The life of the online writer
and why it's okay to be lonely
Loneliness has been a part of every stage of my writing process. I’ve read a lot of acknowledgments sections of books that are essay-length and mention Discord/Slack/Twitter groups that have made someone the writer they are. Sometimes I long for that, but I’ve accepted that it isn’t my reality. Even when I was searching for a critique partner, it was so hard. It felt like dating, except on the very first date you were slicing a little piece of your soul off (the first 10 pages of your WIP) and presenting it to a stranger.
I won’t spend much space writing about whether social media and audience size is important to a book performing well. If you listen to the Publishing Rodeo, the episode with Nicholas Binge seems to indicate that your newsletter subscribers really don’t care about your book that’s coming out (I hope you all care a teeny bit, though). I more want to talk about how that feeling of community can be hard to find, and how even if writing is thought of as a solitary activity, being a more social creature can work to your benefit.
I didn’t engage with Twitter until after I’d successfully gotten an agent. It is a great place to meet people, and it also trained me to summarize my book, to pitch my ideas, to see what the public was reacting to positively. At the same time, it gave me such anxiety. There were people on there who seemed to know everyone, and I was a latecomer to the party. Over time, I’ve made a few connections through Twitter and received a lot of encouraging support through fellow writers there. I accomplished that through periods of very active engagement and DMing people that I admired, but it was tiring and sometimes led to being ignored. When I consider where I want to devote my energy, I’ll always put it towards writing books rather than maintaining constant dialogue on social media.
Coming from a business background where there’s a vicious cycle of companies requiring “prior experience” for you to get a job, pursuing trad pub seemed refreshing. As long as you’ve written a good story, you could be living in a cave away from civilization and someone will still probably want to buy your book. You don’t have to accompany your query with a list of writing prizes or MFA credentials. And drafting is an activity you can do yourself, without any help from the outside world, no networking necessary. I’ve started hearing some stories lately about fiction editors who seem to consider social media presence as part of a submission package, but this is not the norm.
However, I do want to be honest and say that knowing people helps. Some of the examples where a network works in your favor:
Blurbing: you have a much better chance of getting blurbs from authors you’ve spoken to before. Your editor and agent might help, but those are the more professional routes of getting a blurb, which are easier to reject.
Whisper networks: I’ve seen these come into play the most for agents. Up until recently, authors did not publicly call out agents for treating them badly because of the ramifications that can have. And there are many ways that an agent can be terrible: poor communication, machine gun submissions, lack of mentorship, bad agency, etc. If you know other writers, they can share the good and ugly about agents you might be considering, but if you’re not part of this online world, there’s very little to go off.
Promotion: although there’s no guarantee that a lot of likes will translate to sales, it still helps to have other authors bump your content. Otherwise, announcing writing updates can feel like screaming into the void.
Best practices: the more you know, the better an idea you have of what the whole world looks like. I’m in a 2024 debuts Slack channel, and the amount of diversity I’ve seen in how edits, promotion, and contracts are treated is mind-boggling. If you’re just going it alone, all you have for reference is your own experience, and it’s helpful to have a baseline so you know when you can ask for more.
Encouragement: my non-writer friends don’t understand how long the publishing process takes, how you make money, or why you have limited say over how the cover turns out. When I share good writing news with a writing friend, they understand why it’s a big deal. Similarly, when I vent about some aspect of it, they can empathize.
If you’re a writer, it’s okay that you only have one CP, or that you have to pitch your book to potential beta readers because nobody’s banging down your door demanding to read your book based on a moodboard you posted. It’s okay if you don’t have a writing group or a channel that you feel like you belong to. Most of us are antisocial beings, and many of us are still searching for belonging. But the nice thing is that none of that affects your ability to write and finish a book or query an agent.
Now that I’m drafting book 2, I’ve had to step back from social media so that it doesn’t mess with my head and affect my ability to keep writing. I’ve had to distance myself from the polished, copyedited book that I sent back to my editor and return to my humble beginnings, writing crappy sentences and stopping in the middle of a chapter wondering if this story is even working or if all I’m doing is throwing some twigs in a pile hoping it’ll make a house. I’ve tried to cut down the time I spend reading scary threads about publishing on Reddit or scrolling through Twitter because none of that has positively affected my ability to produce. But if you are feeling a little lonely and want to meet more people who are fellow writers, here are some things that you can do, from easiest to hardest:
Follow people whose content you like
Comment on a Tweet or Instagram post
Join a writing Discord. It can take time to find the right one, but be patient! There are ones by genre, geography, or publishing stage. There are also smaller groups, and joining those will require knowing someone else who is a member.
Attend a local writing convention. I have personally never done this because I find it even scarier to approach strangers in real life, but I have friends who have had great success with these.
Thanks for reading! I will now retreat back into my drafting cave…
As far as personal writing updates, WOMEN OF GOOD FORTUNE almost has a finalized cover that I hope I can share with everyone soon. I am scared and excited, but I’m looking forward to talking more about this story that I have sweated over for the past year without the looming horror that I will have to edit it even more. Add it on Goodreads!
Something I wrote today:
That was when I realized that we hadn’t brought our wine opener or cups. The four of us huddled around the bottle as it lay innocently on the grass, studying it like it was encrypted code. Sujesh and Mark threw out different proposals for opening it, from smacking it on one end with a shoe to trying to smashing it against the steps leading up to Doe Library so that only the neck broke off. It was ridiculous; we’d just gotten fifty million dollars of funding and were now running a company of one hundred employees, but none of us could summon the energy to walk to a store and buy a bottle opener.