“You” = “One” = “Me”

“You” = “One” = “Me”


One morning you wake up and you think,

Okay, enough is enough. I am going to do the thing that scares me. I am going to ask for help.

You hate asking for anything. But especially help. You have spent years being strong and capable. The times you asked for help and were refused (way back in the last millenium, when you were struggling to cope, alone with three small boys) hurt so deeply that you swore never to ask anyone for help again. You are a very strong and capable woman. You tile bathrooms. You build websites. You construct furniture.  You help other people for a living. You don’t ask other people to help you.

But ten weeks ago you made a commitment to stop hiding the fullness of who you are.  To have the courage to tell the truth: not The Truth, because you know there are many truths, but your truth, even though you know that will make you vulnerable. You have read Brene Brown. You recognise that vulnerability is a form of strength. So today, you will overcome your fears and ask for help.

If that isn’t scary enough, the kind of help you must ask for is money.

Money: society’s greatest measure of success. You know that if you tell the world that you are struggling financially, despite all the things you have achieved, and won, and been awarded, some people will conclude you are a failure. But that is the form of help that is required; the thing that will genuinely take the pressure off you, so that you can focus on what you’re good at: writing. Maybe there are some people out there who can see the value of your writing, and who like it enough that they could spare a dollar a month (84p inc VAT) to help you focus upon it. So you set up a Patreon account. You discover that Amanda Palmer has enough Patreon supporters to provide her with $36,000 a month (strictly speaking, per ‘thing’ at about one ‘thing’ a month). You are nowhere near as popular or successful or well-known as Amanda Palmer, but nor was Amanda Palmer before she started asking for help.  You don’t need anywhere near as much financial support as Amanda Palmer gets. It is worth a try.

You eat the frog. You e-mail your friends and family, to let them know about the Patreon account. Five of them become patrons, which is lovely, and you thank them. Another one turns up the next day (when you are at work in London) with bread and cheese and teabags. Your husband calls to ask you why your friends are turning up on the doorstep with food parcels. It is sweet, but also embarrassing, because you are not on the breadline. You are not a charity case, any more than Amanda Palmer is a charity case. More embarrassing than the food parcel, the wealthiest person in your family (an actual millionaire) writes you a lengthy text to explain why he cannot spare 84p a month.  It makes you squirm inside, and wonder how much he spends on coffee, which is none of your business. It reminds you how much you hate asking for help. You would have vastly preferred silence.

You think maybe people don’t understand why you are asking.  So the next day, you write a post on your blog explaining why you have been reduced (and that is the way you think about it) to asking for patronage.  You explain that even writers who have had considerable success (as you have) make far less from their books than is commonly assumed. You share the link on social media, and get on with your day.

Then something extraordinary happens. People love the article. They appreciate the honesty about author earnings. The link is widely shared. 5000 people read the article on the first day, and by the end of the week, 10,000 people have come to your website to view it.  That’s as many people as would normally come to your website in a whole year. Three become patrons, and you are deeply grateful to all three of them. (But let’s face it, it’s not looking good for the Patreon idea. Three patrons out of ten thousand readers is a conversion rate of 0.0003%.)

People comment on your article. Like the friend who brought the food parcel, some of them offer something you didn’t ask for. They offer advice. If money is what you want, they say, you should self-publish.  Self-publishing is the answer to low author incomes. You answer their comments, explaining why you don’t think self-publishing is a solution to your problems, especially as a novelist who writes literary fiction. But the same advice keeps coming. So you decide your next blog post will be about that: why self-publishing isn’t the answer for you.

Then something brilliant happens. On Tuesday the books editor of The Guardian gets in touch. The Guardian!  Your favourite newspaper!  (Even though the Guardian review of your first novel was the only bad one it got. At least the Guardian review of your second novel made up for it). The editor says they enjoyed your piece about author earnings, and would you like to do a follow-up piece in the Guardian books blog? Maybe about why you won’t self-publish your literary fiction, because you made some interesting points about that in the comments? They will even pay you. (Not much, but something! You asked for money. Here comes some money.)  You say yes, of course, brilliant, you were going to write about that next anyway.  When do you want it?  Not soon, you hope, because you’re going away for the weekend for your husband’s birthday weekend in a couple of days and you have a pile of student marking to do. They say by Monday please. (Which means by Thursday, because you’re going away for your husband’s birthday weekend). You say you’ll do everything you can to squeeze it in. (The Guardian!)

This is a great opportunity. Here comes the next fear. What if I fuck up?

Okay, you think, you can do this. They like what you wrote before, so you just have to write like that again. You have to tell your own truth just the way you would on your blog, forgetting this is for The Guardian, because that will only make you nervous, and if you are nervous you will fuck up.  So to keep yourself relaxed, you write it as an unpublished post on your own blog. It still feels a bit scary when you are writing it, but only a little bit.  Some people might not agree with what you write, but it is just your opinion, based on your experiences. You are not laying down the law, just saying how you see things.  You try to keep it sharp and funny. Because of the student marking, you don’t finish it before you have to run off to meet your husband and daughter at the Eurostar terminal with your £29 winter sale bargain tickets tucked in your computer bag. You try to write it on the train but you get motion sick. You finally finish it on Saturday morning, at the kitchen table, using headphones to block out other people, which is to say your beloved husband, who wants to go out and enjoy a city he hasn’t visited in ten years, and especially your daughter, who keeps asking “when will you be finished?” Suddenly worried it might be a damp squib after the last one, that it might be so bad they won’t even publish it, you press Send. Writing never seems to get any easier; any more certain. You try not to worry about whether it is okay for the next forty-eight hours.

On your husband’s birthday it goes live.  It has been edited. Some of your words have changed. The heading and subheading are not yours at all, and not quite the way you would have put them: you wouldn’t say ‘poverty’, for example. You are not in ‘poverty’, very clearly, because you are in a beautiful apartment in beautiful Paris.  Yes, you are here thanks to credit cards, and Christmas optimism, and your father-in-law’s generosity… but ‘poverty’ sleeps in shop doorways.  You guess ‘massive debt’ doesn’t have such a poetic ring. Never mind. Money always comes unexpectedly when you most need it. And look what is happening. The Guardian! Life is wonderful. Everything is heading in the right direction. You go out for the day with your family, take your daughter to the top of the Eiffel tower for the first time, and for a boat trip along the Seine at dusk.

When you return to the apartment’s WiFi, there are a lot of complimentary tweets and messages. People mention that the comments section is getting lively and you know what that means. You avoid ‘below the line’ discussions as a matter of course. There’s no way you’re going to read the comments on your own article. You’re not some kind of lunatic.

Though part of you feels ridiculous because the article’s headline claims you are in poverty, and you are actually, right this minute, opening a bottle of champagne. You didn’t buy the champagne. The owner of the AirBNB apartment you are renting, Marie, another writer and the classiest woman you know, bought the champagne for both of you as a gift, because she knew it was your husband’s birthday. This is the universe’s way of letting you know that you are loved and blessed beyond measure. You take a picture of the birthday spread. (You are eating in, to save money. Your husband’s birthday meal is a ridiculous combination: reheated ravioli, and champagne.) You cannot share the picture on social media, because you’re in Paris drinking champagne when you’re supposed to be poor. People would be angry about that.

But people are angry anyway. You expressed an opinion some of them didn’t like. Your biggest mistake, it turns out, was using ‘you’ as the indefinite pronoun. The article was about you, your experiences and opinions, but because you didn’t want it to be full of the word ‘I’, and ‘one’ seems too awkwardly posh and ‘a person’ is ridiculously formal, you used ‘you’ in your subheadings. People tell you that your use of ‘you’ was provocative. Because you used ‘you’, some people think you mean them. In fact, they are sure you mean them. You’re a writer, they say, you know how to use language and you knew full well what you were doing. It reminds you of when you were 21 and temping at the Alliance and Leicester Mortgage Advance department, and one of your duties was answering phones to people who shouted into your ear “You told me it would take two weeks EIGHT WEEKS AGO!” and even though you weren’t even working there eight weeks ago and hadn’t told them anything, you experienced their frustration as a personal attack and would go home every night and cry.

Writers are sensitive creatures. Self-publishing, as it turns out, is a sensitive topic. Some ‘Indie authors’ believe you have attacked the practice of self-publishing as a whole, rather than expressing your personal reasons for not self-publishing literary fiction. (You are not against self-publishing. You self-publish two non-fiction books). Because you have said self-publishing can make you act like a fool (you give the example of endless self-promotion on Twitter), some people think you have called all self publishers fools. They miss the nuance of ‘can’. Your husband tells you (fondly) that you are an idiot, because that was obviously going to happen if you put ‘self-publishing’ and ‘fool’ in the same sentence. The word you had originally used was ‘twat’. You can’t decide if ‘twat’ was better or worse than ‘fool’. You consider it jocular, but other people might find it more offensive. Twat or fool, you regret not having more time to sit on the article before sending it; more time to realise for yourself how some people would read that sentence.

Not reading below the line doesn’t save you. After winding each other up into a frenzy of rage about this perceived attack on themselves and their choices in the comments section of the article, the angry people seek you out. On your website, on Facebook, but mostly on Twitter, because that’s where you hang out for fun.

You are accused of ‘eviscerating’ self-publish[ing/ers], by people who attempt to eviscerate you for “your rude, belittling music metaphor.”  You’ve never been attacked for a metaphor before. They mean that part where you compared literary fiction to opera. You were trying to say it’s unpopular; it has limited appeal, a small market. Jesus, you don’t even like opera. You like Taylor Swift. You remember reaching for that metaphor under pressure on Saturday morning, and thinking literary fiction is like… what… bluegrass? jazz? what?  and then remembering Will Self had compared it to opera and thinking that would have to do, because you really needed to give your attention to your husband and daughter; it being the weekend, and your husband’s birthday weekend, and them seeing little enough of you as it is.

Probably because of the opera metaphor, you are called an elitist and snob. You, a person who feels inadequate for being schooled at an Essex Comprehensive, who makes basic errors of grammar, and who has to Google which/that every time you use them. You are called an attention grabber, an egotist, and a failure. You are told that your ‘facts’ are woefully out of date, even though you didn’t really use any facts (because it was an opinion piece, not a factual piece), except for the 90:10 marketing to writing ratio supplied to you by two self-publishers on your original blog piece.  You trusted that they knew what they were talking about. The funniest tweet that comes out of your being outdated (unquestionably true; your offspring would concur) is “The 90s called and asked for your background research. ;)”  You gave that one a ‘Like’.

For the first time in your life, you are called a cunt. The impact is slightly softened by the fact that the person who calls you a cunt goes by the Twitter handle ‘Angel Medium’.

Three days on, you are back home, and it is still happening. A few people are coming to your defence, which is heartening. Actually it is people coming to your defence that brings tears to your eyes, so you shut Twitter down for the day.

You walk the dog. It is one of those mornings where, even though you are deep in thought, strangers come up to you, engage you in conversation about the dogs, laugh with you. It’s like the universe is putting its arms around you and hugging you.  Letting you know: no matter what is happening on social media, you are loved. And that people on the whole are good, and kind.

After staying calm and polite through the barrage of people’s fury and misunderstanding, it is people’s kindness that makes you cry.

You decide to write this, and post this, even though the angry people will come here too.


13 thoughts on ““You” = “One” = “Me”

  • March 24, 2016 at 9:28 pm

    Dearest Ros. I feel your pain intensely. I love your writing and your honesty, i love the intensity of your words. I know what having no money means as much as having lots. We have a water pH machine called a Kangen machine. This machine was made by a company who held that there are 3 requirements for a human to be in healthy balance in our society: physical, spiritual and ,yes, financial. Not loads (that would be fine too) but enough. I spent a lot of time in France asking friends for financial help and got none and after 3 years of trying in the UK, although excellent at fixing horses, just had to find another source of income. So do whatever it takes. Those that matter love you those that don’t, just don’t. Stir the pot and be deliberately controversial even if you don’t really believe it or don’t believe it at all. Maybe even create an online persona, a nom de web, and really stir the shit. It will get you read and on the internet all that matters is traffic. Love, Steve

  • March 24, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Beautifully written piece, Ros, and honest as ever. Sadly, social media is full of those quick to take offence and slow to take a hike.

    Rise above it. You said nothing wrong. The response you’ve had just goes to show that there are a lot of people out there with little heart – and I truly believe one needs a big heart and much generosity to express art of any form.

    Keep writing. I’m severely skint too. Writing is not valued and too many people think they can write without wanting to put the work in etc.

    Hugs to you all xxxx

  • March 24, 2016 at 11:18 pm

    Hi Ros
    I was one of those angry people. I am sorry you were abused by some of the less thoughtful people on the internet. I love discussions. I love taking people to task for saying something which I feel is just wrong. But abuse? No. Never. There is no excuse for that.
    In my mind, your article “came out wrong”. Despite your assertion that it was a piece about why you wouldn’t self-publish your literary fiction (something with which most serious writers and self-publishers would whole-heartedly agree, if they were honest, and understood the market), it still came across as a smear piece. Starting with “Despite royalty rates of 70%, I think self-publishing is a terrible idea for serious novelists (by which I mean, novelists who take writing seriously, and love to write)” and ending with “For those who prefer orchestrated backing to blowing their own trumpet, who’d privilege running a narrative scenario over running a small business, who’d rather write adventures than adverts, self-publishing is not the answer.”
    You implied a serious novelist wouldn’t self-publish. And, therefore, self-publishers are not serious novelists. Did you mean that? I hope not. You implied if you were more interested in writing rather than running a business, you would not self-publish.
    But, in reality, self-publishing is a means of getting words in front of readers. I’ve made next to nothing for me – but one email I received that stated the sender had bought my little collection of short fiction and really enjoyed it meant the world to me. Through self-publishing, one person had read my words, and liked them. That wouldn’t have happened without self-publishing.
    And, on a side issue, I self-published a collated version of a friend’s blog – a friend who was given a cancer-related life sentence of a few months, and several years later, is still around. Through that little self-publishing venture, well over a thousand pounds has been raised for her charity. That wouldn’t have happened without self-publishing.
    So self-publishing has its role to play; and yes, even in fiction. Some people can, and do, make money in self-publishing without being one of those annoying Twits. It would have been nice if this would have been acknowledged. It would have been nice if the language had been a little less inflammatory.
    But, todays newspapers, tomorrow’s chip-wrappings, and we’ll all move on. I wish you well with your writing ventures. Thank you for writing this blog post. I shall share it in the hope that those who gain pleasure (or something?) from abusing people online learn that there are real people behind online identities, with real families and real issues and real concerns. And in the hope that people that, although we may not agree with the writing, there is no excuse for abusing the writer.

  • March 25, 2016 at 8:17 am

    Thank you. This was a beautiful piece. You sound like a wonderful person. I hope you are happy (albeit harassed by your penury).

  • March 26, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Dear Ros, well done. Keep going. And stuff them all.

    Love, Carolyn.

  • March 27, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Brilliant piece. I will never understand why people are so quick to feel attacked, apart from the fact that self-publishing used to be synonymous with vanity publishing, but it isn’t any more. Self-publishing requires tremendous effort, organisational skills and sales/marketing acumen. It’s not for me – I’d be terrible at it, and I would write very little because of spending all my time and effort on selling and marketing my work, badly. More power to anyone who can manage that.

  • March 27, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Your article was an opinion piece, for goodness sake, not a declaration of war. I think The Guardian was naughty to edit your work and publish it before you’d approved the edits, personally, because their ‘version’ was less nuanced than yours….and lively debate is a good thing – publishing has undergone a sea change in recent years, so in the immortal words of Mrs Merton – ‘Let’s have a lively debate!’ But, having started to read the below the line comments, I had to stop – the pungent stench of self-righteous fury was stomach-churning (and I clean out a cat litter tray every morning). Really, personal abuse is unworthy of anyone trying to make a serious point.

  • March 28, 2016 at 4:07 am

    Hi Ros:

    I was posting a response to your article on The Cerulean Project website, and I decided to do a little digging. I came across your response on your blog.

    You point out something that’s of high value in a world of (often poorly received) communication: our intent and our results are often very different creatures. I’m immeasurably saddened that you were called names and attacked in vicious ways. That is never acceptable in any forum.

    I cannot say my response, which I made publicly on my live stream, was warm and fuzzy; I was more interested in the discussion your article created. Since you’re no doubt a bit hesitant to check out anything further on the article, I’ll offer this, simply as a way to start a discussion, not to attack you in any way.

    You were right. What you said about indie publishing and onslaught of less-than-they-should-be novels? There was a lot of truth there. The problem isn’t that you were right. Indie has a lot to answer for.

    The problem is that you didn’t offer to help. You didn’t suggest solutions.

    You don’t strike me, based on my research, as an aggressive person. Quite the opposite, and your willingness to share your honest perspective on the other side of that article speaks to who you are.

    Where my beef comes in, and I would argue, quite a few folks feel similarly, is that we are a community. You, me, and Stephen King—we’re all in this together. 🙂 Literary, genre—they are words on a page. They inspire the imagination. They open doors we never anticipated, and often, they prop them wide-open for lifelong inspiration.

    What literary writers often forget—and as I once stood in your shoes, I say this without malice and with a little embarrassment for my own foolishness—is that genre fiction is how we got here. “If genre fiction is chart music, literary fiction is opera…” That may be true, but that “chart music” is what children read. It’s the stuff we don’t have to beg our twelve-year-olds to devour. It’s why most of us fell in love with books.

    Literary is no better or worse than genre, and, I would argue, genre fiction can have a much greater impact on our world if encouraged to dig a little deeper and learn from its literary cousin. But that’s hard to do when the cousin’s a bit too big for his britches.

    Self-publishing is the reaction of good writers to an industry that has become awash in nepotism and profiteering. The core of the movement was everything we’re taught to be as artists: determined, implacable, ingenious. And then it kept going.

    Now, it’s the Old West, replete with exhausted miners, snake oil salesmen, and capitalist corporations, and it needs a stern talking to, no question.

    In many ways, you pointed out the flaws that no one wants to admit. But then, many have done that. And you did the very thing that many others have also done: you smacked down a large population of writers without validating the talent and fortitude that exists among them. And sadly, a lot of new writers who are trying to find their way interpret that as a very “unwelcome mat” to explore any options beyond self-publishing.

    The real issue is that we’re all writers. We’re a community that has forgotten that we depend on each other. Your attitude as a literary writer—whether intended or not, and please, this is not to smack you either, but rather to make a point that I really, really want someone like you to see because you actually do give a damn—is what makes it even harder for the self-publishing world to improve.

    Indies aren’t a threat to you. But with your knowledge and skill, you are intimidating to many of them, especially the new writers who aren’t sure which direction to go. We need folks like you to get down here in the trenches and worry less about how the book is published, and more about whether the writer feels supported as they stretch their wings and write loads of (really) bad sentences. And then we have to help them make those words better.

    What’s more, we need each other to make sure that everyone’s voice can be heard. If we want better books and less dreck, we have to help each other.

    Unfortunately, that’s not what I got from your article. And I’m woman enough to tell you directly (or as directly as I can given the medium) because I still want you in my writing community. The irony in all of this: the very skill you possess that may or may not be appreciated by agents and publishers when your next book comes knocking? It’s desperately needed and valued among those who want to learn their craft.

    For what it’s worth, you started a conversation that needs to be had. And for that, I’m glad you wrote the article. I hope you’re able to see why this is such an inflammatory topic, and also why we need to band together as writers, regardless of our goals and backgrounds. If we want better books, we have to write them. But in order to write them, we have to first be open to helping those on either side of the aisle improve their craft. Why? Because we learn so much more when we teach than when we point fingers. And just as literary can learn from genre and vice versa, so can indie and traditional learn from each other.

    We are more than the sum of our words, but if we choose to let that be the only reflection the world sees, we shortchange the beauty of who we truly are: a community.

  • April 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Oh dear! How I can relate! My post “Pay the Writer” went viral and I got eviscerated and called everything but ma’am. While it was extremely popular, it sure brought out the trolls.

    And by the way, I wrote two pieces referring to yours namely because of my brand and writers in my following requested I address the topic. But, so you know, I worked hard not to make it seem I was attacking you because I wasn’t at all. In fact, I didn’t even use your name because well…trolls. That would have been unkind of me.

    How writers publish is a personal decision and it is not the same for everyone. I actually didn’t feel offended at all by your piece. I felt there were some pretty standard myths perpetuated in there, but having been SERIOUSLY misquoted myself? Meh.

    Thus my posts were only to give a balanced perspective of the industry. Not all works are right for self-pub, and not all authors are a good fit for traditional. I know that I have had three best-selling social media books and even though I had a top agent in NYC (the same guy who reps Diana Gabaldon the author of the Outlander series) I got nowhere with traditional. They were too slow and felt they weren’t the right fit for a “technology” book.

    I completely feel for your position about author pay. I’ve been on the hobby horse of paying writers since the beginning of the year and making many good friends and vicious enemies along the way.

    I actually loved your voice in the article, though I didn’t agree and was a bit sad you felt that way about self-publishing (supposedly). All I have to say is when we get brave and say what makes people THINK and FEEL, we are being WRITERS. Not everyone has to love us, but the real grownups are actually secure enough to let someone else have a different opinion.

    I’m glad you wrote the post because I am very happy to discover you!

    • April 11, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks Kristen. I really appreciate your coming here to say this. I haven’t read *any* of the responses to my Guardian piece because the opening sentences of the first couple I saw were just so poisonous I decided I was better keeping the toxins out of my system! (Otherwise it would only use up precious time trying to get them out again – time when I could be writing.) Being misunderstood, and being attacked, are common problems for anyone developing a public profile who is active on social media. In the long run, though, I’m sure you agree, the good outweighs the bad. (So long as you enjoy it, that is, and are still having fun!) Thanks for our comment.

  • June 2, 2016 at 8:55 pm

    I loved The Marlowe Papers, although I admit I was intimidated (jealous) of your talent and intellect while I was reading it. I could not have written The Marlowe Papers. It made me happy when you copped to Googling “that” and “which;” I feel much better now. This post was reassuring and inspiring, although I’m sorry it was born of creeps giving you a hard time on social media. People are brave behind their keyboards.

    By the way, a long time ago I was a high school exchange student and attended Ingatestone Anglo-European in Essex. Since I’m an American, I don’t know if that’s a “better” school than Essex Comprehensive, but clearly you’ve gone very, very far, and you deserve every success.

    I hope a major motion picture studio options your books, casts the resulting films with A-list actors, and pays you tons of money.

    • June 3, 2016 at 10:24 am

      Thank you, Marie-Therese, for your kind comments. Really, I am as inadequate (and adequate) as the next person. The Marlowe Papers required a certain set of skills which I am fortunate enough to possess, mostly through a) obsession and b) years of practice but we are all uniquely equipped to write the particular books we write. There are plenty of books I couldn’t have written, and I marvel at them.

      I had a little look at your own website and was interested to see that you are also an EFT practitioner, and began using it about the same time I did. I do wonder how different the world could be (and how much pleasant social media would be) if more people tapped and took responsibility for their own emotional reactions. Obviously that article triggered a lot of people (absolutely not my intention); with EFT, being triggered is always a potential catalyst for growth (as opposed to off-loading on a stranger). At least it was a catalyst for my own growth.


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