Monday, October 16, 2017

The Joys of Being Difficult

In my short stint trying online dating, I met a guy with a cute dog and agreed to meet up with him. The problem with these sites is that the vast majority of men are not photogenic, almost always looking better in real-life than their photos. A man’s attractiveness has to do with how he moves, what makes him smile, his energy, the light behind his eyes when he’s thinking, none of which is conveyed in an online block of text or a two-dimensional photo of him in his bathroom.

So, I wasn’t actually too enthused to meet him in the first place, but I wouldn’t have agreed if I hadn’t had any optimism.

But then he made it hard.

He argued with my suggestions of locations without offering up any alternatives, he refused to give me concrete answers to direct questions, and when I said, “Okay, look. Just tell me where you want to meet and when, and I’ll be there,” he just said, “lol. Why don’t you give me your number and we’ll figure it out later in the week?”

Then he started texting me, asking inane questions he wasn’t interested in and giving perfunctory and dull ones to mine.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an architect.”

I don't think you understand what we're doing here.

He was dismissive of my comments and attempt at jokes, and while not an awful person, it was almost as if instead of thinking how to make the conversation flow and my life easier, he was doing the exact opposite. How can I make this a thousand times harder?

My ex had done this to me. There was no solution to his problems, no compromising, no making him happy. He just would demand you’d take the lead so he could criticize your decisions. It was an act of insecurity, I know, and I don't think he meant anything malicious by it. In terms of this new Romeo, his stubbornness resulted with me engaging with the guy as little as possible, to stop putting in effort myself, and when he finally asked me if I wanted to meet up again, I diplomatically informed him that we just don’t seem to click. He took it fairly well, at least. Love lost...

While interviewing authors, most of them don’t intentionally make my life harder. When they do things like sending me back the answers without the questions, formatting it funny, or misunderstanding the intention, they obviously just didn’t think about it. I mean, these things didn’t even occur to me would be somewhat annoying to deal with until after I've dealt with them.

However, during the process, I found one woman to be an especially difficult individual. I was first alerted to it when she sent me an email reading, “I couldn’t answer to questions” [sic].

These were not personal. “What trends, styles, or subjects would you like to see become popular in modern writing?” “What would you like to see disappear?”

“I really can’t,” she said. “I really just can’t answer these questions.”

This annoyed me. I realized that the exasperated and emotional tone I read her response in was mostly me, but I thought, “This is your time to be interesting. What is so painful about saying, ‘I really wish we could write in third-person omniscient’?” Make something up, lady!

Admittedly, she lost a little credibility with me, coming off as somewhat dense. But I’m easily agitated, and I was doing it more for her than for me. I’ve seen this before, writers seize up when embarrassed, but usually it’s on the question of, “Tell us a little about your book.”

Her husband, who I had interviewed earlier, had done the same thing, where he refused to answer two questions. They weren’t that big of a deal, and I couldn’t comprehend their issue. What is so hard about redirecting it? Ad-libbing?

Whenever anyone gets emotionally constipated at a question, it defeats the purpose of the interview. A benefit to doing these interviews is that I learn and consider what’s successful from both sides, and I’ve realized that it is better to answer the question with a completely nonrelated response than to shut down.

Part of this is because you want anyone doing an article on you to be on your side. There are pretty common stories about journalists intentionally warping quotes, putting them out of context, to dramatize and boost sales. Sometimes your interviewer gets a lot out of making you look bad, and irritating them is going to encourage that.

Of course, I don’t get anything out of that. I mostly print the interview verbatim, with a few copyedits for grammar and spelling and the like. Basic proofreading. But when it came to the questions in which she refused to answer, instead of doing what I would normally had I not been agitated—cut the questions all together as if they never existed—I marked them as “redacted by author’s request.” I drew attention to the fact that she refused to answer them, and made the mystery of what those questions were a bigger deal. What personal thing did she absolutely refuse to answer?

Petty, I’m sure.

But it wasn’t just the abject horror of having an opinion that caused me problems. When she sent it back to me, she said that it was in big font because she had trouble seeing these days.

Well, understandable, but you couldn’t resize it before returning it? Her strange formatting with extra spaces and other odd alterations surprisingly took a good twenty minutes to fix.

Her photograph was grainy and pixelated. Her bio was not in third-person as I had requested. To top it all off, at one point in the interview, she began to normalize scams, suggesting that agents selling packages for ebook formatting and editing was just a sign of the time.

Keep in mind, buying an “editing and formatting package” from a literary agent is like hiring a car salesman as a mechanic. Agents do help authors with editing, they can often be former editors, but editing is not actually why you’re hiring them. They are negotiators and networkers, legal representatives for contracts, sales people in a way. They are not publishers, they sell to publishers. They sell First English Language rights to publishers. Having an editing and formatting department for self-publishing can be promoting against their best interest, and would require an entire new staff to have time (and skills) to do it. Agents are ridiculously busy and they make their money off of selling books to publishers. If they’re not doing well enough that they have to supplement with a new gimmick that has little to do with their original job, then at best you have to question their abilities. But more commonly, that’s a sign that they’re one of those companies that make money off of scamming dreamers, not doing getting books published.

There was a point in which I considered sending her an email saying, “I’ve decided against posting this.”

One of the reasons I recommend to any writer to become a judge of a writing contest, start a literary journal, or even yes, interview authors is how much you learn about being in the other person’s shoes. You get a good idea of what not to do, why they want things done a certain way, and even why rejection really isn’t personal.

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun to realize just how important it is to not be unreasonably difficult, to make things easier for people and never let insecurity stop communication. When working with someone, it’s important to stand up for things that you don’t agree with, point out real problems, and not just cater to their every whim, but on the little things, always think about the success of the project first and foremost. When you want something to happen, don’t fight the small stuff.

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