The Many Species of Author Advice

Inspired by a recent article on Matthew Wright’s blog (‘Why All Who Write Should Think of Themselves as Writers. Period’) I started to think again about advice in the literary world. Advice in the literary world is one of the reasons why I’m metaphorically as bald as an egg; tearing out my hair has become an affliction that shows no sign of getting any better.

As a form of therapy I’ve decided to categorise all the various advisors you’ll come across on the internet, so next time you see a blog post entitled ‘#5 sure fire ways of #increasing your #Kindle #sales’ you’ll be able to get out this handy guide and spot which species of Charlatanus literi purpurea it is.

1 – The Shyster

In a recent blog post a writer stated, IN CAPITAL LETTERS, if your author profile isn’t professional enough for his liking he won’t touch your books with a barge pole. His author profile included an author photograph so pixellated it wouldn’t have worked as a thumbnail image. He is a good example of a Shyster.

Shysters don’t distinguish between fiction and non-fiction. In their world, any old Ponzi scheme is worth considering, and they’re usually the types who exploit algorithms, keywords, bestseller lists and minimum word counts. They have written books. Lots of them. They have titles like ‘Wikipedia Best Selling Content,’ ‘Monetizing Your Attic Shit,’ and ‘How To Maximise Your Untapped Potential With the Power of Effective SEO Strategies.’

If you’ve ever read one of these books you’ll be familiar with the technique of literary bog-snorkeling, where you wade through thirty pages of rhetoric before coming to ten bullet points on the penultimate page. By the time you’re there the Shyster has already got your money and, more importantly, your email address.

2 – The Wraiter (© Matthew Wright)

In Matthew’s blog post (here) he describes the writer who doesn’t write. Wraiters are always on the edge of, at the cusp of, on the brink of… something. They know the ropes, drop the names, quote the quotes, but haven’t yet written anything.

They know what you should do and how to go about it. They understand the publishing industry and what people want. They just haven’t written anything yet. Wraiters haven’t gone through the mill of spending twelve months writing, suffered the despondency of the rejection letter or the sheer mind-numbing impotency of trying to promote a book in a world where five million books are self-published every hour.

And they never will because talk is easy. Wraiters are evolutionary cousins of…

3 – The Bullshitter

Unlike Wraiters Bullshitters have done everything. Written, published and promoted. They’ve visited every blossom in the garden, danced on every grave and now they are an authority on every known facet of the publishing world. And what’s more it’s worked for them. We know that because their advice is peppered with words like effective and sure-fire and proven.

To anyone other than the field expert, Bullshitters are almost identical to Shysters, except Bullshitters write books with proper titles like ‘The One Homecoming,’ ‘Alfonso’s Gift,’ and ‘Yield to Nobody: Book Nine of the The Dark Apothecary Trilogy.’

However, ask any one of these successful authors how many books they’ve actually sold and they go quiet. They never reveal how successful their successful strategy really is. And because you’ve never seen Yield To Nobody on the NY Times bestseller list you start to wonder just how effective this advice really is. And, god forbid, whether the advice is actually just a ruse to get you to see the title of their book and where to buy it and catapult their sales into double figures.

4 – The Contrarian

For me, the Contrarian is the latest fly in the ointment. After you read page after page of shysterism, bullshit and powder keg wraiting, you find your suspicions reinforced by the Contrarian. Everything you’ve just read is wrong. In fact everything you’ve ever read is wrong. How do they know? Because they’re right and everyone else is wrong.

Their statistics contradict everyone else’s statistics. Their proof is more sustainable than everyone else’s proof. Their advice more reliable than everyone else’s advice. They exist in all walks of life. That one glass of wine that caused bowel cancer yesterday actually delays dementia; the video games proven to have no causal effect on teenage violence last week actually cause attention deficit syndrome this week.

Contrarians are not a homogeneous group; their very nature means they fall out with each other, which leads to Contrarian Miasma. A situation in which their confusion confuses everybody else until fact and fiction blur into speculation. As someone once advised me: if you don’t know, just say you don’t know.

5 – The Social Media Fairy

If you believe this lot the world ceases to exist beyond the walled gardens of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Don’t even think about trying to promote your book in the real world because everyone, including people sitting together on the same park bench, communicate via social media.

Their advice is to build that author platform and start posting, tweeting and pinning. They overlook two things though. Less than 25% of books bought online are discovered online, and everyone who has never written a book hates being the recipient of social media spam from every Tom, Dick and Harriet who has written a book.

They also conveniently avoid the details that make social media work. They tell you to engage, but not how to make engagement work effectively. In that respect they are distantly related to Bullshitters in that they don’t let the inconvenient truth get in the way of yet another article on why social media is the be all and end all of everything. (See The Echo Chamber)

6 – The Echo Chamber

Unable to come up with an original thought Echo Chambers simply repeat what someone else has already said. If you haven’t read the importance of an author platform a thousand times the Echo Chamber will tell you once more how important it is to have an author platform.

When Echo Chambers run out of second-hand original ideas they press a button containing the word reblog and tell you again something you’ve already seen on another Echo Chamber’s website, thus compounding the issue until you read the same advice four times in one hour. They don’t reblog out of respect, they reblog to nick someone else’s idea when they haven’t got an unoriginal idea of their own.

They are the camouflaged mimics of the literary world, reproducing what has already become popular to draw your nectar-seeking proboscis to their own blossom. But their advice is stale, withered, a bit crusty round the edges. If you ever see advice which includes the words Sinclair, Beta Max or MySpace run a mile.

7 – The Siren

Because Echo Chambers mimic others they can sometimes be confused with Sirens. Sirens tempt you to their content with words of wisdom, token cod psychology and a habit of stating the bleeding obvious. Their motives are entirely selfish, gobbling up those stats for reads, views, likes, follows, pins, whatever is necessary to bulk up their readership.

Beware the Siren telling you how to Tweet, they want you to follow them on Twitter. Step towards the Facebook fan with caution; they just want to be your friend. And when they tell you five proven ways of marketing your book without using a computer check the source material. It might have come via an Echo Chamber who regurgitated a post written by a Contrarian out to prove all Bullshitters are bullshitters in spite of what the Social Media Fairies say because they’re just Shysters masquerading as Wraiters.

I know. It’s complicated.

8 – The GA

AKA the Genuine Article. These are writers who have published and sold. They’ve served their time, made mistakes and come through the other side and have the titles and royalties to back up the advice they give.

Professional editors who make a living from editing are the only ones qualified to advise you on editing. Likewise, professional designers on book cover design, professional proofreaders on proofreading, professonal publishers (in proper publishing houses you’ve heard of) on how to publish and how the industry works. Anyone else is one of the above nos. 1 – 7.

And the one Genuine Article who knows all about marketing is the professional marketer. Someone who does marketing for a living and has the income and industry respect to prove it. Genuine Articles are on the United Nations Endangered Species list having been out-competed by others of lesser ability but stronger survival instincts; pernicious weeds and ravenous predators. If you find the Genuine Article stick with them.

9 – The Curmudgeon

Curmudgeons write blog posts wittering on about what’s wrong with the world and why all advice is wrong/bullshit/contrary etc. They advise you to avoid advice…

Hang on, strike out number 9, they don’t exist. Here be monsters.

I hope this guide will help you sift out the chaff, swim through the treacle and reach that horizon (which, by the way, is physically impossible; ignore the advice telling you to make a target of the unattainable). Oh, and don’t forget, avoid clichés and semi-colons. Happy hunting.

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21 thoughts on “The Many Species of Author Advice

  1. I thought about not commenting, Chris, afraid it might create a circular reference powerful enough to shut down every Excel spreadsheet in the universe. Still, I’m going to take a risk and mention the folly of believing at all that the path to certain publishing success lies in following the outdated path of someone writing something completely different, which in turn leads some to the struck-out number 9… and oh dear, I think I just met myself –

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! It’s amazing how much (mis)information about writing and publishing is circulating round and round the internet and blog-o-sphere, all at the hands of people who are on the learning curve and maybe only one step ahead of the people they’re teaching. The gulf between theory and practise has to be experienced (by falling into it…) before its scale is appreciated – something the ‘wraiters’ simply don’t know about, given that they never sully their hands with a keyboard.

    Thanks for the shout out – though, er, there are two t’s in Matthew. Just saying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder how many of them are aware of their own ignorance and repetitiveness, and how many people see right through them. I suppose if enough people reinforce their advice with likes, follows and positive comments they probably start to believe their own gush.

      Spelling mistake corrected. Sorry about that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m betting my money on luck. Connections and luck. You either know someone in the business or you get lucky with a publisher. Perhaps every few years someone with luck and connections will happen to write a halfway decent book. Probably not, though.

    Let’s see, that makes me a…


  4. This is something I’ve been thinking for a while, but you said it better than I could. Another phenomenon I find among bloggers is how rarely someone questions or disagrees with these kinds of advice posts. I suppose it’s because few like to show themselves as “negative.” Unlike us curmudgeons, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. I think half of the positive commenters are looking to attract people to their own blogs, and the other half are frightened of being flamed for ‘speaking out of line.’ I’ve been tempted to call them out on a few occasions, but decided it’s not worth the risk of an unholy backlash!

      I remember one guy on Twitter, no novel of his own in sight, telling people to follow Mark Twain’s advice and avoid adjectives. When I pointed out the opening paragraphs of Huckleberry Finn were full of advectives, Twitter expert went quiet.

      Liked by 3 people

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