The kind of author you *don't* want to be
Commercial book editors (and readers!) expect authors to play a highly specific role on the page...and authors too often show up to auditions having learned the wrong monologue.
Before we move to this week’s Main Topic, a reminder:
Annual “Glow” subscriptions are 20% off now through March 15.
It currently costs 20% less than usual to subscribe to “Glow” for one year. No coupon code necessary—all you have to do is be a new subscriber and get a 1-year subscription as opposed to a monthly one.
I only ever run sales on annual subscriptions, and I run them at most once a year. (I think the last one I did before this was in 2021? Can’t remember.)
This is therefore a good time to get a subscription if you’ve been thinking about it! But no presh.
Now onto business—specifically the business of what commercial book readers expect from authors on the page.
In commercial book publishing, acquiring editors and readers expect authors to adopt a certain persona.
If you don’t meet their expectations, you’re probably not going to get a book deal (or sell more than a handful of copies on the off chance you do).
What I am referring to here is not the narrator persona in a novel. Rather, it’s the implied or overt manner in which you manifest as you, creator of the text.1
In most nonfiction—where, to be honest, I think the advice that follows is slightly more important— this = how you convey your authority and lead readers through the information you have to share. In fiction and memoir, you show up in your silences as well as your declarations.
The last thing you want to do in either case is come off as annoying.
Again, “coming off as annoying” is different from telling a story that frazzles your reader with suspense. I’m talking about someone picking up your book and putting it down with the thought, whoever wrote this is an energy vampire in whose house I do not want to hang.
This is an extremely common issue with early draft material, most of which is written by good, worthy, talented people.
I’m about to give you a list of archetypal examples, but please rest assured that if you see yourself in the below, I’m not sitting here telling you you are this archetype (and nothing but).
Rather, I’m telling you: if you recognize yourself, you’ll probably need to make some perspective adjustments to get yourself back in line with commercial audiences. Keep reading; I’ll tell you what they are.
Here’s a list of some authors you do not want to be.
One or more terrible things has happened to Adelaide in the past. Those experiences traumatized her, as they would just about anyone who went through them. And now she wants to write a book about it.
It’s horrible Adelaide went through what she did. It wasn’t her fault. Readers can easily see that. They feel terrible for her.
At the same time, however, they can tell that she’s still very much in her trauma—hyperfocused on the fact of it per se vs. its function in the wider world.
Adelaide’s book doesn’t seem interested in effecting profound transformation in a discrete target reader so much as making a definitive, airtight case for why her abusive ex-husband, parent, or boss was really, truly, unequivocally evil and she was really, truly, unequivocally their victim.
To repeat, this is more often than not an accurate depiction of events. It’s just that establishment of this fact is only valuable for Adelaide herself, not her readers. She’s writing in search of personal validation—or perhaps with a subconscious drive to retraumatize herself by fielding the same skepticism from strangers that she has from people she knows (“it can’t have been that bad”).
In any case: until and unless Adelaide has processed her trauma, developing the distance from it necessary to form intimate new relationships with it—not around it, as would be the case if she were writing a book on an unrelated topic—she has no business writing a commercial book about it.
Readers will feel drained and helpless as they read Adelaide’s work. They will realize on some level that Adelaide wants something from them that they can’t provide. Instead of inviting them as guests into her home, she has hired them for a job that is inappropriate, unpleasant, and ultimately impossible.