Jan 242014

Anne_Bradstreet_Memorial_N_Andover_CemIn a recent comment, Samuel asked if I’ve considered self-publishing. I had a similar IRL conversation not too long ago as well.

Yes, I have considered it. And it brings one back to “Why do I write in the first place?”

Ultimately, I write because I have something I want to say. The problem is, I don’t know if I’m saying it very well. I think I am. But generally EVERYONE thinks that they are. I acknowledge that I am in the worst possible position to evaluate my work. And the thing is, I don’t want to end up like one of those auditionees on American Idol. The ones who are convinced they are amazing, but who are so objectively horrible that even someone like me (with a tin ear) can tell it’s bad. They’re always shocked and dismayed when they’re told they’re awful, sometimes simply refusing to believe it… but they are so bad. And it’s because the only people they ever sang for were their friends and family who didn’t have the heart to tell them they sucked. Who had a subconscious motivation to praise them, and thus maybe even convinced themselves it wasn’t that bad. These people were terrible and they never knew.

I wrote before about how much I appreciate honest feedback from my friends, but I know that even they pull their punches. Publishing Editors, on the other hand, have no motivation to make me feel better. Their only motivation is to print the best stuff they can. So, like praise from Simon Cowell, their approval means a lot. It means that someone who doesn’t give a shit about me and just wants good fiction, someone with a refined palate and a good sense for the genre I’m writing in, thinks the work itself is good.

Of course popular approval can be just as rewarding. HPMoR, after all, is simply an incredibly popular fanfic. Fanfic is generally looked down upon by The Gatekeepers of Fiction. But as Rachael Acks says (one of the few actual published authors I know IRL) –

“I wrote one short little fic after I saw Thor: The Dark World and in the time since I put it online I have literally received more feedback on it than I have in total for every piece of original work I’ve ever published. It’s like pure black tar heroin for the sad little twitching addict that is a writer’s ego.”

God yes, this, this right here! I know the podcast is somewhat popular, it has over a million downloads. Every episode gets about a thousand downloads in the first week and steadily climbs to a few thousand over time. Those numbers mean it’s good, right? Yet there’s always a voice inside saying “Eh, it’s not that great.” I get about one email a month saying “Hey, I love you’re podcast, keep it up!” and those mean so much more than looking at download numbers. Somehow. Even though it’s just one email, vs thousands of downloads. Emotions cannot Shut Up and Multiply, they cannot math.

So could I self-publish? Maybe. But unless it was on a major forum like FanFiction.net it wouldn’t get enough readership to fuel that insecure, approval-hungry writer ego. And even if I could write fanfic (harder than one may imagine, staying true to other’s characters), it would never make it into the truly prestigious awards like the Hugos or the Nebulas.

Because I’ll admit – ultimately that’s the only thing that’ll ever really convince me. I read lots of fiction that gets published that I think is crap. Not to knock any published authors! They obviously know what they’re doing, because they’re published and I’m not. There’s just some things I read that I think “Wow. How did this ever make it into print??” And that knife cuts both ways. If that drek can get into print, than obviously if I get into print I could be as bad. I could be awful even AFTER getting published! How the hell am I ever going to know if I am actually accomplishing what I want to accomplish? How will I know I’m really good, and not just some poor shlub surrounded in his own Matrix-like bubble of people who want him to feel good about himself, and editors with questionable taste? The major awards are the only answer I can think of. Until then I am no more a writer than I was back in 3rd grade when my parents put my “poetry” up on the refrigerator.


This post has gone on long enough, but for those of you who say “Who cares what some critics say? They don’t get any right to decide what’s great.” On the one hand, yes, I agree. Often amazing works are overlooked (*cough* Vellum *cough*). This is worse in some fields… the Academy Awards for movies (aka The Oscars) are so mind-bogglingly retarded that most people I know don’t even bother following them anymore. Same with The Grammys. They simply don’t track quality anymore. But, as Bad Horse says –

“And yet I realized, as 2AM approached, that I cared about my story’s ranking. I cared a lot. Why? I already have my opinion of it, and the opinions of some people whose judgement I trust more than voting results.

[…] So do I care because I want to know that other people like what I wrote? I don’t think so. How much of a warm fuzzy feeling (or deliciously cold and dark) I get from my stories isn’t affected by the thumb counts. That just affects my opinion of the general intelligence of the human race.

I guess I just like the acclaim. Hmm. Not very logical of me.”

I’ve always looked up to the authors who win those awards. And until that is finally ground out of me decades from now, I will continue to care about them. Even though I can’t support it rationally.

  8 Responses to “A Writer’s Ego”

  1. Well, that’s a rather more involved response than I expected. I do actually have something of a counter to that argument. To be specific self-published authors presently make up half of the top ten authors in sci-fi according to sales rankings on Amazon. More on that topic is here. So there are possible ranking even in self-publishing. It is also worth noting that fanfiction.net has a sister site for original works though I get the impression it’s less well known.

    As for the issue of staying true to someone else’s characters in fanfic, I would tend more towards keeping the universe and making new characters. For something like Harry Potter that doesn’t work as well but for a world like Stargate or Mass Effect or really most sci-fi’s the conflicts don’t need to be centered around the original characters. Personally I’m often irritated by fanfics which make major changes far before the time of cannon and then magically end up with the same characters going through almost the same journey.

    And because I haven’t previously mentioned it in any of my comments, I am a very big fan of your podcast. And I’ve been listening since the beginning, I stopped briefly when I got really busy but then I listened again from the beginning post your big revision and the quality is quite excellent. It really brings HPMOR to life.

    I also liked your story about London on this site. It’s a rare story that can be that short and still capture my interest because I tend to be more interested in world-building than plot.

  2. Hey, I love your blog! Keep it up!

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