Monday, October 9, 2017

Damn Those Hot Studly Romance Writers

Some time back, a man posted a strange opinion piece that had the indie romance community up in arms. He suggested that using a profile pic of a hot man and a pen name was catfishing, that he couldn’t understand a reason to use a pen name outside of catfishing, and tricking women into buying books from a “hot author” was wrong.

His conclusions were very different than my own experience; being a woman who buys romance novels and makes a point to support self-publishers, I have never looked at a profile picture of abs and thought anything more than “Stock Photo.”

I have, as of yet, to see an “hot male author” selling himself to hock romance stories, and even if I just missed something, it also begged the question of why did it matter? Was there a woman who was stupid enough to believe a photo of abs and the name Horace Nightingale was a real person she was romantically connecting with? I mean, even if the writer was a beautiful sculpture of the male physique and it did lead to most of his sales, what woman was being “emotionally” toyed with in doing so?

Are there indie authors tricking people into thinking they’re some hot, wonderful man? I’m sure someone has tried, but it doesn’t seem to be successful.

Nevertheless, I do think this gentleman got an excess amount of flak for something he didn’t say. People twisted his words and misinterpreted his point. He buckled down, however, announcing he was right, everyone else was wrong, and he’ll never speak his opinion again on the internet.

I followed him for a while on his blog, but his negativity worsened over time until finally I dropped him. The day he lost all credibility with me was the day he posted a piece on cults, discussing how he did a massive amount of research on them, but ended with the question:

“What makes a cult a cult? I believe all religions are cults.”

Massive amounts of research? You ended with the first question everyone asks. There are answers, actually, official answers, ones that don’t involve a faith even. Many cults are not religiously based at all. What makes a cult is how it isolates you from anyone outside of it, cuts you off from friends and family, and has a “misplaced admiration for a person or thing” that cultivates malicious and/or self-harming practices.

Sure, the echo chamber of many religious groups is strong—many religious groups put pressure on their young to hang out and marry with believers—and what is malicious or self-harming is extremely up for debate. But that’s the point; he added no personal insight into this hard, commonly debated question, meaning that he was too unaware to know just how unaware he was.

He didn’t know what he was talking about.

As an overthinker, I advocate a certain self-trust in your common sense and gut instinct. There is too much information in this world to try and “know” anything before you talk about it. You always have something of value to say, and questioning that will hold you back.

But not doing your research, or assuming you’re an expert on a subject is also a huge problem.

They say the more you know about something, the more you realize you don’t know. So how do you know if your confidence is founded in a genuine sense of self and where it’s just your naivety talking?

I criticize the belief you can’t edit your own work or trust your own opinion on it. Certainly, you should seek out the reactions of people other than yourself and always question your biases—because you will, in fact, be biased both positively and negatively—but if you try to spend your writing career handing your book to someone else to “evaluate” it, you’re going to have an influx of contradicting information.

This is why I rarely give a first draft for editing. For one thing, your partners will only tell you things you could see for yourself—it’s difficult to dig deeper until you’ve cleaned up the top layer a little. But, more importantly, the writer needs to understand what he’s actually created a little better, know what he wants to have done. Book serve multitudes of purposes, everyone has different tastes, and even when you do decide to make a change, you need to be sure you understand why you did it a certain way in the first place and the overall effect that change will have.

I myself had taken a seemingly fantastic criticism, started to implement it only to be halfway through when I realized why it didn’t actually make sense in practice.

It’s important to know your opinion on something and to trust that opinion before you start incorporating others’. But how can you trust your feelings? How can you know if you’re being biased? Stubborn? Prideful? How do you know when it’s your gut talking or your naivety?

If you’re new to this business, you have something valuable to say. Don’t keep your opinion to yourself just because it might be naïve or inaccurate or cliché. You’ll never be sure how everyone else sees your thoughts until you put them out there, even when you are more experienced.

The trick is, however, to learn how to sound sure of yourself while not sounding like an arrogant idiot. When dealing with subjective issues like writing, sounding unassured will magically turn completely valid choices into mistakes. Confidence—faking it until you make it—is key. Yet, you don’t want to staunchly assert something to only have people laughing at your ignorance.

Knowing what you don’t know is complicated. The best thing I’ve learned is that my opinions have merit in some vein, but sometimes that correctness is a little more common than others. It’s not that your ideas are wrong, but they are likely to be cliché and simplified.

Step outside yourself and recognize the way other people see you. If you are a man discussing how women buy books and women are disagreeing, examine why you think women buy books that way. Have you seen it first hand? Anecdotal evidence means a lot in writing, and it’s far more interesting to use specifics in your discussions. Does it fit into some appealing ideology of why your books aren’t selling? Maybe you’re hobbling yourself due to misinformation.

Assume that your initial reactions are typical. The questions, the conclusions, the belief system is going to evolve over time and your knee-jerk stance is going to follow suit with people who have the same information as you. The best thing you can do for yourself is be personal, don’t generalize, and don’t attack when expressing your opinion. Learn how to be open, inclusive, and really listen to those speaking around you. But most importantly, remember that listening means active listening: Talk. Engage. Question.

The blog in particular was interesting and opinionated, different than what other people are saying. The problem wasn't the belief itself, but that he never questioned if maybe, just maybe, he was operating in a blind spot.

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