Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Fifteen minutes of writer’s fame


Do you want to be a best-selling author? You do? Well, here’s how! Just write your novel, upload it to Amazon’s self-publishing program, drop the price to ninety-nine cents, and sit back to watch it grow! No water necessary—except to keep yourself hydrated during the process.


Also, don’t forget: once that’s done, to help increase sales you will also need to spend money buying ad space, get a review from Kirkus Reviews (because many big-name reviewers don’t touch self-published works), and essentially do all the marketing for your book yourself because you don’t have a publisher.

But that’s okay because, in the end, you’re selling books, and you can cross “Publish a Book” and “Be an Author” off your bucket list and be done with it.

It seemed that way for Darcie Chan anyway. Mother, wife, and lawyer, Ms. Chan pitched her book, The Mill River Recluse, to publishers but they just weren’t feeling it. She finally decided to go the digital self-publishing route, got herself an agent, and using the steps outlined above, ended up selling 413,000 digital copies of her novel as of December 9, 2011.

Her agent has encouraged her to write a second novel, though the Wall Street Journal reported recently that “while she would love to write full time, for now, she still sees writing as more of a hobby. When people ask her what she does for a living, she says she’s a lawyer.”

I’m happy for her. I really am. She’s fulfilled a goal, taken her hobby and turned it into the 15 minutes of fame we all speak of but hardly ever experience.

But as a student in an MFA program who is seriously studying the art and craft of writing, and as an individual who has been writing since they could hold a pencil, (oh yes, I wrote “stories” in my little notebooks, for all their misspellings and lack of actual plot), what writers like Ms. Chan are doing is almost an affront to my entire being.

It’s like I’m being told, why bother burning infinitely deep holes in my wallet paying for classes with the faraway dream of publishing a book when I could just write as though it were my hobby and self-publish?

I’m not saying that instant success is a bad thing. Several actors, musicians, and authors were nobodies one day and big somebodies the next because of that instant magic. In fact, I would love for it to happen to me. (Who wouldn’t?)


What’s needling me is this idea that anyone can be a writer and writers don’t need publishers.

It is true that everyone can write. But not everyone can write well. I have read brief excerpts of some self-published works, and they are atrociously written and in desperate need of basic grammar, punctuation, and capitalization corrections, just to start with.

On the flip-side, there are plenty of books that have been traditionally published and are written so poorly that even the best copy editor in the world can’t save them. How they managed to get printed is a mystery I’d like to solve one day.

I sometimes wonder, if I get rejected enough times by a publisher, would I decide to take the self- publishing detour? Shouldn’t I wonder that perhaps people are saying “no thanks” for a reason? Maybe I really can’t write.

But I know that’s not possible. There are plenty of authors who can’t write, and yet they’ve been published. How? It’s quite a conundrum.

Or is it?

Maybe this is a time when publishers should start weeding out the weak writers who approach them. Instead of turning away decent authors because their work doesn’t fit within a specific genre, as what happened with Ms. Chan, publishers should turn away writing that isn’t even on par with that of a middle-school child.

And for writers, well, when we’re sick, we don’t try to self-medicate, do we? (Well, some of us do, and end up the worse for wear.) We go to the doctor—we go to the professionals. So why should the writing world be any different?

About Zaynah Qutubuddin

Daytime writer, nighttime reader, lifetime student.

4 comments on “Fifteen minutes of writer’s fame

  1. M.E. Anders
    December 21, 2011

    New follower to the blog here, Zaynah. Just wanted to chime in that I agree with you about the oddities of the writing world. Nothing is predictable. Flukes happen. Some writers seem to appear from nowhere to gain their 15 minutes of fame. Then, there’s the rest of us. One page at a time…plodding towards our writing career. 🙂

    • Zaynah Qutubuddin
      December 23, 2011

      Hi M.E.! Thanks for joining in on Appazoogle! You’re right…nothing is predictable and that unpredictability, while often exciting, is also a little frustrating because we’re not sure if it’s all worth it in the end. But, I love writing, so I suppose as long as I’m doing what I love, it’s good enough. 🙂 I hope you continue to stick around and we look forward to more comments from you!

  2. Salman Ahsan
    December 23, 2011

    First of all, this is an awesome post, seriously :). I agree with you to some extent. It is indeed sad that the real value of being a writer is taken for granted these days. The old days of dealing with a publisher is pretty much gone…especially in this digital era.

    But here’s a question for you? In this “so called recession time”, don’t you think its awesome to get a self publishing platform where you could publish almost anything you desire and make a living? I believe writers are passionate about a certain thing and they definitely have something awesome to share. If they are given an online platform to publish their desires and stories, I would say, hell yeah! This is free promotion and marketing which can reach out to millions (in case of Amazon).

    Lets say you create a novel in the offline world, You will definitely have a tough time getting through with all the marketing and promotion strategy. It will also cost you good sum of money for offline promotion and advertisement no doubt. But, with Amazon publisher account, simply set the price to 99 cents or $30 (whatever you think your stuff is worth) and make instant sales 🙂

    Amazon is huge and if your stuff sells, you will not only get ton of writing opportunities but become popular and generate revenue in the long run.

    Once you publish your story or novel on the amazon platform, it gets listed by major outlets and then it is spread around in the network. More people get to see the stuff and purchase it. Since amazon is a trust worthy source, its easier to make a sale 😉

    I understand what you are feeling from the writer’s perspective. I do not consider myself as an A Class writer but I am sure I can create a quality ebook and sell it on amazon. That explains how anyone with some good writing skills could easily create an ebook and sell it on amazon.

    As for Ms Chan, maybe she didn’t fully realize the potential of kindle e-books or amazon marketing. Because, as far as I can see, they are growing rapidly. I know authors who make 20k per month selling e-books on the kindle.

    Right now, I am jealous of you and the art of writing that you possess because you can create wonders. Go for it!

    I have ton of stuff to say and share but ill make it short this time and will save the rest for later 😉 comments welcome!

  3. Pingback: Writing our way into a brave new world « appazoogle

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This entry was posted on December 21, 2011 by in Opinion and tagged .

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