It seems, much to my surprise, that there’s something controversial about saying “Don’t make enemies of people who may be in a position to help you later on in the career you hope to have.” I had no idea that this was something people would disagree with.
(While I’m on the subject, a link in comments led me to this post by Jeanine Frost, a NYT bestseller and very nice person I had the pleasure of meeting once a couple of years ago. I hadn’t seen this post before I posted; I wish I had. Maybe if you don’t want to believe me, you’ll believe her.)
Several people brought up Roger Ebert, I’m not sure why. Roger Ebert is a professional reviewer. He is a good and successful reviewer. I just must have missed the part where Ebert started actively pursuing an acting career. Nobody said you can’t be a reviewer. Just that you should think before you decide to try to be both. When is the last time you saw, say, Sandra Bullock, reviewing a film?
I’ve been referred to as being “scared.” I wanted to clarify this. I am not fucking scared. Ask anyone who knows me; I believe they’ll tell you there’s very little I’m afraid of (and if you read yesterday’s post you’ll see more clarification). I carry two switchblades. Hell, I have “I am not afraid” tattooed on my arm.
Some people are shocked–yes, shocked!–that writers would actually not take time to help out someone who criticized their work in the past. You know what? Writers are people. Just like any other people. When is the last time you took time you couldn’t afford to help a stranger who’d been publicly critical of you in the past? Why does everyone think this is a matter of anger? It’s not. I’m not sure what’s unclear about the fact that my time is extremely limited. If I have two bound mss in front of me, I likely only have time to read one, and that’s with me barely scraping that time from my schedule. Let’s see. I can pick the mss of the person who in the past said they disliked this or that about me or my work, or I can pick up the mss of the person who never said a word about me, or complimented me. You tell me what person you know–who isn’t in the running for sainthood–who’s going to deliberately pick the one of the critical person. It’s not about revenge. It’s not about anger. It’s about practicality.
This isn’t about being nice, either, to be honest. or rather, it is, but only in so much as it’s about not actively being unpleasant to or critical of people who could have an influence on your career. I’m not saying you can’t ever speak out against injustice or rudeness. I think we should do so. I think if you’ve read my blog before you know that; hell, remember what happened in May? I saw another writer–one “above” me, in fact, with whom I was friendly, who I liked as a person, and who was friends with many of my friends–behaving in a manner I found shockingly bad, disgusting, even; aggressive, rude, and unpleasant to readers. I blogged about it. Did that writer see it? I know she did. Do I think she’ll ever help me out with anything? I don’t think she’d piss on me if I were on fire, frankly. Do I think it’s possible she showed my post to her editor, and her editor now thinks I’m a bitch? I know it’s a distinct possibility, yes.
But the fact is it was worth it to me, because it was something I felt very strongly about and believe very strongly in. Do I think writing a review of her book is so important that I’d be willing to alienate her? Fuck, no. It might be worth it to you. Make the choice.
This isn’t about being scared, and it honestly shocks me that someone would think that. Fear isn’t anything to do with it. What it is about is my writing friends, and the community of writers in genre fiction, and the fact that I find it a deep pleasure to be part of that community and have little to no desire to alienate someone in that community. More to the point, I have little to no desire to–either accidentally or on purpose–hurt another member of that community. In fact, I have no desire to hurt anyone, anywhere.
Nor do I desire to look unprofessional, unpleasant, not fun to work with, etc. That’s what the post is about.
People seem to have taken the part about reviews way more strongly than I intended, and seem to be not focusing on the part that was, for me, most important: after you’re published reactions to you change, and you need to be more careful what you say because of that.
Sure, if you believe the job of a writer is to cause controversy, go ahead. If you don’t care about having friends in the industry, go ahead. If you’re confident that your work is so excellent that no one would ever turn it or you down, go ahead. (And as I said yesterday, I write from the perspective of a genre writer. I have no doubt that if you write controversial non-fic, or experimental litfic, some of the parameters change.)
I’d just like someone to show me one other industry–aside from politics, as several people mentioned on Twitter–where nobody minds/cares/notices, even, if you publicly criticize someone on a higher level of recognition and respect than yourself. It’s funny, because I seem to remember hearing stories about people, say, not getting a job they want because the owner’s assistant is the guy you said was as dumb as he was ugly when he worked with a friend of theirs, or being passed over for a promotion because they said some rude things about one of the members of the committee once.
Here’s a question. Why the fuck would you want to possibly alienate someone who could help your career? Just so you can tell the world what you think of their book? Do you really feel that strongly about being able to inform the world at large that you found Author A’s dialogue unrealistic? It’s really that important to you?
You’re not being asked or advised to cow under here and act like an little mouse with not an opinion in your sweet little head. I never said anything remotely like that. What I’m saying is, be fucking careful what you say, because just like in any other industry, it can come back to bite you on the ass. Period. You are expected to behave professionally, just like in any other industry. Publishing has its own rules of etiquette, just like any other industry, just like life, ffs. If you don’t like it? Fine. Feel free to ignore it. As I said yesterday, I don’t give a shit. I’m telling you what my experience and opinion is. Some people may feel differently. Good for them. I know what I think and what my friends think, that’s all.
I’m trying to remember the name of that actor, the one who said working with a particular director was a nightmare after they made that movie together. Know why I can’t remember his name? Because he didn’t get more work after that.
I used to work at a credit card bank. I hated that place with a deep and abiding hatred. I still do, in fact; they treated their employees like total shit. But when I worked there, do you think I wandered around telling everyone that I thought both the manager and the assistant manager were a couple of the most unprofessional miserable cunts I’d ever been forced to share air with? No. Funnily enough, I didn’t, because I didn’t want to lose my job. In fact, I didn’t even tell anyone I disliked them, or that I thought they’d made the wrong decision about this or that. I needed my job.
Guys, publishing is a business. It is a business, it is a business, it is a fucking business. I do this for a living. It is my job. It’s how I support my family. Most of the writers I know? Same thing. Or if it isn’t their sole means of support, it’s much-needed extra income. It doesn’t matter. I do this because I love it, yes. I love it more than anything, I love it with an intensity that scares me. I pour everything I can and everything I have into it. I work until my fingers are killing me and my chest feels hollow because I’ve put everything onto the page, and my eyes sting and itch from squinting and not blinking, and occasionally crying, while I do it.
That doesn’t mean that when I’m done writing I don’t wipe my eyes, get some sleep, and treat this like the business it is. That doesn’t mean I don’t need and appreciate the help of my friends, either, or that I’m not totally grateful for them. But it is first and foremost a business, and I need to treat it as such, and that means not stomping around in my fuck-you-all boots, not caring whose feelings or work I tread upon. That means not deliberately making enemies because I think it’ll be fun. That means not assuming that who I am as a person doesn’t matter one bit, and I’m under no obligation to be pleasant to work with. That means not telling readers to go fuck themselves or not caring about them, their feelings, or what matters to them.
It means not acting like my behavior, my words, my thoughts, etc., don’t matter to anyone and I’m an island, and repercussions are nonexistent, and I don’t need the goodwill of my peers, and I don’t need readers, either, because fuck those losers. You want to act that way? Go ahead. If you want to take that chance, be my guest, and please come back in a year or two to tell me about your great success.
As I’ve said several times now, sure it’s very possible nobody will care what you said. They may not know. Or it may become a huge thing. Or they might know what you said about them and decide not to help you one little bit. They might tell all the writers they know that you’re a fucking bitch and should be avoided. They might tell their agent and/or editor about you. (Again, I can’t speak for the agent and/or the editor. I just know what the agents on Twitter said.) There is no way of knowing, because the internet is public.
You have no idea how lonely writing is until you’ve done it. Especially not after you’re published. Especially not after you’re NY published, and most especially after people seem to think you’re actually successful, when everything you say is scrutinized and people don’t know how to respond to you or simply don’t understand where you’re coming from. Suddenly enemies pop out of the woodwork; people you’ve somehow upset or offended without knowing how, people who think you’re a crazed egotist. Guess what? I’m not a person who thrives on controversy. Nor do I enjoy being disliked. That’s not fear. I don’t need everyone to like me, either, and I’m not afraid of being disliked. Hell, if I was, I wouldn’t have said half the things I’ve said here on the blog or on Twitter or on AW or wherever. Being unafraid isn’t the same as getting off on it, though, and I think if you personally enjoy seeing people talk shit about you, you’re in the minority. Have fun with that, Erich von Stroheim, but don’t act like I’m somehow weird for choosing to go in a different direction.
Suddenly you don’t know what people’s motives are. Are they being nice to you because they like you, or because they’re hoping you’ll let them post on your blog one day? Or they want you to blurb them? Are they saying they liked your book because they did, or because they think it will help them somehow/get them somewhere? That person wouldn’t give you the time of day two months ago, why are they suddenly complimenting you now? That person who wants a blurb from you, they haven’t even read your book, really? They don’t even know anything about it, really?
Are they being nasty to you because you genuinely upset them, or are they jealous for some reason? Why are they talking so pointedly about your book? Why are they telling you it’s fine for you to talk, it was obviously easy for you, and you’re obviously so special, when they’re wrong and they know it and they’re being sarcastic and rude for no reason?
Someone reads your blog and interprets your post exactly the opposite way you meant it (this isn’t about Monday’s post, btw, it’s just an example). They then tell everyone to interpret it that way. They start a Twitter conversation about your personal stupidity and lack of writing ability. Does that sound fun? Would that have happened to you if you weren’t published? Would anyone have given a shit what you said if you weren’t?
You offer someone advice and they snap and get defensive. Someone else says the exact same thing and they’re thanked.
You ask an innocent question and it’s taken as berating. You answer someone’s question, thinking maybe you can help, and suddenly everyone thinks you’re totally full of yourself and are swanning around like you know everything. They resent you for it. They go out of their way to slam you for it.
You mention something on Twitter. A lot of people ask you about it. You answer each one of them, because you don’t want to ignore your readers. You’re accused of wanting to push the subject and not let it drop, of trying to milk it for all it’s worth, of trying to get attention. You’re accused of a reaction far, far more extreme than your actual words/thoughts, one that makes you sound like a childish fool. Many people believe this.
You talk to your husband or your best friend or whatever, and they help. But you know who actually understands? The only people who actually fully understand, the people who can confirm for you that you actually haven’t changed and aren’t being an egotistical shithead? That it’s not you, it happens to everyone? Other writers. What a surprise! Those same other writers you’re supposed to not give a fuck about and stir up controversy about.
All of this sucks, and it’s something I didn’t expect, and I think it’s something nobody expects. (Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!) But it’s real. And it hurts, quite frankly. And it’s lonely. Being published–NY published, especially/at least–is a trial by fire. Your online life, your professional life, is not and will not be the same (neither will your personal life to some degree). Sorry, but it’s true, and not liking it doesn’t change it. Nothing changes it. It just is. People–people you don’t know, people you’re not even aware exist–will note what you say, pay attention to it, base opinions on your reactions, misinterpret your words, bring their own biases into discussions, take an instant disliking to you, talk about you, gossip about you, criticize or compliment you, or whatever else (of course there are positives, too).
Just like in any other business, because that’s what it is. You decide how you want to handle your place in it.