As Authors, We Have To Know Better

I tend to try and stay away from hot button issues. While I often encounter online drama, especially in the book community, I try not to get involved. I read and watch so that I can be informed in what is going on in the industry, but I don’t comment. Usually.

As authors, it is pertinent that we understand one important fact: What we say matters. It doesn’t matter if it is in print, in speech, in our books, in an interview, a forum post or a tweet. What we say matters. Our words, and the impression they convey are far more important than our intent.

We know this. We have to know this, because telling a good story that readers will really get absorbed in depends on it. We have to be able to verbalize a characters thoughts as well as their words and  we have to know how other characters will react to it.

So why is it then, that we cannot seem to predict or understand how our words will come across when we speak to others online.

Sometimes it comes in the form of a response left on a bad review (shame on you if you are an author that seeks to argue with a reviewer), sometimes it is a rant in a tweet. Sometimes it is a needlessly harsh critique.

Part of the problem stems from not knowing an audience. Again though, as authors it is sort of our job to know our target audience, so that we may pick words that will carry with them our intended meaning. And this, my friends, is what brings me to the bone I have to pick.

No, it isn’t over the misunderstanding of the site LendInk -Yes that was a misunderstanding that resulted from two sides not fully managing to get each other to understand where they were coming from. Again, I hold the authors to a higher standard- they make their livelihood in the written word, yet they couldn’t understand what the site was really doing even though it was all there in black and white. It is also a good example of the book community as a whole needing to really understand why they are mad, and  needing to take the time to think for themselves instead of banding together in packs of roving bloggers/authors/reviewers frothing at the mouth like rabid herds ready to protect their vulnerable individuals from threats – perceived or real. Had they stopped growling long enough for the contagion of animosity to die they might have been able to truly hear the explanations that were offered time and time again.

But as I said, this bone of mine isn’t over that scandal. Nor is it over the aforementioned outbreak of word-slinging, guilt inducing, career overshadowing incidents of authors engaging in altercations with reviewers – you know those unpaid, tireless cheerleaders who devote countless hours trying to play cupid between author’s books and readers eager hearts. Or worse still, when they attack the readers themselves, who for whatever reason are disappointed in a book, and they leave their opinions for others in the proper channels for them to do so. In a society that bows easily to societal pressure to like or dislike a product, good reviews are only valuable if they are given freely, if they are given in place of a bad review because the person writing the review truly liked the product, not because the only option is good review or no review. And as much as I dread the day I get my first bad review, I know it will come. And while I will likely cry, I wont respond. Why? Because reviews aren’t written for my benefit. They are for consumers benefit. They may make me feel validated, or appreciative, or appalled or motivated to do better, but that is merely a byproduct, not the purpose of the review. (With that said, don’t take my silence on inevitable reviews to mean I don’t appreciate and crave each and every one. However, if you wish to open a dialogue with me, do feel free, but send me an email or a note on fb or something.)

Now that I have rambled again, I will try to get to the point of what I really wanted to take a moment to complain about. I read an interview with Sue Grafton linked on a blog I frequent. Quit Worrying About Publication On The Passive Voice –    The original source of the interview and article is here – Source
Now it has been ages since I have read any of Ms. Grafton’s novels, but a few things about this article really bothered me. Beyond being simply appalled at her choice of words, I am appalled she chose those words for her audience. While I am not sure what the readership of the interviewing source is, I have come to understand that the reporter interviewing her is self published author – Red Tash. Ms. Grafton, displaying an abhorrent lack of professionalism, made these comments about self publishing to a self published author. They are enraging, unprofessional and disrespectful.

The original question was: Do you have any words of wisdom for young writers?
Her response: Quit worrying about publication and master your craft. If you have a good story to tell and if you write it well, the Universe will come to your aid. Don’t self-publish. That’s as good as admitting you’re too lazy to do the hard work.

Putting her actual words aside, what I can get from her statement is – My way is the only way. Don’t think for yourself. Let someone else control your success. It is in the hands of the Universe.

Wonder how her Karma is right about now? I sure hope the Universe is keeping tabs. 

Ok, I apologize. That was snarky. 

The point I am trying to make, is that we have to consider our words. Sometimes, we really need to go back and censor ourselves, even when we feel strongly on something. 

To lazy to do the hard work? Really? – While the work that a self published author does may be different,  I truly don’t believe it is any easier. 

I can see what I assume her comment stemmed from can be true. Some self published material would have greatly benefited from a good edit or three. Speaking for myself though, I would much rather have the broader range of reading material available that has been the result of the innovations in both publishing and self publishing over the last few years, than be limited to only the books that publishers decide the mainstream market will be willing to buy even be available. Publishers and agents were not  only the gatekeeper to publication for authors, they were the gatekeepers to what the average reader had readily available. And while the traditional publishers publish a lot of fantastic fiction, how much better might it have been if the authors had retained more control, to write the stories as they saw them, instead of having to write and sometimes compromise for a publisher’s vision. (Please note, I am not saying every traditionally author has compromised their story, only that I think some have.)

While I dislike her original answer, I could forgive it. Mostly. Then she stuck her foot father in her mouth in an amazing show of contortionism and spouted forth more foul smelling elitist, uninformed crap. 

In light of our Louisville neighbor John Locke’s blockbuster indie sales, and the growing percentage of each best-seller list being filled out by “indie” writers, do you still feel that advice is solid? I know it was the standard advice a few years ago, but is it still good advice?
If so, what hard work are indie success stories too lazy to complete?
Is it possible that indie publishing is more effective than querying agents & publishers, for the new writer? More and more agents and publishers seem to be treating indie books as the new slush pile.
Good questions.  Obviously, I’m not talking about the rare few writers who manage to break out. The indie success stories aren’t the rule. They’re the exception. The self-published books I’ve read are often amateurish. I’ve got one sitting on my desk right now and I’ve received hundreds of them over the years. Sorry about that, but it’s the truth. The hard work is taking the rejection, learning the lessons, and mastering the craft over a period of time. I see way too many writers who complete one novel and start looking for the fame and fortune they’re sure they’re entitled to. To me, it seems disrespectful…that a ‘wannabe’ assumes it’s all so easy s/he can put out a ‘published novel’ without bothering to read, study, or do the research. Learning to construct a narrative and create character, learning to balance pace, description, exposition, and dialogue takes a long time. This is not an quick do-it-yourself home project. Self-publishing is a short cut and I don’t believe in short cuts when it comes to the arts. I compare self-publishing to a student managing to conquer Five Easy Pieces on the piano and then wondering if s/he’s ready to be booked into Carnegie Hall. Don’t get me started. already did.

I must say, the interviewer Red Tash showed admirable restraint and professionalism in the face of such rude, inflammatory statements. I Do hope Ms. Grafton was taking notes. She could have learned much from that specific self published author, were she not to high up on her horse to see it. 

The thread over at The Passive Voice had a ton of great and intelligent comments ( yes even a few partially agreeing with Sue Grafton.) It is definitely worth a read.