
I know a lot of authors of this kind. They message me, fearful of this imminent disaster or that looming catastrophe in publishing. “I heard this.” “I read that.” Want some examples?
- They chant about how many ebooks are out there, especially about how many are self-published. If they read the news, they’d know that we don’t know how many there are . We have no way to track them.
- They’ve heard that it’s impossible to get self-published print books into bookstores. No it’s not. But they have to read news to know that, not blogs. 
- They tell you that subscriptions will never fly, it’s all a big boondoggle, everybody says so. No, everybody doesn’t say so. 
The pieces I’m linking to there are mine, at Thought Catalog and at The FutureBook. You can always follow what I’m producing from short versions I post at my own site , if you like. (That’s not an advertisement, I get no money from you for reading something on my site.)
There are other good sources of news. I’ll briefly list some for you.
And what I’m going to recommend here (actionable content!) is that you take a few minutes and appraise your online reading about publishing. How much of that daily time is spent in blogs, and how much is spent at news sites?
I suggest that you consider making actual publishing-news reading at least half of your reading-about-writing each day. Spend no more than half that time reading blog posts. The other half? News.
Am I biased? Hell, yes. I didn’t go into a career of bloggery. I went into a career of journalism. And I did it — as we all did around the time of the Magna Carta — because I felt then, as I feel now, that the delivery of accurate, fact-based, properly attributed, both-sides-of-an-issue-offered coverage is more important and needed than opinion. We’ve all got an opinion. We don’t all have information or the skill to parse it fairly.
Most blog work is opinion. And the media (still a plural word) have not helped you in this. In our digital agony, we have allowed reportage and opinion to be blurred and mashed together. That’s our fault, not yours. But there are ways you can tighten up what you’re reading and set your course on a more information-based path — it starts with turning to news in addition to blogs.
I’d suggest you consider these outlets (in no particular order):
- The Bookseller . (Subscription and free.) Though based in London, this site and its weekly print magazine (which you can read online) cover US news, as well. Its blogs section and parallel The FutureBook site are free. The main Bookseller site and magazine are by subscription. This medium also produces the annual FutureBook Conference , largest such publishing event in Europe. Disclaimer: I’m Associate Editor at The Bookseller for The FutureBook, so my regard for this hardworking staff carries that bias.
- Publishers Lunch.  (Subscription.) This is the daily news element of Publishers Marketplace. Michael Cader and Sarah Weinman write the material here. This is heavily industry oriented. I believe it’s fair to say that there’s a bias toward traditional components of the industry in Cader’s work, but he doesn’t hide that in his commentary. The subscription is for Publishers Marketplace, which includes a vast array of book-deal information and other highly valuable material. Cader also produces, with Mike Shatzkin, the Digital Book World (DBW) and PublishersLaunch  conferences.
- Digital Book World . (Membership and free.) Now being helmed by Rich Bellis, DBW is basically a trade-industry service organization created by F+W Media as one of its many verticals. Much of its news and information — which can include a lot of press release information from companies in publishing — is free. You can also become a member if you like and get special access to webinars and other resources. This is the year-round organization behind the January (13-15) DBW Conference  that Shatzkin and Cader stage.
- Publishers Weekly . (Subscription, some content free.) The closest thing we have in the States to the medium-of-record that The Bookseller is in London. This is your facts-and-figures go-to, with some fine news-features writing from Andrew Albanese, Jim Milliot, and others on the team.
- Publishing Perspectives . (Free.) This one is internationally themed, a service of Frankfurt Book Fair, and great for getting a look at issues and voices in the world publishing markets. I wrote for this one for the better part of two years before moving to The Bookseller. Ed Nawotka and Hannah Johnson are the hard workers behind it.
- Thought Catalog.  (Free.) I produce publishing news features here as a Featured Writer. Overall, Thought Catalog is an ingeniously broad general-interest magazine online and is usually ranked by Quantcast as one of the 50 or so largest sites in the US for unique users. (Today we’re at No. 46.) YA and NA writers in particular may find its frequent Millennial-themed stories useful (and curiously captivating). My own work there is a continuation of the Writing on the Ether series that I originally produced at JaneFriedman.com.
- The Guardian . (Free.) This is a particularly aggressive, prolific Books-section coverage effort, mostly UK-oriented, always interesting and well worth your attention. A lot of fine work is there from our colleague Alison Flood and her associates.
And, of course, there’s intermittent coverage of publishing issues in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other mainstream media.
Fit your news-reading to your own needs and budget and interest. But I hope you’ll consider being sure that your intake of publishing coverage includes both the best of the blog resources you enjoy and the often clarifying “structural” reading of news services that handle issues in the industry! the industry!
What is your reading-about-writing like now? Are you all-bloggery? Or way ahead of me and consuming vast quantities of news already?
Main image – iStockphoto: Ambassador806