Little Big Guys


Back in January I wrote Hey, Look At Me, Bigtime Bloggers, in which I talked about the indignity of self-promotion, particularly from the point of view of an online writer without a large audience. A number of people — fellow writers especially — let me know that it had resonated with them.

A few months later, this part was quoted by Conor McClure, in Hey! It’s Me, The Little Guy!:

Have you ever tweeted a link at someone internet-famous and immediately felt like a charlatan, only to be proved right when your tentative offering goes completely ignored?

His article, along with a couple of others from Scotty Loveless and Josh Ginter, was the genesis of an article by Matt Gemmell yesterday, called Little guys. All of these deal with the same general theme: the ups and downs of independent writing for the web. They are all worth reading.

Whilst I’m gratified to have been part of this little web of nonsynchronous conversation, I want to address a couple of things that Matt’s post brought up. For clarity, mostly, because I feel that — after chewing it over all day — it’s possible I didn’t express myself perfectly.

Terminology

The following terms — quite rightly — rub Matt the wrong way: bloggers, internet-famous. Whilst I used them in my piece, I don’t really like them either. I hate the word “blog”, but despite my best efforts to avoid it, it keeps cropping up. I can’t think of a more efficient way to quickly convey what I mean, despite all the awful baggage that the B word brings with it.

“Internet famous” might sound meanspirited, but I most certainly didn’t mean it that way. A more accurate term might have been “an online creator whose work and opinion highly regarded by a relatively large number of people”.

Those were the terms I used, and I honestly still can’t really think of more succinct ones, but I’m open to suggestions. I was a little frustrated that the fact that they featured so prominently when the article was quoted made it sound to the casual reader that I was a bitter little homunculus of a man.

I prefer to keep that to myself.

“Little” guys and self-promotion

When I wrote my article, I had already reached a much more peaceful understanding of the writer - audience relationship that I’m a part of here. It was more retrospective than sturm und drang fretting. More tongue-in-cheek than earnest complaint. Perhaps I didn’t state it clearly enough, but to me there’s a big difference between

  • sending a link to someone respected and popular in the hopes that they’ll enjoy it or
  • sending a link to that same person in hopes that they’ll share it with their audience

The former was really the angst I was talking about, but I think Matt and possibly Conor might have taken me to mean the latter. Rightly or not, I hate even the hint of that. I avoid it as best I can. In fact, if I had a creed for online writing, it’s something like this:

Write for the reader you’d like, not the numbers you’d like to see.

It’s not as in depth as Scotty’s creed, but it’s stood me in good stead, psychologically, as my readership has grown. I don’t write just for myself, but nor do I write just for the numbers. I write what I’m interested in, and I’m immensely delighted if that tickles someone else’s fancy as well.

So, whilst it’s a great feeling when someone I respect for their own writing likes something I’ve written, I don’t let it go to my head, and I certainly don’t want to try and leverage it to get more readers. Because that turns your favorite internet creators into nothing more than marks — slot machines that you work until you get a payout. Ugh!

It was helpful to read Matt’s perspective, as he’s someone with a larger audience than me. It’s a great counterpoint to my original article: the reminder that the greater your audience, the greater the demand on your time. In fact, as time has gone on I’ve even encountered that myself, and had to decline to share things more than once. Which doesn’t feel great, usually.

Matt:

I’ve always thought the best measure of a piece of writing was that you’d still write it even if no-one else would ever read it.

I couldn’t agree more. There are plenty of awful little listicles out there that have been seen by a million people. The correlation between readership/popularity and validity is much less straightforward than we’d like to imagine.

Don’t write for numbers, write for people — starting with yourself. If you’re happy with your work, it matters a lot less what anybody else thinks. If you’re not up to your own standards, any amount of praise you get will taste like ashes. I’ve learned that the hard way.