The Irascible Indie. Part 4: Who Are the Real Writers?

If you’ve read the other parts of this series, you may be thinking it’s about how not to promote your writing. If it inspired anyone to seek out the many blogs offering positive advice on marketing and promotion, so much the better. I admit my approach to these aspects of being my own publisher is lackadaisical. But does that make me a Bad Writer?

This might be an answer…

Writer = one who writes.

Real writer = one who makes one’s living by writing.

Hobby writer/dilettante/fake = one who writes for one’s own amusement, with something other than writing as a source of income.

Is it really so?

Real writers have to market, promote, make business plans, etc. (unless they have publishers who do those things for them). Hobby writers can just put their books out there and hope for the best.

Real writers have to work social media, make connections with their readers, create and maintain their brand. Some, perhaps many, hobby writers do these things too, but their livelihood doesn’t depend on it.

Hobby writers (unless retired with adequate pensions) need to spend most of their time and energy at their day jobs. That leaves only “spare time” for both writing and marketing. Which one do you suppose gets neglected?

Things all writers have in common:

1. A compulsion to write.

2. A desire to have their writing read and recognized.

So the only difference between real writers and hobby writers is that real writers need to make a living from their craft.

This leads to the big questions:

1. Are real writers better at writing than hobby writers?

2. Does any of this matter to readers?

The writing itself may be bad or good, regardless of what kind of writer produces it. Hobby writers, under less compulsion to keep producing new works and marketing their existing ones, may take more time and so turn out work of greater quality. Without the need to direct all their writing to a target market, hobby writers are free to write from inspiration, possibly creating works of originality (or weirdness). On the other hand, career writers must sharpen their game if they want to succeed, so have to pay attention to quality as well as quantity.

All writer-publishers should be aware of the “ugly truth” about the publishing business.

But does this mean if you don’t want to market and promote, or are a dismal failure at it, you’re not a Real Writer?

Of course not! It’s only a problem if you expect to sell a lot of books and make a lot of money. Most of us began writing because it’s what we love to do, not in order to set ourselves up for failure and guilt. We all have choices and not everyone is looking for the same rewards, as illustrated by this quote from writer SK Nicholls (commenting on another writer’s blog post about trad vs. indie publishing):  “I have heard people say hobby writers can’t be taken seriously. Only writers writing for money and those who treat writing like a business can succeed. I suppose that depends on your point of view and your definition of success. It certainly isn’t mine.”

It’s crucial to maintain a balance between your expectations of whatever constitutes success for you (money earned, readers attracted, awards bestowed) and the effort you are willing to put into marketing and promotion. The gap may in rare instances be bridged by good luck or magic (but don’t count on that).

For readers, there’s really no point in worrying about whether the writer of a book you are considering is a real writer or a mere hobbyist. Some readers will not read anything that has not been endorsed by critics or reviewers, but most look at the story first. If the story interests and excites them, then they want to know more about the author.

Who are the Real Writers? All of us — all who write with passion and energy, striving to perfect our art. How good we happen to be at selling our work is another matter. There are professional writers and writers who prosper financially, but those are subsets of the broad category. We are all writers.

So endeth the series. The Irascible Indie goes back to reading, mulling, questioning and writing. (And with spring just around the corner, add gardening to that list).


  1. I often wonder why most blogs about writing seem so negative…im not saying that they are, I’m just saying that they seem to be. It makes me think that every writer is frustrated with the process and requirements to be successful. That’s the way it comes across most of the time. Are all writers frustrated? What happened to the wide-eyed adventurer who had the desire to start writing in the first place?? And when did writing evolve into frustration? I propose we return to that imaginative youngster, bright-eyed and full of wonder, free from our jaded experiences. When we lose that edge, we’ve lost our touch and failure and frustration become a self fulfilling prophecy. What say you?

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    1. There is a fundamental conflict between writing (an art) and publishing (a business). Now that the same people are doing both, there are a lot more ways for any one of us to get it wrong. There is also a lot of advice about how to do it right (or fail). Bright-eyed wonder is needed for the creative act of writing, but as soon as we bring our creations out into the world to display them to others (especially if we expect to be paid), harsh reality descends upon us. As writer first and publishers second we have to be able to deal with the harsh reality and not let it crush our creative spirits. How? I’m not sure, but my “Irascible Indie” blog posts were a way of fumbling toward that. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  2. Audrey, You’ve really nailed the indie writer/publishing conflict. I started writing because I just wanted to write. With my attention focused on the writing process, and developing my craft, and didn’t think much about publishing until I’d completed a novel, and then thought about ‘what next?’ That question opens the door to the arenas of publishing and marketing. Self-publishing is time-consuming but relatively straight-forward, but with marketing it feels like staring into deep space – even if you get your book out there, how do you get people to notice it, when yours is just one of thousands, if not millions, floating around on websites like Amazon. There’s lots of information out there on marketing, but its very time consuming – time taken away from writing. I found that a well-organized and fun book launch is a great way to start. The number of people you reach is limited, but does generate sales, and most important, gets people talking about your book.

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    1. John, I would bet that most people who end up self-publishing don’t give marketing a thought when they’re in the throes of creating their book. At some point, we have to ask ourselves why we publish and what we expect to achieve by publishing. It would be sad if all the enthusiasm and excitement we bring to creating our writing ends up in feelings of failure at not being able to sell as many copies as we believe to constitute success. Some of us decide to put as much (or more) effort into marketing as writing; others just decide that getting the book written and published is worthy in itself, and sales are a bonus. The thing is there’s no one right way, with any other way meaning one has failed. I’ve found that much of the advice to indie authors seems to imply that, perhaps unintentionally; it could be that those bloggers just assume everyone wants to sell a million copies no matter what. Your launch party was fun, quite apart from copies sold. I’m sure you found the whole thing a rewarding experience. Thanks for your comment.

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  3. I confess that when I started writing for the second time (the first I started as a consequence of a bet/challenge, and gave up for a while when success did not eventuate) mainly to see whether I really could do it, and also because I had gathered some experiences, and I wanted to offer some of that to the public. In short, I was writing because I felt I had something to say. And at that point, no, i did not think about marketing because I was going to get trad publishers to do it for me. Ah, the innocence of ignorance!

    Now I am only too aware that marketing is critical, but how to do it is still a work in progress. One thing, though, I do not consider myself a failure. OK, not a raging success, or even a notable success, at least not yet, nevertheless the one thing about ebooks is you get more than one go at marketing. Persistence is important.

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    1. One of the privileges of being an indie author not financially dependent on one’s writing (a dilettante in the good sense!) is that one is free to do as much or as little of whatever kind of marketing one finds amenable — or none at all. Of course, adjustment of expectations and a frank talk with oneself about success vs. failure is in order. And yes, persistence is good, especially since ebooks don’t go out of print like traditionally published print books.

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  4. Cogent points here Audrey.
    One of the reasons I style myself as ‘Heroically Bad’ is my lack of attention to the marketing and publicising of my work, while style continuing to write with much enthusiasm.
    Whereas some might say I am a ‘hobby’ writer or even a ‘vanity writer on the cheap’ then the fault must be mine for not making my blog more well known in which the motivation aspect has been covered with some passion (and allegorical blood).
    Basically I write because the urge to say something ‘burns’ inside.

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