January 28, 2016

If We’re Serious about Writing, We’ll…

Stack of paper with text: What Do "Serious" Writers Need to Do?

Well, today’s the day I’m going to make one reader happy and disappoint a bunch of others. Sorry! I really wish I could provide you all with a seat in James Patterson’s Writing Masterclass because I hate disappointing people. *sigh*

However, congratulations go to Kimberly S. Barton! Yay!

Like I mentioned last time, we shouldn’t think that not winning this giveaway will prevent us from being successful. There’s no secret to success lurking in any workshop or conference that we’re going to miss out on if we don’t pony up the money—no matter what the hard-sell tactics might say. *grin*

Slimy Sales Pitches, Part Two

After my last post about how I’m tired of sales pitches playing on our fears, Kerry Howard, one of my readers, reminded me of a similar tactic:

“The tactic I find particularly offensive goes along the lines of ‘if you are not serious about writing and not prepared to take action but want to leave choosing success until 2017 like a loser and miss out on lots of money then this course is not for you.’

Ok, so maybe I’ve elaborated a bit, but that is the implied message…”

Ugh. Yes, I’ve seen tons of sales messages along these lines.

The emotion triggered in these types of sales pitches isn’t quite the same as the fear-messages we discussed last time, which implied: There’s a secret to success, and I won’t learn what it is unless I buy this.”

Instead of exploiting our fears, however, these “If you’re a serious writer, you’ll…” pitches play on our self-doubt. Either way, they’re emotionally manipulative.

About “If We’re Serious about Writing, We’ll…”

Unfortunately, we see these “if you’re serious…” messages all the time in the writing world. I bet we’ve all seen at least one of these:

If we’re serious about writing, we’ll…

  • write every day
  • write 2000 words a day
  • plot our stories in advance
  • use character sheets/scene notecards/chapter outlines, etc.
  • focus only on the Big 5 publishers
  • focus only on self-publishing
  • make writing our top priority
  • be willing to sacrifice time and money
  • hire a cover artist/editor/publicist, etc.
  • Etc., etc.

Just two weeks ago, author Neil Gaiman tweeted a hyperbolic message:

“If you want to be a writer, you want to go to Clarion, NEED to go to Clarion.”

Of course, he didn’t attend this writing workshop, so he knew he wasn’t making a statement of fact. But I think the way his tweet blew up with writers taking him seriously (and being angry with his “directive”) speaks to how many of these “if you’re serious…” messages surround us every day.

He later made sure everyone knew his true thoughts with a follow-up tweet:

“All you need to do to be a writer is to write. Clarion & other such workshops will teach you skills, & help. Help some a little, some a lot.”

As I’ve said many times before, we each have our own goals, which means we each have our own path. In addition, there’s no “one right way” to write. So messages that imply there’s a “right” way—that there’s a serious and professional way and then there’s the loser way—can fill us with self-doubt no matter how good of a writer we are.

It’s really that emotion of self-doubt that the sales pitches are after. If we’re doubting ourselves, we’re more vulnerable to their messaging.

Learn to Identify a “Negging” Sales Pitch

In a way, these pitches are the marketing world’s equivalent of “negging” in the dating world. “Negging” comes from the pickup-artist community, where backhanded compliments (or just plain mini-insults) are meant to undermine a target’s confidence.

For example, a stranger might approach someone they’re interested in and point out a minor flaw (“You’ve got a spot on your shirt”) or slip “helpful” criticism into a compliment (“You’d be even prettier if…”).

As the Urban Dictionary says, negging is…:

“Low-grade insults meant to undermine the self-confidence of a woman so she might be more vulnerable to your advances.”

Hmm, messages that increase self-doubt to make the target more vulnerable. Sound familiar?

Those are the same emotions affected by “If you’re serious about writing, you’ll…” sales pitches. They can make us…

  • doubt our ability to be successful on our own,
  • want to prove to…whomever…that “no, really, we are serious,”
  • forget that there’s more than one way to be successful,
  • accept their definition of success or professionalism (even in irrelevant aspects),
  • think we’ll miss our opportunity if we don’t act now,
  • fall for reverse psychology, etc., etc.

Serious, Schmerious—What Works for Us?

Whether the message is related to sales or not, we want to remember that just like how there’s no “one right writing process”—all that matters is whether we have a quality, finished book at the end—there’s no “one right way” to be a writer.

Even if we’re trying to be a “serious” writer, we get to decide what that means for us. Serious could refer to:

  • our content, such as our writing style or topics,
  • our dedication, as far as time invested or words on the page,
  • our obsession with quality writing craft or editing,
  • Etc., etc.

We don’t have to let others define what “serious” means to us. We have the right to ignore those messages that act like we should live up to their definition of the word. And that “right to ignore” goes double for sales pitches.

As I mentioned last time, we have a hard enough journey in the writing world without thinking that we have to sell our first-born child to be able to afford this “essential” class or that “necessary” software. Yes, writing can require sacrifices, but there are options (often free), so we shouldn’t feel like we’ll never succeed unless we buy x, y, or z.

In one of my comments on that previous post, I shared:

“My main point with this post is just to make sure that no writer feels like they can’t become a writer because they can’t afford to attend this class or that conference. I also don’t want anyone to be taken in sales pitches that get them to spend more than they can afford…

Either of those situations is sad, and I hope this helps vulnerable writers be able to tell the difference.”

Hopefully by learning to identify these slimy sales tactics, we’ll be better prepared to avoid them. Or at the very least, we might be able to look past the hype and see if their claims even apply to us, our situation, and our goals. *smile*

And congratulations once again to Kimberly! (I’ll be in touch!)

Do you feel pressure to be a “serious” writer? What expectations have you seen attached to that word (word count output, participating in a writing program, etc.)? How do you define “serious writer”? Do you consider youself a serious writer? Have you seen “negging” sales pitches, or ones that focus on our self-doubt?

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Comments — What do you think?

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To me, what a “serious” writer truly is, is a DEDICATED writer. Meaning, you are dedicated and committed to writing, whatever that means to you. For some reason, the phrase “serious writer” (or artist, or creative person) has a snooty connotation applied from the outside of the person who is writing, and not from the inside, which is more important.

A “serious writer” is one where others deem to validate what they do – which yeah, is where your articles on this topic originate. Outside validation is nice, as in, “Hey! I got published! By someone who bought my stories!” Of course it is. But to keep writing takes dedication from the inside, without that exterior validation.

Anyway, that’s my take on it.

Davonne Burns

I agree with Julie and this post. I’m a bit chagrined as I know I’ve been guilty of thinking this way in the past. There is a difference, I think, between a ‘serious writer’ and ‘writing seriously.’ Like Julie said the former feels more like a status symbol. I personally think that writing seriously means we take the craft seriously; that we work to better ourselves no matter what we write or our current skill level.

Like you stated, external validation is nice, but in the absence of it we still need to be able to write and push ourselves. ^^


Congrats Kimberly!!!

Christina Hawthorne

One benefit to my business degree is how easily I recognize these pitches for the manipulation they are. In that sense they make me laugh. Their growing frequency, though, is annoying.

There cannot be a single right path because we’re all different with different strengths and weaknesses along with different pasts and presents. I pay attention to the paths others take because contained in each tale is often an applicable bit, but no one is a perfect match.

Then again, perhaps the perfect match is the person who followed their own path.

Renee Regent

Another evocative post, Jami! Unfortunately, not only is this a sales tactic, but there are writers out there who have the same attitude toward other writers. Some feel that if you are not focused on the business aspects (whatever that entails) of writing, then you are not a serious writer. Again, there is no right path and we all have to find our own way through the maze.

Ann Stanley

Thank you so much for saying this. I am tired of the pitches, coming at me all of the time. I’ve fallen for a few of them, and I have to say that I’ve been pretty disappointed with the two most recent courses I’ve taken. I’ve learned a little from each, but not enough to justify their cost. I did meet a few helpful people each time (students, not so much the teachers). No more for me, unless they’re free, or in person. I did get a lot out of the two writing conferences I’ve attended, and would be more than happy to attend them again if I could afford them. Still, there’s so much hype out there. I’m glad you pointed it out. I’m back to reading books and blog posts, or perhaps taking a free writing course through one of the online universities. But, mostly, I am writing and getting and giving critiques.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Oh one definition I hear, especially outside of the writing community, is that you have to make money to be a “real/serious writer”. Or you have to be a traditionally published author to be “serious”. Some other non-writers even think you need to have commercial success (earn big profits) from your books to be considered legit. 🙁 Haha I think that may be one reason why I tell people that yeah, I will be selling my books, that I can possibly make a side income from it, etc., so they can take me seriously. But in reality, I have a much more casual attitude towards it right now, which is basically: if I make any money from my books, that’s great, but if I don’t, that’s okay too. Hmm my own definition of a serious writer for myself, is to be really dedicated (write or edit at least one hour per day, though this used to be 2000 words a day, PLUS read as many fiction books as you possibly can). Also to care tremendously about learning and improving my writing craft, and always be open to experimenting with new things in my stories. Somehow (and this may sound silly) my ability to and habit of talking with my story characters all the time, and that I dream about my characters so often (they seem to appear in more than half of my dreams XD) show how serious of a writer I am, Hahaha. I’m not saying that someone who…  — Read More »

Aura Eadon

Well said. There is a growing trend between all the “I will make you a writer” people where they will slowly brainwash through countless emails and “free” taster courses. They offer absolute wisdom, know-how even when they have not yet published a single book, “guaranteed” methods that will make one a published writer, all while milking out people. I had to learn the hard way that some things/methods/whatever just don’t work with the way my mind functions. And to me, the best advice is what you are saying here: find what works for you and be a committed writer. Writing advice is a lucrative business it seems. Selling hot air and guarantees over processes that need to be adapted by each writer. This is the reason I appreciate people like you and Chuck Wendig because you try to help instead of sell.


This is the best posts I’ve ever read on this topic. I get emails all the time offering a “free webinar” that is going give me writing advice that will – make me, teach me, show me, fix me. I’ve watched a few of them and you get about 10 minutes of advice you already knew from highschool and 90 minutes of sales pitche. A well known author recently hosted a webinar that promised 7 things to help your writing. It was a sales pitch to a new mentor program for the same amount I pay for six months of car insurance. I missed it but a friend wrote me and I was glad I didn’t waste an hour of my life.

I’ve found your site offers a vast amount of practical advice for free and your workshops are priced so low that even I could afford them! It’s going to take me a while to read it all.


Jami, This was an excellent blog post! I’ve been looking at classes, workshops, conferences — anything which might help me develop my own ‘process’ for successfully completing a properly structured story (which is also my current definition *for me* of ‘serious’) — so I’ve seen a lot of different ‘selling’ styles lately. I’ve actually unsubscribed from a couple different coaches’ blogs because of the high-pressure attitude in their posts, telling writers ‘when they’re ready to get serious’ to purchase their services. I was reading so many different blogs and books, my brain was a tangled mess. Once I ‘closed the door’ on some of the coaches, and set a couple of the writing books aside for later, I found it less confusing. I have spent the last year learning the craft, trying to improve my own grasp of story structure. It’s been frustrating, because I’m not focusing on strictly tangible or visible goal-posts. When I have a good day with my writing, it hasn’t meant that I’ve actually *written* something, but that I’m a little closer to understanding structure. I’m one of the lucky few who has the support of spouses to make this my ‘day job’. I want to thank them for their support, with something they can read, but I’m still working on the major plot points and how they operate and connect to each other. I don’t know how you write and still have time to blog with such skill. I thank you for the time you…  — Read More »

Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

Hi Jami.
I actually feel HUGE pressure to be a serious writer. I love writing, and making up stories and bringing characters together, but I also love art. I paint and do crafty stuff and just recently I launched my second brand, Lola Divine (of Lola Divine Under Cover Design – the artist in me needs to branch out and now I’m doing cover design)
I tend to be an all or nothing gal. When I’m a writer, I live, eat and breathe it…when I’m an artist or a crafter or a children’s book author, you guessed it, eat, breathe, live. The unfortunate thing is I can wear all hats at once. So when I’m on artist duty I feel guilty for not writing. When I’m writing I feel guilty for not drawing.
I want to be successful, but I feel like I’m not quite strong enough to be a bad ass at everything 🙁
Great post!
Hugs, Tamara

Robert Doucette
Robert Doucette

When I hear the term serious writer, it makes me think of the trope of a lonely crank scribbling words in an unheated garret. The crank despises anyone who writes an enjoyable book. “Trivial and derivative,” they say. I have no desire to write a serious book. I have few serious thoughts and certainly not enough to fill even a small book.


I think seriousness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If someone only wants to write in a journal every day (or so), and does it, then they take their writing seriously. It’s not up to me to say someone else is not a serious writer because he or she does not uphold to my standards. Likewise, no one can say I’m not serious about writing.

When I first began to write with the intention of learning the craft well enough to publish, I didn’t have the funds to purchase a computer. I didn’t even have a typewriter, so I wrote with the supplies I had–notebook paper and pencil. I wrote three complete novels–and finished them!–though they were certainly not publishable. But I was closer than I had been before I started. Then I read an article in a writer magazine where the author said unless you wrote with a computer or a typewriter at the very least, you were not a serious writer. Well, even though I had not used either of those, I was very serious about my writing. My point is, only YOU know if you are serious or not. Don’t let anyone else tell you different. Don’t let them dissuade you. Maybe THEY aren’t serious unless they met certain criteria. They can’t speak for you.

Good, thought-provoking post.

Taurean J. Watkins (@Taurean_Watkins)

First, I’m thinking you might want to consider a post about how to be a persuasive marketer of our work without these dangerously manipulative sleazy tactics, and relate that to why writers of all stripes who are turned off by marketing in general because they don’t want to employ the examples you cite above. Anyway, as much as I agree with you that there’s no secret or any one thing that gets us to our goals, things aren’t always simple as some writer I know make it sound, you aside. But even with all the free resources available to writers now, there are some things that do cost money, and I’m not talking about classes, software or craft books. I’m talking about the team of editors you outline (yes, there are beta readers, but there are limits there, but we’ve talked that do death so I’ll not wax poetic here) Professional Covers That Attract Readers: You’ve written entire blog posts about why covers matter. If you want to pro level book, there’s no getting around that. This is part of why I have to shelve “Gabriel” because I couldn’t get over this hurdle on my own or hire an illustrator that would conceptualize the characters and the world I could afford. To give the impression that quality illustrators can be got for free or super cheap is just as dangerous to my mind. Yes, I know we’ve discussed the whole “Fast, Cheap and Good, pick two” thing before, but this…  — Read More »

Michael De Groote

As a consolation prize, Brandon Sanderson’s writing classes are online for free:

Thanks again, Jami, for having the giveaway. Congratulations to Kimberly Barton.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Jami, you might find this funny.

Yesterday, I wanted to clarify the apostrophe rules for words ending in s, and went to this webpage:

And look what I found!

Rule 2d. Things can get really confusing with the possessive plurals of proper names ending in s, such as Hastings and Jones.

If you’re the guest of the Ford family—the Fords—you’re the Fords’ guest (Ford + s + apostrophe). But what if it’s the Hastings family?

Most would call them the “Hastings.” But that would refer to a family named “Hasting.” If someone’s name ends in s, we must add -es for the plural. The plural of Hastings is Hastingses. The members of the Jones family are the Joneses.

To show possession, add an apostrophe.

Incorrect: the Hastings’ dog

Correct: the Hastingses’ dog (Hastings + es + apostrophe)

Incorrect: the Jones’ car

Correct: the Joneses’ car

In serious writing, this rule must be followed no matter how strange or awkward the results.

LOLLLL at that last sentence! XD For me personally, I think I would still write it the “wrong” way rather than in the awkward way. As a reader, I would prefer to read “the Jones’ car” than to see “the Joneses car”–ew, “Joneses” is almost an eye sore! I would rather my writing be “less serious” than to make it sound so clunky and bizarre!

But that sentence “In serious writing, this rule must be followed no matter how strange or awkward the results” might be sarcastic or tongue in cheek…lol. What do you think of this?


[…] buy the secret to success, so we also want to watch out for pitches based on fear or “If You’re Serious, You Need to…” threats. There’s nothing wrong with spending money to improve our writing career, but […]

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