There Is No Secret, There Is No Con
Greetings pilgrim, welcome to my first blog post in several fortnights. It is days like this when I see that the date of my last blog post here was nearly two months ago that I want to send one of the deluxe Edible Arrangements to people who manage to actually send a Tinyletter every week. I try to have such discipline but I have been vexed of late! Whenever I sit down to write an update, I hear the impish whispers of the small avian specter that reigns over Twitter, summoning me back with an extended cyan talon.
But alas, I have a tale to tell that takes place primarily on that infernal nest so I have pulled away to write about it. As some of you may know, I receive several emails and direct messages every week requesting help with breaking into writing for a living. Most of these inquiries are polite and generally complimentary of my work, while others are demanding and entitled. I don’t have fingers and toes enough to count all the times I’ve seen variations on the message: “NO ONE WANTS TO GET COFFEE WITH YOU TO HAVE THEIR BRAIN PICKED, YOU CANNIBAL,” out there, but these posts manage to elude the more aggressive help-seekers.
Even among the more polite requests for help, people often ask what my “secret” is or request “tips and tricks” as if I had cultivated an entire career out of a handful of life hacks I could share in an email. So in April (the day after my most recent blog post) I started seriously considering running an online class on my own about the topic, in part because I semi-resent the idea that there is a single trick to making it happen and wanted to dispel such a notion by giving out concrete steps to building a writing career. And it was in part because I believe that my time and my knowledge are valuable and I should be compensated when I share them at length.
But because I am a deep well of insecurities, I asked the good citizens of Twitter first if such a class would be worthwhile and shared a description of what the four-part class would cover:
I followed up with a survey, ultimately resulting in 82% of 160 votes saying that I could indeed charge that for the class I was proposing. But one response and the ensuing communication soured the whole afternoon. Naturally, it came from a man I’ve never met or interacted with in my entire life:
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good fucking scam but only when it is at the expense of the exorbitantly rich or someone who I feel has slighted me on the internet. As you can see, I made the mistake of interacting with him to demonstrate that perhaps my proposed class would be valuable, that I had sufficient authority in the field to teach it, and I even provided a Twitter search of evidence that my previous classes in a similar topic had been vouched for by students. Reader, it was to no avail. We followed each other and I, the foolish optimist, even took it to DMs to attempt to explain the course’s potential value:
Let’s break this down:
- $150 does not constitute “extraordinary amounts of money” in the same way, I dunno, $100,000 in MFA debt does
- Admits he doesn’t have a good solution
- Cites “actual talent” and “inherent talent” as if these things are fixed and finite at birth, whereas there’s a great body of evidence that writing talent can be developed
- Also, I’m not trying to sell these students a class called, “How To Write A Novel That Will Earn You Prestigious Awards And A Legacy In The American Creative Consciousness,” I’m trying to teach them how to write mostly on the internet where content is regularly mediocre so if there’s is even halfway decent, they have a leg up on the competition with the shit I teach them
- Even bigger LOL at the idea of an inherent hustle, a skill that is almost always developed out of necessity because you don’t have to hustle for shit if you’re already provided for
- HOW DID WE GET TO “TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN DEBT” from my $150 price point?
With months between the exchange and now, it is easy for me to posture like I’m a big tough mean bitch from the internet like, “LOOK AT THIS FUCKIN’ GUY!” But the truth is, the opinions of men still have an outsized impact on my sense of self-worth and the whole thing ruined my day. I am a woman who built a six-figure income from writing after starting out with articles running $50 each if paid at all my first year. I’ve published a successful book and sold a second, more ambitious one. I presented him with substantive evidence from previous students that my classes on pitching had been worthwhile and still, he doubled down on the assertion that I was a bullshit con artist.
And so even with 82% of voters saying I could charge $150, I dropped the class price to $130 and added much more hands-on meetings with students when I did launch the class. It sold out in 24 hours. I taught the four classes and held one-on-one sessions with all of the students to zero in on what their next moves will be using the information taught in the class. In the time since I’ve been in contact with the students, I got messages from four of them stating explicitly that they used what they learned in class to successfully pitch these outlets: Racked, Women’s Health, Brit + co, Refinery29, Catapult, Real Life Magazine, Extra Crispy. Here are just a few of their testimonials (bottom of page). One student secured a regular blogging gig with a marketing firm. Another got a part-time social media job that will cushion their income as they pursue more editorial work. This was all just information they volunteered so far, I didn’t demand they report their progress but I am glad that several of them have. In other words, my class wasn’t fucking bullshit. My class was good. To my knowledge, none of the students have spiraled into abject poverty for having taken it.
In the first draft of this blog post, I wrote out the name of the dude who ruined my day several times as I wrote about how his presumptuous, rude, and diminishing comments were because it worked well for comedic effect. “[NAME] KNEW A CON WHEN HE SAW ONE AND [NAME] WASN’T ABOUT TO LET A GRIFTER LIKE ME OFF WITHOUT A FIGHT” type stuff, you know my schticks. But then I did a Google search of his name and found only the profound embarrassment that is the Earnest LinkedIn Profile and this New York Times article about how break-ups in New York City leave you with a lease together and why that’s awkward and possibly heart-breaking. It talks about how his ex got full custody of their dog and the lead image is a side-by-side shot of him looking really bummed out on a bed alone and his ex absolutely beaming and holding the dog and it was both kind of hilarious and really sad. I don’t want to further fuck up his search by being like, “LOOK AT THIS FUCKING GUY BEING A CONDESCENDING KNOW-IT-ALL TO WOMEN HE DOESN’T KNOW ON TWITTER.” If I made a point of dragging every dude that pulled that in separate blog posts, it would become a full-time job.
Some people might read this and be like, “Of all the violent and cruel things that people say to you on Twitter, this seems like a fairly harmless offense.” I understand that line of thinking because I engage in it often and it lowers the bar so fucking low for men online. I refuse to accept that the only thing you have to do to be a decent citizen of the internet if you’re a man is not to issue rape threats or tell women they deserve to die in any number of unpleasant ways.
This was not an anonymous troll calling me an ugly idiot who will never marry, it was a man who works in mainstream media asserting that he could assess the potential value of my knowledge in a professional area that he doesn’t work in. When presented with third-party evidence that he was incorrect, he redoubled his efforts with sweeping claims about the futility of teaching writing at all. The “lol” followed by the assertion that I was just tossing out editors’ emails was especially cute considering that his initial response was to a tweet in which I included a full outline of what I would be teaching. And I wasn’t even teaching writing. I was sharing knowledge of best practices in attempting to advance a writing career, which is a very different beast. I was teaching strategy, branding, communication, and time management.
I was teaching them because there is not a trick or secret or piece of knowledge to having a successful writing career. There are a fuck ton of secrets and tricks and pieces of knowledge. Having the “inherent talent” can give you a leg up but it isn’t some magical key to the kingdom that recuses you from having to navigate an industry that people inside are desperately trying to keep people out of by saying its hopeless. Also, fuck the foregone conclusion that none of my students have the inherent talent to make it as writers. Fuck the notion that characterize people who pay for a class like this as naive chumps instead of people who clearly value my time, labor, and knowledge. And fuck the enduring insistence that women attempting to capitalize on their knowledge and expertise deserve to be taken down a peg. If you want to know about a fucking con, it is that we have let men with an inflated sense of the value and objective truth of their assertions about a career they haven’t succeeded get a free pass just because some men are doing worse.
In conclusion, fuck all of that. The second session of the class sold out. Spots for the third session are on sale here. I’m glad she got the dog.