My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

15 Things Not to Do to Writers (Unless You Want Them to Hate You)

Rage.....taking over.
15 Things you might be doing to make writers hate your stinking guts (1-5)

[Ima here. Good to be back on the guest blog circuit.  I'm glad that Cedric's newfound love for this Dor person has helped him find the motivation to make Chris get this place back in order.]  

Though most of my wonderful lists are for writers, today’s list goes out to people who aren’t writers, but interact with them.  Or perhaps for writers to share passive aggressively with their friends who do one or more of these things  (“Hey Harry.  Just thought you might get a kick out of this.  No reason.  No, seriously, read it.  -Cheers.”)

Are you basically a nice person, but you seem to turn writers off? Have you ever gotten a sour look from a writer, even though they seemed endlessly fascinated by person next to you talking about weaponizing carbuncles, and you wondered what you could have possibly done to offend them?  Have your writer friends stopped coming around even though you offer only the finest boxed wine?  Do writers cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming, or maybe pause before getting onto elevators with you, weakly smiling and saying: “Maybe I’ll get the next one"?

It’s probably you.

For all your innocent fun jestitude, good intentions, and even well-meaning curiosity, you may be doing things that make writers hate you more than Orson Scott Card hates passing the Bechdel test.  Most of us writers aren’t particularly strange creatures--we like to be fed good food, we enjoy cool drinks on hot days and hot drinks on brisk evenings, we get a little stupid w hen the back of our neck is touched, and we’ll probably go catatonic during a good massage, and many of us have an almost unhealthy obsession with threesomes.  We like stimulating conversation--especially about good books.  Most of us just want to be loved, and while we might be awkward about our ability to form or carry on social connections, few of us eschew them without cause, and most of us hold tight our dear friends who love us despite our writerly foibles.

However, the fecund jungle of a writer's brain is not without it's strange Rambo-esque traps. One misstep and you can wreck a rapport faster than texting on the freeway can wreck your chances of being on Dancing With the Stars.

Here are a list of some of the most common perils.

1. You ask them for their publisher/agent (or ask them to promote you).

The development of (genuine) professional contacts takes a lot of time and effort and much, much, much more good old fashioned hard work than marketing savvy. (The names you typically get from rubbing elbows instead of writing quality material are about what you'd expect from hobnobbing. They are contacts who are out rubbing elbows with "not really" writers.  Basically, they KIND of deserve each other.)  You are essentially telling the writer that you want them to do that part of the work for you. That email or phone number that you think is “no big deal” took them years to earn, and you don't want to wait years.

Not only are you asking the writer basically if they will help you shortcut the work they had to do, but you are also asking them to vouch for you and the quality of your writing. They're sticking their neck out.

Now I know you--in all your narcissistic glory--think you are totally worth it, but try imagine how they feel. You’re putting them on the spot, and that writer may really really not want to tell you that you probably have a couple of years more practice before you’re ready to be published, or that you should start by farming out short stories because your novel was nine hundred and fifty excruciating pages of self-indulgent, Star Wars rip-off bullshit in which you were so obviously the main character it was painful every time they turned the page.

The same goes for asking a self published writer who has taken the years to build up their audience to promote you. They've worked for years for what you're asking them to hand you. It's like skipping the queue for a Mega Roller Coaster on opening day.

At least do them a huge favor first if you're going to ask for something like this.

2. You brag about how you don't pay for books.

Imagine someone telling a plumber that they really like to scam plumbers.  How do you think that will go over?  Or how about telling a cab driver that they like to jump out of cabs at the end of the trip and run off without paying, or telling a server that they like to dine and dash and never, ever leave a tip.
Not paying people for their hard work makes them like you.
This is exactly what you’re doing to a writer if you tell them you download books illegally or otherwise don't pay for them when you should, and it is why they hate you. Fiction authors don’t make very much money unless they are ridonkulously famous.  Most have day jobs, rich spouses, live in their parents' basements, or are really struggling.

Compound the white hot hate filled fury of a supernova the writer feels toward you by a factor of ten if you brag to them that you stole/didn’t pay for THEIR book. (And yes...this actually happens.) This isn’t a lot different than proudly telling someone you stole their jewelry last week, sold it, and spent everything on bacon cheeseburgers.

Also, most people don't realize this, but a writer doesn't make any money if you buy their book used. (It's not hard to realize if you think about why, but most people never stop to consider it.) Writers love books--oh sweet Jesus they just LOVE them--so most will understand if you can’t resist the sweet siren call of Half Priced Books, or if you tend to take a chance on new authors from the USED aisle because they do the same thing, but if you never ever ever ever buy a book new (or check it out from a library...which buys it new) you might want to keep that to yourself. At least don't brag about it TO them.

3. You give them unsolicited advice.

Writers get a lot of advice.  The problem is most of it they don’t really need or want.  And while you may be the most well intentioned Helpy McHeplerson who just wants to helpfully help, by the time you show up with your well intentioned suggestion that the writer write “the next Fifty Shades of Grey,” the chances are that your every word is like taking an enthusiastic, full-mouth chomp on a sheet of tinfoil.

Gosh, why didn't I think of that.
Gee.  We've totally, like, never heard that advice before.

If you’ve ever tried to lose some weight or had a cold...ever, you probably know how annoying it is for someone to start barking orders at you about how to live your life before you’ve even asked.  It’s even worse for writers because most people start by assuming what it is that writers actually want to get out of their writing. (With a cold, it’s probably correct to assume that the person wants to feel better, so your unsolicited advice of sitting in a small room of echinacea oil diffusion and zinc injections may be unwelcome, unwanted, and impractical, but it at least you’re on the right track.)  But with writers, the chances are that you don’t actually even know what they want, never mind which paths they feel comfortable using to get there.

Do you know if this writer has even the slightest interest in traditional publishing? Epublishing? Self-publishing? Blogging? Are they even ready to be moving into publication/business end of writing?  (Most writers aren’t, and they know it.)  Do they have a written work ready for the sort of action you’re proposing.  Have they  possibly tried what you’re about to suggest before?  Do you know anything about them?

But even more than that....do you actually have the slightest fucking clue what you are talking about?  Are you an agent?  Are you a published author?  (If you are, you are probably being sought out for advice more than you find comfortable.)  Have you been keeping up with industry trends?  Do you really think you know more than than the writer who’s trying to get into the industry?  Do you know about craft and process? Do you know which venues are good for which genres? Or did you just hear something once that worked for your cousin Verpisubul, and you assume it will work for everyone?

And if you are so fucking good at knowing how to give great advice to writers, why aren’t you selling that advice for oodles of money already?  Fleecing wanna be writers is a hundred million dollar industry.  People who want to be writers will pay for books, camps, seminars, classes, workshops, computer programs, and pretty much anything that promises it might raise their chances of getting published.  If you have the One True Advice, you should be rich beyond your wildest dreams of avarice.


4. You tell them you’re going to write a book/be a writer...someday.

There are a few variations of this:  “I’m going to publish my memoirs after I retire,”  or “One of these days I’m going to write a bestseller,” and the outlandish but actually uttered in my presence, “I’ve got a trilogy that is going to be big.  I just need to wait until I have enough vacation time to finish it.”  They all basically presume that publishing a novel is the easiest shit in the world.

Obviously! That’s why writers spend absolutely NO time or effort trying to put out their first book.

"My first book was child's play to publish!" said no author ever.
(Carrie was rejected THIRTY times before being picked up, and
King had been submitting short stories everywhere he could for over a decade.)

You might have the tenacity to sit down and write a book through its denouement--though statistics are not in your favor--but getting that bad boy to the point where it’s publishable involves a years-long cultivation of a writing skill set.

Not--I repeat not--just a little bit of free time.

Statistically speaking, there are more people in the United States who *want to be writers* than who actually read.  (No...not who write.  Who read.)  More to the point, the energy required to publish a novel is not something a person dashes out when they're not playing golf in the Hamptons.  It is career-caliber effort.  Writers struggle their whole lives and don’t get a book published.  It is as reasonable for a writer to say that after they retire from writing, they are going to go become a science teacher at the local junior college or that they are going to design the next New York skyscraper.

Imagine how you would feel if someone treated your career like a retired dilettante could easily do it in the spare time they had between canasta tournaments. That's why you're making that writer hate you.

5. You delight in their every grammatical failure, or conversely, constantly tell them how bad you are at grammar.

I know!
Let's make a meme out of the mistakes you make at YOUR job!
Few are the writers who want the wrong you’re/your to go out into the world within something they've written, so you really are doing them a solid if you kindly point out a flaw in their grammar.  However, if you take it as a point of pride that you "called out a writer," it’s not going to be long before they start avoiding you like you have a “gym sock odor” problem.  Writers are human.  They make mistakes.  Imagine how obnoxious it would for someone to gleefully point out every mistake at your job.  (“You didn’t bill properly for that invoice.  And you call yourself a billing director.”  “That student didn’t learn the concept you were teaching.  And you call yourself a teacher.”  "You told the truth to your constituents. And you call yourself a politician.")

Similarly if you talk to writers at length about how you aren’t very good with grammar you may find they begin to avoid you.  They’re hating you for a subtly different, but related reason.  It’s not that they can’t appreciate someone who is bad at the basics (and most writers are less likely to judge you for that than others, ironically), but that’s all grammar is--the basics. This is like telling a member of the London Philharmonic, at length, about how you can’t read music. It’s not that they can’t appreciate that, and at first they're probably going to be sympathetic, but if you keep at it, it starts to come across as if anyone who CAN read music could easily be in the London Philharmonic--that reading music is all there is to being a great musician--you are inadvertently insulting everything they’ve done beyond just learning to read music. A physicist is more than just "good at math."  A world renowned chef knows more than "a lot of recipes." Grammar is important to a writer (though they will make some mistakes) but there is more--so, so much more--to writing than just grammar.

On to Part 2 (6-10) 
Skip ahead to Part 3 (11-15)

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