Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Liked

If You Want Everyone to Like You, Get a Job Delivering Flowers.

I threatened to write this article for RTB a while back, but never found a shorter title. Grow Up was a strong contender for a time, but it was too vague. So I'm sticking to the original; I'll just make the piece shorter.

I won't get into the latest online writer hearsay-driven snitfest that has hurt feelings and outraged others. There seems to be one or two every week now, and when this one dies another monster bunch of yapping heads will grow in its place. Also there are rookie authors involved, and my policy is to leave them alone for the first year, which is awful enough without me dropping more shit on them.

What I want to talk about is the expectation or desire some authors have for everyone to like them and, by extension, their books. When you were in school, did everyone like you? Probably not. How about in your neighborhood -- all your neighbor's kids want to be your buddy? Unlikely. Everyone you've dated, have they proposed? Have you been promoted and given raises at every job you've worked? Did every editor who looked at your query call your house to shriek God sell me this book I will write you a check for two million dollars immediately. (okay, Elizabeth Kostava, the bitch. But everyone else? Never happens.)

So tell me, why does the fact that you're an author mean everyone has to like you (and your books), speak well of you (and your books), be your pal, etc.? Is it like that doctor thing where everyone expects a physician to be a wise, sober, uber-intelligent human being who can do no wrong? That everything a doctor does has to be right, too?

Example: I had a critic once give me a hatchet-job review which was posted on the internet. One of the strongest objections was that I had portrayed a doctor using a physical exam situation as the means to seduce his patient. To paraphrase the critic, Would never happen, doctors just don't do those sort of things. This critic also happened to be in a position to influence one of my rights sales. Happily, the editor ignored the lousy review and bought the rights anyway.

At the time I didn't respond to that criticism -- another PBW policy, never defend the book -- but let me ruin a few illusions now to make my point: once in real life, I walked in on a doctor in the process of giving a patient an internal exam with his god-given instrument. The doctor confided in me later about the situation. They were both married, things got out of hand during the initial exam and that was how they conducted their affair ever after: on an exam table; standing appointment twice a month. It was stupid, immoral, not to mention unethical as hell, but he was not the first doctor to have sex with a patient, and he won't be the last. It was also the inspiration for that particular scene.

Doctors are human beings. They mess up. They make bad decisions. They do the wrong thing. Do I like all doctors and think they can't do wrong? No way. Do I hate all doctors because I found one screwing a patient (answer: no, but I don't get on the table when I'm wearing that paper towel gown thing unless there's a big strapping nurse in the room, just to be safe.)

Any of this ringing bells?

No matter how careful you are, if you're an author, there are probably a dozen to many hundreds of people out there who don't like you and/or your books. They don't like your books, your face, the fact that you're published and they're not, or whatever. These people will never, ever like you. Just as your loyal readers spread the love, there's always someone to spread their hate. What can you do about it? You can be nice to people who hate you, it messes with their heads, but otherwise, not much beyond letting it go.

Obviously there are business reasons behind blogging. Being a successful author in today's market means getting your name out there. Sometimes that means taking some risks. Putting out books and blogs and opinions that people aren't going to automatically like is a way to get attention. Trashing other authors' books is another. Being sweet and happy and never rocking the boat is yet another, although it doesn't draw as much of a crowd. However you blog, some people are still going to like or dislike you.

If you look at that list of the best author blogs they recently stuck me on, you'll notice that a lot of those weblogs belong to writers who are outspoken or controversial in some way, shape or form. I don't think there's a soul on that list who hasn't been attacked by someone. Monica Jackson, Alison Kent, Holly Lisle -- we've all been through more than one online firestorm, and dealt with them in our different ways, but we didn't let them silence us. We go out there knowing everyone isn't going to like us, and we handle it.

Should you start a snitfest? If you weren't there and you didn't witness what happened, I'd suggest you get the facts first rather than perpetuate rumors, ala the Ann Jacobs/BEA situation. Tell the truth, not the story. Should you defend yourself in a snitfest? Up to you. I've found that a lot of these things are started simply to get attention and blog traffic, so I ignore them. Plus no one can argue with silence. Silence, like diamonds, is forever.

Is there anything wrong with trying very hard to assure as many people as possible like you? I don't know, I'm not a shrink (Dr. Sue, where are you when we need you?) but I'd be worried that you're going to become neurotic and disappointed. Publishing simply isn't a nice industry. But if it's that important to you to be accepted and liked, or it's a way to keep your online life peaceful, and you're willing to do what's necessary, go for it.

Or get a job delivering flowers. Everyone will like you. I promise. Except people who are allergic to flowers. And people who are mad at the person who sent the flowers. And people who wanted candy or jewelry instead . . .

21 comments:

  1. Amen. Some of the criticism seems a little mean-spirited, while others seem to be jumping in the brouhaha just for the dubious pleasure of hearing themselves spout off. It just makes me want to read the lady's book and find out how accurate the "venom cock" quote is.

    By the way, I just finished "Private Demon." It was great. I happen to love vampires anyway, but your version is a fresh and welcome take on the mythology. (Although I find myself wondering why all of a sudden women are being made Darkyn. Is there some deep dark secret behind this?) ;)

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  2. Adopting my best Jon Lovitz from Saturday Night Live voice, "Why yes, they do all love me. Not only that, but I'm king of the world." *ggg*

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  3. There's that old saw that if I wrote my life, no editor would ever buy it because they would deem it too ludicrous, even for fiction.

    The latest snit in my blogosphere had me thinking sadly of high school. My own experience with conventions and the so-called professionals tells me that people don't change, they just get published. Growing up is entirely optional.

    My company has a long-standing policy of not responding officially to vicious rumor and gossip, no matter how deep it cuts or how personal it gets. Fifteen years later, we're still around. It's a worthy lesson; as much fun as it is to blast the blasters, it drains energy and time away from the actual work, which matters far more than the morons who seek to tear it down.

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  4. zornhau4:18 AM

    As Meister Hanko Dobringer wrote in 1389, "Those who scare easily should stay away from swords."

    In this case, "Those who dislike exposing themselves or their work to public ridicule should stay away from publishing."

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  5. As soon as you respond to a overgrown child, they win. If you ignore them and let them have their hissy fit, you win. It's a lesson my mother is still working on driving into my brain.

    It is true, though. I've had some real winners take a stab at me (not about writing, but I'm sure it's the same kind of situation). I responded to one, absolutely furious over what was said, and all I did was make myself feel worse and give that idiot more ammo. I ignored the other completely. Nothing further.

    If I wanted people to like me, I'd lock myself in a closet somewhere and never speak again - because that's the only way it'll ever happen. *-*

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  6. I am, by nature, invisible. The average overweight, blonde and blue, casually dressed midwest housewife who knows her way around a kitchen. If I was short, too, no one would ever see me. I also come from a psychologically abusive background. To disappear is to survive.

    I don't court controversy. I tend to play well with others. I also tend to walk away.

    I don't expect anyone to like me, like my books, or anything else. If you do, great! C'mon over and and I'll make cookies. Just don't expect me to get all riled up over an issue. I had that beat out of me a long time ago.

    I was taught that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. I'm sure that, and my retiring shyness, reflects in my blog. Strangely enough, there's nothing shy about my fiction.

    It's all choosing your battles, I guess. I choose to wage mine in the bookstore, not the blogsphere.

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  7. I wonder if it's worse in the modeling industry.

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  8. The internet is a dangerous thing... and everything you write can come back to haunt you!

    Don't write angry and don't write to smite someone... Usually it'll haunt you.

    Great advice and a great reminder!

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  9. I spent a lot of years desperately wanting people to like me and altering my behavior in hopes of gaining approval. Around about my 30s, I learned to like and respect myself more. Other peoples' approval became less important. I am who I am and I like this Mary. I live life to my own belief and system, in accordance with how I define my integrity, etc.

    Funny thing is, I'm a much more popular adult than I was a teenager. I have a lot more friends and our friendships are deep, meaningful and tightly woven.

    As for my books, of course I want everyone who reads them to love them, but I realistically know that won't be the case. I accept this and continue to write the best books that I can.

    For the blog, I write what I write and hope to entertain. I'm not spiteful or a 'snitter' too much in real life, although I'm a tremendous smart ass. I can't muster the energy to be spiteful or launch snitfests on my blog just to gain attention. My blog readership might remain low, but at least I can believe the people who return regularly do so because they enjoy what I'm writing.

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  10. Dammit. I missed something good again somewhere on the web. Whatever set this off must have been fun. Can't*surf*fast*enough to keep up with the dirt flying. My blog has remained a snit-free-zone thus far, which clearly means I'm boring as all hell. In my head I'm having fun at least.

    Mary, When I need a break and want to feel good about the world -- a nearly impossible feat given what a collossal cynic I am -- I go to your blog. I enjoy what you are writing.

    PBW, ths publishing world is a flusher. Writers should know that going into it, but I fear they wouldn't hear it no matter how loud you blog.

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  11. I enjoyed your aside about the randy doctor. One of our local docs had a similar problem a few years back, and nearly lost his license over it. He once told me and my wife, apropos of his life philosophy, "Life's too short. You have to grab a little gusto." We both had the same thought (and we both kept our mouths shut): Oh, is THAT what you were grabbing?

    I hope that through my blog, in my very small way I'm helping to dispel the notion of doctors as asexual beings ;o) . . . which doesn't mean I say or do inappropriate things, but you can't control a guy's brain. If a beautiful young woman with a low-cut dress comes to see me as a patient (as an aside: why do some women dress provocatively for a doctor's appointment?) I try my damnedest to keep my eyes in her nose (or ears, or throat -- you get the idea) but cleavage, man. It's an eye magnet.

    Lots of people hate me, by the way. And if I ever publish my big mothah novel, I'm sure a lot more people will hate me.

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  12. Excellent post, as always. Love it. Seems the only time I get really riled is when somebody gets visciously attacked. Seems to really push my buttons. Not sure why. I know life is not fair. But I hate bullies with a passion.

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  13. Actually, that's excellent advice for all areas of life, IMO. Not just writing. It was particularly helpful this week for me to read it.

    So, thank you, ma'am, very much.

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  14. I did a quick scan of the whole 'venom cock' thing and a lot of what was going on looks like the sort of group ostracism and piling-on that I remember from high school.

    Whether or not the book in question was bad, the feeding frenzy was a bit distasteful.

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  15. "11:59 AM
    Dean said...
    I did a quick scan of the whole 'venom cock' thing..."

    What? Where?????

    Sigh.

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  16. I"m with Mary STella--the older I get the less I tend to care what folks think of me...and Trace--I hate bullies =)
    I'll blog what I blog and that's all that I"ll blog and anyone who doesn't like it can click on that little X in the top right corner.

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  17. Hmm, I'm curious enough about the "vc" thingey but I'm NOT going to google that.

    At least not at work.

    It's tough to build a shield against the snits of the world. Some seem to do it naturally, whereas I've been known to cringe at e-mails with headers from people who I *know* want to feed me into a meat grinder. The irony is that, most of the time, that's not the case, so innocous have been my posts.

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  18. Me: I did a quick scan of the whole 'venom cock' thing..."

    Ferf: What? Where?????


    I just googled 'venom cock', and followed a few links. Sorry to be so long replying, I couldn't type anything about venom cocks on a work machine.

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  19. I couldn't type anything about venom cocks on a work machine.

    Bwahahaha! OK I'm over the whole VC thing anyway. But thanks for the directions.

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  20. Venom cock? A condition stemming from too much handling of the one-eyed snake?

    Anyway. It was so very easy to get caught up the playground scuffle du jour when I started blogging, but I think I've mellowed a little bit. It takes so much energy. I do like to believe that I'd never out and out point and laugh at a conference, though.

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  21. What gets me in trouble in the blogosphere (and life, to be frank) is my big mouth. I just cannot get out of a fight without kicking up a hell of a brawl first. Can't help it *g*. It's the "small & weak kid" syndrome--you never show you are weak or afraid, and never run away. Otherwise, you become a victim.
    But, my point is -- the publishing world, it's a nest of vipers, but everyone is so *nice* on the surface. I wish they were the honest vipers, not the baby-pink-painted ones. The faux niceness wakes up the bitch-monster in me.

    And the VC? I've read somewhere. Like, years before. So I've got no idea what got everyone so hot under their collective collar.

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