Tag Archive | "amateur"

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Books: Currency of the Professional Writer


The essence of knowledge sharing in a democratized, long-tail, Web 2.0 world is that common people can seamlessly transition between being an author and a member of the audience. Persons with any background, qualifications, and interests can easily set up a blog or other online publishing platform and release their views to the world in minutes. Self-publishing, and indeed self-marketing, has never been easier.

But what is a blog post really worth?

Even if you write for a niche audience – and let’s face it, most everyone does – it’s common to want to increase the size of your niche. Perhaps you start as a medical reporter, but you want to be a more general science, technology, medicine, and space journalist. Or your website initially features blog posts about your children, but your goal is to create a parenting information portal. Whatever the details, it’s usually better to have more readers, all other things being equal.

Participation in traditional mainstream media can definitely bring traffic to your blog. But when was the last time you saw a blogger, however good, on Today, or Live With Regis and Kelly, or Late Night with David Letterman, or Meet the Press, or The O’Reilly Factor, or Real Time with Bill Maher, or Oprah? Basically, never.

Do you know which writers you do see on those shows? People who wrote books. Yup, they’re the author of a book, and they’re hawking it. Then the next day they’ll get on a plane and do a book signing in San Francisco, or Portland, or Kansas City. No one goes on Meet the Press or O’Reilly and hawks their latest blog post, or even their latest Rolling Stone or Vanity Fair article. Have you ever seen a blog signing? Even someone has well known as Christopher Hitchens goes on a show as the author of – now in paperback – God is Not Great, and not as the writer of the post he did in Slate last week – no matter how good that post is.

(About the best exception to this I can think of is a model signing the cover of a magazine she’s in. So, if you’re a beautiful swimsuit model and you’re reading this, please don’t be offended, and thank you for your support.)

Yes, to some extent book publishers are ‘in bed with’ television and radio producers. And sure, this pattern is changing somewhat. You occasionally see someone only famous for online writing get their spotlight on television. But are they ever asked back, or do they just get 15 minutes every 15 years? People who author books get fast-tracked for bigger mass media engagements that yield positive feedback for whatever else they do – run a small business, work at a think tank, or even…blog. And this is the true distinction between ‘writers’ and ‘authors’ – authors have books.

While in the disintermediated Web 2.0-powered publishing world it has become more and more difficult to determine who the ‘elite’ writers are (quality, not popularity), the same isn’t true of authors. Elite authors have book contracts with known publishers. If they’re super-elite, authors have multi-book contracts, their books are featured in brick-and-mortar stores and Amazon alike, and they get paid to read their own words in front of a live audience. Has anyone ever paid a writer to read their latest blog post out loud in front of an audience??

No one’s immune. Major online entities like Gary Vaynerchuk and Peter Shankman give keynote addresses at conference, and often get paid for it. Guess what? They’ve authored books. Same with many other similar people. Conversely, I can also think of some well-known Web 2.0 personalities who run blogs but haven’t authored books outlining their thoughts about some topic in depth. Interestingly, I can’t remember seeing them on television, either. (And the notion that they don’t want to be on television is bullshit – everyone wants to be on television.)

So I posit that authoring books is the measure of the writing elite, they are the sign that you’ve made it, they are the calling card of the true stars in a sea of words.

True, you can self-publish books with greater ease than ever before. This process has been interesting and controversial for years. But what was the last self-published book that you bought for $29.95? Who was the last self-published author you remember on Oprah’s infamous Book Club? The fact of the matter is that the cream tends to rise to the top, and great authors will eventually get a major publishing deal. There are good reasons to self-publish a book you’ve written, but fame isn’t one of them.

And let’s not even discuss the even greater disparity between online music and video stars on YouTube and other sites, and actual rock stars and movie legends. Yes, free flowing audio and video serves a purpose in society, but when we’ve forgotten most of the winners from American Idol, what’s the chance you’re going to convert a YouTube channel into something bigger?

So, viewing writing through this lense, I’m not too concerned about the cult of the amateur ruining the profession. Everyone will continue to give their slant on the truth, sites like Wikipedia will continue to weight opinions from ‘experts’ and amateurs equally, and newspapers and other media will continue to lose share. But don’t fret – we’ll still know who the best writers are. They’ve authored a book.

See more opinion pieces like this in my upcoming column at True/Slant.

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News Flash: Your Blog Sucks


Your blog sucks.

People say that finding true talent in the blogosphere is like finding a needle in a haystack. Well, finding talent in your writing is probably more like finding a needle in a stack of paperclips. NASA would need the world’s largest magnet connected to an artificial intelligence supercomputer to find the thing you wrote that moved any one’s speedometer. You’re probably a late-comer. I’m an early adopter. I bet you’re not even a go-getter or a self-starter like me. You gave up on being a star athlete, movie actor, astronaut, or whatever your childhood dream was so long ago, and have settled for a lame job – yet you still want to be “a player.” I’m living the dream. Your dream sucks.

You think blogging is your big shot! It’s flat, it’s democratizing, there’s a low barrier to entry. But you’ve got nothing to write about, so you read what thought leaders like me write and imitate us. You’re a pathetic excuse for a writer. You copy-and-paste two sentences of what I write and then add one sentence of semi-original thought that you probably borrowed from the The New Yorker or Wired. You’re completely derivative. You’re trite. You’re weak. You’re boring. You’re a bad writer. My blog rocks. Your blog sucks.

People like me who write great stuff write great stuff. We don’t care if it’s a book or a tweet. It’s great. We rise to whatever challenge is in front of us. Short 300 word book review? No problem. Book about the global economy? I can put my twist on that. Six word story? Hemingway rocked “For sale: Baby shoes, Never worn.” long before Twitter came along, and did it far better than anything in your pitiful tweetstream of crap that used to be contained snugly within your AIM window. People talk about the risks of new media and reduced privacy; I wish you kept more of your inane thoughts private, because they’re a risk to your readers. Every tweet of mine counts. Your microblog sucks.

Your resume completely lacks anything that smacks of true success in life, since you’ve hopped from job to job with no strategic plan. You think that college is overrated, despite the fact that everyone whose writing you admire has a college degree, or like me, more than one. Your delusions of grandeur in ‘real world experience’ translate into delusions of vitae – every measly job you’ve had has a long title and a longer explanation for what you think you accomplished. And now you’re on a personal branding kick, recasting yourself in your self-produced movie of self-grandeur as a media consultant or a life coach or a public speaker or a new marking maven. But nothing you’ve done motivates people into action. You’re so lame. No one talks about you when you’re not there. My resume glows like an angel’s halo. Your resume sucks.

Even worse, you live vicariously through people like me who have great blogs. You fantasize that you’re me. Like sugarplums, your imagination thinks of being retweeted 100 times an hour, leading the pack. You imagine your name on the cover of famous books, award-winning books, even. Your audience laughs at your every witticism, knows every brilliant reference, is amazed by your insight. But alas, it’s all a dream. Rather than neurons, your brain is full of bubbles of thought, waiting to be burst. No one repeats what you say, because they’re not compelled to – and when they do, it’s just something derived from something someone else did that actually was original, like what I do every day. Congrats! You discovered someone else’s stuff! You say you are all about kicking ass, but I’m the one kicking your ass. My middle name is creativity. Your creative juices flow like molasses (and suck).

You dream of throwing an event or starting a tweetup and having everyone who’s everyone come. But that’s how it works in my life, not yours. Sadly your tweetups suck as bad as your blog – no one comes, and the ones that do have nothing to say. It’s a metaphor for your social network of useless self-serving circular conversations that can be quantified to absolute zero. Luckily there are lots of people like you, banding together into quasi-satisfying RSS feed and Twitter follower numbers. But all that effort amounts to less than nothing, because beyond not making things happen you’re wasting your time trying to force synergy from a stone. And probably drinking bad beer in suburbia, too. No wonder thought leaders, intellectuals, and real writers like me don’t go to all your stupid tweetups – it makes them dumber. People beg to be where I’m at. Your events suck.

So then you start to envy the great bloggers like me that you initially admired. Worse, you begin to hate them. You resent them. Why didn’t you come to my event, Mark? Why can’t I have that well-read blog like Mark? Why don’t 20 or 100 people comment on my articles like Mark gets?? I could do that! Wait, no, you can’t. You are on the outside looking in, window-shopping my life, salivating for my fandom. I’m at the right place at the right time, writing the right thing, like magic. But it’s not magic – I’m just better at doing it than you. I have talent. To me it’s a profession and to you an afterthought. Stop looking at me. Your envy sucks.

Wait! You have a personal blog! You have a platform – you’re powerful!! If you just blog the right thing, people will read it, post it, bookmark it, retweet it – it doesn’t matter that you’re small, you say – you’re speaking truth to power!! You’ll lead the tribe of the rank-and-file!! When people find just the right ‘filter’ they’ll find you for sure!!! So, those you initially admired become targets for your snipes. Hey, you, thought leader! You used the wrong word here! You spelled something wrong, you’re not as smart as you think you are! Here’s a better metaphor for your idea, see I’m smart too – just like you!! Why did that school hire you as an adjunct professor, you’re no genius!! Watch out, here I come! Yeah, well, Eminem may have said “I am whatever you say I am” – but with no influence, that only applies to your own mind. I’m the quarterback, you’re the sportscaster. And your commentary sucks.

Hey athlete, hey movie star, hey talk show host, hey professor, hey uber-consultant, hey famous analyst, hey book author, hey socialite, you’re so overrated, why do you get to be on all the panels, nyah nyah, I already know everything you said in that keynote (mostly because I read your blog posts the instant they come out, and then comment on them, linking back to my blog where I take weak pot-shots at you, which naturally you don’t notice…or even, worse, ego-surf and ignore!! Ugh!!). I’m superman. And your hero worship sucks.

But what you really can’t stand is how people like me outflank you at every turn. Just when you’re getting caught up on a great topic like the newspaper bankruptcy, transparency in government, or FriendFeed, me and my fellow thought leaders are changing the topic. So now you’re writing about old news! Why can’t we  just stand still so you can catch up? Why does every one worship the Red Queen so? I have all the toys, the cars, the ladies – and I have them before you. Your keeping up with the Joneses sucks.

Wait ~ an original idea! You’re going counterculture! You’re going to write about how blogging sucks, how thought leaders don’t know everything, how all the talent is among the common people, how you’re in touch with the blogging proletariat, how you have the truly important social network and not me, how I’m a douchebag even though you’ve never met me, how everyone in power is keeping you down, how if you just had that one lucky break people would realize that you’re the next big thing. But there’s a deep problem – your new tactic is privately designed to obtain what you rail against publicly – still, secretly, deep down inside, you want to be elite, you yearn for beau monde status, you want to blog for the New York Times, you want to command a speaking fee, you want to be a guest on Red Eye, you covet VIP passes to a live Diggnation show, you want to be a jet setting new media god. You want to be me. Your phoniness sucks.

Your writing shows no creativity. Your life is spent in meetings, or doing busywork, or just plain wasting time. Great writers like me constantly search for what’s new, putting pieces together in original patterns, thinking about the big picture. You think about the small picture. We have vision, while you suffer from myopia. You’re blinded by jealousy, hampered by norms, bias and partisanship, hindered by a lack of breadth and depth, outclassed in every metric that matters, and lacking clout. No one cares about what you have to say. You influence no one except people who already believe what you said. Your blog has five loyal fans who are your closest friends. Well, virtual friends, because you met them through Twitter and they live in cities you never visit. I have a power posse. Your originality sucks.

Don’t feel bad. Half the people out there are below average. What makes you think you’re in the top 2%? If you’ve read this far, Herrnstein and Murray would posit you’re probably not even in the top half. Any serious person wouldn’t read this far, but you resist – you need to learn more about yourself from me. Reading this essay was a lesson in self-exploration, a psychological profile of a very average blogger looking to make it big with new media tools, acting self-empowered but struggling to make a difference, searching for that one big idea that will never come. You know that every word you just read applies to you, you cringe at every slight but can’t stop reading because I seem to know you better than you know yourself. My mind is the epitome of creation. Your psyche sucks.

Go on writing your blog. No one can stop you. Here comes everybody, right? There’s wisdom in my crowd!, you’ll say. But here’s my singular one-time-only awesome piece of advice for you about sharing your ideas with the world. Are you ready, loser? Definitely do it to satisfy something within. Turn off comments, stop tracking metrics with Google Analytics, stop buying domain names that you think will drive unwilling traffic, get rid of AdWords that net you enough money to order from the McDonald’s value menu, give up thinking about ROI or SEO or any other ways of gaming a system you can’t possibly ever hope to beat, stop thinking about giving up your day job. I can see around the curvature of the Earth. Your vision sucks.

When no one cares about what you have to say in person, trust me, unless you’re the half-retarded math genius in Numb3rs, what you write is even less interesting. It’s not your fault that you’re a bad blogger – you’re a bad person too. Not in the sense that you want to harm people, I just mean that you’re not very successful as a human being. Don’t take it the wrong way, I’m sure you’re very nice. It’s just that we wouldn’t send you as a representative to a visiting alien culture or anything. You’re no Jodie Foster in Contact. You’re probably not even Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. A handshake from me changes people’s lives. Your people skills suck.

Don’t feel bad. Being an awesome blogger making the most of Web 2.0 tools and online social networks isn’t for everyone. Not just anybody can rock a keynote in Austin or a happy hour in Manhattan. No one but the gifted can work six hours a day at Starbucks and get famous like me. Not everyone can go home at the end of the day and feel a wave of awesomeness about the 57 comments I got about the same topic you wrote about. It’s not your fault you didn’t have the good fortunes I did. You’re just inadequate, that’s all. I’ll keep writing about how the air smells up here, so you can read about how incredible my professional blogging life is down there. My blog is awesome. Your blog sucks.

See more satire like this coming soon at True/Slant: where ‘news is more than what happens.

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