Welcome to Fight Club

“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office.”  Robert Frost

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!!!

21 responses

  1. I wish I’d known half this stuff before I screwed them all up.
    Well, not all of them. But I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. The scary part is I know I’ll make more.
    When it happens, all you can do is say you’re sorry and learn from it.
    Congrats on making the top 200 list on Goodreads!!! So exciting! And the cover for #2 looks fabulous.
    I think I like it even better than number 1 (which I love).

    • The only way I even knew what to put on this list, was because I’ve done just about all of them at one point or another. Luckily, most of them involved my old corporate career, so the damage was done pre-publication. But, truly, we all mess up and no one is perfect and you’re right…learning from this stuff is valuable. If I had a dime for every thoughtless word I’ve said or senseless deed I’ve done, I’d be retired and writing like a hermit in Vermont. 🙂

      Thanks for the congrats, I didn’t realize I’d made the top 200. That’s cool! And I’m super glad you like the covers. Oliver and Eve both are brilliant!

      • OK. Wait a minute! Eve? Is the new cover not by Oliver? Has he cloned his painting hand? Just curious. Also, awesome post, Breanne!

  2. Oh my gosh, I love this post. Talk about some great info I wish I had read about 2 years ago…but maybe it’s better that I didn’t know any of this! I’ve messed up, and I still make mistakes in these areas. I’m learning, though. 🙂

  3. Ien, Oliver did the cover for Blood of Adoria. Eve did Amber’s cover for Witch Song. It looks gorgeous! You’re going to love it.

    And thanks, I’m glad you liked the post! 🙂

  4. Great post! One all we authors should print off and hang up on our walls. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on this. Very helpful.
    Oh, and happy new year!

  5. Your experience and mine appear to be totally different. Perhaps that’ll change as I go from being Self Published to Published, but I’ve encountered very little of the items you mention. Of course, I usually don’t try to call anybody out, apply a dagger or burn a bridge, that’s just not in my nature, and, if I’ve got something rotten to say I usually keep it to myself. I suppose the standard rules of courtesy apply.

  6. A smart human learns from their own mistakes, a wise human learns from others’. Thanks for such a great opportunity for us to be wise. That is great information, Breanne. A lot of it is difficult to live by because, as you said, we are human. But your encouragement reinforces it for us and bolsters us against our own stupidity. Thanks for not leaving us yet-to-be-published writers behind. 🙂

    Have a Happy New Year!

  7. Its nice to have people who have “been there done that” so you know what to do and what not to do. but it can be hard not to react to those who want to cause problems with comments, I’ve had to bite back many comments reguarding cerain things I’ve heard.
    I am a total newby on all this, and am still learning the value of being diplomatic in certain sistuations. I keep in mind somethng Stephen King once said, “If you get a check for your writing, and it doesn’t bounce, and you can pay the electric bill with that money, you’re doing pretty well.” It may not be word-for-word but I think you get the idea.

  8. I’m always intrigued by the powers of bridges in the writing world. I love learning where those bridges will take me. For instance, had I never started a creative writing forum in the 8th grade, I would have never discovered Suspense Magazine (I used to write a monthly newsletter where I highlighted contests and sites). Had I never discovered Suspense Magazine, I would have never learned about the event on Facebook where they were asking people to join their reviewing crew. Had I not joined their reviewing crew, I would have never wondered why John Raab was so excited to sign you on. Had I not investigated into you, I would have never discovered Rhemalda. Rhemalda has now become the first publishing house I have ever submitted to. Now all I can do is anticipate what happens next.

  9. I just signed my first book contract in November and my novel will be released in ebook and trade paperback formats in Feb. 2011. I appreciate the honesty of all of your posts, but especially the ones (like this one) that discuss what it’s really like to be published, and some of the pitfalls to avoid in navigating the publishing waters. Thanks, and have a great New Year! 🙂

  10. Thanks for posting this 🙂 For those of us (aka me) with tempers and who are preparing to attempt to write a book (computer broke so I missed NaNoWriMo) with dreams of becoming a young published author, this will really help!

  11. Sage advice, said clearly and simply. I do my best to follow those principles, and it pains me when I see other as-yet unpublished writers acting out in very public ways. I hope folks read and take this post to heart.

  12. These days all writers, no matter how you are published, has to deal with reviewers, fans and anti-fans. Reviewers judge your book in public, and if they say something you think is unfair or wrong, it’s tempting to want to reply to them. Bad idea.

    The more successful you are, not only the more fans do you get … but also anti-fans. Just think of all the people who “hate” Stephanie Meyer. Even without having ever read her book, they feel entitled to judge her writing as puerile, etc. You don’t have to be as famous as Stephanie Meyer to attract such bitter comments. Sometimes just having a little publishing success and a blog is enough.

    Speaking of which, I also agree that its so important to refrain from bashing other writers. It’s sooooooo tempting to compare oneself to other writers, to obsess about why Writer X is more successful (obviously because readers prefer trash to good literature!) or to gloat about why Writer Y is less successful (obviously Y’s work lacks that special something mine has!)

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate

  13. Brilliant. Thank you for this! Even if you’re not sure where you want to go as a writer (like me) this is all very sound advice. Thank you for helping others through your own experiences.


  14. Honestly, most of this just boils down to “Don’t be a jerk” which is common sense if you want to get anywhere in life. Though that doesn’t make it easier.

  15. This is one of the greatest posts I’ve seen on how to handle yourself in this business. I’ve always tried to to be myself in everything that I do, but admittedly, we all need a filter from time to time. I’ve learned through the blogging world that an upbeat attitude, a sense of humor, and a little grace go a long way. No one wants to hear a lot of complaining. Ranting in a funny sort of way though , I enjoy. Thanks for posting this. I will save this for future reference. This looks like something we should all read from time to time just to stay grounded.

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