10 Really Obnoxious Things Writers Do


The title says it all. Buckle up. Put on your helmet. I'm about to hurt some feelings. Here, declared by me today, are the most annoying things ever that writers do, and should probably stop doing. 

This might sting but I do it because I love you. 

1. Tweet at celebrities for help

Say you wrote a book and you think Tom Cruise would be a good fit for the role of the protagonist in your imagination’s movie version (the one in which you'll have a cameo as a bartender or maybe the director will just let you take over halfway through).

So you tweet again and again how much you think Tom Cruise would be perfect for it, and you tag him because maybe he'll see it and buy your book and love it, but more importantly, love you.

James Patterson and E.L. James are not the problem. They are not why you are not published. You are the problem.

Or, your book comes out so you tweet at every famous writer under the sun—Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Neil Gaiman—about how much they influenced you (link to your book included), in the hope they’ll see it and, in a moment of generosity, retweet you.

Don’t beg. It’s unseemly. Retweets are not currency. And the reality is this: If Tom Cruise or Stephen King retweet your book, most people aren’t going to give a shit. They only care about what Tom Cruise or Stephen King are doing.

In the words of Brandon Tietz (probably, I saw him say it on Facebook once): Be a star, not a starfucker.

2. Whine about the success of others

James Patterson and E.L. James, right? Ruining literature! Making it un-possible for you to get a book deal! Ringing your doorbell and leaving a flaming paper bag of dog poop on the steps for you to stamp out. Now there's poop smeared everywhere! 

James Patterson and E.L. James are not the problem. They are not why you are not published. You are the problem. You have not finished the thing you are writing, or the thing you are writing is not commercial enough, or you didn't get your act together and find a willing small press, or you didn't self-publish and market your work. 

James Patterson and E.L. James clearly know something about the world that you and I do not, because they have sold a zillion books between the two of them. 

Worry less about what James Patterson and E.L. James are doing. That rant you just wrote about them on social media? That's energy you can translate into something productive. Like underwater basket weaving. Or maybe your own writing

Take all the anger and frustration you feel when you think about how many books James Patterson has sold, and then look inward. Use it as a tool to push yourself harder.

3. Brag about their Pushcart “nominations”

The Pushcart Prize celebrates the best in small presses. It is a very prestigious prize. Here’s how it works: Each year, small presses are welcomed to submit up to six pieces they think are worthy for recognition.

So in theory, I could establish a press called “Stories Written By Banging Your Genitals Against a Keyboard.” I can open up to submissions and publish at least six stories that were written by people who have banged their genitals against a keyboard (for safety’s sake, hopefully a wireless keyboard). Then I can submit them for Pushcart consideration.

Those stories are now “Pushcart nominated.”

If the journal you were published in thinks your story was one of the six best it published that year—good on you! Congratulations! That’s a nice thing and you should be proud. But if you're going to brag about being "Pushcart nominated," could you also admit you're doing it so people will be fooled into thinking you made the actual shortlist?

4. Use social media to be a Gloomy Gus

We get it. Publishing is hard. You’ve gotten your teeth kicked in a couple of times. It sucks.

But if your entire identity is how wronged you are and how disappointed you are by your career and why the world is out to get you—I’m not reading your books. There are plenty of books in the world authored by people who seem to actually enjoy what they do.

Social media is a great place to vent. It's important to vent. It's nice when you've had a hard day, to say, "I've had a hard day," and some kind people will pop up and say, "It's cool man, keep that chin up," or at very least, post a picture of a cat hanging in there.

That said, there's such a thing as too much venting. 

Did you know agents and editors are sometimes turned off by people throwing tantrums on social media? They see that and don't want to work with you because you strike them as high maintenance? True story. You know what that means? You might be the cause of your own suffering

5. Pretend like they're owed something for showing up

Small presses are not all the same. Some have distribution deals and sales reps and the strength to get into chain bookstores. Some are small and scrappy and are essentially self-publishing people by proxy. I read books from both kinds of presses and enjoy them in equal measure. And for the most part, people at small presses work their asses off while understanding what they’re up against.

Since we're talking about Facebook—stop making pages for your books. It fractures your base.

And then there are the people who expect the same treatment as Random House without putting in any of the effort.

So you weren’t stocked in Barnes & Noble. Okay, tell me, do you have a catalogue? Have you submitted your book to the trade magazines (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Bookpage, Booklist, Kirkus, etc.)? Who handles your distribution (and don't say CreateSpace)? Are they returnable? Do you have sales reps with material in hand a year or more before pub date? What’s your marketing plan once the book is available (Twitter and Facebook don’t count, I mean real marketing)? In terms of reviewers, what’s your outreach plan? Did you do a galley printing? Are you on NetGalley or Edelweiss?

Oh wait, you’ve done literally none of these things and you expect stores to stock you? But there’s no way for them to find you! None!

This is a hard, frustrating industry. But don't pretend like you’ve been singled out. It's hard for everyone who isn't a Big Five house. 

6. Copy and paste on Facebook

If we’re friends on Facebook and you ask me to like your author page, the first thing I'm going to do is check and see if you copy and paste the same status between both accounts every time you post something new.

If yes, I am not going to like you.

We're already friends and I'm going to see the post. The algorithms on pages are worse than they are on profiles anyway. Make your page different, or don't make it. 

(Also, since we're talking about Facebook—stop making pages for your books. It fractures your base. Pick one profile and focus on building that into something.)

7. Neglect to do their research

On the MysteriousPress.com website it says on the contact page, very clearly, that we do not accept unsolicited submissions. This does not stop us from getting unsolicited submissions. All the time. 

My favorite unsolicited submission was from a guy who wrote and said, "I know you said you don't want unsolicited submissions, so I'm not sending you one."

What followed was an unsolicited submission. 

* delete *

There are so many resources out there in the world. Blogs, Twitter feeds, books, seminars, classes. And still, people do ridiculous things. Like query over Facebook or Twitter. Or spam people with the buy link to their book. Or, worst of all, set up auto-DMs on Twitter. 

At this point, you have no excuse for not knowing how to behave. It just shows that you're lazy, and not ready for prime time. 

8. Ask writers they don't know to ask their agents for stuff

I'm a big believer in paying it forward. I know I got where I got because of the kindness and generosity of writers and editors who didn't have to do jack shit for me, but they did. Which is why I'll step up where I can—critiquing, blurbing, helping you paint your living room. Whatever.

But there are certain things I can't do. For example, if I've never met you, and I don't know you, and I don't know your work, then don't ask me to put in a good word with my agent. I can't, because I don't know anything about you! And if you think the answer to that is to send me your book: Man, you didn't start off on the best foot. So, no.

That said, I will ping her when someone I know, whose work I like, is looking for an agent. Guess what? I've done that three or four times now and she's passed on all of them. Just because I like something doesn't mean she will.

Get out of your head that the one agent you're focused on is the right one for you. He or she might not be!

Get it out of your head that clients have any say in who their agents pick up. 

You need an agent who reads your stuff and can't live in a world where he or she doesn't represent your work. Sometimes it takes a while to find. My word isn't going to move the needle on something like that.

(Bonus tip offered by my agent after she read an early version of this: Also don't incessantly tweet at agents. Once or twice, or asking a question, that's fine. Inserting yourself into unrelated conversations or saying random stuff in a bid to remind an agent he or she has got your manuscript—no bueno.)

9. Worry about getting published more than they worry about writing well

If you want to be published you have to finish your work, and then make sure it's the absolute best book you can write, and then you have to choose a path (self-publish, small press, traditional, whatever), and then you need to commit to it. 

There's no trick. There's no secret handshake. Most importantly: There's no shortcut. This is how you get published. 

And yet, that doesn't stop people from speculating about whether there's an easier way. 

"Maybe I can query agents with my unfinished manuscript because by the time I finish it..." NO.

"Do I really need to put that much effort into editing? Isn't that what a publisher is for..." NO. 

"I'll just go to a writing conference and pitch an agent and then I'll be signed..." NO.

There's a reason fad diets exist. It takes a lot of energy and effort and sacrifice to lose weight. At least, to lose weight in a safe, healthy, sustainable way. You have to change a lot of things about your lifestyle to do it. That's not easy. No one likes to do things that are hard. It's why I don't jog. 

It's the same thing with publishing. Don't have time to finish that book you're writing? Maybe it's time to stop watching baseball. Maybe when the new season of Daredevil comes out, instead of spending an entire weekend binge-watching it, you wait, and make it a reward for finishing a draft.

These are the things I did. I kind of miss baseball. Daredevil got spoiled for me (as much as something like that can get spoiled). So it goes.

Right now, as I'm writing this, I am exhausted, because last night, instead of sitting in front of the television and getting drunk while watching Cutthroat Kitchen, which is what I wanted to do, I stayed up late working on edits. Because they had to get done.  

Write the best book you can. Everything starts and ends with craft. 

10. Write clickbait columns telling writers how to act

Seriously, geez. Don't be that asshole.

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Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On September 8, 2015 - 8:05am

Nice post. I chuckled through this whole list. People really tweet celebrities for help? Sad shit.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine September 8, 2015 - 8:13am

I learned by watching you, Dad!

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin September 8, 2015 - 9:18am

Great column, Rob :)

Ross Morton's picture
Ross Morton September 8, 2015 - 9:56am

"10. Write clickbait columns telling writers how to act" 


Oh, the irony, it burns!

Alan S. Orloff's picture
Alan S. Orloff September 8, 2015 - 9:58am

I have a submission for your new press. Where should I send it?

Liz Crowe's picture
Liz Crowe from Ann Arbor, Michigan is reading The Goldfinch September 8, 2015 - 1:28pm

I can't even begin to tell you how much I eneded this today. yeah. I know all this and have actually given out the same, sage advice while at times, slipping into "whine! I wrote this and deserve to make more money that EL James!" mode. Thank you. Cheers,


Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 9, 2015 - 1:35pm

God, the Facebook-pasting. I've stopped Liking new fan pages almost entirely because of this. Exclusive content, motherfuckers! And the best way to keep me from clicking a link on Twitter is if it's from fb.me, because I already saw it. Don't get me wrong, I'll announce things on multiple platforms, but I'll at least word them differently, and certainly offset their times. But auto-posting some silly dick joke to both just seems pointless.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies September 9, 2015 - 3:10pm

Guilty of #6, unfortunately. I have friends that won't migrate to my author page, and people on my page that I'm not friends with, so...yeah. Does it count if you reword the post? LOL NO? Dammit. I do understand if you don't want to follow me on Facebook AND my author page, though. I get that, 100%. The nice thing is that Facebook will only let you invite somebody to the page ONCE, then never again. SO, one and done.

Also, book pages, we do those for DHP because it's a nice way to keep all of the reviews, art, and blurbs in one place for that particular book. So I'm definitely violating ALL of #6.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal September 9, 2015 - 8:48pm

I don't know about #10. 

I mean, I say without a hot chic in something skimpy it's not really click bait.

Gary Horsman's picture
Gary Horsman from Montreal, Canada is reading 11/22/63 September 11, 2015 - 5:21pm

I think I'm too intimidated by people in the publsihing business to ever going the traditional route. That's why I'll probably stick to self-publishing, self-editing and self-promotion. There are just too many amateur authors vying for attention that it's hard for a genuinely talented unknown to get discovered.

I just have to do my thing and release it to the world and if only a handful of people get a kick out of it, then I'm grateful. And if I can do more than that, even better.

The joy in all of this is the creative storytelling process and the sense of satisfaction in sharing your imagination with others.

Shannon Rohrer's picture
Shannon Rohrer September 12, 2015 - 11:59am

I am so glad I have done none of these things. I expected to have slipped up somewhere, but nope. I thought I would have when I hit the publishing part, but aside from worrying if I'll ever be good enough to get published (once I've polished my work as best I can), it seems I'm in the clear.

Colour me relieved. :)



Anna Gutmann's picture
Anna Gutmann from Ohio is reading American Gods September 16, 2015 - 6:11pm

The auto-DMs on Twitter: YASSS!!!!! I usually follow back all the writers out there that follow me, but when I get their auto-DMs it drives me nuts! And it boggles my mind that people still do it even though there are so many complaints about it blowing up Twitter all the time.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore September 16, 2015 - 10:42pm

If someone's following thousands of others on Twitter (unless it's someone I'm genuinely interested in), I won't follow back because I know they'll never see my tweets in a feed that congested. Of course, right on cue, they almost always unfollow me within a few weeks anyway because they were just looking for reciprocation without any actual interest in me. Sometimes I'll check out their most recent tweets, and if it's nothing but book promotion (and it is), that's a red flag for me personally. I want to be entertained and informed. I try to keep my own self-promotional tweets under 10%, so it's frustrating how little attention those seem to get compared to some dick joke that, sure, I take pride in, but doesn't really sell CDs or books.


It just now occurs to me that I should make a career change to dick-joke writer ….

Craig Faustus Buck's picture
Craig Faustus Buck from Los Angeles October 16, 2015 - 6:06pm

Rob, I have to quibble with #6. Not that I condone copying and pasting from personal to author page, but these days if you post to your personal page, only a fraction of your friends will see it unless you're willing to pay strong-arm money to FB. So "We're already friends and I'm going to see the post" no longer rings true. I agree with your complaint but couldn't pass up this opportunity to slam FB's greed and hubris. I'm desperately seeking an alternative.

Rob's picture
Class Director
Rob from New York City is reading at a fast enough pace it would be cumbersome to update this October 18, 2015 - 2:22pm

Craig--You're exactly right--Facebook's algorithms suck. It's hugely frustrating to post there and see that only five or six people saw a post. We saw it the moment it happened with LitReactor, which has 24K likes. We went from several thousand people seeing each post--something more than 10,000, to several hundred. 

I mean this more in the sense of my feed sometimes being the same post over and over again--I do think that if you're going to have both, it's worth doing different stuff on the page than on the profile, first in terms of keeping things fresh, but also in terms of experimenting--maybe one or the other gets a little more attention. 

Personally, I think profiles--where you have friends--are better than pages. The likes just don't seem worth it. 

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