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 . . .