What Chef Ramsay Would Say About Writing
The past few months have been tough. I’ve struggled with being down, depressed and stuck in a rut. The writing profession I once loved just had lost its…sparkle. In a recent post, I believe I voiced what many writers have been feeling:
Don’t know about you, but I dreamed of book signings, launch parties, my novels on pretty displays in an actual store. I imagined a real book signing with devoted fans I’d be able to meet face-to-face. Those were the dreams that kept me going in my darkest hours when it made no sense to keep on writing.
I don’t think a single one of us fantasized about favorable algorithms, a massive mailing list with a solid open rate, or a depressing spot for ten copies of our book on a Costco bargain table. And I sure as hell never dreamed of working like an organ-grinding spider monkey for fractions of KU pennies.
None of us did.
I never minded learning and doing the business of my business. I embraced branding, blogging, social media, SEO. But something was just…off. Something I couldn’t articulate. Leave it to my subconscious to kick me in the @$$ and have the answer…in a technicolor dream (okay, nightmare).
Last night *deep breaths* Chef Gordon Ramsay royally chewed my @$$ out at…a writing conference.
Bear with me, this is bizarre but salient.
And Lo! An Angel Appeared
More like an agent.
In my dream, I’m at a writing conference, unaware I’m an attendee (not a presenter). Right in the middle of a coffee social, the head of the conference orders me (on the spot) to stand and pitch my novel to mega-agent Donald Maass.
*panics* Is Donald Maass even repping books himself anymore? Apparently so. *dies inside*
It takes three tries to even pitch the correct novel (I pitch two works that are already finished/published). FINALLY, I pitch my Southern Gothic, which is only half finished. But like any good writer, I lie my @$$ off.
Willing my best game face, I confidently declare my novel 100% complete.
Donald Maass loves my story idea and asks I bring my novel for him to read pages aloud…in front of a giant packed auditorium. Oh-kay. No problem. I know that WIP is at least 150 pages long and he’s only going to read the opening, so whatever.
I race up to my hotel room, only which room is mine? I try every door on the floor and no dice. Finally, I find a room where the electronic key works and fly inside, heart pounding. Since this suite looks like a drag queen’s dressing room was hit by an F-1 tornado…I know it’s mine.
How the $#@! did blush get on the ceiling? Did I really need to pack that much makeup?
****Yes. The answer is ALWAYS YES.
Ah, but there’s one major unanticipated problem. Apparently I had author roommates and there are laptops everywhere.
Scrambling through the suite, I’m opening laptop after laptop, and, since you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a writer who uses an Apple laptop…I keep opening the wrong ones.
FINALLY, I locate MY computer (the one with the corn chips in the keyboard) and the correct files.
Relieved, I rush downstairs. Maass scans the first pages and proclaims my writing is incredible! He goes on and on complimenting my work. I’m so relieved, excited even, but then….
Maass tells me he plans on reading some paragraphs from my opening, middle and END to show the emerging writers how professionals get things DONE.
My novel isn’t finished. I lied. Breathe. I can do this. Stick and move, right? I will my game face hoping somehow I can come out of this unscathed. Maybe say I brought the wrong file? The finished version is on the computer at home. Yes, that’s it. When in doubt?
LIE SOME MORE!
Maass is ecstatic about my writing and I say something about getting a contract with his agency. He makes a face then says somberly, ‘Your writing is superb but more is required out of authors in the digital age than just a great book. You know that, right?’
I confidently declare I’m no rookie, and I totally know more is required of authors this day and age. Then I relay how I have a blog and vlogs and brand and platform and…he cuts me off.
‘No, not all that,’ he says as if talking to someone who’s been living in a cave for ten years. ‘Everyone has social media. That is SO 2014.’ *rolls eyes* ‘Can you pass the cooking test? You did know about the cooking contest.’
‘Yes, of course cooking!’ I reply with gusto.
Donald seems to only be partially be buying my bluff. He continues, hesitant. ‘Then I assume your dish is ready. Because Chef Ramsay is on scene ready to inspect what you’ve prepared in fifteen. Only writers who can impress Gordon Ramsay will get publishing deals.’
THE HELL? WHAT DO COOKING SKILLS HAVE TO DO WITH WRITING?
Never Let Them See You Sweat
Again, I roll with it and act like this sudden revelation is not nearly as shocking as the time I found out the crush of my life, George Michael, was gay.
***Gimme a break, I was in third grade with no gaydar.
Maass liked my book. I was not going to go down without a fight. I DID have food I brought from home, since I have food allergies. Mind whirring, I recall there’s still some of the pan-fried gluten and dairy-free chicken parmigiana (half-eaten) and some leftover vegetables up in my hotel fridge.
I’m not out yet.
Yeah, not that I am Type A or anything…
I rush to my room, pull out my pathetic chicken and tear off the end I’d bitten into. Then, I rifle through the other writers’ leftovers for wilted greens and veggies to fill out the plate. Satisfied it doesn’t look too terrible, I rush downstairs with my paper plate of dressed up, gnawed on, semi-cold chicken…that’s a day old.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
The other writers somehow were aware they needed a novel and that they ALSO had to win a cooking contest with CHEF RAMSAY as the judge. I’m beginning to think I really was living in a cave.
How did I miss this industry shift?
It seems everyone (but me) has prepared fresh, hot glorious meals. Their dishes are proudly displayed on carts covered with fancy serving domes. Every writer (but me) is ready with some culinary creation ready to be inspected by the likes of Chef Ramsay.
….so they can be published.
What Would Ramsay Say?
Yeah…that. I’m dead. D-E-A-D.
Initially, I think it’ll be fine. We’re writers, not chefs, so he’s gonna go easy on us. Right? You know like how he is with the kids who cook. All gentle and encouraging and telling us we gave it a nice try.
Horrified, I watch Chef Ramsay go dish to dish shouting at writers, making them cry.
Writer #1: AVOCADO FOAM? WHAT THE *beep beep beep beep* WERE YOU THINKING? NO ONE WANTS TO EAT FOAM! We want substance, not CLEVER *beeeep*! Piss off!
Writer #2: HOW MANY *beep beep* CHEMICALS ARE IN THIS *beeeeeeep*? Who wants to eat something that would survive a *bleepity bleep* NUCLEAR ATTACK? Even the ROACHES would rather STARVE!
Writer #3: HOW MUCH BLOODY FOOD-COLORING DID YOU USE? THIS GREEN’S SO RADIOACTIVE, KIM JONG IL’S TRYING TO STEAL IT! Get the *beepity beep beep* out of here before we all DIE OF CANCER!
Run For Cover
Chef Ramsay then spots who the next ten writers are…and his eyes narrow. He points and shouts for them to just leave and get the *bleeeep* out of his sight.
The writers all stammer the same thing, talking over one another, aghast. ‘Why? You haven’t even looked at our dishes!’
Ramsay: I don’t NEED to look. I’ve sampled your ‘dishes’ before, and I already know you’re going to try and serve me. The same formulaic bollocks just with a different garnish. What am I? Some nit you think you can fool? Bugger off! No one wants to ingest your recycled tripe. NOW GET THE $#@& OUT!
They stand, frozen in disbelief. Then they all declare he’s wrong. Their dishes are totally fresh and new.
Ramsay glares at them…then starts dramatically tossing the stainless domes off the dishes one at a time, but—to my astonishment—Chef Ramsay accurately guesses what’s under each and every dome before he lifts it…then throws it clattering.
He was correct. He knew what they’d prepared already. They were serving the same dishes…with slightly different garnishes.
What’s Ramsay Going to Say About…ME?
Chef Ramsay gets closer and closer to me. Meanwhile, I’m sneaking bits of lettuce and leftover veggies from writers who’ve run and abandoned their stations. I’m doing all I can to dress up this sad tiny piece of dry leftovers.
I’m bracing to get yelled at because I know what I’m serving…and that I deserve the tongue-lashing.
Why couldn’t this all just be about my WRITING? My BOOK? Maass, Donald Mass, liked my book! Why am I supposed to do all this other stuff—social media, vlogging, blogging, rafflecopter, give-aways, Instagram, ads, promotion, SEO optimization—and NOW I have to also win a…cooking contest?
To get a publishing deal?
Then, as Chef Ramsay makes it to me and looks down at my chicken, I wake up soaked in sweat…with an epiphany.
Ramsay is RIGHT
Once the terror passed, I realized the Chef Ramsay in my dream was RIGHT. First, our part of the author business is actually very simple (which I’ll talk about next post).
Writers are getting fixated on roles they don’t need to even be DOING, and quality is suffering. WE are suffering!
***I’m not judging. We’re bombarded with all we HAVE to do. It’s hard to keep the faith. Even ME.
Quality matters. This is true in branding/platform building. Instead of authors slowing down, being real and developing lasting relationships, there are authors who distribute more SPAM than HORMEL. A Billion Served is cool for McDonald’s but on social media?
It’s also true in the writing (which is the most IMPORTANT part of our brand, btw).
Because so many writers have sucked down the KU Kool-Aid, or bought into Amazon’s Algorithmic Alchemy…they believe they must have all this output to succeed.
They’re churning out novels, ‘box-sets’, novellas, short works every month….every WEEK! To promote all these ‘works’ they’re also churning out automation, promotion, newsletters, giveaways….
*puts head between knees*
Consequently, far too many ‘stories’ are incomplete, half-baked, over-processed or just rehashed leftovers…with different covers (garnish).
No wonder these authors won’t charge retail. They can’t! Who’d pay top dollar for the literary equivalent of a microwaved cheeseburger?
What KIND of Writer Do We WANT to BE?
Have we taken time to even ask this?
First of all, just like there’s a viable market for fast-food burgers, there’s also a market for fast-fiction authors. Just be aware that there’s also only so much consumers will reasonably pay for this type of product…meaning quantity is a major deal.
This career trajectory is an option. Thing is, too many writers have been led to believe it’s the ONLY option.
Some writers naturally do well with this pace. They can turn out books readers enjoy. These authors relish the marketing and promo and have tons of fun because they’re in their element.
But, just like the market can only support so many fast-food chains, it can only support so many fast-fiction-authors. The ones who will do well? The ones who are GOOD at it.
Not everyone is.
I know I’m not. Perhaps this was behind my malaise…and my brain dragging in Gordon Ramsay AND Donald Maass for an intervention.
Ramsay was right. This Lamb is so overcooked, I DO belong on an altar.
Granted, I’ve written hundreds of posts about keeping the business simple. Ignore the fads, the algorithmic alchemy, the trends, the pressure, and on and on. But, deep down, there must have been some latent guilt that maybe I was wrong.
Perhaps I was shepherding *bada bump snare* y’all the wrong direction.
Like off a CLIFF! AHHHHHHH!
NO! We DO Have OPTIONS
The entire point of the shifts in publishing were to offer us options. It is OKAY to take our time. We can slow down and build vested audiences of followers who actually CARE. We can write excellent books worthy of retail (regardless of whether we publish legacy, indie or self-publish).
Pulp fiction always sold for pulp prices and clipped at a pulp pace. But news flash!
Pulp prices never once impacted the price of hardcovers or the pace.
They were DIFFERENT audiences and DIFFERENT products.
Readers didn’t expect a book from Michael Crichton as frequently as they did paperback Westerns from Louis L’amour. Fans were willing to shell out cash for stacks of cowboy stories. Other fans? They eagerly paid hardcover prices for Crichton because his books were well worth the wait and the price.
Both authors were/are legendary…and yet vastly different.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
Louis L’amour books were relatively short, easy to read and a nice way to spend an afternoon. They filled the time while we waited on our favorite hardcover authors.
Crichton books took incredible research, detailed plotting and were thick enough to kill a burglar. The work that went into his novels merited the price fans lined up to pay.
So guess what?
Y’all have my permission to…relax. You’ll need your strength because DANCING WITH THE EDITORS is NEXT!
Hope you still have tights that fit 😛 .
What Are Your Thoughts?
No more spicy food before bed? Even though I’ve remained steadfast on keeping this simple, I admit the panic attacks have crept in. What’s ‘allegedly’ expected from writers?
Have you lost your love for writing? The pressure just taking all the love out of it? Frankly, the dream wouldn’t have been so terrifying if some part of me didn’t partly expect it COULD happen. Jeez, what other hoops do we need to jump through? Baton twirling? Karaoke?
Cait and I are both tired of the nonsense so we have new classes to guide you through what’s necessary and what is complete BUNK. It is time to enjoy writing again.
Class with me, teaching what is ACTUALLY our business. February 15th 7-9 EST. $55 and recording FREE with purchase.
This class is THREE hours with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and comes with Cait’s custom workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more. February 16th 7-10 EST. $99 and recording and workbook are FREE with purchase.
BOTH classes for $129 (Save $25). This bundle is FIVE hours of professional training, plus the recordings, plus Cait’s workbook to guide you through everything from how to do competitive research to tracking ISBNs and distribution and more.