Why you need to be more cynical than you are

One of the best tools any writer can possess is a healthy sense of cynicism.

I don’t mean skepticism, as in, “Yeah, and I bet you’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona to go along with bridge you’re trying to sell me,” although skepticism is also a fine virtue for a writer.


I mean cynicism, as in being motivated by self interest, and understanding that other people are, too.


Wide-eyed enthusiasm is wonderful, and so is a passion for words, and ditto a desire to find things out, or at least to experience them.


But publishing is a tough game, and it’s toughest on the writers.  And you will be exploited if you don’t keep a very firm grasp on what your own self interest is.


So, when content mills make millions and billions of dollars selling content to third parties and they pay you five dollars to write an article, I have a hard time getting all bent out of shape over content mills doing what companies do in a capitalistic society.  (That is, make the most profit with the least amount of expense.)  What I do wish is that writers would look after their own self interest better.


If someone else is profiting off your labors, you need to be compensated for that, period.  And that compensation should not come in the form of abstractions like, “Good exposure.”


I do understand that writers need to get their work out there, to build an audience, to spread the word.  But what is happening is that writers are mistaking promotion for work.  I will write a blog post about my book (Simple Self Defense!  Makes a great gift!) for the purpose of promoting my book.  I’ll do an interview.  I may even write up a brief article for which I don’t expect much income.


But all of that is in support of the book.  I don’t mistake it for being the book or for serving any other purpose than to promote the book.


The minute someone wants me to blog, interview or write articles for their purposes, they need to pay me.  Simple enough, but a lot of writers fall down at this step.  “But,” they say.  But it’s my friend, but it’s a start up, but the opportunities are endless (the opportunities for working for free are always endless).


All the blog posts in the world won’t feed my daughter, unless they happen to sell a book, or get someone to enroll in one of my classes.  So when people crow about having a certain number of page views, or a certain number of followers, that’s all well and good, but the bottom line is, what does that put into your pocket?


Here’s the thing: once you start paying attention to your bottom line, then you realize that that’s what everyone else is doing, and that’s when you really get that it’s nothing personal.  It’s nothing personal that I don’t write for start-ups.  It’s nothing personal that I don’t write on spec. 


That makes it easier to understand that when people reject your work, it has nothing much to do with you.  They are just looking at their own interests.  And once you really get what that means, it’s easier to find ways to appeal to their self interest.  It becomes less about I wrote a book and hope you like it and more about I wrote a book and here are the reasons I know you’ll like it.  A much stronger position to be in, don’t you agree?