The Problem With Being an Internet Personality First, Writer Second

Well, I never thought of this before.

For a long time, I’ve followed many writers more successful than I’ll probably ever be. I’ve liked their tweets. I’ve listened to their podcasts. I’ve even reached out to them on occasion, just to remind them I appreciate their hard work (it’s always good to hear that, even from strangers).

Oh. And of course, I read their books. So many of their books.

Over the past eight years or so, things have kind of flipped for me — and probably for others, too. It used to be that you’d stumble upon or hear about a book, discover by reading said book that you like the author, and then you’d seek them out — on their website or, much more recently, via social media.

For me, it all started with John Green. I found him on YouTube before I knew who he was, and before I’d read any of his books. I did end up falling in love with his work — but not before I’d gotten to know him as an online persona.

It happened to me again recently. I’ve been listening to one author’s writing podcast(s) for a few years now. Admittedly, it took me until this year to actually pick up one of her books. And when I did, I noticed a small amount of anxiety I hadn’t been expecting.

I found myself wondering if the book would be as good as I’d hoped.

You can listen to a person talk about the writing process for hours. But, let’s be honest. You really can’t fully judge their abilities as a writer until you’ve actually read their work. (Sigh.)

I knew that I was going to read this book with a much sharper critical lens than I would have if I hadn’t been listening to her writing advice for so long. This was a completely new thing for me.

In all honesty, I ended up loving the book. But I’m not sure how I would have felt if I hadn’t. Which is terrifying, as someone who hands out writing advice “for free.”

When I publish a book, anyone who has ever even glanced at my thoughts related to writing and publishing will judge that piece of writing just a little bit harder.

There’s nothing we can do about this … I mean, other than write and publish the absolute best book we’re capable of, anyway. We’re told, even before we make a more serious commitment to writing, that if we don’t build a persona/professional “brand” online, we don’t stand a chance.

While it’s still possible to get published as an unknown writer and become widely successful, I think it’s becoming less common. We all either have blogs or Twitter accounts or some sort of public presence, because that’s what gets us noticed.

There’s a lot more pressure on us, then, to make sure that when we do “go big,” we go hard. And we have to exceed everyone’s expectations because, well, we’re supposed to be the “experts” after all.

That’s tough. A lot of us will, and maybe already do, struggle to get past that.

After all, it’s hard enough, just trying to get someone who matters to even look at your work in the first place. But knowing all the critical eyes that are going to silently (or publicly) critique you, who knew you before you were published … what’s more fear-inducing than that?

Okay, maybe a lot of things. But you get the idea.

How do we deal? I wish I had a better answer than “we just do.” But that’s what it comes down to. You face the probability of criticism the same way no matter who or where it’s coming from. You try not to invest all your self-worth on what other people think. You really, really try to be proud of yourself, no matter how your work is received once it’s no longer in your hands.

Is it easy? No. But you probably know by now that nothing in writing ever really is.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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