It’s no secret that being published changes you. We’ve covered that here—at the Asylum. What we haven’t delved much into, amongst other things, are the dirty sides of the industry. Yes, there is more than one.
And no, I don’t mean smut…
I’m talking about politics. Don’t think there are any? Don’t think this will apply to you once you get published because a) you firmly believe you’ll be J.K. Rowling, b) your novel is beyond reproach, or c) you self-publish your material and call your own shots?
Let’s say for the sake of argument that a & b are unlikely. If you think you’ve got a get out of jail free card for c, then you’re in for a HUGE surprise. Whether you sign with an agent, a large publisher, small press or set-up your own outfit….the same politics that plague the corporate ladder, plague a writer’s career.
There are rules of etiquette. There are rules for even getting to enter into the game, let alone win. But, you hear all sorts of contradictory things about breaking rules, or the consequences of being a follower. SO what’s the answer? How do you know what to do and when to do it?
Here’s a few places to start. Though, I don’t profess in any shape, form, or fashion to be an expert on any of this. I have learned some things these last few years and just feel like sharing them with you. That’s all.
1. Don’t burn bridges. I don’t give a damn how unstable they look, how pissed off you are, or how much you want to flame someone. It isn’t worth it. You don’t know where that bridge could lead later on. This industry is all about networking and the stronger, and truer, your connections are the better off you’ll be when you need a leg up. And believe me when I tell you, every writer has more than a few moments when a little help would go a long way to stabilizing a career.
2. Don’t bad mouth other writers. Published or otherwise. Really, really, really, REALLY think through everything you put out there for the public—especially when it concerns your own ilk. I’ve read a ton of blogs lately where one author or another decides to suddenly go off on a rant about famous writer X, semi-famous writer Z, or unknown writer M. Why? Because if your career goes half as well as you think it will, you may very well find yourself sharing a publisher, agent or hell…in some cases a dinner table (yes, this has happened. No, not to me). It’s EASY to feel like an authority on writing right after you get your first book deal (yes, this has happened. Yes, to me).
3. Pay it forward. Sounds easy, huh? It is. I was blessed so much last year by a few folks, but one in particular who inspired me to do everything I can to repay that kindness and encouragement by doing exactly what he did for me, for fellow authors. Lend a helping hand, pure and simple. Don’t forget where you’ve come from and how you got there and especially don’t forget those who are still treading that pre-publication path. Don’t lose track of how frustrating that felt to not know and to wonder what the future held. I still wonder what the future holds, but it’s a different kind of wondering. I can’t explain that…it’s just one of those things.
4. Don’t, don’t, DON’T be a pain in the ass to work with. Don’t whine, complain, demand more than you’re owed, or act like a diva. I’ve seen this happen and the results ARE NOT pretty. Whenever you work for someone, or under them, or with them in a publisher/writer sort of situation, you want to make yourself indispensable. Do everything you can to help those who have invested in your future, to succeed. This means some time and effort that you won’t be paid for. Be prepared for this—it’s part of the deal if you want to get anywhere. If they win, you win. Easy math.
5. Shit happens. Even if you sign with one of the big five. You need to be prepared for this too and you need to handle it with dignity and grace. Publishing companies, distribution centers, printers and literary agencies are all run by…gasp…human beings and humans make mistakes. There is no getting around this. Folks who don’t realize this will give you crap for it. Put on your big girl panties (or big boy briefs, whichever the case) and deal with it.
6. Celebrate the success of your fellow authors any way you can. When you’ve got 5,000 Facebook friends, most of which are other writers, you obviously can’t rejoice with everyone…but don’t neglect those closest to you. Don’t ignore their achievements. This situation is especially tricky when you’re in a critique circle, or have an online group of writer friends. Bridges get burnt this way. They can also be built from scratch this way. Kind of like tea in hot water, you see the strength of your friends when any sort of success engulfs your group. In layman’s terms (forgive my crassness here): Don’t be a douche bag. If you’re a writer and you’re relatively close friends with other writers, whether you like their stuff or not, don’t pick and choose whose victories to highlight based on social stigmas or literary status. Give equal blog footage to the indie author and the six-figure author. You’re asking for hurt feelings and resentment otherwise.
7. Don’t begrudge the success of others. If you just signed a half-a-million dollar contract with Random House (have I mentioned how great you look today?) then you won’t have this issue. But, for the rest of the writerly population, be mindful of the green-eyed monster. Don’t get miffed if your book has less good reviews than someone else’s book. Don’t block their status updates on your FB feed because you can’t stand looking at their awesome cover art avatar. Don’t bad mouth publishers, especially when you know authors who have signed with them (vanity presses don’t count here. You can bad mouth those guys all you like).
8. WATCH YOUR MOUTH ON FORUMS! Can I say that again? Watch your mouth on forums. I can’t say it enough. Don’t get into heated arguments or circular logic type pissing contests with other writers, agents, or god forbid, publishers. Just like your Facebook page, your name WILL show up in forums on a google search. You also need to watch your comments on blogs. ALL OF THIS can, and will, come back to haunt you if you aren’t careful. In this industry, unless you’re too rich to care (you really do look amazing today) then you might as well date your calendar 1984.
9. You aren’t J.D. Salinger, Hemingway, or C.S. Lewis. Or Tolstoy for that matter. You can’t afford to pretend that the cyber universe doesn’t exist. I’m not saying to totally conform here…but unless you have a publicist to do it for you, there is a certain amount of damage control that you’ll want to watch out for. Misconceptions or misunderstandings can be quickly fixed if you’re aware of how people are seeing you as a public figure.
10. Did I mention not to burn bridges? Those bad boys go up in flames right quick and it doesn’t take much. The more surface your connection is, the faster your ties will burn. Tread lightly. You can’t afford to be ignorant or naive here. Second chances are for sentient beings and though it has a pulse, this industry doesn’t have a conscience and therefore can’t grant you forgiveness. See, I just caught you thinking that bridges being burnt between two people, or groups of people, are related to emotions alone. They aren’t. And you’re not just cutting the cord between you and whoever is on the other side. You’re cutting the cord between yourself and all of the places their bridges lead. In a way…when you burn down one…you’ve burnt down fifty. So, bottom line here….better to be safe than sorry.
The biggest one, is too big to assign a number to and it’s this: Pick your battles carefully.
This applies to everything in your career as a writer. You will have to bend a certain number of times with your agent, publisher, or both; then your editor(s), then your cover artist(s), then your reviewers, and non-professional readers/fans…lastly….your family and friends. If your book deal is perceived as being “big enough” then both of those last two parties will suddenly grow in both numbers and their interest in your life. Don’t let that take you by surprise. You won’t be offended if you know in advance. It’s your choice how to respond to all of it. There have been numerous blog posts, on too many blogs to name, that address professionalism in dealing with reviews and readers. The most important thing is to remember that at some point, something will come along, that will REALLY mean something to you. So, don’t cash in your chips every time you get the chance.
SO, if I haven’t scared you away from the industry…welcome to Fight Club. For those of you who have been here for more than five minutes, have you got any stories? Any lessons learned? Feel free to share!
And have a great and SAFE new year!!!