Dearest Writer: Nobody Owes You Shit

I get it.

I do.

You’re a writer.

That means whatever it means in terms of technical format — you write novels or comics or blogs or webisode scripts or dirty jokes on clean napkins. Beyond the vagaries of format, it means you took something of yourself, you wrenched it free, unmooring it from your intellectual viscera, and you bled. Boy howdy did you bleed. You bled a story. You bled your ideas. You made up people out of your guts and your gore. You hemorrhaged time and effort and hope and dreams. You gushed some of your very identity onto the screen and onto the page. It’s arterial, this act. It is life — your life — soaking into the tapestry fabric of creation.

Nobody can take that away from you.

And fuck anybody who tries to diminish it.


(You know there was gonna be a ‘but,’ right?)

But but but but but but but.



But just the same, nobody owes you a damn thing.

I mean, unless they owe you like, cash, or a dinner, or a knuckle sandwich. And certainly if you’re with a publisher, they owe you money and all the things that they should be doing as per your contract. (My contracts all stipulate I get one pound of exotic, illegal animal meat. For instance, Harper Voyager just sent me a package of ground lemur. Fragrant and delicious. Tastes a little like marmoset, though, so if you like that, it’s all good.)

Still, the point stands in the larger sense.

You writing anything doesn’t mean anybody owes you a good goddamn.

Let’s talk about books and novelists in particular.

There’s an article going around.

Cut to: “No, I Don’t Want To Read Your Self-Published Book” at WaPo.

Cue the complaints, which I’ve seen around (Facebook a good example) of gatekeepers and legacy-fried-jerky-jerks and why-they-gotta-be-down-on-the-indie-publishers.

Understand something: at this point, writers are multiplying like an orgy of Tribbles. And each writer is writing more books than ever, which means not only are writers multiplying, but every writer is barfing up a dozen books and we just need to thank the gods that books aren’t then barfing up smaller books or soon we’d literally be buried in the damn things. I’m pretty sure that if you buy two Kindles and put them in a dark room with smooth jazz, you will have fifteen Kindles by morning, each of them packed with 666 e-books.

How many books come out in a given year is a hazy, shifting number — I’ve given these numbers before, but it looks like there were around 300,000 books published traditionally in 2013, with about 50k of those being adult novels. Self-publishing easily doubles that number, and that’s only counting those who bought ISBNs. Which means the real number is probably a whole lot bigger.

But for now, let’s say that between the two forms of publishing, you get around 600,000 books released into the wild every year, like a stampede of lemmings. (Lemming meat? Not so tasty. Stringy. Greasy. Tastes like sadness and panic.) So that means, over the course of one year, around 11,500 books land in a given week. Roughly 1600 in a single day.

Now, okay, you can probably chop that number in half because a lot of those are so marginal they don’t even count — they’re naught but fog, but noise, but a sneeze in a starless void.

And certainly the number gets wonkier when you figure the spread across various formats, genres, categories, age ranges. It starts to dice up a good bit due to the taxonomy of books.

Still, let’s carve away a lot of that gristle and fat…

Shall we say that ten percent of that total number equals meaningful books?

And by that I mean, those books that share the same air as you and your book. Not direct competition in that it’s all New Adult Erotic Space Westerns, but I just mean in a general sense — competing for attention, social media, reviews, shelf-space, even competing for the weird algorithms and insane discoverability engines that guide the web.

Ten percent is 60k.

Or, around 160 books published per day.

Can you imagine that?

In the time it takes you to wake, do all the frivolous flopping about that goes into your day, then go back to sleep, 160 new books just teleported into existence. Six new books an hour. It’s like there’s a giant book monster somewhere just squatting over a Barnes & Noble dumpster shitting out books. CLUH-CLANG. “Another six books.” CLUH-CLANG. “Six more, high fiber.” CLUH-CLANG. “There we go — ooh, a new Stephen King, that one was really blocking me up.”

And all that competes with games, movies, TV, that video where a guy gets hit in the nuts with a skateboard on the YouTubes. Lotta competition for eyeballs and wallets and hours in the day.

Self-publishing has really dialed this up — overall, in a good way, in that yay books, yay authors making a living, hoo-fucking-ray for new options and opportunities. But it complicates things at the same time. This isn’t a knock against self-publishing — but it is a reminder that with gatekeepers fleeing their posts, this wonderful time of unfettered creation still comes with issues and complexities. Because of this, author-publishers and the traditionally-published alike need to recognize the new realities, the new difficulties, of being a writer. This is the best time to be a writer, but also a time of upheaval and bewilderment, a time of great coyote bedlam. The noise and signal are both increasing, and that old adage of “90% of everything is crap” probably holds true — but it’s a lot easier to find one diamond within nine shards of broken glass than it is to find 10 diamonds amidst 90 shards, or 100 shards among 900. It’s a challenge. And it’s really a challenge for those who help to curate interesting content — reviewers, critics, bloggers, bookstores, libraries, and so forth. (It’s also why many of them shut out self-published authors: the noise there is too great, the ratio of quality too imbalanced, the chaos too large. Don’t be irritated at them for not built to handle these tectonic changes yet. You just colonized a brand new world, so don’t be pissed off if there isn’t a Starbucks on every corner yet, mmkay?)

Life is full of kept gates.

In and out of writing.

Even author-publishers are beholden to them. Amazon is a kept gate, though one with nicely loose hinges. Reviewers — professional and otherwise — are gatekeepers. BookBub and its ilk is one. Editors better damn sure be a kept gate for you. And at the end of the day, readers are one, too. They’re the final gate, the last of the infernal portals. Any outlet of discoverability, any axis of transmission, is a gate watched over by somebody. Traditionally-published authors just pass more of them on the front end — that cattle-chute is far narrower (which is both very good and very bad, but is a reality regardless of the pluses and minuses).

The point is, it’s hard being a writer.

It’s hard having a book and having it get seen.

It’s hard no matter which choice you make in terms of getting it out there.

You’re not better because you traditionally-published.

You’re not better because you did it yourself.

We’re all our here, struggling to find our way, working to put our books in the hands of readers. It’s harder for some than it is for others, but it ain’t easy no matter how you whittle this stick.

Recognize that.

Let it be hard.

Accept and expect the challenge.

Recognize that you’re not the only one doing this.

As I said last week, you’re just one special snowflake in the whole damn blizzard.

Nobody owes you anything. They don’t owe you a review. Or a retweet. Or any consideration at all. They don’t owe you a blurb, or a blog post, or blog space. The bookstore doesn’t owe you shelf space. The library doesn’t owe you circulation. Nobody owes you attention, and they certainly don’t owe you a career. They don’t even owe it to be nice to you.

But you can earn those things. Not just by writing a good book — though that damn well better be Step Fucking One. You earn it by doing better. You earn it by being nice, and humble, and recognizing that it’s not the world’s job to bend its knee to you, but your job to bend knee. You gain audience by being the sharpest, smartest, kindest version of yourself you can summon. You overcome the challenges implicit to a creative life and career not by raging against them or by being sour about them, but by acknowledging them and dealing with them either head-on or with your own clever solutions. You get these things by being honest and earnest and authentic.

You wrote a book.

That’s a truly special thing.

To you, to me, to your mother.

But it’s not a golden ticket.

Don’t complain. Don’t pout. Kick your excuses and whinges out the door.

You wrote a book? So did that woman. And that guy. And that llama.

You’re gonna have to do more.

Recognize this up front. Arm yourself with that information now.

Nobody owes you anything.

But you? You owe them a lot.

You owe them the best of you.

The best book.

The best effort.

The best you.

Now go and earn your place. Give more than you take. Offer more than you want.

And always do better.

* * *

The Kick-Ass Writer: Out Now

The journey to become a successful writer is long, fraught with peril, and filled with difficult questions: How do I write dialogue? How do I build suspense? What should I know about query letters? How do I start? What the hell do I do?

The best way to answer these questions is to ditch your uncertainty and transform yourself into a Kick-Ass Writer. This new book from award-winning author Chuck Wendig combines the best of his eye-opening writing instruction — previously available in e-book form only — with all-new insights into writing and publishing. It’s an explosive broadside of gritty advice that will destroy your fears, clear the path, and help you find your voice, your story, and your audience.




Writer’s Digest

79 responses to “Dearest Writer: Nobody Owes You Shit”

  1. You are my hero. I had “guessed” approximately 100 children’s books are published every day – infant through YA. Following your logic, I think I am about right!

  2. My theory is that “success” (which is of course relative and not measurable) is basically a product of being in the right place at the right time WITH the right book. The better your book is (I know this is subjective, but in a way its also not) the more right places and right times there are. And because you can’t really control what the right place or time is, you’re best to focus on what you can control, which is your book.

    My point is don’t expect anything and just write the best book you can. Not Earth-shattering, I know

  3. “The best book. The best effort.” HELL FUCKING YES. Yes to that. Please never stop demanding that all writers strive to put forth the best that they can, and please never stop telling writers that they have to EARN praise and attention.

  4. I aspire to be you, sir. Or maybe just your thoughts. Or your fingers, perhaps Let’s start there: if I could even be the fingers that type these amazing pieces, I’d be a happier writer. I’ve written some okay stuff, but I wish my imagination envisioned things like kindles procreating to smooth jazz. ::Puts on Larry Carlton CD, lowers lights, unbuttons top button, puts Kindle Fire next to iPad mini, doesn’t judge::

  5. Please tell me your books are going to be available at the on-site bookstore at Surrey International Writers’ Conference in a few weeks. And that you’re going to be signing them at the book fair (or whatever they’re calling it this year; I think they changed it).

    Next contract, you should specify spotted owl. Tastes a bit like bald eagle.

  6. This post! It’s a harsh reality and the numbers put it into perspective. There is sooooo much noise out there that our writerly screams are, more than likely, gonna get lost in the void. How and ever, does that mean we stop? Hells no. Cause people ARE listening, trying to hear that little fuzzy squeak that’s going to entertain them and maybe even change their lives.

  7. I’m self-published. I was a magazine journalist and editor for 20 years. I pay for editing and artwork.

    In the other article: “So why do they care what we think?”

    I don’t.

    In the comments of that article: “Why do I go trad? Pride.”

    I don’t need their approval.

    And no, I don’t think anybody owes me anything.

    Except their blood. Which I inhale. Through a hookah.

  8. Apparently 80 percent of adults want to write a book before they die. Thankfully only 5 percent do. Don’t know about llamas. But those 80 percent all read! Llamas?

  9. Well llamas have it easy, camels just can’t seem to get past that hump.

    Ok, sorry that was bad, just scrolled down to say, “Orgy of Tribbles” would be a great name for a band.

    Which is of course the point. Everyone wants a cool thing they did to be acknowledged. Heck even the low brow stuff. *Sigh* if I had a nickel for every time someone came out of the bathroom and shouted, hey come look at the massive thing I just made.

  10. It’s not just writers, most people expect the world to recognize their genius and then genuflectt. Ain’t going to happen.

  11. I loved this post. It needed to be said.
    If you follow the links back to the original open letter, the guy isn’t even really dissing Indies overall. He’s being very clear that he’s talking about Children’s fiction and that Indie writers in the adult markets are “demonstrating considerably greater skill” in producing quality books.
    A lot of sites don’t review indie books, or they don’t review books that don’t already have a few reviews. (I know, it seems completely unfair.) But its their choice. Deal with it and move on. When you are a big name writer, you can snub them back and refuse to send them a review copy when they ask. 😉

  12. When you say 50K Adult Novels were published in 2013, do you mean adult as in “not-young-adult”, or do you mean it in the “50-Shades-of-oohhh-I’m-getting-a-chub” sense?

    Because if it’s the latter, let’s just say, uh. whoa.

  13. Excellent words, both this and the original article are well put. I particularly loved the Barnes & Noble dumpster bit. That’s one hell of an image.



  14. Yaay! Most of your post is what my Inner Grinch has been telling me about me and my book for the last…. oooh, as long as I’ve been writing the darn thing. But he is nowhere near as witty and eloquent about it as you are, and somehow when I hear it from you I feel better rather worse (which is how I feel when Grinch says it.)

    Thank you for making the cold, hard truth palatable. Along with whatever exotic meat you’re being gifted as part of your contract 🙂

  15. Great post. I’d love to pass out copies of this to every writers group/class/workshop/seminar because its truth.

  16. This is such a difficult message to convey. Kudos for trying. But so many writers, especially the green ones, don’t get it. They don’t WANT to get it. They want it to be untrue. They think if they close their eyes hard enough and wish, they’ll be the exception to the rule. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a published author (yes, usually indies) whine about how hard this is and how they don’t feel supported (by family, friends, other writers, etc.), I could quit my day job and write novels full-time. I’d only need a nickel per instance. And this tit-for-tat mentality that so many indies–and maybe it’s all authors–cultivate is maddening. “Thanks for the review, but no, I’m not going to read, much less review, your erotic sci-fi novel. Congrats on writing that, though.” Thanks for adding your no-nonsense voice to the chorus. Maybe it’ll sink in eventually.

  17. Yup. What he said.
    It is a hard truth to face but the sooner the better.

    Some people get upset about this type message but that doesn’t mean that they’re whining (although they might be). It’s just that they haven’t grasped the enormity of the competition. Yet.

    For the most part, writers are very generous in helping each other along the path and maybe we all sometimes need to exercise a little patience with people who haven’t ‘got it’ yet.

    • No, no, it’s not always whining, you’re right — and like I said, I understand the inclination. The creative act is fundamental, vital. It IS special, in its own way, but we also have to recognize that what’s special to us isn’t universally special — you aren’t granted any sort of favor because you wrote a book. Everybody’s a writer, now.

  18. There are a lot of good points in here that I needed to hear. Before blogging and having someone to read it, I never cared who liked it except my family. Now I find myself saying, ” Who do I have to blow to get read?”

    Now I think I have the impetus to get the hell offline and go finish my edit.

  19. Yes, unfortunately, to everything. 😉 Wonder how Stephen King feels about the notion that his books are not written by him, but in fact pooped out by a constipated book-monster. Good one there!

      • *feeds LlamaChuck a whisky-soaked apple*

        I just read the WaPo article. It’s much more well-balanced than I expected. Ron Charles isn’t attacking self-pub as a system (although apparently many of the commenters didn’t see it that way – I suspect most of them didn’t get past the headline before foaming at the mouth). If anything, his tone is apologetic.

        Reviewing self-pub material at a major newspaper would be a logistical nightmare, no matter how you look at it. The two systems are incompatible.

        Realistically, if being reviewed in the Washington Post is something you truly want, then self-pub isn’t for you.

        • Yeah, I didn’t find it problematic or insulting. I have the same problem here, ultimately — very hard to support self-publishing authors in terms of promo because I cannot handle what happens when those floodgates open.

  20. I saw that WaPo article yesterday (day before?) but restrained myself from commenting on it. I figured the author would just assume I was another lousy, bitter indie.

    Anyway, Chuck, thanks for the smooth-jazz laugh. That was brilliant. And if you’re looking for an excuse to come to DC, World Fantasy Convention is here next month (just sayin’).

  21. I don’t read self-published books for many reasons, but it boils down to two. In fairness, I read the first chapter of well over a hundred. I found none that were anywhere near pro quality. 2. I don’t need to read self-published books. Commercials publishers release more book in a year than I can read in a lifetime, so why waste valuable reading time on something that will almost certainly be terrible?

    I don’t agree at all with saying that self-published books for adults have increased in quality. What has happened is that more commercially published writers have entered the self-publishing field, so of course these particular books are better than those from untested writers. But there remains a mountain or truly horrible self-published adult novels for every halfway decent one. That’s just how it is, and trying to dig through that mountain in order to find one good book, if it’s even there, makes no sense at all.

    • I’ve found many good self-published novels, and I do think those are increasing in number — but, that being said, I only read a self-pub when someone recommends it or if I end up talking to the writer and liking them enough to check out their book. Otherwise, taking the time to sort through the self-published masses is time I really don’t have. I have plenty of great things to read.

      I will take a moment to recommend a self-pub book, if anybody cares to check it out —


      — c.

      • Thanks for reality check, Chuck. “Whirlwind” reference appreciated and its FREE today 10/8. Will start it and your “Kick-Ass Writer” tomorrow during my writing breaks. So many books (to read and write), so little time.

        • First chapters of “Whirlwind” displays quality wordsmithing. This will be a pleasurable read. The richness of voice will be enjoyed although envied, wishing my writing flowed with such emotion. Perfect example of why writers need to read. Thanks again, Chuck. Started “Kick-Ass Writer” too. Wow, lots of value in there.

      • Thanks for the recommendation. This will be the first indie-published book I’ve read (I’m pretty sure). I’m a reading addict, of course, but any time I’ve dipped my toe into looking at indie-pub books I get turned off immediately. Unfortunately, I think you nailed it when you called it… what was that again…? “Massive shit volcano”? I don’t doubt that there are good indie-pubbed books out there (and I’m now gonna give Whirlwind a whirl), but honestly, the general quality is not good. Cold, hard, unpleasant truth. For the good writers going that route, I imagine they also need mad marketing and networking skills in order to eventually be noticed for writing a good book.

  22. And another insightful article with no hand-holding or candy-coating.

    I love coming here and getting a burning-y dose of real talk injected into my brain.

  23. What would happen if I left my Kindle and Kindle Fire in a dark room together while Icelandic Metal played?

  24. Terrific post, Chuck. Read like a story, felt like a parable.

    Esp liked,

    “You earn it by doing better. You earn it by being nice, and humble, and recognizing that it’s not the world’s job to bend its knee to you, but your job to bend knee. You gain audience by being the sharpest, smartest, kindest version of yourself you can summon.”

    Thank you mucho much (smiles).

  25. I agree with this post 100%. No one owes me as an author shit.

    But, that being said, as an author who also reads and writes reviews of other authors books, I think it’s pretty shitty when you set out to do another author a favor and Amazon rejects your review SEVEN TIMES IN A ROW.

    No wonder people are all “Listen, author, I don’t owe you shit! Amazon won’t even post my fucking review, which was totally nice and even called you a Golden God of Fucking, so now I’m pissed off that they don’t like the word ‘fuck,’ even for authors who write about fucking, for fuck’s sake, so fuck the fuck off!!”

    In short: to those who can even make it past Amazon’s unpredictable censors, I salute you.

  26. Channel your fury, son, would you mind whapping the crap out of Jimmy Frey sometime? As a favor to the rest of us?

  27. I think the “write fast, publish fast” mentality common in the self-publishing community has been counter-productive. I think the formula is supposed to be: Write A Lot —> Publish A Lot —> ??? —> PROFIT!

    The “???” is supposed to be “Sell A Lot”, but if a self-published book is usually only making a couple of hundred bucks for an author, it’s not what I’d consider a lot.

    Personally, if I see a writer putting out a lot of books (more than, say, three or four a year), I’m probably going to be pretty wary about buying their books.

    • I think this has worked for quite a few authors — some of whom are putting out some good work. That said, I don’t know that it’s sustainable — more authors putting out a lot of work very quickly is both a) very difficult individually and b) will just contribute to the overall *mounding* of content in big heaps and hills.

    • I think that some people can do a good job producing a lot. But, I think they also hire good editors. I’ve seen a few people pushing out, what I can only hope is, first drafts in an order to get out there faster. I’ve beta read, and sometimes, it makes me mad. I want to say “why did you waste your time asking me to read this if it clearly isn’t finished”. But even that’s better than just putting it out there as is as soon as the first draft is done. Which I’m sure happens. Gives self-published people a bad name.

      • And some people probably do get their style and structure down to a science. Maybe plan and outline like crazy. I can write 8000 words in a good afternoon, 2000 on an average day. I just don’t have the discipline to do it every day (yet). At those speeds, even with revisions, several decent books a year isn’t completely inconceivable.

  28. Those numbers are jarring. They make sense though. I published a collection of short stories in August, and it still peeks above 100,000 in paid from time to time [with no real advertising other than the occasional facebook post about it, which no one pays attention to, anyway. Gotta love free days, though, I got to #6 in my category on Free. But I used them all up real quick. Live and learn]. Anyway, I know how much my book sells. Which means that there is a TON of stuff on Amazon not selling at all in order to push my book so high up.

  29. “You overcome the challenges implicit to a creative life and career not by raging against them or by being sour about them, but by acknowledging them and dealing with them either head-on or with your own clever solutions.”

    Thank you. I needed a reminder of that, having fallen prey to several bouts of raging and sourness recently. Being published – indy or traditional – is hard work, and it’s all too easy to let it grind your soul into dust. Every now and then we need reminding that being read is a privilege, and a responsibility – and one none of should ever take lightly.

  30. At this point (just starting) I’ve self-published some of my work and gone with small publishers on others, but I agree that none of this comes with any guarantees. And *shouldn’t*. The easy way is not what writing is about. That’s the nasty truth of all this, isn’t it? Talk publicity and marketing and pushing your book to the greatest number of people (being *exposed* — which sounds like something that you can be arrested for doing in public) and at the end of the day it’s still about how well you’ve strung together words on a page.

    I’ve seen this happen before, btw: the desktop publishing revolution made everyone a graphic designer (just grab some clip art!) and I see a lot of parallels. Ultimately, the graphic designers who did well in that little war did so because it turns out that talent isn’t the same as tools. Everyone might be a writer now, but good writers are much harder to find.

  31. Excellent article. Love your writing and the truth within but it does terrify me since I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Just another one of the masses, right?

  32. Yup, I’d be there if it weren’t for that damned llama. His time will come and he’ll end up in NY first…as a jacket on a flip who thought it was bear fur. Thanks, and nicely done.

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