Your Book Is Not an MLM

Some of you don’t understand what all this talk of MLM’s has to do with writing, and that’s because you think of writing as something that happens when you sit down at your Underwood and prepare to write the Great American Novel. The truth is that all writing counts, regardless of whether a given format excites you. If you can only communicate within the pages of a story, then guess what: you can’t communicate. Being successful on the page–or at anything, really–means taking accountability for how you present yourself.

Today, I’m going to talk to you about what communication has to do with branding. You, as an author, can learn a lot from the mistakes of others. Ironically, would-be Stephen King’s make a lot of the same mistakes as MLMers and the first is confusing their brand with themselves. Being authentic is one thing; turning your literal identity into “she sells something” isn’t being authentic, it’s commoditizing your relationships to the point where you’re signaling, to literally everyone who knows you, that their only value is as a mark. I know a few authors who, well, literally all I know about them is “buy my book.”

You’re better off giving your content away for free. Sitting around telling people how awesome you are (or that you’re such a “girl boss”) is, well, pretty boring. If someone writes like that, then I’m not about to pick up their book. Just like someone lecturing me on what a failure I am doesn’t make me feel “empowered.” Where are the free workouts? And, most importantly, where’s the person who wants a relationship with me instead of my wallet?

Successful people will tell you about their failures. We own them, because we’re proud of them. They’re what teach us and help us, personally and professionally, to grow. And yes, there’s a lot of “me” in my brand. The difference being, my brand is what you’re reading right now. I’m curating a highly specific part of me for show. I don’t even write under my real, actual name as I’m–outside of presenting myself, to the world, as a writer–a private person. Which is why, when someone criticizes my brand, I don’t take their opinion personally.

Maybe somebody absolutely loathes a certain book. That doesn’t make them broken or bad or “out to get me.” There’s no need to examine their character for flaws. This isn’t personal to me. MLMers, like the “buy my book” crowd, want me to believe otherwise. To them, a lack of interest in whatever product they’re pitching is a personal attack. A “real” friend, goes this logic, would “show support.” Not by being invested enough in their success to be honest, no. By shelling out some cold, hard cash.

“Spend or GTFO” isn’t appealing, and it isn’t a route to success. First and foremost, money comes and goes. When I write about how being wealth shamed is a turnoff, I’m not doing that to hurt anyone. I come from nothing and I know how hard success is; I want us all to make it. In high school, a teacher of mine sat me down and told me that the reason no one liked me was my chronic interrupting. In English, I was an A student. Everyone knew that, though; I needed to stop trying to prove how smart I was. Instead of making myself look good, I was making everyone else feel bad. I cried and cried, and hated him, and then…I shut up. Ultimately, however much I disliked that fact, he was right.

You will hear things you don’t like, in life. About your writing and about you. Choosing to categorize anything unwanted, or unexpected as “the enemy” might feel good–but then again, so does drinking yourself into a stupor. Either way, ignoring a problem doesn’t solve it. Instead, try asking yourself: what’s this person’s motivation? And, moreover, what’s mine?

When I bend over backward for someone and they respond by chucking me to the curb, that hurts. I understand, just fine, that they’re “building their business” and don’t have time for anyone who isn’t interested in signing up under them or otherwise drinking the Kool-Aid. Most of us grasp the concept that to have a friend, you have to be a friend; you can treat me like an interchangeable commodity, but please don’t expect me to admire you for that.

I have, let me make this clear, no stake in this race. I make a living from one thing and one thing only: my writing. I share advice, what advice I have, because I truly do care about your wellbeing. I don’t need to have met you, ever, to know that you’re struggling just like I am. Maybe in a different way, but–who cares? I have no financial incentive to argue one way or another, about anything. As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, this content is free.

Think very carefully, when you take anyone’s advice, about what’s in it for them. In an MLM, for example, your “upline” has a vested interest in your continuing to agree that Arbonne, or BeachBody, or whatever is the wave of the future. Within the #amwriting world, there are dozens upon dozens of so-called editors and coaches and publicists telling you some version of the same thing, which is that success can only be achieved through them.


Success…for them.

Your friends are literally the only people on earth who are in it just for you. You. We don’t care how much money you make, or what else you do with your life so long as you’re fulfilled. We’re the ones who’ll help you out when you need help and, trust me, that matters. Please, please, don’t throw that away in pursuit of some materially minded fantasy. Friends aren’t part of some “network” you can exploit, because friendship isn’t some untapped resource. Friendship is the resource, now and forever.