This has been a crazy week for writers. Okay, everyone has a bad day. We bitch, or throw things, or crack open the emergency bottle of wine. But when you’re in the public eye, as writers (even small ones) are, there needs to be a little common sense applied.
By common sense, I mean you need to have some rules in place for things you can and cannot say in public.
One thing you don’t do is insult the people who pay for your books so you can get your royalty checks.
Just in the past two days, there’s been the Chelsea Cain, complaining about having to interact with her readers. Yet, she was the one who opened up her Goodreads account to questions. It’s almost like taking a retail job, deciding it was a bad idea, and yelling at the customers to leave you alone. Actually, no, it’s exactly like that. A retail job is interacting with people who hopefully will buy something in your store so you can keep getting paid. When you open up a dialogue with your customers, you have to expect all sorts of questions. Some of them will be things that might frustrate you but everyone who’s ever worked retail has nodded and smiled while dealing with a customer that made you wonder how they managed to find their way out of bed in the morning. (And, if we’re being honest, we’ve all been that customer too–probably a lot more times than we’re aware of, because retail workers never let on what a dork you’re being.) But if you see questions coming up over and over again, that’s a sign–either they feel really comfortable with you and are treating you like a friend, or they’re having trouble finding the information they want. (Or they could just be my mother, who is technologically handicapped and regularly gets the retail worker treatment. My four-year-old nephew is more techie than she is.) But there are more appropriate, and kinder, ways to deal with it than telling them to go away.
The other one that caught my eye was some tweets by Alexandra Adornetto. Congratulations on landing a book deal so young, my dear. You obviously have talent. And I’m going to assume that what happened was a result of having been feted at a young age, and discovering that the standards get higher as you get older. That, and a bit of youthful impulsivity. But being snarky at reviewers and making disparaging remarks about the quality of industry events does you no favours and fixes nothing. No, not everyone is going to like your books, any more than you liked all the books you’ve ever read. That’s a part of this industry that you bought into when you signed that contract, whether you were aware of it at the time or not. I know you’re young, but it’s time to grow up a little bit more and realize that these people don’t work for you, they’re here to help you. Help you improve your writing, help you promote it. If you don’t like the way it’s being done, there’s only one way to fix it: become perfect. And when you figure that out, could you let me know you got there? I’d sure like me some perfect. (Hell, at this point, I’d take some longer legs and call it good.)
But everyone has bad days, when all the stress seems to land on you at once. When you feel your frustration mounting to the point where you want to throw something, or yell at anyone who comes near you. Sometimes you can’t do anything to stop the stress, because it’s a book tour, and looming deadlines, and family issues, and you can’t just step out on them. So, what do you do?
The first thing, I would say, is you DON’T ENGAGE. If the questions are making you angry, don’t answer them. It’s not like the person is sitting across the table from you, waiting for your answer. It’s the Internet–we’re all used to the stop-and-start communication endemic to the medium. So wait to look at them until you feel a little less like a faulty pressure cooker, pick a finite number and only do those. Then wait a while, give yourself a break. If the review doesn’t make you happy, DON’T ENGAGE. They have a right to their opinion. Making a fuss only makes you look like a self-entitled prig. An asshat, if you will. And there’s enough product out there that I don’t need to buy from asshats. If you can engage respectfully, that’s another story. I once got a review that started, “I really wanted to like this book…” (I think we know where it goes from there. :P) But she was honest, and not mean, so I emailed and was not mean either. I said thank you, and sorry, and I’ll work harder next time. And she was gracious.
The next thing I would do is GET HELP. Are you getting a lot of email? Hire an assistant, enlist family, maybe find an enthusiastic fan to handle stuff from an address that is specifically for fans alone. Pay them in free books and beta reading opportunities. 🙂 But jeepers, don’t burn yourself out to the point where your bridges are going up in flames too. We all know, what goes into the internet never goes away. Don’t increase the chances of a flame-out by trying to be all things to everyone.
The last thing I would say is HAVE RULES. Barbara Hambly wrote a series called the Silicon Mage. One of the plot points was that when the mage was running the machine, it drains all the good, all the energy, out of the world. It became very hard to think, so easy to give up. The heroine in that series made a set of rules–“doing it by the numbers”, she called it–so that she would know what to do when that terrible drain hit, even when she didn’t feel like doing it. And, in the end, they defeated the bad guy, because she “did it by the numbers”. So, figure out some rules for times when you’re angry, and frustrated, and just done, and stick to them, even when you don’t want to.
You’ll be glad you did.
And on that note, and in honour of my mother (who I do love dearly but who can drive me mad in thirty seconds or less), let’s end this post with the anthem of all children called upon to talk their IT-challenged parents through…anything. I give you–“Tech Support For Dad”!
Oh, hello, he has a song called “Hermione Granger the Pirate Queen”. *click*