Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Threads Has Weird Ideas About Writing And Publishing, So Here Are Some Of My Own

I continue to be on Threads. It’s fine? My quick capsule review of it is that it’s effective at reaching people, the algorithm is over-reactive and also terrible by its very nature, and the UI is hostile and I can’t ever seem to get a grip on really using it well. It still seems designed to broadcast more than it is to converse? But, it’s fine. It’s a thing that exists and I don’t hate it, and these days, in the Year of Our Lord 2024, that’s next door to an endorsement.

The one thing that you have to know is, the algorithm really does rule all — which means that when someone has a WEIRD IDEA or a CONTROVERSIAL TAKE, people responding to it or quoting it for “the dunk” instantly help that thing spread. The system is designed to see fire, and when you say, “Hey, look, fire,” the robot then pours gasoline on it.

(The robot is not here to help.)

As such, you tend to get just truly nonsense ideas about writing and publishing — bizarre opinions and worse, absolutely batfuck advice, often given by people who would seem to have little to no actual credit in the writing and publishing space. It’s like asking driving directions from someone on a different continent.

You’ll be scrolling through Threads and you’ll see someone say, like, “If a sentence has more than one comma, it’s a bad sentence.” Or, “Agents don’t really read queries; the only way to get an agent’s attention is to enter their home at night through a pet door, and leave your manuscript in the refrigerator, topped with origami rose petals made with Post-It notes, scented with your zesty authorial pheromones.” Or, “You can’t have potatoes in science-fiction.” Daily, someone just waltzes onto that website, fills a bottle with urine, and throws it into the crowd. And then, then, all day long you get Comma Discourse, or Don’t Stalk Agents Rejoinders, or Fiery Debate Over Sci-Fi Potatoes. It’s the cheapest, easiest bait, and we all take it. I’m not immune! I’m a fool! We’re all rats and there’s cheese everywhere — we cannot help to take a li’l nibble here and there.

Initially this was just going to be a post of me gesticulating wantonly and screaming DON’T TAKE THE BAIT THE BAIT WANTS YOU TO TAKE IT and maybe just writing that a hundred or so times. On your face. With a Sharpie. In reverse so you see it in the mirror when you look upon yourself.

Then, I thought, oh, ha ha, I’ll write a bunch of fake things about writing and publishing but honestly, no fake shit I write could be as good as the fake shit people spread around as if it’s already real.

But then I was like, “Well, what about sincerity and earnestness about the subject of writing and publishing?” And someone in the back made a barf noise and yelled “cringe” at me, but whatever, I’m cringe, I get it, it’s fine, I accept my role in this life.

So, I figured I’d just offer a few actually sincere thoughts about writing and publishing today. None of this will be particularly new, none of it earth-shattering, none of it so controversial it’ll goose an algorithm with a tasty pinch of contrarianism, and certainly I’m just one dipshit on the internet and everything I say here should be considered suspect.

Let us begin. Here, then, is a quivering dumpster of random thoughts about writing and publishing in the Year 2024.

1. Write the thing you wanna write. You can be strategic and whatever, you can and maybe even should try to figure out what people want to read and what publishers are willing to buy, but at the end of the day, a whole lot of people in and around this industry know almost nothing for certain. They have institutional knowledge! They have expertise! But the intersection of art and commerce is a car crash and we’re all just trying to make sense of its wreckage. Plus, life is short and art is weird so go on and lean into it.

2. Be weird but don’t make it weird, you know what I mean? Just be cool. Be cool. It’s a community. Writers are cool. People in publishing are cool. Don’t make it weird. We’re just hanging out over here.

3. Try to be honest and open. With yourself, your peers, your readers, your editor, your agent. That’s not to say: be a dick. But be honest and open. Keep an open mind but also don’t let anybody just put anything they want in that mind. Have limits, know the hills you’re willing to die on.

4. Don’t kill all your darlings. Darlings are nice. We all deserve our darlings.

5. People are messy. Books are messy. Stories are messy. Publishing is messy. Art is messy. It’s all a mess. Know that going in.

6. There’s a lot of advice out there. It’s all bullshit, but bullshit fertilizes. If it helps your garden grow, use it, spread it. If it doesn’t? Wash it away.

7. When your process is failing you, change your process.

8. Lists of writing rules are often written by older, successful, able-bodied white guys and, like, that’s not to say they’re wrong about everything, but that’s also not to say they’re right about everything. Survivorship bias is king, alongside, well, all the other biases.

9. Your writing, your story, isn’t a product, it isn’t quote-unquote “content.” It gets packaged that way, sure, but it’s so much more than that. Let it be more than that. It’s footprints, fingerprints, heartprints, bite marks. It’s not a widget. It’s not a dongle. Writing and storytelling is art.

10. You can’t put potatoes in science-fiction, that one is true. That’s just rookie shit right there. I mean, what the fuck. Do better. Be better.

11. Don’t believe everything you read. Question everything. Except the thing about potatoes in science-fiction. Do not question that.

12. Publishing sucks. People in publishing are generally pretty great. It’s not their fault publishing sucks. And it doesn’t always suck, it just sucks generally. It’s a big half-broken-but-still-functional city-sized robot, jankily tromping about. It works, but it doesn’t work great, and it’s really too big to change easily, and if you’re not careful, you’re going to get stepped on.

13. I think the greatest challenge right now is just reaching audience. Both existing audience and new audience. Social media broke into islands and there isn’t as much Literary Weight packed into one place. It’s more diffuse and publishers outright don’t know how to handle that and they aren’t free with money, and got used to being not so free with the money, because it was really easy to just say, “Authors should build their platforms and stand on those platforms and yell about their books, ta-da, that’s called marketing and advertising, baby.” It didn’t even work so great then but it worked a little, and now most of that reach is gone. And they aren’t so keen to just like, spend money to put up actual ads for books (which they should!), so I think the greatest challenge is not only being heard, but finding the ears to hear.

14. Plans within plans within plans. I have so many contingency plans. I think you have to if you’re in publishing for more than ten minutes. We watch cities rise and worlds fall every few weeks. At some point you realize that the door in front of you might not be unlocked or even there next time you look, so you have to mark the other doors, the windows, the places where the wall is weak and you can kick your way through it. A one-year-plan, a five-year-plan, a ten-year-plan, a contingency plan, an escape plan.

15. The ground is shifting a lot right now underneath our feet. It has been for a couple years but the tectonic rumbles are really going good now. No real advice here except, I guess, hold onto something and have friends.

16. Having friends in this gig really matters. It’s hard, too, because we’re all a garage full of cats on fire. But having community is really important. Writers are the only people who understand the writer-part of writers.

17. Publishing is really dysfunctional, you think, until you work in comic books or Hollywood, and then publishing feels like a warm, soft hug.

18. Ideas are just costume jewelry. It’s all in how you wear ’em.

19. You can’t do everything or be everything to everyone. Good life advice, I guess, but also good advice in writing and publishing. You can’t blurb everything or read everything or support everything, you just do your best and try to be nice and pick your champions and in a perfect world do so with an eye on empathy and inclusion. But you do have to make sure your oxygen mask is on and fitted well, first, before you attend to others.

20. I think it’s nice to feel things when you read a book and when you write a book. Not just the cold calculations of plot but the deep feels part. I also think it’s okay be coldly calculating, too, and say, “This is the part where I make the reader feel [insert emotion here: sorrow, anger, lust, hunger for a very specific Japanese KitKat flavor you can only get once a year, like Sakura Ennui or Miso Gunpowder].”

21. Sometimes you have to say “fuck it” and do the thing, whatever the thing is. You probably already know what the thing is. We all have the thing. Sometimes many things. And we all have to say “fuck it” sometimes. So, y’know, fuck it. Do the thing.

22. Cultivating your instincts is pretty key, meaning you know when something (an edit, an offer, a marketing plan, a day’s writing) is right and when it’s off-kilter, and you really only cultivate those instincts by working a lot and thinking a lot and oops you thought too much now you’re anxious.

23. I mostly follow a 50/50 path of “what I want to do/what seems like the smart thing to do.” This is selfish and privileged. But I’m in this game for me and also I am a raccoon-crow hybrid who favors shiny things and I will chase the pretty shiny things and write the things I wanna write because I don’t know how to do differently. But strategy does factor into it. I won’t write something I don’t wanna write just because Ta-Da Strategy, but I will gladly line up the shiny things I want and try to decide which one of them you the audience will also like best. I want our interests to align. Storytelling is a shout in the dark and I want you to hear it so we can find one another.

24. My probably only really controversial Threadsy take here is that I think writing Licensed IP is getting trickier and less ideal in terms of that strategy. I want to say we were in a golden age of writing it but I think the pay hasn’t kept up and the rights are garbage and now with AI creeping into things, I’d say there are more red flags there than usual, and you might just be better off writing something that you own in terms of ideas, rights, material — you can just write a book, for free, and it doesn’t need to be like, someone else’s shit. It can be all your own shit. Actually, owning your own stuff is really important in general: owning a space to write, owning time to write, owning a space online that can’t be taken away if Elon Musk shows up and takes a cyber-shit upon it, owning your rights to the work, owning a jaunty capybara in a monocle and a top-hat who brings you coffee on his back like some kind of cool Miyazaki shit. Also P.S. it’s not “writing IP,” because your original work is IP, too, everything is IP except AI shit. You mean writing “licensed IP,” which is different. Anyway. Yeah.

25. It’s hard being a writer. So be good to yourself. Learn to love the work more than you love the publishing because the work can always be there for you even when publishing won’t be. Also block assholes online. Just clear your day of jerks. It’s a nice favor to yourself.

I wrote a book that has more of this kind of thing in it if you like that, it’s called Gentle Writing Advice. And yes I’m shilling, but like, I gotta be proud of my stuff and also, I need to pay my mortgage, as the banks get real salty about that. It’s like, settle down, banks, jeez. You can get a signed, personalized copy of it or any of my books through Doylestown Bookshop. Or head to Bookshop-dot-org. (Er, also, I’m noticing my “anxiety-based ant thriller with an Elon Muskian villain” is on sale for a buck ninety-nine again at your various e-book places, so, feel free to grabby-grabby.)