Types of crazy writers

Because I am myself barking mad I feel moved to share my four varieties of insane writers with youse lot. This is different from the run of the mill craziness of every writer who writes differently to me. This is the down-to-the-bone craziness.

I just shared my list with a bookseller friend and we agreed as to the unadvisability of ever blogging them.

So here they are:

    1. The unpublished writer who can barely string a sentence together yet is convinced that the reason they are not published is because of a conspiracy. “Those evil New York publishing houses only publish crap, deliberately keeping me from being published! They are fools and cannot recognise my genius!”1

    2. The newly published writer who believes they have the keys to the kingdom and know everything there is to know. “I am published! I am real! I have met my editor and thus acquired all publishing knowledge ever! All bow down to me!”2

    3. The midlist writer whose career is not where they wish it was and blames it on everything and everyone in the entire world. Especially all those foreignors who are gobbling up all their publisher’s attention and winning all the prizes that are rightfully theirs.3 When in fact success or failure in publishing is almost always a matter of luck. This is the most common form of madness simply because success in this game is such a crapshoot. If by success you mean “can make a living at it” then not that many published writers are a success. Maybe five per cent of them. Tops. If you mean “has written a book that they’re proud of” then many writers are a success. Guess which definition I prefer.

    4. The super successful writer who believes that they are so important and such geniuses that they should never be edited again. Or questioned. And that their fans should lay down at their feet as if before a god. In fact, so should everyone.4

Of course, there are all sorts of temporary insanities that hit every writer. Not just crazy outlining and writing books backwards and burning the first version of the book, there’s also:

  • Amazonomancy5 the obsessive consulting of the Amazon tea leaves to see if your book is selling despite knowing that Amazon tells you nothing. Absolutely NOTHING.
  • Furtive facing out of your books in bookshops when the clerks aren’t looking in the largely mistaken belief that they won’t notice and that in the fifteen minutes it stays like that your book will sell.
  • Conviction that your book is tanking even though it’s only been out for a week and the only evidence you have is Amazon numbers and a note from someone in Delaware/Dubbo saying they couldn’t find a copy in their local bookshop.

There are many many more. Seriously, I could go on forever listing them.6

In fact, I would argue that attempting to make a living writing is a sign of total insanity, which may be why the part-timers tend to be much more stable.

  1. I definitely suffered from this one during my twenty years of not being published. How could they publish HIM and not me?! []
  2. I confess that I went through this stage. I’m so sorry! []
  3. This is where I’m headed. Best to buy LOTS of copies of my next book to prevent me from winding up there. I’m just saying . . . []
  4. Let’s all hope this never happens to me for I would be a MONSTER. []
  5. The term comes from the briliant Hal Duncan []
  6. You may have noticed that I am a big fan of lists. []

28 comments

  1. Laura Anne on #

    “Amazonomancy5 — the obsessive consulting of the Amazon tea leaves to see if your book is selling despite knowing that Amazon tells you nothing. Absolutely NOTHING.”

    *chokes with laughter* In order to prevent this from occuring, I have a restraining order keeping me from any version of amazon.com during the first six weeks of a book’s release. However, my father apparently labors under no such restriction, and I am told he tracks it with as much obsession as any daughter could wish for.

    Oh well. It keeps him off the street and out of trouble…

  2. Michelle Sagara on #

    All of this. Just… all of this.

  3. Jo on #

    I’m recovering from Amazonomancy. I’ve been stuck in the “I know I have a problem but keep looking and getting depressed anyway” phase. Thanks for kicking me to the next step.

    :-)

    Jo

  4. Jess on #

    Reminds me of something Scalzi posted about a guy who kept submitting manuscripts that were complete plaigarisms of “Pride and Prejudice” and using his rejection leters to prove that publishing houses didn’t know how to tell good literature from bad literature, nevermind that all his rejection letters proved was that publishing houses can sniff out wholesale plaigarism of classic British novels.

  5. Jenny on #

    Regarding the “furtive facing out in the bookstore” item, when I worked as a bookseller we did that with whatever books we had a lot of (or, sometimes, personally loved) to make room on the shelves. That was all the instruction we got. We would have had no problem with customers/authors taking it on themselves to do it, as long as it didn’t decrease the shelf space significantly.

  6. Nathan on #

    Jenny,

    I don’t see where keeping enough space would be a problem. I’m pretty sure the personality that wants to get their own book more ‘face time’ on the shelf will also have enough despised competitors who’s work needs to be turned spine out.

  7. Cesar Torres on #

    What about the writer who talks and writes a lot about writing but isn’t generating any new fiction? You know the kind, the’ve been sitting on an unfinished short story for three years. Too much talk, not enough word count.

  8. Ian Randal Strock on #

    Amazonomancy: uh-oh. I think I’m suffering from this… and my damn book isn’t even scheduled to be published until the end of December.

    Hi, my name is Ian, and I’m an Amazonomanic. The first time a friend told me he’d pre-ordered my book, I checked Amazon and was astounded to see a low-five digit sales number. Now, of course, I check back every day or two to see that number steadily increasing (it was over 1.5 million and soaring at last check). And even though I know that all it means is my friend has already pre-ordered, and everyone else recognizes that the book won’t be available for seven months anyway, it kinda bums me out.

    Curse you, Amazon, and your meaningless sales ranking number!

  9. Alex Cohen on #

    Surely “Amazonomancy” should be “Riomancy?” (With all due respect to the clever and witty Hal Duncan.)

  10. Liz on #

    How about the madness of googling your book every day, emailing anyone who mentioned it negatively, and begging them to take it all back!

  11. Paul Riddell on #

    Cesar, there you start to stretch the definition of “writer”. Every Frumpy Fiftysomething’s Used Books and Quiet Desperation Emporium is full of those sorts of wannabes: they claim that they’re working on a novel, or a short story, or a screenplay, but amazingly they never actually have anything that can be read. Every time you ask about its status, the latest conspiracy theory comes out, with no indication that any actual work has been done. After a while, you discover that they’re only bringing up the project as an excuse to get hired at Frumpy Fiftysomething’s (or to start a new franchise) and give up. I speak from experience.

  12. Cesar Torres on #

    Paul,

    Good point. If you ain’t writing, you’re not a writer. No matter how you spin it. It’s a label predicated by doing, rather thank speaking.

  13. serafina zane on #

    hmmm, i’m not even a (published) writer but i’m definitly guilty of that second to last one. i go into my local Borders and rearrange it so all the good books are out front
    the sad part is that they stay like that, often for weeks. my branch has notoriously bad restocking. empty shelves stay for months. it’s kind of sad, really.

  14. maureen johnson on #

    I’m sorry. I don’t understand this post at all, for I am much too sane.

  15. mythago on #

    Jenny, YMMV – when I worked in a bookstore, we had people who came in and tried to make their books Extra Prominent. Invariably, they’d screw up our shelving (we didn’t have tons of room, we had to rotate stock, and we were supposed to keep it in one kind of order – these people tended to move their books to eye level). When we found those books, they got as little shelf space as we could find for them. :P

  16. Jamie Grove - How Not To Write on #

    What about crazy guy who has a fabulous career (or close enough) but wants to chuck it all and be a writer?

    Or does it not count if I’m the only one in the category? :)

  17. Corey J Feldman on #

    My favorite type of crazy writers are those of us who consider ourselves writers but can’t find the time and/or discipline to finish our first novel.

    I don’t have any books of my own to face out yet, but I do regularly rearrange shelves for certain writers.

  18. Andy Tilley on #

    Beware, there’s a dark side to Amazonianimancity..?? I shamelessly stalked a top ranked reviewer by email/facebook until he came up with the goods he’d promised. Took me 8 months…but he got the message in the end and posted a review that my mum could have written. Off to get help.

  19. Nick on #

    Top tip for writers who do the bookstore thing – forget bookstores, who likely have instructions from head office telling them which books they’re supposed to be promoting by facing out each week. Visit your local library instead. They’re sure to be a little laxer with their display shelves. Sure, you might not get so much money out of the deal, but it increases your ‘brand awareness’ at least, no?

    Granted, that does rely on the library carrying your books.

    Not a writer myself, but I work at a library. :) Anecdotally speaking, to take one example, our branch has issued “Old Man’s War” by John Scalzi twice as many times as the branch with the second highest number of issues, and I put that entirely down to my placing it on prominent display shelves every time it comes back in. :)

  20. eek on #

    Ok, so not exactly about the published writers, but one of my biggest pet peeves is the term “pre-published.” People, get over yourselves. Along the lines of you can’t call yourself a writer unless you are actually, you know, writing, this term makes me crazy.

    As a writer who has not yet enjoyed the well, joy, of being published, I get the desire and the yearning and the needing to validate your existence and all…but, seriously, if you have not yet had a book published, you are unpublished, not prepublished…sheesh, what’s next, pre-pregnant, pre-employed, pre-zombie…

    Emily

  21. Don MacDonald on #

    I felt a cold chill of recognition reading #2. With my first book due out next year, I’ve begun to look forward to the time when it’s released and I’ve “arrived.” Good lord. I don’t think I have the keys to much of anything, except how to take four years to write and draw a graphic novel. I don’t think anyone else wants those keys.

    On another note, @20 Nick: I worked at a B&N for a few years after college. As far as I know, the head office doesn’t specify which books should be “face out.” When shelving, we could do what we liked as long as it looked good. The contents of the tables and other display areas were dictated from on high, though.
    So keep facing those books out. Can’t hurt, might help.

  22. Sarah Hoyt on #

    I once tricked a plumber into becoming a writer as an act of miserly revenge. (Mea Culpa mea Maxima Culpa. ;) )

    He’d just come in and charged me for what should be warranty work on some paltry excuse and was nasty and rude to boot. So on the way out, he noticed my framed covers and asked “Are you a writer? I always considered writing. How does that pay?”

    I thought about two seconds and said “Oh, lots. Totally out of proportion with the work, really. Permission to coin money.” (Look, if he asked me that when looking at the third hand sofas RIGHT THERE, he deserved it.) I cackle thinking of him in the hell of the first form of insanity.

    I am a bad, bad woman.

  23. Kate McCaffrey on #

    On point 4.
    I have met aftermentioned highly successful writer at literary festival. The organiser told a ‘green’ room full of barely successful writers the terms of the successful writer’s agreement to appear at the festival. Successful writer would only:
    1. fly business class (all expenses paid by organiser)
    2. had all expenses including meals and special (diva-like) requests paid by organiser
    3. had to be booked 2 years in advance for one day of a three day festival and then would only work no more than three 45 minute sessions
    4. charged $5000 (Aus) per day.

    Well, how to make a room full of authors and illustrators feel inadequate! While we were all being paid under the same ‘award rate’ (Australian Society of Author fees) and were being paid expenses and accommodation and travel, not a one of us would have ANY diva-like requests (so grateful were we to be asked to attend) and neither did we charge more than $1200 (Aus) for 3 sessions over 3 days!!!
    There is a lot to be said for longevity in this industry!!
    Suffice to say, I like others at the festival queued to have aftermentioned successful writer sign books!!
    After all, a living icon, is a living icon and deserves all kudos.
    Here’s something to aspire to!

  24. ms cynic on #

    A writer. Like making lists. A Virgo, perchance?

    Re: No.4. You wouldn’t happen to mean like a certain SA writer who is the recipient of many awards and who is acclaimed the world over as being a true genius and thus pens his most recent book without any punctuation whatsover and all of the sentences starting halfway through the sentence so no one, I stress NO ONE has any idea of what the book is about, but still insist on calling him a genius because it would seem uncouth not to?

    God, I hate that crunt!

    And yes, as a matter of fact, I am jealous.

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