Writers You Want to Punch in the Face(book)

This is the story of Todd Manly-Krauss, the world’s most irritating writer. He’s a good enough guy in real life (holds his liquor, fun at parties, writes a hell of a short story)—but give the guy a social media account, and the most mild-mannered of his writer friends will turn to blood lust.

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Okay, so he’s not a real writer. Except that he is. At times I fear he’s me.

Because I do struggle for balance with social media. I’m supposed to use it to promote my work (it’s not just a Twitter account, it’s a platform, dammit), and if many of the highlights of my life are writing-related, I naturally want to share those. But then I think of how I might come off to someone who’s struggled for years to publish that first story. Or how I must seem when I’m the only writer (the only self-promoter, even) on someone’s feed. And I wonder if I’m someone’s own personal Todd Manly-Krauss.

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And we can’t really share the lowlights, at least not most of them. I’m not going to tell you when a story is rejected, because I don’t want you to doubt my work. I won’t tell you that the panel I did was horrible, and everyone on it was a jerk, and the guy next to me put his hand on my leg. I’m not going to tell you if I’m afraid my new novel is a disaster. I’m not going to tell you if I get eviscerated in Publisher’s Weekly. Everything is peaches and sunshine. Sunny peaches. Peachy suns. Because if you believe my book is amazing, maybe you’ll order it. And I can earn enough money to buy food.

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And so we can forgive Todd Manly-Krauss. Really we can. Or at least, we know we can’t cast the first stone.

It’s not that you’re not happy for him. He deserves good things. He’s worked as hard as anyone else. It’s just that sometimes, you kind of wish he’d get a little bit smooshed by a bus.

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But shouldn’t a writer have a better ear, a better sense of how he’s coming off? Part of the problem is that people actually respond to this stuff. Hundreds of “likes” for every post. Adoring former students. Aspiring writers. Spambots he’s accepted as friends because he assumes they’re fans. Why would Todd stop doing something he’s continually rewarded for?

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You could unfollow Todd Manly-Krauss, and perhaps you really should. It would be better for your mental health and your blood pressure. But somewhere along the way (and this is what kills you) his posts have convinced you that he’s a really important writer. That this is someone you want and need to be friends with, because he’s a powerful taste-maker, one of the great minds of our generation. You know it isn’t true—his work is good but not your favorite—and yet it’s like he’s brainwashed you.

facebook 6At a certain point, you wonder why you can’t be more like Todd Manly-Krauss. You wonder if your hesitation to self-promote is holding your career back. Maybe it’s because you’re a woman, and society has taught you not to talk about yourself this way. Maybe it’s because you were the smallest guy in gym class, and you’ve learned to duck and hide. Maybe it’s because you don’t believe in your work enough. If you could only be like Todd, you’d have sold five times as many books!

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No, you know better: the guy’s an ass. You meet a few writer friends for coffee, and one of them—one of the same people who’s been “liking” every one of Todd’s posts—goes, “You know, Todd’s a good guy, but on Facebook…” and someone else goes, “Oh my god, I thought it was just me!” “Thank you!” you shout, far too excited. “He’s the worst!”

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But you fear that somewhere far away, someone’s having that same conversation about you. And so you remind yourself to post more photos of your dog. Everyone likes dogs, right?

We are always looking for great work. Have you considered submitting to Ploughshares?

About Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's second novel, THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE, has been called "stunning: ambitious, readable, and intriguing" by Library Journal. She is also the author of THE BORROWER (Viking, 2011) and numerous short stories, four of which have been anthologized in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES series. She teaches at Lake Forest College, Sierra Nevada College, and StoryStudio Chicago, and is the recipient of a 2014 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her website is http://www.rebeccamakkai.com, and she tweets at @rebeccamakkai.
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85 Responses to Writers You Want to Punch in the Face(book)

  1. Amy Jo Burns says:

    This was the VERY best way to start the week. This is my FAVORITE of your posts, and I have loved all of them. E-dawg Hemster is just icing on the cake.

  2. Catherine Tidd says:

    THIS. IS. HILARIOUS. And so true! I hate promoting my work because I know how irritated I get by other “writers” who go overboard. The truth is, I can’t ignore the people who annoy me on social media because it’s like a train wreck I can’t help but watch and for some reason I do enjoy that eye roll first thing in the morning. Why is that?

    Great piece!

  3. Brilliant! And cats – you can never go wrong with a good cat photo …

  4. This is very good. I think we are all someone’s Todd.

  5. J.A. Hitchcock says:

    Sounds more like you are jealous of this guy. I am a published author (not as accomplished as this guy) and am thrilled if someone recognizes me. I post about the good and bad stuff that happens with my writing and I am happy that my friends respond accordingly. Now I plan on making him a friend thanks to your post. We writers need to stick together, not alienate.

  6. John Smith says:

    Ah, I’m not the person you’re writing about, so don’t think I am. You shouldn’t write about the person you’re writing about in such a negative way. I’m just saying, not because I’m the person you’re writing about or anything…

  7. Bob Brimble says:

    Great essay–I think self-promotion is okay, but the daily self-congratulatory posts–won an award, wrote 30,000 words today, going on book tour, here I am touring for my book, boy am I tired from my book tour, etc–make me nuts. I think it all has to do with tone, too. Just link to your freaking writing and move on.

    The most obnoxious self-promoters actually resistant to reading their work–it has the opposite effect.

  8. Daniel Peña says:

    Ha! I loved this. Thank you, Rebecca.

  9. Love it! When in doubt, I post sunsets and dogs. And I am soon to be a very important writer with many (OK, one) awards and huge numbers (five?) of new FB Likes a week, so it’s working for me.

  10. Eva Whitley says:

    If he’s that successful, shouldn’t he have a publicist doing his promotion?

    I believe the old phrase was “the old man shows his medals.”

  11. Claire Fogel says:

    Thank you for starting my day with a laugh, Rebecca! I see so many like Todd on Facebook as well as a few other writers’ sites. I haven’t promoted my soon to be published novel at all yet — do NOT want to become another Todd! There must be a less annoying way to promote my work.

    • Claire, you should definitely talk about it — people do want to know, and to support their friends — but I think it’s all about tone. Being genuine in your emotions (like, if you’re excited, say so, don’t pretend you knew you had it coming to you) and supporting other writers as much as you talk about yourself. Easier said than done, of course. It’s really effing hard to strike the right tone.

    • jilly marie says:

      definitely talk about it; the blood the sweat, the tears, the entire thing and how it effects you and your life, too. post stuff that has nothing to do with writing or your book, too. for a reader and part-time wannabe writer, it’s exciting to have a peek into all of that. engage your readers, not in a smarmy, self effacing way, but authentically and they will respect your process. i follow two writers who work fb this way and i love their shares.

  12. My husband says the more cheerful people are on FB the more messed up things are in real life. That it never fails, RIGHT after someone posts how blissfully in love they are and how life just could not be any more prefect, whammo, they are in jail and/or getting a divorce.

  13. Caitlin McGuire says:

    There is one writer in particular that I feel this way about. I don’t think anything in my entire life has been as gratifying as the conversation I had with friends over drinks at AWP, when everyone sheepishly admitted to feeling the same way about said writer. I’m not crazy! (Or at least I’m not the only crazy one).

  14. This is brilliant! And so goddamn true!

  15. Michael says:

    I’ve probably been Todd-like more often than I’d like to remember, but that didn’t stop me from cackling gleefully at this. Terrific post!

  16. Matt de la Pena! This is so incredibly true. A couple writers I know mistake social media and the “platform” they are supposed to cultivate with the most aspartame posts. I love how you handle your authentic writing journey, by the way. You’re adding to the positive side of the ledger during our days. Thanks for that.

    Rebecca, thanks for posting something that has been nagging at me for awhile now. Maybe I can let it go because you handled it so well.

  17. Gae Polisner says:

    This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read. Don’t worry that no one will ever hear from me again. I’m not saying I blame you. I’m just saying I am Todd Manly-Strauss. Right down to the fekking dog.

  18. Sarah Manly-Krauss says:

    You guys just don’t get Todd

    • Stevens Ralf says:

      Sarah, if I were you, I wcouldn’t worry too much about this; almost eeery publicity is good publicity, and that applies in your husband’s case. It will make people more curious to know how good his work is and that could definitively help sales of TZP (and maybe increase his public profile positively). You can’t control what people say or feel about you, but you can make it profitable and worth your while.

  19. LF says:

    I think THE ZOO PEOPLE is my favorite fictional title for a novel, ever. Loved this. And while I’d bet a majority of the Manly-Krausses of the world are dudes, I have to say, some lady writers and poets on my newsfeed could sure give M-K a run for his money…

  20. lara morgan says:

    hilarious! and much too bone close to the truth about some people. there was a writer on my twitter feed I had to unfollow after a while because all he ever did was tweet about his books. seriously that was all.
    I will post about what I”m doing in writing and if I’m going somewhere but not much and I think it’s always really good to post stuff about other writers. it just makes it more interesting. me me me is soooo boring. I see me every day, I want to see other people.

  21. Jette says:

    I just bought your book just based on this post and the first 1.5 sentences that were displayed on the Kindle app on my phone. Didn’t even click on “More” to read the rest of the blurb.

  22. Okay you guys, you know I can’t actually approve the comments that name names, right? But they’re totally cracking me up.

  23. Amy says:

    Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  24. Anita says:

    Flog your books all you like, it’s the ‘humble-bragging’ that wears me down. It’s not exclusive to authors either, a relative-in-law if mine was forever boasting about how many miles she’d run, how many part time jobs she had, how many home-cooked cakes she’s baked…it was tiresome! (I say *was* because as someone else mentioned: all the bragging goeth before a fall)

  25. Clementine says:

    The *only* way this could have been funnier and more apt is if Todd’s last name was just Krauss and his wife had the hyphenated version ‘because I want to keep my own identity’.

    Great post! I particularly liked the comment where he tells Valerie he has to get around to reading her work. So subtle, so true.

  26. James says:

    Genius, had me in stitches. And when I say ‘stitches’ I’m saying that that’s some ask, with my stellar sense of humour, that is some mountain this article climbed, baby. You know it.

    Mental note (don’t need to write it down, as I have this pesky ability to remember everything – can be problematic as I get so many great reviews that it could go to my head if I was less awesomely balanced – thanks to me for that – but really need some negative reviews – like that’s possible – just for balance, but I digress, in 7 different directions simultaneously – yeah I know, you wish you could too, right?) yeah but mental note to high five E-Dawg Hemster, that’ll make his day. He’ll brag about it for life, and doing stuff like that reminds me of how humble I am. Seriously though, as DFW once would’ve said about me if he’d had the privilege of knowing me – but yeah, I kind of would’ve taught him everything he’d known then and he’d then only be known as a plagiarizer of me, so for him in the end he was better of not knowing me – yeah like that’s possible, baby… but anyway, back to me…

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  28. Heather says:

    Oh, my gosh! I KNOW that guy! I loved this post so much! Know what else I seem to love? Exclamation marks.

  29. writair says:

    Normally I don’t go in for writer-shaming, but I have to admit that there’s one writer who does this all the time, and it’s crazymaking. It’s the authorial equivalent of the Christmas card letter that talks about the family’s perfect year. Yeah, in general I’m happy you’re successful, but I don’t need to hear about the award you got for breathing (and how humbled you are by it).

  30. D.B. Sieders says:

    This wonderful bit of snark and satire made my whole day brighter. Thank you!

  31. Telaina Muir says:

    So funny, and so true. It is hard to find a balance between “getting out there,” and annoying the socks off of everyone. I don’t even have a book published yet, but I am still creating a platform, in between writing the most amazing, daring 3000 words ever, creating an eggless soufflé, and walking on a tightrope upside down. Thanks for the laughs!

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  33. Jay says:

    Very funny. Some comments mention that you appear to be jealous of Mr. Manly-Krauss. It wouldn’t be funny if you didn’t, that’s kinda the point. Well done.

  34. ….And haha at the name “Manly-Krauss.” Great piece.

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  37. A note to readers: I’m really happy that this post has sparked some online debate. (I am, as Todd would say, “humbled”…) Several people have written their own responses to it, and I’ll be happy if they continue to do so. But I want to clarify something that maybe wasn’t entirely obvious in the essay above: This post is NOT an argument against sharing our good news on Facebook. It is an essay about tone — about how in the necessary process of self-promotion, some writers seem entirely tone deaf, while others (not featured here, but all over social media) strike the right tone. We all know a few people who hit the wrong notes, and we all fear that we are those people.

    Thanks… And thanks for helping this article circulate.

  38. Marialena says:

    Brilliant! Still laughing.

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  40. StabbySaysHi says:

    Loved this! I’m working on something very similar, only it’s more complex (slaps head: why? when this is so fantastic!) Sending it to my gifted children, who will get such a kick out of it, before heading over to Whole Foods for some yummy veggies for soup! ;)

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  45. Robin says:

    ‘Fraid I have to agree with the author. This guy sounds unbearable and I’ve never even heard of him outside this blog post! Who slyly mentions that their wife used to be a model and then goes on to say they have a “writing cabin”? Of course, this little gem is my favorite, “I almost wonder if it’s too daring, too dark. Is the world ready for this stuff? But I had to go there. I can only write the truth, nothing less.” I think we’ve found the Kanye West of the literary world.

  46. Michael says:

    Robin, the reason you’ve never heard of him is that he doesn’t exist. He’s a caricature. An accurate one, but a caricature nonetheless.

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  50. I loved this. Hats off to you. And the tone deaf comments are extra hilarious.

  51. ToonForever says:

    I see some of this sort of thing from the successful from time to time – but I also see it from so-called “Indies” in spades. As an aspiring writer (playwriting, mostly) I like to follow back writers who follow me on Twitter – but the sheer volume of promotion, and the tone – waves of what seem to be comments they wish others were writing about them. Ugh – just be an aspiring writer, be someone who’s decided to self-publish, or be someone enjoying some success, but just be yourself. Don’t put on a mask.

  52. Jen says:

    It’s a slippery slope. . .self-promotion v. just being a well, a–. Your article was awesome, but the comments about how much this man should be respected are cracking me up even more! Don’t you love it when people only read half your posts? Sigh.

  53. MARK THOMAS says:

    You know…for a writer going on and on about himself and his work; half of this could’ve been CUT! Make more of an impact? I don’t know. Best thing helping me? I started off as a journalism major in college; worked on student paper; UPI stringer while still and undergrad. Then…came creative writing and short stories eventually leading to graduate film school. But as a writer: goddamnit…cut your fucking darlings.

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  55. Paul says:

    Wait, someone with THIS bio is freaking out over a douche like Todd Manly-Krauss?

    Rebecca Makkai’s second novel, THE HUNDRED-YEAR HOUSE, will be available July 10th. She is also the author of THE BORROWER (Viking, 2011) and numerous short stories, four of which have been anthologized in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES series. She teaches at Lake Forest College, Sierra Nevada College, and StoryStudio Chicago, and is the recipient of a 2014 Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    This is my cynical laugh… ha. ha. haaaaaaaaaaarghhh…

  56. Steve MC says:

    I met him at a conference once, and you’re right: the guy’s an ass. Couldn’t even sign his book without adding a bit about how many fish he’d just caught at his friggin’ lake.

    But really, great post. And forgive my ignorance, but while I spotted Marquez and du Maurier, whose photos did you use for his wife, Valerie Papadopulous, and Alice DuPont?

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