The Art Of Asking: For Writers And Storytellers

I’m in a strange place in my life.

Not a bad place.

Just strange.

I’m at what I consider to be the midpoint of my corporeal existence. Another half my life and I figure I’m going to be shrub-mulch and daisy-food. And that word — “midpoint” — works for me in a lot of ways. I grew up a creative person in a blue-collar household; I wanted to do something with my life that was not roundly considered a “job” and yet that I knew was itself a kind of work. My father busted his ass at a pigment-making plant. My mother cleaned houses. I wanted to invent things in my head and dump them on the page to make them real. I became that thing, a writer, a storyteller, a word-worker, a position that is itself at a crux — the craft of writing, the art of storytelling, the marriage of a certain kind of fuck-off-whimsy and boots-on-the-ground-ethic. All things hang in the balance, at a turning point that never quite turns: I have a son, a family, a house, a dream career, an audience, a blog, and on and on.

And that brings me to this: “The Art of Asking,” the gone-viral TED talk by Amanda Palmer.

I love it. But it hurts me.

It hurts me because my brain keeps going end over end, a tin pail tossed down a bumpy hill. Her talk is empowering, motivating, infuriating, flummoxing, both a confirmation of all that I’ve ever wanted to be and a refutation of it at the very same time. We want to trust our audiences and give away our stories but then my bowels kink and that other side kicks in, the blue-collar work-ethic of the pigment-maker and house-cleaner, can trust pay my bills and can free feed my family — if I fall backward, who would catch me? But the very act of choosing art-as-life is already an act of trust and hope and grabbing dreams out of the ether like leashing a fucking unicorn (not fucking a leashed unicorn because what is wrong with you?), and, and, and —

What does all this mean for writers, for storytellers? Music is a more complicated (and perhaps crueler) beast — an industry so unkind some of its hottest artists have gone poor, an industry ready to sue the tits off of everybody and everything hoping to ensure that someone who steals a song does more time in jail that someone who strangles an old lady for the ten dollars she hides in the foot of her walker. Musicians are visible, public, they go out in to the world, they can be the begging hat, the money cup, but writers are solitary shadows, we don’t see people at all.

Though, that’s not true at all, not today, not with the Internet. Now we gather in our little digital tribes and we connect with people in ways we never did — which AFP points out, of course. Look back and you see how it really has changed. When I read stories as a kid the authors were distant, separate from the tales they were telling, but that’s no longer true. The artists are present, the storytellers are here, practically next to me, able to answer me if I ask them a question. They’re no longer separate entities from their tales — we’ve entered the age not of Art, perhaps, but of the Artist (and once again AFP is there as evidence of this).

Can the Artist be anonymous?

Can the Artist be disconnected?

Is the Author separate from the story and from the audience who receives it?

Is that even possible anymore?

So then I gotta ask — what does this all mean?

For writers and storytellers — those who write books, make comics, present films — what do we do? How do we take this tip-of-the-iceberg talk (for so much of the mountain lurks beneath the water) and make it real? How to put it in practice? Is it about giving things away? Everything? Something? Can that work for people who have no audience to start with? Can you just step out from the shadows of an unseen life and take that leap and hope someone will catch you by way of reading your work and putting a couple-few dollars in your pocket?

Does it mean giving away a novel for free? All novels? Does it mean blogging? Certainly that’s part of what I do here — I blog without promise of return, without certainty of financial gain, hoping and trusting that the readers here will eventually wind their way drunkenly toward my other work, hoping that I’m saying things that connect. Not to increase my brand because fuck my “brand,” I’m not a car company or a fucking soft drink. Nor is it to build a platform; I don’t want to stand above you but among you. I put myself out there maybe just because maybe I like squawking into the void and I hope some of you will squawk back.

I think at the very least it means, to go back to the thing I said so long ago:

If you’re going to be exposed, expose yourself.

Certainly Amanda Fucking Palmer owns that description, doesn’t she? She exposes herself in so many ways, artfully, musically, bodily, intellectually, and all of it an act of trust and wonder in her own control and on her own behalf. She may be the very emblem of exposing oneself.

Naked in all ways.

How do we connect? How do we put ourselves out there?

How do writers and storytellers ask for your attention and your help?

The audience is empowered. The artist is among them, not outside them.

We must make the connection easy. The bridge must be a short walk from audience to artist, from creator to collaborator. We all have to be a simple tweet away. A digital handshake, an invisible high-five. Stories that are not scarce or hidden but set on the box in the town square for all to see. Is that enough? Too much? Is that right for everybody? Wrong for too many?

Fuck. I really don’t know. But it continues to bake my noodle.

Which is a good thing, one supposes.

So much to think about. So complex. And wonderfully, mysteriously, maddeningly strange.

What now? What next?

Where are my pants?

Why am I naked?

104 responses to “The Art Of Asking: For Writers And Storytellers”

  1. YES, YES, YES. Give away your novel for free. That’s what I’m doing, also having watched Amanda’s TED talk yesterday because my Twitter followers told me she reminded them of me. So they urged me to install a PayPal donate button on my site. I did. Yesterday. And within 1st hour I got my first $60 for a book that is NOT EVEN FINISHED YET AND NOT PUBLISHED YET!!!

  2. I’m an unknown wordsmith. I’ve gotten a few things published, made it into a syllabus or two, and even got to join the ranks of the HWA for my troubles (and modest membership fee). I’ve interviewed some writers I like, and judged film festivals at the request of those who liked and respected my minimal work. I even used my wordsmithery to earn a couple diplomas, which most recently helped me win a job fixing the words of scientists so that regulatory persons might better understand their work. But in the end, I’m just a guy at step one with a novel that needs one more edit. I’m going to try something new, or not new, really, to fans of Doctrow. I’m going to try to write stories and give them away. I can produce ePubs, PDFs, and even mobis, so why not? I’ll see if it works out, the art of being a hat, and if I’m any good at it, it’ll be another story to tell in the backs of bars. Thanks to you and AFP for the inspiration. Now… I have some work to do.

  3. My noodle is baked, too. Thing is, we’re all not AFP. So to me, that means there are many different paths and many different ways to connect, to be artists, to expose ourselves. Just being an artist of any kind is to be naked and vulnerable. There’s an element of trust between writer and reader, musician and music, artist and…you know, those people who love art. But then you throw money in the mix and it seems things get so fucking complicated.

    I am a writer. An introverted, socially inept hermit. I would rather eat broken glass than stand outside on a sidewalk where people can actually SEE ME. And yet, through my words, people do see me. And isn’t that the whole point? Why else would I be compelled to empty my brain of the stories inside? To connect.

    Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to be paid, because being an artist of any kind is not easy. It takes work, time, effort, blood, tears, gross body fluids.

    And baked noodles.

  4. Honestly, I love that you put so much time into your blog. For me, meeting you, as author and person, started with Seanan McGuire doing an interview. I clicked a link, and I found myself in a weird and wonderful space, full of writing tips (Holy shit, all these blog posts are FREE?) and humor, and profanity laden metaphor. I got hooked on the 25 Things… so I bought the your writing ebooks… I read your twitter… and after you responded to tweets and questions (Holy shit, He actually RESPONDED to my tweet!). All that engendered this loyalty, this fan obsession, hell… even FRIENDSHIP… with an author who’s work I love and opinions I respect.
    You can start with free… Hell, you already have. You give them a taste, you show people who you are, then you say, “The next bit’s here, for .99 cents… or 2.99… or 5.99…” and these wildly loyal addicts pay for it.
    I want to believe other people on the internet tell the same story. It’s the connection, the learning who the man is behind the curtain, that’s what sells books to me. I just hope I’m not the only one.

  5. A digital handshake to you. I like your reflections. I have seen some of the best reflections about art and internet and trust and connectivity this weekend all thanks to Amanda (both her talk, and her retweeting of the conversations it has spawned) and I appreciate how your thoughts make me think and rethink again.

    Consider both our noodles baked.

  6. The issue I keep noodling with is that this philosophy works for the famous and internet famous.

    For someone like myself, who is stuck in the Corporate Grind for now and an unknown artist, I cannot rely on the trust of my fan base/friend base/platform to pick up the slack and help to pay my mortgage, utilities, or diabetic health care. For the audience these days, it’s mostly about instant gratification. They don’t want to try something new or give someone struggling the investment of their time.

    While I certainly believe in a free trade society where giving what you can would be more than adequate pricing for my stories, my followers, as few as they are, rarely even comment on my blog posts or new fiction. This is the reality that I swim in. I’m a little fucking fish in a big fucking ocean saturated with an overabundance of other fish screaming for attention.

    The signal to noise ratio for someone like myself is overwhelming.

    • That remains the question — can this thing work for people who have no audience, not even a seed audience? Like I say, can you just jump out of the shadows and hope someone will catch you? Or do you need to find a way to build — or, rather, earn, which is my preferred verb there — the audience first in some way? A way that might not be initially lucrative or even do anything at all to drop pennies in your cup?

      — c.

      • That’s the trick.

        I believe that there is always going to be a random interaction that is going to bring positive light. Call it the equivalent of finding a $5.00 bill on the street when you’re walking somewhere.

        However, I firmly believe that if you haven’t earned the respect and notoriety through sheer talent or association (Neil Gaimen) from your audience, there will be no one to catch you when you jump.

        Others can chalk this up to fear, I call it pragmatic. Like you, I’m at the mid-point and I have too many responsibilities on my plate to just jump off stage and hope I’ll be caught like I did in my 20’s.

        Still, AFP is a role model for the artists. However, no one seems to be talking about the fact that if she falls flat on her face, she’s got a safety net. So, is it truly a risk for her?

        • The other thing that no one seems to be asking is whether her husband, Neil Gaiman, will follow her advice and start giving away his novels for free?

          • Neil has, in fact, given novels away for free. Neil has convinced his publishers, the people who are trying to make money on his books, to give them away for free, which–speaking as a full-time writer who supports herself by writing for the same NYC publishers Neil writes for–is a hell of a trick. I don’t remember if he’s given a brand-new project away for free, but here’s the other side of that: why should he?

            Amanda is doing her thing, Neil is doing his. They clearly have many similar sentiments, but Amanda is suggesting A Path, not The Path. She has come at her art from a different angle than Neil, and she’s talked about the huge amount of work she’s put into getting where she is. This is a thing that’s worked for her (and it’s worked for Neil, and Cory Doctorow, and John Scalzi, for that matter, Scalzi before he was a Name, even), and just because she’s enthusiastic and has proved it works and encourages people to try it, does not mean her husband has to be in lock-step with her. We *all* come at our art from different places. What Neil is doing is completely irrelevant to what Amanda is doing.

          • Who cares if her husband gives away books for free or not, in the context of Amanda Palmer’s work and world view? Being married to someone doesn’t mean you have to do what they say, agree with them or make them do what you want. This isn’t 1940, AP isn’t symbiotic with Gaiman. She married the dude. She didn’t become him.

        • Absolutely agreed. It’s easy for her to say. Not so easy for the rest of us.

          She’s got a positive message, but…she’s got a net. We don’t. That makes a difference.

          • “Absolutely agreed. It’s easy for her to say. Not so easy for the rest of us.

            She’s got a positive message, but…she’s got a net. We don’t. That makes a difference.”

            Hrm. Is it easy for her to say? Wasn’t she, at one point, in the same position as the rest of us? Did she just sail through to where she is now?

            As for her ‘safety net’ (?) unsure whether you mean her fanbase or her husband, but neither were there at the start. One of the reasons her fanbase is so loyal is the social exchange and intimacy; she’s worked to get them (aside from all the music and touring, that is!)

            Not sure why people keep bringing Neil into it, tbh (other than the ‘books for free’ thing; which he has done, and commented he’s fine with piracy as it spreads word-of-mouth = more readers) I’m unaware of how their marriage or financial situations operate, so I won’t comment on them.

        • Note that when they were first getting together and attended an awards show, Neil was listed only as “her boyfriend.” WE know Neil and the stuff he does, but he has limited fame in the wider populace. Amanda has a larger audience in pure numbers, would be my guess.

          That said, I backed her kickstarter and started listening to her music because of her relationship to Neil and things they did like the interesting 8-in-8 project.

  7. I’ve been active online since 2004 (blogging in the heyday and all that) and I’ve noticed two things:

    1. I connect to the audience in a different way directly and online than through my fiction. Fiction is a bridge, but it’s also a wall, or maybe a bridge you can’t see all the way to the other side of. Or something. Fiction is my security blanket; it’s where I can bare myself but its nature makes the audience come looking. Baring myself directly is much scarier and more perilous (literally, I believe.)

    2. The connection is addictive, to the detriment of my fiction. It takes its toll in time (quantity I can produce) but also quality, if I consider my own blatant honesty and nakedness to be essential. I have to put aside the audience to write the quantity and quality I want. Which means, sometimes, cutting off the audience. Sometimes that’s literal but more often it’s figurative. I do it more often via persona, which I’m not always comfortable with. But if I only have so much naked honesty to go around, my fiction and the readers of it deserve it most. Plus, performance art, at cons and even online, is exhausting.

    In that respect I think Amanda and I just disagree because of what we are. I’m a writer, not an actor or performer by nature. She’s obviously an extrovert; I’m an introvert. Every interaction takes a little from my well, even though I enjoy it. Such interactions fill the well of someone like Amanda.

    Also, I just wrote this in an interview when asked about it: I chose this life of semi-fame. I choose to be out there. My family didn’t. So I take care with them to ask before splashing them around. My son likes it (he’s a musician at heart) but my daughter and husband don’t. It’s something to be aware of because the public eye can be admiring, but it is fickle. And plus, some things are just private and it’s tough for an audience online especially (having been a part of the audience for a long time) to see the line.

    • “Fiction is my security blanket; it’s where I can bare myself but its nature makes the audience come looking.”

      Goddamn that’s a fascinating thing you just said.


      — c.

    • (As an aside, I really love your description of an introvert: “Every interaction takes a little from my well, even though I enjoy it.” I’m an introvert too, and that’s the perfect way to put it.)

  8. THIS is the conversation I hoped would get started after the TED talk. THESE are the important questions. How does this model apply to the introvert? How does it apply to the visual artist or crafter, who has fixed material costs associated with their work? What does the future really look like, is it filled with tiny communities of artists and the fans who support them … and does that limit the number of artists you can really be a fan of? (Already I have a bit of Kickstarter fatigue, but that’s because I always look for the coolest reward I can possibly afford. In the future if ALL my fan relationships are based on crowdfunding, maybe I will have to change the way I think about that.)

    Thank you for starting this conversation, it excites me!

    • I do think we will all burn out very quickly if we’re always chasing the kickstarter reward…

      If anything, I think Amanda’s talk has got me motivated on the “give-for-give’s sake” dollar backings. I don’t know if it’s a good way to FUND things (although maybe the answer here is “trust”!) but I’m definitely inspired to do more of the “I see you, here’s a flower” small amounts, and tips on my bandcamp purchases.

      How this little bit all relates to writing, I don’t know yet. Name your own amount kindle purchases?

  9. As I said on your facebook: I think what Amanda Palmer is trying to say is that the system as it is doesn’t always work (when does anything ALWAYS work?) and that a more Patron-like system is something to be considered as well. As I look at it, it’s just another took in the box. I don’t think Amanda Palmer sees it as begging. She connects with her audience/followers. Truly. I do believe that she truly and honestly believes that; therefore, it is an exchange. Not begging. Begging means the person providing resources gets nothing in return.

    And do your other questions:

    Can the Artist be anonymous? Sometimes, but not if there is to be an exchange.

    Can the Artist be disconnected? I don’t think I could — someone out there might prove this possible. But, I don’t see how. Waiting for someone to prove me wrong.

    Is the Author separate from the story and from the audience who receives it? The author is separate from the story, but only to a degree to the point where she pulled part of it from her own live; and your audience connects to the author through the story. So the author can be separate from the audience only if they don’t connect via the story. Make sense or did I just eat my shorts with nonsense here?

    What does it all mean?

    Again, it means we have more weaponry in our War of Art armory. I’ll take another tool in the proverbial pen box. Thank you very much.

    How do we connect? How do we put ourselves out there? Are you kidding? There are multiple ways. Again, there are no absolutes. Each storyteller or artist is going to use the tools however it works for them best. You decide. It is empowering.

    How do writers and storytellers ask for your attention and your help? Finish your shit. Get it out there. And watch the audience build and then LET THEM, like AFP said.

    The audience is empowered. The artist is among them, not outside them. I think that helps the patronage-type system work well. Again, it’s an exchange. I’d rather be among than outside.

    What now? What next? Do the work. How your stuff connects to the audience is irrelevant. Ain’t if fucking grand we live in a time that we have multiple paths?

  10. Awesome post and conversation, thank you all. I am in a somewhat similar situation to entrebat, except that I am unemployed as of last winter. I am learning all about risk taking, and self exposure, and finding what it is in me that needs to be shared and can be received. It’s quite a journey. Yes, scary, yes.

    It’s clear too that there is no one-size-fits-all going on here. We do need to learn from each other, I am, I’m studying like crazy some bootstrapping writers who seem to have made a go of it. But it’s clear that in order for this to work I must do it exactly my way. And I have to discover what that is.

    Being authentic and exposing one’s raw being is very appealing. To have that noticed by a growing audience requires art (I think it does?) and maybe other things too. There sure are no guarantees. I feel ecstatic about writing, but is that enough to attract readers? Readers who will want to exchange value with me in the form of money? (Very heartened by the first commenter, that’s super that your novel is selling like that, in advance, wow!)

    Having a safety net is great. But that can change things too. Every factor influences this process. I encourage everyone to find your own way. Take in the wisdom of others, by all means, but don’t try to fit into a model that doesn’t have room for your whole being.

  11. The greatest thing about AFP’s talk is this, right here. Talking about it, writing about it, looking at writing and how we can do this differently. In a way, we already have–self publishing, eBooks, indie publishing–so many choices.

  12. I envy the personal obscurity that the writers before us could enjoy. I love people, but I don’t love filleting myself in front of a crowd. I prefer to do it in the privacy of my own office.

  13. I’m like you – a writer and story-teller from the very beginning. I never wanted to be anything else. I had massive fights with my parents over what career I wanted and we kept coming to a stalemate each time with me screaming that I wanted to be a writer… and being self-taught by reading everything to do with the publishing and writing industry, I knew everything they were going to teach me at college and uni anyway.

    However, I have been trying to get published since i was 15. Now, I’m going on 40 years of age and still I have no paid publications out there. This bloody sucks big time; and I hate it. I see 12 year olds getting published and yet I’m sitting on the sidelines unable to get anyone to take notice of me.
    I have gotten my first book published through for free. Many people downloaded it onto their kindles or nooks and I have only 2 people tell me they liked it. But I want to be paid for my efforts in writing, not have it as a freebie.

    I’m also an artist; and have recently made my first sale on the net of $52. It’s not much; but I do want to make more money from my art as well as writing. I paint clothes pegs groovy colours and patterns… and I sold 3 dozen of them.

    but what really bugs the shit out of me is that I have worked at the local regional art gallery for the last 13 years and applied for my own exhibition at least 3 times in those years and they have said no all those times. Why? I was never given a reason. So, how the hell am I supposed to get my art out into the world if I’ve asked all the right questions to the right people? And yet, I keep bashing my head against a brick wall.

    But with Amanda… she’s just one in 7 billion people of this world who has done this. She’s an open and trusthing person with her fans and has no fear of anything. This is her, not you. Keep to your path and remember where you want to go. Everything is an uphill battle… how far you need to go depends on your goal. How heavy your burden is depends on how much pressure you put on yourself.

    • Mozette – your comment about working at the regional art gallery but not able to get a show there brings up something Amanda has pointed out numerous times but I think did not make it overtly into her TED talk (probably due to being restricted to 12 minutes) – she didn’t start at the musical equivalent level of ‘regional art gallery” (which would be like a 500-seat venue). She stood on a milk crate in clothes from 2nd-hand stores, her band played for 5 people on Monday nights in basements, etc. Her “overnight” success and visibility came from 15 years of small barely-visible events working up to medium venues, winning a local contest (the Boston Rock & Roll Rumble) for a bit more visibility, eventually getting on a small record label (which did her little good and certainly got her no money).

      I’m a little-known musician ( and writer/blogger ( with many other local artistic friends in the same boat. We’re all pulling ourselves up together by having our artist friends display their works at our shows, having shows which include writers, poets, dancers as well as musicians, etc. Part of Amanda’s example is that you can’t wait for someone else to offer you an opportunity – you can create your own. Empty windows in a store for lease? Ask the realtor if you can put up a mini-exhibit to make it look less empty. Local coffee shop might like more after-work business? Suggest a poet/writer/storyteller open mic night. If the “right” people aren’t giving you the right answers, then they aren’t the right people for you at this point.

      • You’re so right! There are numerous opportunities to share out art if we see them. Just this last week I went to the doctors and while sitting there realised the walls in the waiting area were blank. I could print off some of my photos (which are of the local area), put them in cheap frames and ask if I could hang them. Include an e-mail address for interest and who knows what might happen. Nothing might happen, but nothing will happen if I do nothing. I don’t know if it’s true, but there’s a story that Ralph Lauren started his business selling ties during lunch time to busy business men. There’s opportunities, but they’re often outside the box (and outside our comfort zone).

  14. I found Amanda’s TED talk crazy-beautiful-wonderful, but for totally different reasons than you did. Or at least I think what I got out of it is not at all what you got out of it. That almost makes it even better.

    For me, though, what I heard — maybe what I needed to hear? — wasn’t give your work away, it was trust your audience and ignore the people who try to shame you. The people who criticize — they’re the guys in the car shouting “Get a job,” so it’s not just expose yourself, it’s understand that the act of exposing yourself is going to expose you to condemnation and shaming and doubters and scorn, but that there will be magic in it anyway. It isn’t just expose yourself and you might be able to raise a million dollars, most of which you’ll spend fulfilling the promises you made — it’s expose yourself and people will call you greedy and abusive and selfish and post pictures of you holding moneybags on major websites. Do it anyway.

    I am never, ever, ever going to be as brave as Amanda Palmer and that’s okay. But what I took away from her talk wasn’t that stripping naked (metaphorically) would get me a million dollar kickstarter, but that making that kind of connection would have a cost and that it would be worth it anyway.

      • Is he leaving his publisher? Did I miss that?

        Amanda Palmer does not seek or receive support from “the market”. She seeks it from a cultured base of Dresden Dolls fans, which represents a fairly narrow segment of the population. Furthermore, even that is not random. She’s been introducing significant selection bias in her fan base by cultivating relationships with the nicest among them (through her couch surfing and similar behavior). The end result is not projectable to everyone.

        However, it is projectable to some. In other words, she showed this strategy certainly CAN work, although it’s probably better suited to certain kinds of music and film, which are consumed socially, rather than books, which are consumed individually.

        But she has the perfect opportunity to test it. She should have her husband ditch his publisher and give his books away.

  15. It think in the end most artists want to be recognized. They want someone to read their book, admire their painting, listen to their music or applaud their performance. We need to get it out there in front of the public and let them decide. That can be accomplished in many ways.
    For many writers it’s the approval of an agent or publisher or the first review of a self-published book. Each artist finds recognition in their own way. But if you can’t get someone to notice your work, (negative or positive) you’ll never know.

  16. Man, I feel you. I really do. I feel you from the distant far-side, as a guy who labored in obscurity for almost three decades and, as of this frozen moment in time, has nothing to show for it except a very few rejection letters per project. When I got my thumb stuck in a radioactive typewriter and it turned into me into writer-man, and I knew that there was no escaping my fate, the dream was clear. I wanted a literary agent (who would become my friend, my drinking buddy), and a big publishing contract with a famous publisher. I wanted a brilliant editor who would take one of my babies (or all of them) and help me turn it into something so pristinely perfect that not even the most picayune typo would remain. And I wanted the book. Solid, real, and in my hands. I wanted to visit it in small neighborhood bookstores, and also visit it in superstores such as Borders. And I wanted that book–the first one–to be the beginning of something that would last a lifetime. I wanted to sell TV show pilots and get my screenplays optioned. I wanted John Byrne to draw a comic book based on one of my books. I wanted, somewhat irrationally, a yacht.

    And I used to wonder about my fans, and whether I would be good to them. I wanted to do readings, and even wanted to answer letters or e-mail. I remembered the great Christopher Moore and the also great Ann Crispin chatting with me–little nothing me–in the Author’s Lounge chatroom on America Online, and I wanted to return the favor, to pass it down. At the same time though, I was leery. I was not my work. My work was smarter than I was, not to mention better looking. My work contained words and thoughts that I had shaped, painstakingly, from the idiocy that normally spills out of my mouth. The only reaction anyone could have to one of my novels (I’ve written five so far, all unpublished) upon meeting me would be to say, “I can’t believe that dweeb wrote this. I have to read it again. Maybe it’s not as good as I thought.”

    And then the world changed, as surely as if I’d crossed over into an alternate reality, literally while I was sitting at my keyboard, laboring away. The 1998 version of the Writer’s Market talked about voice and story-telling power. The 2011 version, leaner, thinner, with far fewer entries, talked about author’s with “established platforms,” and “experts in their field,” and writers who understood social marketing.

    And people were selling ebooks. Self-pubbed ebooks. And making money. Some of them, it seemed, lots of it. Insane amounts of it, if the blogs were to believed. I tried telling myself it was all crap (most of it was) and when Ereader’s search engine would trick me into buying a self-pubbed book, and I would start reading it, and I’d find none of that shiny crispness that I think must arise from a nearly sexual union of writer and editor, I’d check the publisher and there wouldn’t be one, and I’d say, “They fuckin’ got me.” At the time, I had written four novels I could have thrown any one or all of them up on Amazon and I could have hoped for the best. Maybe even made a few hundred bucks.

    No way, I told myself. The Gatekeepers are the brick walls, and the brick walls are there for a reason, as Randy Pausch said in his “Last Lecture.”

    And then, then the literary agents and publishers turned on themselves and started eating their own tails like some mad ouroboros by offering representation and publishing contracts to the self-pubbed authors who had sold big. Selling big online became a legitimate path to traditional publishing.

    And some of those authors started going on their own blogs to boast about how, when big publishing finally came to them, they told big publishing to go suck a rock.

    I felt, and still do, like an up and coming prize-figher waiting for a shot at the champ, but then the champ dies, and there’s no way to fight him. A paper champion is the best I can hope to be now, going on TV and calling for Rocky Balboa to man-up, come out of retirement, and give me my shot.

    The wild catch-22 of electronic self-publishing causing the publishing houses to shrink like Hank Pym and the literary agencies to start running around like headless kobolds to the extent that my chances, my odds, were legitimately being reduced…that really sent me into a tailspin.

    And I noticed other horrors, including literary agents bad-mouthing wannabes in their Twitter feeds, as though sending a form rejection letter wasn’t enough to keep a bad writer down. But the writers took to Twitter as well, to find their tribes. Their tribes? This put me in mind of lying on the ground on some mountain top, in a circle with a bunch of other looney tunes, waiting for a spaceship to beam me up and whisk me off to the world on which I truly belong.

    Twitter? Blogs? Shameless self-promotion? Sure, authors have always had to promote themselves, but they did so with the imprimatur of an established publisher. That’s a big deal. Saying your book is awesome when you published it yourself is a lot like starting to make citizen’s arrests because you think you’re a cop, even though you’ve never been through the academy and don’t have a fucking badge. I couldn’t see myself doing it. You said it yourself, man, walking up to someone at a party and introducing yourself as a self-pubbed author is just not the same as saying you’re published by Knopf and rep’d by Donald Maas. But no one seems to care–especially if they’re making money.

    The appreciation of art has never been a democratic process. We’ve relied on our scholars and professors and teachers to point us towards the things that were “worth” reading, regardless of how boring those works might seem at first glance. They made us read things that took work, intellectual heavy-lifting, to read…and if we were smart enough, we received the rewards. Scenes and characters and lines that would stay with us, haunt us even, forever. I’ve read some of the best-selling self-published stuff out there, and I have to say–I think the only thing likely to stay with me is some kind of taint.

    I intend to keep plugging away at success via some traditional model. It will be a while yet before I pay an editor to clean up my books, pay an artist to make me a cover, throw it up online and start begging people to buy it–not read it, but just buy it. I may have grown old and gotten myself a real education waiting for big publishing to smile on me, but I’m still not ready to go out there as some kind of literary Army of One.

    I don’t want to know my fans. Not intimately. Because I don’t want them to know me. I want them to take my work seriously, and wonder about the master who created it–a distant, shadowy figured, presumed to be brilliant and perhaps even a bit mystical. I want the work to stand alone, and I want them to spend their time getting to know the work. If you wrote a science fiction novel that Jack Byrne sold to Dell or Tor and that went on to win a Hugo…you were a fucking Jedi Master…and you were entitled to go about with your head covered by a hood. Not because you were a stand-offish popinjay, but because you had modesty, and humility, and because you knew that your power flowed from the Force, and that for that reason alone, taking all the credit for it just wasn’t right.

    Why am I so upset? Well, the only reason I can think of is that when writers were all that and more to me, I set out on my own quest, my own hero’s journey, to become one of them. And it was a fuck of a quest, it still hasn’t ended, and it was a helluva lot more involved than throwing some Buffy the Vampire fan-fic up on Wattpad and finding “my tribe.”

    I guess what it ultimately comes down to is your take on digital communications–on relationships started, maintained, and ended, via text-message or through comments fields or Facebook status updates. If that all works for you, then you may also feel that gobbling up self-pubbed works–the good and the bad–is really reading, really supporting creativity, really caring about language. Of course, if you think you actually have to sit down face-to-face and have a conversation with someone to get to know them, maybe even go somewhere in the real world together, then you probably hate electronic publishing. There’s an irony hidden in there–that we make friends best face-to-face, and that we don’t have to be friends with an author (online or otherwise) to read and enjoy his or her work.

    Ahh, that’s what I was looking for: the notion that familiarity breeds contempt. Every time I send a Tweet or post a blog entry, I feel like I’m inviting that contempt. And I can’t wrap my brain around how contempt can help sell a book, and beyond that, how contempt can open the door for a reader to get lost in an imagined world, and take the journey seriously.

    Kevin Smith says in his new book that it’s important for people to remember that we’re all just “cum.” This may be true, but it’s also not something we want readers reminded of while they’re entrusting us with their precious reading time.

    Still though, it’s a new world. I watched the first Star Wars movie in a theater, and I didn’t move or speak to another human being from the moment it started until five minutes after the last credit had rolled. For the folks for whom J.J. Abrams flick will be the “first” Star Wars, it will be different. They’ll probably send text messages and check their instagrams while the movie is playing–and a lot of them won’t even bother going out to a theater to see it; they’ll watch it in 20 minute chunks over a few days on Netflix, and then they’ll let Metacritic decide for them whether it was any good or not.

    Familiarity breeds contempt, and reducing author’s to snake-oil salespeople is the end of the elusive phenomenon that made my life worth living: those moments of suspension of disbelief, where the work I was reading or watching was ALL, where I was the tiniest pinprick in the Universe, and where I believed on some level that what was in front of me had come form the gods and not from some schmuck who has an automated bot tweeting “Buy my book for a big thrill” twenty times a day.

    My life has been a struggle to get good enough to become one of those gods, if only for 100,000 perfect words or so. I didn’t work this hard so I could open a Smashwords account and inflict uninspired garbage on the unsuspecting legions.

    Shit, it’s all just sour grapes, right? You write a great book, the mass consciousness of the Internet will figure that out, and you’ll become the writer you always wanted to be. Popular, widely read, and paying the bills. Why spend so much time whining about the way things used to be? The fact that the Internet probably never would have discovered Marcel Proust doesn’t mean shit. You aren’t Proust anyway. Right?

    As you can see, Chuck, hero of mine, you aren’t the only one who is confused. Guys like us have to get our “Borg” on, or we risk getting passed over for assimilation.

    • The perfectly edited book died the day type setters were made redundant (they were the final edit). I can’t remember the last time I read a book where I didn’t come across the occasional errors (including University Press releases). The perfectly edited book no longer exists (if it ever did). Out of curiosity, why do you write? Is it to tell stories or has your author fantasy (all writers have one – I know I do) taken the story-teller hostage? Do you care more about becoming a well known author of Literature or do you care more that your stories wrap themselves around someone’s heart? If the former, it may be poisoning the flow of your stories and making them stiff.

      Proust had a lovely way with words, but not everyone values Proust as a great writer. You might be tempted to think those people are imbeciles, but the fact is different people need different types of story telling. There are countless books (via traditional and self-published means) that I think are badly written rubbish, but other people love them. Some people love long-winded description. Some people love dialogue without long winded description. Some people need stories told through a narrator. Some people hate reading stories with a narrator in the way. Some people want first person, some want and need third. Some want and need first person present tense. Some people love character driven stories. Some just want to know what happens and prefer the characters to be moving cardboard ect…

      At the end of the day you have to ask yourself; are your stories written from your internal editor’s point of view or from your heart’s point of view? I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re “perfecting” your stories to death. It could also be that you’re still learning how you write. I wrote five books before I figured out how to work with the characters to bring my stories to life. Everyone’s story telling path is different. I wish you luck.

      • Hi Cari,

        Thanks for commenting on my comment. I like to think I write from the heart, and I’m hardly a perfectionist, nor do I look down on those who don’t appreciate Proust. I also want my stories to reach as broad an audience as possible. What I see today is a lot of competition for readers’ attention, manipulated in Machiavellian ways by certain forces backed by big money, and a real threat to the paper book and to the bookstore. I’d hate to be the kid who lives around the corner from a Barnes & Noble that closes up shop. I’d hate to see publishing follow the record business and book stores follow the record stores. I also believe that if calmer heads were to prevail, a better business model could be developed that would benefit everyone from the Indie author to James Patterson or Steven King. The one thing a self-published novel doesn’t do is create jobs (near as I can tell, though it may put some cash in a cover artist’s and an editor’s pocket). There’s a very real danger of writers (and publishers from small presses to the rapidly merging big boys) becoming victims of SEARCH, and those who control SEARCH. Also, is a 99 cent book in the hands of five readers who don’t get around to reading it (or finishing it) better than a $4.00 book in the hands of one reader who devours it? I think not. Online self-publishing facilitators are publishing books and selling them alongside the books offered by traditional publishers, and the online seller is controlling the search results, controlling the advertising emails they send out, and making money at each point in the process. I picture Penguin as a giant Penguin scratching its head and wondering how an online player such as Amazon managed to make so much money from and for the very same authors the big fat Penguin alienated by rejecting? What’s a chubby Penguin to do when confronted with this very immediate version of glacier shrinking global warming? Is there anything “Indie” about putting money in a corporate online retail giant’s pockets at the expense of brick-and-mortar bookstores everywhere? Somehow, I think not. And so the big Penguin has made some big overtures towards Amazon (see the Breakout Novel contest by way of example). Anyway, I’ve flown far afield of the great bearded Overlord’s request for comments on the TED Talk, so perhaps I’ll just rant some more about this over on my blog. It’s safer there…no one reads my blog. But thanks again for taking the time to read my earlier comment and offer your advice. I will, for certain, continue writing my way, in my voice, from my heart.

        • You’re right, those who design the search can and probably do steer people to the best selling options. Sometimes it feels like playing King of the Hill, but I don’t actually think there are too many books. Human beings need stories like oxygen. I don’t think there can ever be too many stories because there are so many different types of readers needing different types of stories. The real problem is readers being able to find the stories they need. I personally think the industry will have to create a new labeling system. If I owned one of the large publishing companies (Penguin for instance) I’d lead the way and create a colour coded scheme; break down the different types of writing styles into colored circles and make it dead simple for people to find their type of story telling style.

          Something will have to be invented. It’s a whole industry waiting to exist! Imagine the fortune a publishing company could rake in if they charged every single self-published author a flat fee for each book to be read and labelled for writing style! The situation demands change, but will the big publishers lead the way? I doubt it.

          Good luck with your writing! I’m glad you’re not a perfectionist.

  17. I actually wrote about this response over on my own reader-centric blog with the perhaps hastily crafted title “Me on Wendig on Amanda Palmer.”

    I shudder at that visual, I assure you.

    I have two points I want to make.

    One, on the topic of introversion and anonymity. I think the wordsmithery enables anonymity in a way that music really can’t. I recall it being said somewhere, somewhen, by someone, that writing is the communicating of thoughts from one brain to another across both distance and time. The internet makes personal anonymity possible. If you’re careful about what you write, you can be personal and involved, and make that connection with your readers without them knowing your real name or where you live. I think you should be up front that you’re using a pseudonym, and being careful because you are introverted, and I think the people who grok you will respect that. Internet relationships exist.

    I also think it’s a bit of an overstatement to say that it wasn’t possible before. It’s certainly easier now, but I remember as a child, reading the works of Piers Anthony and devouring the length Author’s Notes that he would leave at the end. It was written like, and felt like, a personal letter. When I later got the audiobook version of some of the stuff I read as a child, I found the Author’s Note delightful. He talked about his daughter and her horse and I went online to find if he had a blog or whatever and found that his daughter had died. I felt a degree of grief. Small, sure, but more than if it were a complete stranger because he didn’t feel like a stranger.

    My second point is that what she said and does dovetails well with the whole “1000 True Fans” concept. True Fans aren’t really fans. They’re friends. Actually, no, they’re not even that. They’re full on Kindred Spirits. I think the writers who want to have what she has would be best served by writing something that connects with people on a very fundamental emotional level.

  18. By the way, I was spewing out word babies upon a social network a short while ago and I determined that we needed a word to describe being like Chuck Wendig, and further decided that the word should be “Wendigity.”

  19. As one of those folks leaning out of the shadows and flailing their arms (not ready to make the jump quite yet — my book isn’t yet finished) I have to say that this has been on my mind as well. The question for me is, how do you start to earn that audience when you’re just starting out? I guess everyone wonders that. Gotta just keep plugging away?

    My first blog was subtitled “squawking into the void.” 😀

  20. I think a lot of people are missing the fact that she started somewhere. She wasn’t married to Neil Gaiman when she was on the sidewalk handing out flowers. By the time she got to the crowd-sourced funding awesomeness, she’d put in a lot of time and hours.

    I give my fiction, not just my thoughts, but the very product I hope to use to make my living by, away for free every week on my blog. Can I do what she has right now? No. But I haven’t put in the time, the effort, the blood, sweat and tears that she has. She spent her time on her art and making connections. It’s harder to make connections as an introverted writer but it’s not impossible. All you have to do is ask and be willing to form a connection with the people you’re asking, and that’s what she’s saying. There is an exchange going on. It’s not charity.

    Can this work for authors? Absolutely! Will it work overnight? Of course not. What we’re seeing with AFP is her 15 minutes, not the decades of work and effort that went into making it.

    There was no safety net when she was building her audience at night and handing out flowers by day. She met her “safety net” after she didn’t need him. Think of it as a high-wire act. She was raising the wire with every successful performance. We as writers raise it every time we publish something. Every short story, every novel, every blog post is a successfully completed act. At some point, people start throwing money at you. A quarter here, a dollar there and the money gets better as the act does until suddenly, you’re gathering huge crowds who are paying to be there to watch you walk between buildings. They’re amazed, some are skeptical, but some are there cheering for you because they remember when your wire was only a foot off the ground, and they’re proud of you. it’s those people who are her safety net, those people who feel some pride of ownership because their dollar or their place to sleep allowed her to keep doing what she was doing.

    I really think the age of the author as a mysterious recluse has come to an end. You might write a book that looks like it will sell well enough to be picked up by a major publisher but if the publisher drops you, nobody will care. If you alienate your potential fan-base by telling them to pound sand because they want a peak behind the curtain, they’ll actively turn on you and you won’t be able to get another contract without a lot of work on your image or starting over with a new name and new style. If you do all of this because of your insecurities, because you don’t think you’re good enough, I wonder how you’d ever succeed in anything else.

    • Well said.

      That’s the point I was trying to articulate. She’s currently at a different space than many of us. She’s on a different plateau. It is easy for her to be in that place where she can rely upon her fan base to support her. If she fails in that, she does have other avenues to keep her safe.

      For me, I simply cannot rely upon the kindness of strangers no matter how beautifully I articulate a story or share a feeling. I can rarely get my own family to comment on my posts let alone the folks who don’t know me from Adam.

      I am in awe of what she can accomplish and the bravery she’s learned throughout her career to allow herself to share herself in the way she does. Quite frankly, I’m in awe of how the famous and internet famous can pop onto a social network and create ripples in society and an energy that is infectious.

      I’m not there, yet.

      As far as the throwing money bit, I’m not sure I wholly believe that. Granted, I’ve never tried to ask for donations, so I have no facts to support my belief. I’m basing that on traffic and what little commentary I get on my site.

  21. It scares the fuck out of me. What to me it boils down to is validation. Palmer has managed to gain exposure and validation from fans after The Dresden Dolls received commercial backing by a major label, so she has a created audience and she knows she can jump with eyes closed. Her net is there.

    Imagine you do the same with a debut work – song, novel, short story. You have no real feedback as to whether your work even deserves the safety net and the support. Because, quite frankly, you can suck and when you jump and you fall and you crash, chances are you will break inside in a way that cannot be quite repaired.

    • I think we’re all there, Harry.

      Even the biggies, so I’ve heard, often still seek that validation before their well-honed ego kicks in. We’re all damaged in some way that cannot be quite repaired, (great turn of a phrase BTW).

      That’s the reason, IMNSHO that we’re all so very scared/awed/fascinated by Amanda’s current ripple in society. We so want to be like her, but we’re hesitant because we’ve hit the floor so very hard in the past.

      • Thanks! I’m a real fan of the tortured artist trope and think it’s very valid. I forgot to mention one more thing and that is method of consumption. Music as a form is significantly easier to consume, digest, experience (take a pick). Illustration and short film fall within this realm. They rely on basic sensory detection. You see a picture and within seconds you know whether you can love or hate the artist. With music it can also take seconds to feel whether the voice appeals to you or not.

        Fiction – not so much. There’s a ton at stake. Hundreds (perhaps thousands) of hours that are unseen to the reader and the reader will need hours to fully take the work in, so it’s really about falling into a crowd, but base jumping from a satellite like Felix Baumgartner did in 2012.

  22. Firstly, I am NOT a writer, I am an artistic creator in other things (aka I draw/paint/knit).
    Secondly, I have not watched the AFP by Ted talks.

    What I see as the major contentions from the comments here are.

    1. Whine whine snivel whine I am an introvert…..BS. introverts don’t strip naked and wait fer validation from unknown personages. Introverts do not continuously bang their heads against brick walls trying to get a manuscript read/edited/etc. You are masochists. You thrive on this self inflicted stress… And to put yourself out there, to self promote you would actually have to admit to that fact.

    2. Her husband/she already put work into/hours into. My god did you people not remember here the 350 words a day to getting a novel finished. You are all putting work into it, what your missing is a fan base and self promotion. Its not because of her husband success/fame….she has busted her butt for her own success. OMG you’d actually have to work for it and not have the little success fairies to blame

    3. As an avid reader I would love to reach out and touch some of my favorite authors. What I have found out is Authors do NOT respond to fan mail. So why reach out and contact them. (Many authors have the I receive so much fan mail I no longer respond to it because then I could no longer write….. however I appreciate you nice words. Have a nice day and bugger off) This alienates a fan base, this is NOT self promotion.

    4. I’ll read anything. If I like it I recommend it to friends. If I can only get a preview for free and it really grabs my attention I would HAPPILY pay quality dollars for quality work. I Despise the fact that books cost more that a hours work at a minimum wage job. Books should never be that expensive, it promotes illiteracy and ignorance. Therefore if you got it out there it interests me I will share it, buy it, promote it to others. Ooops there’s that fan base and trust thingie you guys keep yipping about.

    5. I just want to write. Then do that, no-one is stopping you from that. But if you look historically at some of the big names in the arts they were all shameless self promoters (Look at Mark Twain) If you want FAME, fame comes with self promotion.

    Sorry Chuck I ranted all over you guys, but I really get tired of the whiny I can’t, I can’t attitudes of most people today. Plus the but THEIR an EXCEPTION because…..

    I knit… I have sold 6 sweaters in two years by commision. I charge a minimum of $350 for my time, (and this is still like paying myself $1.60 an hour) People saw my work liked the quality of my work and actually requested me to do the work. cheapest sweater was $450 most expensive was $750. that is cost of yarn and my time. Same with my artwork. I carry my sketch book everywhere. Why so that people can SEE what I do and if they like it they can commision me to do more. My form of self promotion is just doing what I do where ever i am without shame or secrecy. I don’t think writing is much different other than you play things so close to your chest nobody knows what your doing and the word “writer” has become meaningless to those your talking to.

    • If you want to reach authors, go see them at a convention they are attending. Or even a book signing. You’ll find out they are as human as the rest of us and, in many cases, quite friendly and engaging. (Other times they’re assholes. Like I said: human.)

      • Lovely idea I live in Edmonton Alberta. Unless you are an canadian writer writing about something that happened in the frozen praries…yeah authors don’t come here. Nearest convention toronto or seattle… outta my price range. But I tell yah if Charles de Lint, Chuck Wendig, Litlith Saintcrow etc etc came to my city yeah I’d line up for the 2 minutes of time to say HEY, I LOVE YOUR WORK….. Hey we have TWO comic cons, One in Calgary in May and one in Edmonton in September….. maybe authors should look at these cons not just writing cons for self promotion. After all BOOKS are ENTERTAINMENT

        • Exactly: book festivals, comic conventions, university events, outdoor fairs, concerts, movie fests, dentists offices, tattoo parlors, slaughterhouses – anywhere you can meet good people.

          I think due to the nature of the medium, writers tend to be an introverted lot. Folks need to get out more.

          • Or at least when they say their a writer be excited about it and less close lipped. Most people wouldn’t know what to do with your idea for your book anyways. Tell us something kewl about a character or the world your developing, Just not I’m working on a novel. Then you have to pry… oooh fiction or non-fiction…. 20 questions with a writer is no fun and they get cranky.

    • I wish you’d added a link to your webpage (if you have one) so we could see pictures of your sweaters! Another excellent easy self-promotion! 🙂

      You’re right, we should be carrying a notebook/sketchbook everywhere. I’ve been trying to work up the nerve. Sometimes rejections fester and make it hard to share one’s creative work. As an artist who works in various mediums, I find the written word the most revealing. Some people have had their dreams kicked half to death and freeze in fear when encouraged to leap into the unknown.

      • I do not have a web page. Wouldn’t kow how to take care of a web page. My sweaters and artwork are by word of mouth. Or the seeing is believing kinda situation.

        BTW word nerds. If anyone gives you knitted socks, treasure them, because they are the most expensive socks you will ever own. Let me break it down for you Minimum $20 for the yarn (for one pair of socks) now add time and effort for 20 to 60 hrs of work don’t know what your minimum is but here its $8.50. Adds up, and knitters give socks away for free to their loved ones. hmmmmm interesting eh?

  23. Nice post, man. I’m reading through all the comments right now, but I hear ya about the midpoint thing. I’ve been writing for many years, but only just recently, after letting 25 years or so slip by before I felt like I was ready to try looking for publishing, started sending my work out. I always say it was my practice time because I didn’t feel like the work was quite there in quality, but it was also fear of rejection, that no one would pick it up, that I would remain in anonymity, that I would fail in the one job I believe I was meant for. Now I’m in my 40s, I’m more confident about meeting people and interacting, and I’m staring ahead with trepidation because I’m not published yet. Bout now, I’ll give about any method of publishing a shot, including a donation button. If I can’t be sold, I may have to sell myself, a thing I look at with both excitement and fear.

  24. “Free” as a strategy *can* work as a method to build an audience, but it might work better when you *have* an audience. From that audience you harvest your alpha fans, the folks willing to lay down cash that funds your free thing & your next free things.

    I’ve also seen folks doing early experiments in fund-it-then-its-free and it can really create a situation where your existing work isn’t out there actively earning you income, creating a loop where the only way you get ongoing income is *constant* creation and publication.

    • “I’ve also seen folks doing early experiments in fund-it-then-its-free and it can really create a situation where your existing work isn’t out there actively earning you income, creating a loop where the only way you get ongoing income is *constant* creation and publication.”

      Yeah, that. Seen it, too — and I don’t think it works. It feels like the one thing about the “free” component is that you should always continue offering it for sale both at zero dollars and at an actual dollar amount — this can’t just be about giving stuff away, it has to be (at least in relation to the AFP TED talk) about putting it out there but then also making it easy for people to come up to you online or in person and say, “Here’s something for that.”

      — c.

  25. I think Amanda’s talk emphasized the work she put into getting where she is. Hours standing on a box in the street. Touring with her band. Fighting with her label. Redefining what “success” was and being happy with it. She, more than any other artist I’ve encountered, works, works, works at connecting with her fans. Read her twitter feed and you’ll find her responding and retweeting random fans from around the world.

    (She asked recently if her “I see you” message offended blind people, blind fans responded and she retweeted them.)

    So, can this work for an author? Well, it has already to some extent. Kickstarter has brought me several novels that wouldn’t have been written if not for the model. Friends of mine give away some work and move others through traditional publishing. Writing/publishing is in flux and experiments will help outline the boundaries of what works in the future.

  26. I tried this about 14 years ago. I created a web site called Free E-Press which was based on the idea of fiction as busking. We gave away our stories and asked readers to donate what they thought the story was worth to them. I still think the idea has merit, if the implementation was decades before its time.

    The thing is, as many have pointed out, keeping an ongoing relationship with your readers is a difficult (for introverts) and time consuming process. Blogs and social networks help, but that can be a trap, too. Fiction readers want to *discuss* books, not just give you a digital high five. I would love to have a long, rambling discussion with Chuck about Miriam Black, but I know he doesn’t have the time or energy to do that with every one of his readers, so I don’t ask.

    And I think that’s the biggest hurdle to AFP’s suggestion for writers. Self-aware, compassionate readers don’t want to be a burden on their favorite authors. They want those authors to write more books. So readers and writers can’t really have the same two way street as musicians and audience. Chuck wants to be among us, but he can’t. Not really. The nature of the medium requires that he be set apart, or torn apart.There’s no middle ground.

  27. Plenty of good conversation in this thread. I had a slightly more practical insight that arrived halfway through the video. It’s more of a question really: how do you (meaning Chuck and other writers) give people flowers when you see them?

    When Amanda was The Eight-Foot Bride, she gave people flowers after they donated to her. I presume or imagine that she gave them a CD during the after-show signings. It’s a direct moment of exchange, but how does an author do that, either when they’re at a con or in a coffeeshop? Dragging around a bag of books is impractical. I watched the video and I wondered, “How does an author give their fan a flower?”

    My first thought was to point them to Amazon. Chuck, your stuff is available there and everyone has the Kindle or Nook app. But that didn’t quite feel right. It’s like Amanda sending people to a nearby record store. Then I remembered my friends who design and sell indie RPGs at cons. They all use Square. They swipe credit cards and then send PDFs to their fans, live from the con floor. Why couldn’t an author do the same? I understand that if your book is published traditionally, you’ve likely got legal restrictions on this sort of thing.

    But if you’re just starting out and just trying to make a name for yourself, it could be a powerful tool. The immediacy that Amanda describes seems like it would be there. They give you a couple of bucks and, right there on the spot, you send them your words. You smile, shake hands, and the connection is made.

    • Interesting. There might be a smaller, stranger version, too — for the traditionally published author who can’t just fling his novel around or take payments on it, consider a small USB drive with a series of stories upon it. This is, of course, an in person transaction, but yeah.

      — c.

      • I am about to start handing out cards with name/email on one side and on the other a QR code that directs to a free copy of the book. I’m not even going to ask for their email address, although there is a spot there for them to give it if they want.

    • I think a book mark or gift card with a url where they can go and download a “free” short story. I’m not sure how I would implement it but it would be a neat gift to give out at a con or something. Have a “tip jar” and people can take the bookmark if they put something in.

    • A flower from an author: we could keep signed bookmarks in our purse/ipad cover. I once e-mailed an author to tell them I loved their book and they asked if they could have my address so they could send me a bookmark. I still have it fifteen years later. I’m not saying tell people where you live, but if you had a cool bookmark…if Chuck handed me a bookmark with blackbirds on it for instance…I’d totally be thrilled! (maybe I’m easy). But you could print a short story/haiku on the bookmark…make the bookmark an actual story…make it a numbered limited edition!

      • I totally agree. Something small not too over the top, but it has to be unique or signed. Alot of booths at cons have book marks or postcards… signed now we’re talking swag. seeing the author sign it in front of you even better.

  28. I wasn’t going to comment on this post but it won’t leave me alone and I keep thinking about it. I don’t think there is any magic formula for getting our work noticed, let alone earning money from it. Has anybody mentioned luck? Getting lucky enough to have a small wave of recognition that actually generates e-mail from readers / fans / the general public or comments on blog posts?

    I am an indie writer. I give my work away for free. I post all my short stories for free and wouldn’t dream of asking money for them. Maybe the wrong attitude?

    I would like to earn some money from my serious novel, just enough to pay for the editor and formatting. But I realize I need to get the work out there in order to ‘prove’ that I can write. So I do free promotions. I have had 6000 downloads on that novel and have heard from maybe ten people. (I would gladly discuss my work with a reader, so feel free to e-mail me!) I have a free promo going on at Smashwords right now. But the fear of having any sort of self-promotion deleted as ‘spam’ holds me back from banging the drum.

  29. The days of stables of famous writers are ended. No more Hemmingways, at least for now.
    Your roots don’t matter.
    What matters is the person you are today.
    I don’t think there’s any easy way to make a living. We all have to do what is necessary to survive, and to thrive we must do what we enjoy when we can.

  30. […] The Art of Asking. Here are some posts that muse on what her talk means to book-business folk: – Chuck Wendig on The Art of Asking: For Writers and Storytellers – Andrew Losowsky at Huffington Post Books, Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk Contains Important […]

  31. Let’s do some math. Forty-thousand fiction novels are published in the US per year (excluding self-pub). Ninety-five percent of submissions are rejected. That brings us to 800,000 novel length works get written and submitted per year. Let’s round it up to a cool 1,000,000 factoring work that never gets submitted but is a completed work. Each day you plop your head on the pillow another 2,700 books get written. That’s every single day.

    Americans are story addicts. They have a voracious appetite for story. But today, their attention is being gobbled up at every turn. Hundreds of cable stations, video games, Facebook, Youtube, blockbuster movies, Twitter. All of it screaming at consumers click me….click me….c’mon fucking click me! I only want three minutes of your precious time.

    Oh yeah, and books that take ten to twenty hours to read.

    Let’s face it. There is an ocean of writing out there and a lot of it not worthy of being published. But the truth is, the world is a completely different place. The cult of personality rules the day. It is the very rare writer that snatches the publishing team to back their work. And that phenomenon is happening even less not more.

    The truth is this. Writers must find it within themselves to set set their work apart from all the other stuff floating around out there by every possible means OTHER than just their writing! Today, it’s part of the game like it or not.

    • “Oh yeah, and books that take ten to twenty hours to read.”

      Really, where is this 20 hour book your talking about…..I would love to find a book that would take me that long to read.

      My average reading speed is 5 pages a minute. that book would have to be over 6000 pages long.

  32. One thing I find interesting is comparing this comment thread on AFP’s talk with the one on the Boing Boing post about her talk at The comments here are friendly, insightful, and reflective. The comments on Boing Boing are just bashing Palmer, trying to tear her down, and really not even dealing with what she said. I wonder why the huge difference? Is Boing Boing just a more trolly place these days?

  33. I have loved scifi all my life and read dozens of authors. One of my very favorites was Walter H. Hunt, who wrote the Dark Wing Series. He stopped the series, according to him, because his publisher did not want to continue it. With all the alternative available to writers today he could tell Tor to pack sand, put the books on his own website and ask or require us to pay him for the stories.

    Stories, songs, art, free or paid for the important thing is the ability to publish without the decision being made by a bean counter that may or may not be a fan.

  34. Over the years, I’ve had to force myself to think outside of the success culture framework in order to grow as a writer and an artist. The compliance imposed by even the vaguest expectations — be they my own or those of an audience (real, imagined or hoped-for) is truly binding; and I think that is death to an artist. These days, I create for the sake of creation; for the sake of producing something beautiful. Any material considerations outside of that feat are glorified clerical matters. Don’t get me wrong — money isn’t funny; but all the tenacity and hustling and networking and internet exposure in the world still can’t guarantee market relevance or saleability. If I become consumed with that end of things, again, I’m dead. I don’t see how it could be any different for any other writer or artist.

    There was a (possibly mythical) musical contributor behind the mysterious and inscrutable art ensemble known as The Residents by the nom de guerre of N. Senada. He had a creative philosophy he called his Theory of Obscurity, according to which, an artist can only produce pure content when completely sealed off from outside expectations and influences. I’ve loosely adhered to this philosophy even before being aware of it. Expanding on this premise is psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in this clip from his ridiculously excellent BBC program on Art and Insanity. It is very much worth watching in its entirety, but the eureka moment for me was in the fifth and final segment, between minute 3:09 and 4:55, when Dr. Phillips elucidates his final analysis on the artist’s quandary.

    Finally, of course, nature abhors a vacuum. My ultimate hope is to contribute something with my work. If any of my sloppy magic is at all useable by another human being — if anything I can do reaches someone and helps them to want to get out of bed and keep on going past breakfast, then I have to do whatever I can to make that magic as readily available as I possibly can. After all, where would I be without all the colors and shapes and sounds my heroes supplied me with?

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