Selfish Selflessness


This guest post is by D. Emery Bunn, a speculative fiction writer. Follow him on his blog,, and on Twitter (@DEmeryBunn).


One of the great things about the indie writing community and its various microcosms (for example, Facebook, GoodReads, Twitter, Wattpad) is how giving and supporting everyone is. For every person who downplays the hard work of being a writer, there’s a dozen more who know exactly how much it takes just a tweet, wall post, or what-have-you away. The curious thing is that amidst all of our selflessness, ultimately we have our own selfish motives, a selfless selfishness if you will.

Why Be Selfless?

There’s an astonishing number of “business cases” for being selfless in our interactions with fellow authors, editors, and most importantly, potential readers.

Getting discovered as an indie author is hard.

For every Hugh Howey or Scott Sigler there’s thousands of people who wrote a good book, put it out there, and no one ever saw it. Rather than lament that as a horrible thing, it’s in your best interest as an author to build a network of people who know you as not just the name on the cover, but as a person they want to support by buying your books. Networks get built on working together, not by being a jerk to everyone.

Help spreads like wildfire.

Being helpful, whether through a link, emotional support, or being silly when people need a good laugh, leaves an impression on people. They favorite, like, share, etc., what helped, hoping that others will gain the same improvement. Ironically, this follow-on sharing is itself a sort of selflessness, as the next person is trying to be helpful.

People remember negatives more than positives.

Psychology tells us that people remember negative experiences far more than positive ones, even if more positive things happen than negative. This works both for and against an author looking to build a network. For, since by always being kind, positive, and nice, people will remember that “this person is fun to engage with, and never makes me want to punch him/her in the face.” Against, since one really nasty spat, no matter how justified, can destroy all of the hard work of building that network, forcing you to rebuild from almost nothing.

People want to engage with like-minded individuals.

The selflessness of the indie community these days is somewhat of a vicious cycle. People started being nice, got crazy successful in the process, and a lot of other people copied the model. Now that there’s virtually no one who’s a jerk, anyone who wants to join the community either does the same, or doesn’t break in at all.

Being a jerk makes no friends.

Networks are built on friendship and kindness, not being a jerk. Granted, there’s room for a “jerk persona” that everyone understands as a universal in-joke, but even so that requires people to know the person in advance to be able to understand it’s just an act, not a fact.

It’s morally right.

I’m sure some might disagree with me on this, but being nice to others is the right thing to do in the vast majority of moral codes. People who do right are thought of in higher regard than people who do wrong.

Combine all of these reasons (and I’m sure you’ve thought of a couple more), and there’s no reason not to be selfless and giving. It builds networks, makes friends, and generates a person behind the name that people want to engage with.

The Selfish Ulterior Motive

Notice those three effects of being selfless on the indie scene: building networks, making friends, and generating a person behind the name. Those three things immediately feed into the ultimate goal: selling more books. Why bother with social networking in any form if it doesn’t affect the bottom line?

While I’m sure we take the time helping out because it’s something we like to do, it pays dividends back tenfold. One simple line of text to someone struggling can make their day, helping them meet their goals and even exceed them. To paraphrase a humorous line, “To them it was the best thing that had happened all week. To me, it was just a tweet.”

People want to pay back for that sort of help, and very often that’s by passing the information on to their friends, or looking up the person’s site, or maybe even finding a book and tossing it on the wish list for the next time there’s available money.

That desire to reciprocate back is what we all hope for, because it furthers our own goal of getting known and potentially selling more books. In some small way we all want to be the next Howey, and building a network and nurturing the growth of others is the surest way to make that happen, breakout novel notwithstanding (and we can all hope for that amazing rarity).

So when you get those thankful tweets back about something, don’t feel bad for having that Evil Mastermind moment of “and my follower count grows, all according to plan.” Because it’s okay to have that as a plan. Everyone does.

Special thanks to Daryl Rothman (@daryl_dcrdrr) for inspiring me to write this post, and H. M. Brooks for having me on.


6 responses »

  1. Pingback: Self-Publishing is Reactionary? How about Transformative? | D. Emery Bunn

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