Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Independent Authors Need to Stop Seeing Themselves as Such

“I work harder than anyone I know. I work 100 hours a week. Don’t I deserve 25,000 dollars a year?”

Sure you do. If you actually do invest 14 hour days seven days a week—which, unless a lot of that comprises of staring at a blank screen, your production rate is extraordinarily low—then thinking you deserve a certain level of pay is understandable.

In the same way it’s understandable that you think you deserve to be loved, have food, and basic human respect.

But, here’s the kicker…

Lots of people work very hard and do not get paid the amount they should. Not just artists, but people of all kinds of careers: waiters, maids, and an extraordinary amount of small business owners.

Being an independent artist is not the same thing as being a high school student—where we promote potential and support them for encouragement and education’s sake. Being an independent artist does not mean you get an extra level of sympathy, does not mean readers are any more obligated to give you a chance, and certainly does not mean you work harder than others.

Now, most of us realize this, and yet there are so many self-published authors who don’t bother to be competitive, and then admonish their readers for not giving them “what they deserve.”

I’ve always said that marketing and polishing a self-published book is far more difficult than a traditionally published one, but that isn't a reason for readers to go out of their way to pay the salaries of those authors.

Many people work their asses off on things that fail. And when it comes projects outside of independent novels, you also have the hard work of many more people per work, plus a ridiculous amount of their money. It can be difficult to see that new television show that got canceled after four episodes being someone’s baby, something he poured his heart and soul into, but it probably is. It was also many of the actors' hope for a big break, along with the camera man, the other writers, and the director.

Sure, there are a lot of people, especially in Hollywood, who are apathetic about their projects, not taking anything seriously, and there are even times when everyone is hired to produce something not a single one of them cares about. But, usually there is one, if not more, who consider it “theirs,” and who has worked so hard with the hopes it would get off the ground.

Does that make you obligated to watch every television show just because it’s someone’s baby?

Many new businesses fail within the first two years. You’ll see people who spend their life savings, work 12 hour days, and beg and pray for it to work out, and yet have nothing to show for it except bankruptcy.

When an author suggests he works harder than anyone he knows, my response is, “I don’t think you’ve talked to them.”

This specific quote in the introduction was posted by a Facebook friend of mine in which she was being asked by some gentlemen if she would pay into his Kickstarter. When she argued with him, this was his response.

You do realize you are talking to a fellow author, right?

We know how hard you work because we too work hard and often have nothing to show for it. It’s hard to have sympathy for someone who suggests their time is more valuable than yours, who strongly believes that they’ve “earned it” more than you, despite having no idea how much effort you’ve put in.

And this is not the first time I’ve seen this comment.

As much as the logic make sense, and as much as I would like to help you out, you have to realize a few things:

-You are a business. And I can’t go buying everything to support every business. I can’t watch every movie or T.V. show made, I can’t purchase every book written, I can’t order from every artist on Etsy. I can’t be giving money to every person who deserves an income. Instead, I can support the artists who have a product I actually want to financially support.

You can’t just start doing random jobs that no one agreed to pay for and then be indignant no one wants to pay you.

If you can earn money through Crowdfunding, that’s great. But your predominate focus should be creating and marketing a book that gives readers something for their money. Don’t expect people to fund you just because you’re a starving artist. Expect them to fund you because they are genuinely interested in you continuing your work.

-You don’t know how hard other people work.

No, I don’t believe he invested 100 hours a week, mostly because he would be able to finish several first drafts in the course of that time.

My best daily word count has been 22,000 words, which, if I was able to focus and write constantly, would take me about four hours (Yeah right.) But let’s say he has a better sense of control than me. If he wrote books at the typical 80,000 words, that would mean that he’d be able to just about finish two whole drafts within a week’s time. Even if we were to contribute 10 hours to research, editing, and Facebook, the truth is, he should have a whole lot of books coming out quickly.

Secondly, having the free time to write for 100 hours a week is a gift. There are so many mothers and fathers who have to work, take that work home with them, take care of their kids, spend time with their wives and husbands, take care of their parents, volunteer at school functions, and have so many extra responsibilities that it’s impossible to imagine that they get anything done. And yet they do. Don’t those people deserve to be paid?

I spend a lot of time writing, blogging, editing, drawing, marketing, tweeting, Facbooking (which, yes, I do consider work), and just all around trying to make my career a success. I don’t have any other responsibilities now, and I still feel I work hard enough to deserve something. You can see why I might brace at your assertion I should pay you because you work harder than anyone.

-You should be focusing on your readers’ enjoyment or intellectual stimulation.

Part of the problem with paying someone for effort instead of result is that it doesn’t encourage the product to evolve. I would say, “get better,” but I don’t believe in linear quality of literature, and obviously there are times when the work that gets bought is not the one that impresses me the most.

But, no matter if you believe in playing the market or not, writing should be about giving the reader something. Sure, authors get something out of it—enjoyment, control, respect—but the audience needs to receive something for their buck, not just for the writer’s right to write.

It’s not so simple as you need to service your readers—only writing what they want to read—but there is something to be said for forcing a writer to tweak his work and pitch until the audience sees merit in buying his book, rather than asking us to accept him for who he is without any concern for what he’s giving.

-Work smarter, not harder.

If you’re spending so much time on your career and you’re not getting any money for it, than you need to change something.

It really doesn’t matter how hard you work on something; your audience doesn’t really care, nor should they. If you write an epic book that makes them think and feel on the first draft, then why the hell would you arbitrarily put more hours into editing it? You’d ruin it. If you spent years on something that is boring and trivial, then I am under no obligation to read it.

Sometimes it’s not the amount of effort, but the actual thoughts that go into a book. Instead of arguing that the effort should mean something, think of alternative tactics to getting what you want. If you're working hard for little reward, then maybe you're putting your energy in the wrong place.

-You are no longer a child, and you don’t want to be.

People come see a child’s play to support him, not to enjoy themselves. They don’t expect him to be good, and would be considered assholes for being honest about not liking it. Our community (modern America) is a child-serving one. We go out of our way just to give children opportunities, to encourage them. This is all a good thing, but it does teach many a sense of entitlement when it comes to following our dreams.

As an adult, you no longer have people service your goals, but rather need to find a means so that your goals service their needs.

In a way, it’s a good thing, because while people give more support to children, we look down on them, disrespect them, and refuse to take their art seriously.

Now that you’re a big boy, you get the option to prove yourself. But you also have the obligation to prove yourself as well. No more billionaires funding a play just so you can star in it. Not unless you're lucky.

There are many fantastic traditionally published books out there. Just because yours is independent doesn’t mean you’ve worked harder, care more, or the ideas are better. Just because you’re alone, struggling, and yet determined doesn’t obligate readers to buy or like your book. Just because you’re an artist doesn’t mean your product can be ineffective.

Sell your book on its merits, its ideas, its importance to the people who read it, not on the work that went into it, and remember that, though you do have to put in more work than those with more money and support (and you should be proud of that), it doesn't make your book necessarily better or more entitled to being bought.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Interview Exchange:

I am looking for authors and bloggers who are interested in doing an interview and/or blog exchange. I interview you, you interview me. However, if you do not have a blog but would still like an interview, just let me know and I'm sure I can accommodate you.

If you’re interested, Tweet me, Facebook me, or email me at Tell me a little bit about yourself—what kind of stuff you write, what you’ve published, what you’re working on—so I can tailor the questions to you. You should inform me of anything you would want me to ask about.

Please include a head shot and a short bio of what you would want new readers to know. (This may or may not be different.) Head shots are preferable, but I will accept cover art as well. If you do not wish to include either, please let me know. Please sign your email the exact way you would like your name posted. (I will copy and paste.)

I am also interested in having guest bloggers, so if you have an interesting blog post, email me with a subject of "Guest on Your Blog." You are welcome to have included it elsewhere, as long as you hold the copyright. These I will be more particular about, and won’t post anything with poor formatting (no paragraphs), extensive grammatical errors, or don't hit the spot with me.

I post on Fridays and Mondays and will put your interview in the first available slot.


-Send an email inquiry to with the subject line "Interview Exchange."

-In the body of the email, include some things you would like me to know about you so I can better tailor the questions personally.

-If you are able to interview me, include questions for me.

-I will then send you your interview questions within the next few days.

-I post Mondays and Fridays. I will publish your interview in the next available slot after it is returned to me.

-Put your name as exactly you want advertised at the top of the email.

-Please include a short bio for new readers, any links you wish included, and either a head shot (preferable) or cover art.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The One Major Benefit Traditional Publishing Has Self-Publishing Doesn’t


I've had fellow writers admit in casual discussion that they turned to self-publishing because they didn't want to be rejected. I mean, isn’t it the main benefit? Even those who turn to independent publication for other reasons will concede that it's a nice bonus. Who wants to be told, "I don't want your work?"

There's the obvious reason that rejection helps you learn. I won't deny that, but that's not what I'm talking about. I actually think that with the popularity of the internet, the constant barrage of criticism from all walks of life doesn’t always benefit artistic decision, or even my enjoyment of the piece. (Anyone else sick of reading constant, inane complaints about every single one of your favorite movies?) People can be freer and focus on conveying self over marketing when not trying to pander to a gatekeeper’s interpretation of what readers want. In ways, being free of straightforward rejection encourages risk taking and diversity.

For me there is something scarier than rejection, and that is decision making.

Self-publishing grants the writer complete control over everything, which is what many want. But, the consequence of that is you become responsible for every decision—each piece that might make or break your book. Unless you hire someone, and hire well, you really don’t have anyone to curb your insanity. You have to question if that tampon scene is way too much or just what is going to make your book unique and noticeable. Maybe it will pander to a forbidden element of what people want. Or, maybe it’ll just be gross.

I’ve been editing my manuscript for the two years now. I have had every opinion on every inane word, been both sides of every stupid argument, and thoroughly over-analyzed everything that could possibly be over analyze. It’s at a point where I realize I’m just procrastinating. I do love the manuscript (And hate it. You know how it is.) Yet I see some parts that I would like to change. I’ve had many readers with a lot of frustrating, useful, contradicting, enlightening, advice, (mostly frustrating) and I’ve come to feel I have a good understanding of manuscript—qualities, flaws, themes, characters.

I have pretty strong opinions. And I have doubts.

Recently I talked with an author who had worked with me through the process. He asked me if I’d consider writing the whole thing.

Hell no.

Every time you do a rewrite you risk causing new problems. Often the rewrite has less of them, but not only would starting over mean actually doing the work, but I'd have to scrap all of the feedback I’ve gotten, most of it being on execution. My manuscript has had its problems slowly being smoothed out over time, and the unfortunate truth is that the predominant issues are more to do with concept, not the writing. The actual flow, characterization, and dramatic arc are the best features of the book - it’s the pitch-worthiness of the plot and the original punch that is lacking. I’m trying to publish a dystopian novel at the end of the fad, a story where I considered the setting a background, not a plot point. The ingredients are new, but there really isn’t that big vision that makes you go, “I’ve never read a book like this before!”

It would make more sense to write a different story than to start over. Changing the words won’t do much.

Also, I don’t believe it needs it. The last half of the book is successful—if a reader can get passed two main hiccups, they blitz through the rest of it. I know, having read it myself, where the problems are, and where they're not. The manuscript, save for some bumps, is in pretty good shape.

But it did get me thinking. Yes, the second half of the manuscript is far better than the first. By that point the readers know the characters, the world, and the stakes, the confusion is gone, and they are connected and invested. But getting them to that point has proven difficult.

There have been a lot of complaints about my prologue. Betas complain of feeling overwhelmed.

“I’m confused,” they say.

“Which parts confused you specifically?”

“I don’t know.”

I’ve had a few people sit down with a highlighter to mark the places where they started to get lost. They admitted they did understand everything I was saying… but they were still confused.

Being overwhelmed is my interpretation. After some time, I decide they had a hard time compartmentalizing the images given to them. They had so many questions and were uncertain on what they needed to keep track of and how to keep track of them. Things I thought were just details they'd skip, they believed were relevant and couldn't stop asking questions about it. Questions they were supposed to ask, but ones that perturbed them beyond expectation.

In one draft, I had the main character walk into a hut, bending under the broken door frame and stepping over a “stripped engine.” He proceeded to focus on his brother bleeding at the other side of the room, and the engine was never mentioned again.

The stripped engine was, yes, foreshadowing, of his somewhat “superpower.” He had taken it apart to use for scraps. It also gave an immediate illustration of the kind of technology that was in this world.

“What’s with the stripped engine?” they’d ask. Some would outright say it wasn’t necessary.

It was one of the more common criticisms I’d gotten, and yet it was extremely successful in what it was supposed to do. Add in the fact that I still don’t fully understand why people were so bothered by it, and you can see my conflicting emotions. While being told I needed to build the world faster, people were rejecting any details intended to do just that. This actually suggested the problem - they didn't understand the world well enough that these details just confused them more.

The prologue can’t just be removed. I’ve tried. For a while, so sick of hearing, “But I thought you weren’t supposed to have prologues,” I just gave out the first three chapters without it. I was still intending on using it—or finding a way to include parts of it—when the majority of the comments from people (including agents) proved that the prologue’s story and positioning was necessary. The information in it is integral to the story, even though it isn’t immediately obvious. I’ve tried moving it, but the only places I’ve found are far too late to introduce the information. Plus, the first few chapters are located in a portion of the world that is the “exception,” and not a good indication of the setting the reader will be in for the majority of the book. The prologue is a demonstration of the sort of world you will be exposed to.

And it does exactly what it is meant to. People are curious about what happened to the protagonist’s brother and how the story relates. The problem really isn’t with the prologue itself, but that the reset of the first chapter (eight years later), requires them to become reinvested.

I feel strongly about the prologue because I like it. Being the sort of person with a wide diversity of feelings towards my work and enough practice to recognize (partially) ego and bullshit, I take my own viewpoint very seriously. Also, a bit part of me feels like the criticism comes from people being too oriented about the rules: “Don’t use prologues because they tend to suck,” and not having faith in me: “I don’t know if you’re ever going to explain this, being that this is just a manuscript and you’re an unknown author.” (I do.)

But the kicker is that, for whatever reasons, it isn’t working. And while I like it, I know that there’s a possibility of doing even better.

So while I adamantly rejected the idea of rewriting the whole thing, I did begin to question, “Should I rewrite the first fifty pages?”

I’ve done it before, and I liked the results. I am far more aware now of the reader’s problems that I probably could recraft the beginning and solve the myriad of diverse complaints. More to the point, it would be easier to reshape the book’s prologue into a part of the beginning if I were to change everything.

But do I want to?

I’ve been working on this for years. I’ve written over 13 novels, and I’ve only tried to publish once (five letters sent out) I’ve been redoing it over and over. At times I catch myself changing things merely for the sake of changing things. Would a rewrite I don’t fully believe in be beneficial, or is it just me procrastinating? Truth is, the rewrite would be easier than being precise about the problem. It might make the bigger problems more minor, but include other issues that would then need to be solved. For something that actually might not be any better than the first, it seems risky.

I have written books that gripped betas immediately, that they actually begged me to read the whole thing, and still very similar complaints. “I want everything explained now.” I know Hunger Games is criticized for “expecting the audience to immediately know the world,” which is something I don’t agree with. I know that many readers complain about something when it is really what they need—and not having all the answers right away is one is an important method of frustrating the audience long enough to keep them around. (This can go too far and backfire, however, so of course I have to question if that’s what is happening?)

This was a hard and frustrating thought for me, and something I’ve kind of been considering for a while now.  But recently I realized something: I am not self-publishing. (Yet.)

Though I want the book to be good enough to be picked up, and am willing to do the work by myself, I have the benefit of other people making decisions for me. If I send it out and get rejected—even without hearing a word as to why—I’ve learned something. While there aren’t unlimited number of them out in the world, I can always submit and rewrite later. If things go well, I’ll get asked for a rewrite, or even better, I’ll get picked up and then go through a series of edits.

Even though I am struggling with the decision because I don’t want rejection, rejection actually gives me freedom. I can take the risk of trusting my gut and yet still have the opportunity to “fix” my book if it needs it. An agent’s rejection might not mean anything, but it can give an author time and more understanding if her book works or not.

For my first round of submissions, the beginning primarily as it is. Until I am rejected, I don’t need to risk a whole rewrite.

Friday, June 19, 2015

When You Have Too Many Voices

And not just in your head.

Directly proceeding my response to Noble winner Tim Hunt’s interpretation of how women react to criticism—we cry—I came to work to deal with the most petulant man on the face of the planet.

My argument was that women and men tend to have more hostile interactions than man-man/woman-woman criticisms because of the cultural differences in causing conflict, and women’s abrasion/lack of understanding to “pissing contests.” I discussed my experience working with men, and how women are more likely to see a casual attempt to establish the hierarchy to be more of a long term issue when men think of it as a temporary gauge of boundaries.

As if it to prove my point, my male coworker coincidentally felt the need to prove his dominance in our workspace. That morning he had gotten bitched out for being late. In his defense, he was only about five minutes, but in my boss’s defense, he had the propensity to be late a lot.

Irritated and hostile, he took it out on me. The day was filled with constant criticism, not only nitpicking on how I chose to do anything and yelling new information at me like he had told me to do something a thousand times, but when I did make a choice that he didn’t agree with, he snapped at me that it was a mistake I did all the time. Then something he proceeded to do himself.

At first I stayed calm and simply made fun of him, learning it was the best way to deal with a man in that state. But I had pulled a muscle in my neck, was tired, in pain, and had little tolerance. As the day went on and the accusations grew more and more insane, I grew more irritable. Ignoring him wasn’t stopping it. Making fun of him wasn’t stopping it. Calling his words bullshit wasn’t stopping it. Finally I snapped at him, “You’re in a piss poor mood. Do not talk to me until you gain control of yourself.”

He did not take this very well, but the criticism did finally stop. Sort of.

My normal method of dealing with him was to ignore him. If the advice was good, I’d say, “Okay.” If it wasn’t, I’d say nothing. If I was really pissy, I’d make a snide remark, and if I was in a competitive mood, I’d say, “Not going to happen,” and maybe explain why, but that usually just lead to him judging my reasons and refusing to accept them. But, he is a very vocal and critical person, one of those who believes his opinion is always the best—and the most obvious. Combine him with my boss, who wants things done one way, and my manager, who wants things done another way, and you have three people telling you what to do with a tone of they know best. If you ignore them, they get annoyed or even angry, and if you say, “This is how I was told to do it,” they argue that the person telling you doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

The problem with most criticism is that everyone assumes their perspective is the most true to reality. This can be beneficial—having people give you criticism they themselves are unsure of can be problematic at times—but it can also restrict the listener to a binary right or wrong reaction. Either you agree with me, do exactly what I want, and I’ll leave you alone, or you’re saying I’m wrong, even in the attempts to compromise. Normally you can ease someone into some awareness of the situation, all the opinions you have to consider, simply by informing them of other people’s ideas, but there’s a possibility they’ll say everyone else is an idiot and fully expect you to only listen to them.

Working in a restaurant is often the best example of how easily ego can cause too many voices—and how it’s not so simple as to just do what you think is best. Some people will not leave you alone if you ignore their advice.

Right after work, still irritated and in pain, I go to get an upgrade on my phone. It’s the first smartphone I’ll own, having been very patient (even procrastinating) in getting one, but then when I finally decided on it, I just wanted to do it and have it be over with.

I get there and I need the password to my account. I’m still on the family plan of my parents, so I call my mother who says, “Why are you going into the store? You should just call them.”

I didn’t want to call them. At all. I have a terrible fear of talking to people on the phone, especially calling up strangers (a part of my social anxiety), I knew that finding a number would be a bitch, I was already at the store, I didn’t think that calling them would do anything different except for make it more complicated to receive the actual phone or just take longer, and I was under the impression it was just some wazoo idea my mom had randomly decided on. It’s not uncommon for people to get some sort of thought in their head about what you should do and fixate on it. It becomes their priority to get you to do it, not caring what your goals are or even how effective it will be.

But she couldn’t tell me the password and she kept insisting, saying if I screwed up the other people’s plans, I would be held responsible, so I left the store. I called her back later asking her to get the number. She found a random one that, when I called, was automated and had only the options of payment, check balance, and technical support. I knew none of them would be able to help me upgrade, probably just telling me to go in or do it online. She gave the phone to my dad who started to go off on, “Don’t sign anything. They will try to trick you! Just go in and get the information, but do not sign anything.”

I already had all the information. I knew I had an upgrade, I knew what I wanted. There was no reason to go in if I wasn’t going to actually get the phone. I told him, “I’m not going in. I’m calling them.”

“What? Why are you calling them?”

Eventually, so frustrated from being criticized all day, first by my coworker, then by my parents, I blew the whole thing off. Instead of taking responsibility and just doing it myself, I waited until I could get my brother to go in with me—and make decisions for me. Between these times, I told a few people I was getting a new iPhone in which they said, “Don’t get an iPhone! Get a Droid!”

Having dealt with my mother’s Droid in attempts to show her how to use it, I knew I had no idea or desire to learn a new interface. I just wanted an iPhone. I just wanted to go in, upgrade my plan, get my new phone, and be done with it. Better yet, I wanted someone else to do it for me.

So my brother came in, we were met by the clerk (a much nicer lady than the first one I dealt with—some man irritated I was taking up his valuable time), she told us that I had an upgrade, that the other plans wouldn’t be effected, that I should do fine with a 16GB, and it would be this much. My brother said, “Sounds good,” and left.

I got my phone and that was the end of it.

If I had just gone in without needing to contact anyone else, it would have been the same results but much faster and less stressful.

There is such a thing as too many voices when it comes to criticism, and even the most composed people will become overwhelmed and frustrated, distraught at the inability to make everyone happy.

When confronted by constant criticism, differing opinions, and inflated egos (including my own), I remind myself…

-Being critical is a personality trait, not a sign you’re actually doing anything wrong. Some people voice their opinions more often and with more conviction than others… and they do that to everyone.

-Theoretical advice for “you” will not always be the same practical advice for “me.”

-I don’t have to entertain unsolicited criticism, especially if I don’t feel it is coming from an appropriate place.

-There is more than one way to skin a cat.

-It’s better to make a mistake and learn from it then not do anything.

-When people are contradicting each other and refusing to listen to other people’s opinions (outside of even your own), don’t try to make them happy—it’s about being right.

-What’s the worst that can happen if you’re wrong?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pride and Prejudice Quilt Giveaway!

RUNNING JUNE 15-22, 2015

In honor of my bi-annual giveaway, I am raffling off this Pride and Prejudice baby quilt.

At 29”x29”, it is handmade and crafted from 100% cotton. It can be given to any little one with high literary standards, or just hung on the wall to liven up a home.
To enter, all you must to is follow the instructions below. If you win, you will need to send me your mailing address for the quilt to be shipped to. If I don’t hear from the winner within 10 days, I will pull a new name.

Please like my Facebook page when you are there.

I will be doing another giveaway December 2015 featuring a quilt of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, or if I receive 8,000 Facebook likes, whichever comes first.  I will keep everyone updated through my Facebook and Twitter account, so stay connected!

(Interested in seeing the Edgar Allan Poe Quilt I gave away last December?)

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Difference between How Men and Women Take Criticism

 Back off woman. I'm doing science!

Is the following going to be a series of anecdotal generalizations that don’t necessary apply to you or even the writer herself? Well, obviously. Does that make it useless? Not necessarily.

In light of the recent comments of Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, I mused over my own personal interactions with older men and my new enlightenment about how much I really didn’t understand the male gender.

“Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”

I always argue that the biggest issue of sexism is you’re never fully sure when it’s happening. Is that guy talking down to you because you’re a woman or because he’s an asshole? Is it because you’re secretly incompetent in some manner that you are unaware of due to your lack of experience? Or is it because he assumed you were incompetent and inexperience just because of your gender and age?

It’s not the simple bitch-slap-her-until-she-makes-you-a-sandwich issue it’s often made out to be. Daily sexism is a lot more subtle and convoluted (also able to be perpetrated by women just as much as men, and against men) than just problems of rape and pay discrepancies.

The problems women and men face when dealing with obstacles of gender are more about perception and societal pressure. It’s not that someone will actually say to you, “I wish you weren’t here because your presence is distracting me and I don’t think you’ll do any good anyway,” but the insincerity in a smile, or the simple inattention a potential boss gives you while talking enthusiastically with a male counterpart.

It’s because of this subtly, however, that, until just a few months ago, I actually didn’t realized my interpretation of certain men in my life’s condescension did not come from pure, straightforward sexism as I assumed, but really was a difference in male and female cultures that I was not aware of. Which is to say, I believe men like Hunt do legitimately have more hostile reactions when criticizing women, but not just because women can’t take criticism any less/more than men.

I come from a predominantly “feminine” culture. Yes, I have my brother and my father, a mother, no sisters, but both the men in my life were introverts who often preferred solitude or the company of women to that of men. My external family was filled with women (aunts having a whole slew of daughters), with dominant personalities and husbands who were either self-isolating outsiders or the non-confrontational support system you would expect in that situation. Women ruled by numbers, and, in most situations, when you have more than even two girls in a room, it’s not uncommon for masculine culture to hide itself. I do truly understand the idea of men not being able to be men when women are around because female culture is the more influential of the two. For a long time, I never really witnessed “men being men.” Partially because especially masculine guys read to me as non-intellectual with boring interests, warped priorities, and often insecure. (Not because they are, but that’s my prejudgment of them. An example of the exact kind of subtle sexism I’m talking about.)

As I grew up, I worked in women-dominated fields, like theatre and sewing. You had less men involved, and when you did, they were either gay, or just didn’t prioritize proving their masculinity. They were either feminine people, or confident enough to not worry about being considered feminine and could easily be “one of the girls.” Except for the part where they slept with everyone in the cast.

It wasn’t until I started dating my recent boyfriend that I began to see men in their true environment and realize a huge mistake I had been making.

The older gentlemen who were trying to prove their dominance over me were not doing so because I was a woman, it’s because that’s how masculine culture works. The basic interaction, introducing conflict to prove authority, is a part of men’s everyday life.

As I hear Hunt claiming that women tend to cry when criticized, I do agree that criticism tends to explode between sexes more so than it does with two people of the same gender. I do not believe that it has anything to do with superiority of managing emotions on either side, but rather the same reason a Japanese supervisor will probably be more effective managing his Japanese workers than an American one—interpretation of body language, tone, motivation, and priorities are different.

Feminine culture is all about not trying to start shit. It’s anti-confrontational. This may sound like a load of crock when you think of those insane Bridezillas screaming, “My way or the highway” as they shatter a vase on the floor, but first, all cultures have variations, and the overdramatic attempt for control is actually a huge byproduct of how women define the hierarchy, caused by the constant attempts to play nice.

We tend to be more diplomatic, clever, sneakier, and more manipulative than our male counterparts. We avoid direct conflict, but go first for compromise and negotiation. Depending on the women, this could be out of genuine empathy and desire to make the entire group happy, or it could be a controlling ploy—it takes longer to convince someone something was their idea, but you have more power over them for a greater period of time. Most times it’s a mix between the two.

We rather talk it out without hostility, taking more time to solidly solve the issue. (I’ll get to why girls start screeching in a second.) We prefer persuasion over intimidation. Persuasion is more sustainable where as intimidation requires constant vigilance. It’s exhausting, and most women don’t have the physical size to dominant with their presence.

The male hierarchy is defined by action. There are “pissing contests,” in which two gentleman will try to prove their worth to each other. They usually get into heated conflict, maybe even an actual fight, use the argument to determine (at least momentarily) the alpha, then get over it.

The female hierarchy is defined by passivity. One woman decides to surrender her power to the other. She chooses to be submissive in most cases rather than the alpha taking it. The beta tends to have more control over the situation than you would think. In a way, the alpha serves her, working to make the entire group happy. The alpha makes the decisions and lets the beta coast. The alpha gets what she wants more, but the beta has less decisions to make and less responsibility. When the beta wants something, she tries to sneak the power out, deliberately concealing it from the alpha. The alpha, who usually knows this is going on, turns a blind eye—As long as it is secret, it is not an issue of proving dominance. The alpha is only losing control over that certain aspect; the beta isn’t threatening her “rule” all together, so no power struggle needs to occur.

Until it does.

This is the flaw in the feminine hierarchy. There are benefits—a “live and let live” mentality in which you don’t have to deal with conflict or hostility the majority of the time, a communal mindset versus a dog-eat-dog one—but as everyone knows, bitches be trippin’. For a society that is anti-confrontational, there’s a lot of drama.

That’s because the culture’s sustainability has a foundation of everyone agreeing and doing their part. When one party decides to refuse, everything falls to shambles. The comfort of the feminine culture is about not having continual competition. You’re not worried about proving yourself all of the time. But the problem is, when someone crosses a line, it’s a much bigger deal.

You have women who love control. This isn’t just an issue of wanting it their way; they want to have others obey their orders, even if they don’t really care what those orders are. When confronted by a woman like this, you will find yourself with immense pressure to obey her—which is not a common or desired feeling in most female relationships. You are supposed to feel like it is your choice to obey. She won’t work with the alpha-beta relationship. It’s all about her and she won’t take care of you. It works, often, because the people in her life (men and women) are so against conflict that they’ll try to pander to her to shut her up. But this is the worst possible move you can take.

In woman-land if a woman decides to cause a scene (who is not a drama queen), it’s a sign that it’s important to her, and usually an attempt to make her happy is a good thing. We’re trained to be submissive to hostility and calm them down, and if it’s just an issue of her wanting something really badly, then you can make the problem go away by giving it to her. If, however, you are dealing with a drama queen, you can’t make the mistake of playing nice. She gets off on the power, and showing that her screaming at you works, she’ll just be encouraged to do it more. If you meet a woman like this, your only choice is to annihilate her. I mean completely dominate her. Demonstrate your authority, don’t take her shit, tell her off, and do absolutely nothing to make her feel better. Any attempts to negotiate will be taken as a sign of weakness. Remembering that most women’s primary goal is to not have to prove their authority constantly, it becomes very important to not reward her in the slightest for questioning if you are in charge.

So you obliterate her. And, unlike men, she will absolutely hate you for it. Even though you are less likely to deal with her starting shit, you will still have to deal with the ramifications of her not liking you. This is exactly the situation most women want to avoid, including the drama queen. The only difference is, she thought she could win, which means she attacked you because she perceived you as weak.

The way you define a drama queen over a distraught woman is the motivation for the “attack.” When she starts being hostile, the first thing that crosses the female victim’s mind is, “Why?”

If you can’t find a good reason to start a fight, it means it’s an issue of control, not an issue of personal importance.

Which brings us back to men.

While women feel more comfortable controlling their “moments of competition,” and then having it become a huge ordeal later, men feel far more secure having several little pissing matches throughout the day and then getting over it.

This means that they will cause conflict when it doesn’t seem to matter much, bring up little criticisms that are more evidential than they are useful. When someone is trying to prove themselves rather than help you, they’ll give you feedback that is inarguable, but doesn’t necessarily have an effect. “You used the Oxford comma, and I hate the Oxford comma.” Yes. I did use it. Both are technically correct. “You have a prologue.” Yep. “You ended in a preposition.”

A competitive person will often miss the fact that a gun disappeared in a scene to focus on an archaic or non-influential rule, choosing to take hyperbole literally and looking for anything “weird” they can suggest is a bad choice. This kind of mentality can be problematic, removing color and style from a work and encouraging to play it safe—not because the work was bad in the first place, but because they wanted it to be. Meaning that when a person is focused on proving his authority, he’s less likely to discuss the abstract, big picture issues, refuse to look at context, but rather point out something that Hemingway said not to do, often simplifying Hemingway’s point just to confirm his pre-existing bias that you suck.

Keeping in mind that a competitive woman, when dealing with a woman, will be sneaky and backhanded in her insults, where as a man will be more blunt. In female culture, being blunt is an act of mutiny—trying to prove your dominance—blunt criticism will have more meaning than just the criticism itself.

In a true story, an older gentlemen once flat out told me in an insulted voice, “You contradicted yourself here.”

Well, the contradiction—the narrative saying, “He should just go in there. She’s going to want to hear him out. She’s going to want his side of the story. Even if she won’t come with him, he needs to see her one last time,” and then a paragraph later, “He should just leave. She’s going to hate him. She’s going to side with the Adherent. He needs to get out of here while he has the chance.”—to me was incredibly obvious as to why I was doing it, and I was completely baffled by the criticism.

I said, “Well, he’s not sure what she’s going to do. Do I need to make that clearer?”

It looked like his organs fell out.

He collapsed on the table, hunched over my paper and actually refused to speak to me. Finally someone else said, “Yeah, that’s what he’s saying,” and we ignored him.

After the meeting, he proceeded to approach me to say I’m a very defensive person. I replied, “If I’m defensive, how do you think I’m going to respond to that?”

Feeling heat beneath my ears, I explained to him that when I get criticism in a group, I’ll often get home and realize I don’t understand it. I’ve trained myself to recognize when I don’t see or understand what a person is talking about, it’s important to ask.

Then another man walked in and said, “I don’t think she’s being defensive,” to which Mr. Critic mumbled something about, “Well, I just thought you should know,” and left.

After establishing my “dominance” or rather his lack of authority over me, he proceeded to roll over and pander to me. I still, being a typical woman, hated him, believing firmly our relationship was best if we just pretended like the other didn’t exist.

See, my perspective, since the criticism has always seemed to be insincere—Not only do I feel I would have had to be complete moron to unintentionally contradict myself so obviously and quickly, but no one since has made that same comment and I’ve had a lot of beta-readers—and not exactly of high magnitude, his decision to tell me was an act of dominance. Because in woman culture (and this is all an examination in hindsight), such a tact to achieve dominance is extraordinarily aggressive, I found it incredibly insulting and irritating. I saw it as an attack on my authority over the subject (I was a much more prolific writer than him. Think thirteen books versus zero), and it became a big deal.

He was shocked and didn’t know how to handle me. Partially, I believe due to sexism—most woman would have listened, nodded, and secretly hated him—but because most men would recognize it as a lesser deal.

He’s an asshole. End of story. You assert your dominance through traditional animalistic means—eye contact, puff out your chest—and, if you so choose to tell him, “Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” you’ll have a moment of hatred, he starts to understand where the boundaries are, and then both forget about it.

I don’t believe in segregating the sexes like Hunt desires. I think this solves the problem as much as literally sweeping dirt under a rug does. It hides it, makes it look nice, but doesn’t deal with the issue long term.

We need to learn how to deal with each other, and in most cases, simple understanding is key.

If you are a man dealing with a woman, realize…

-Women like to define dominance once. They don’t want to have to keep fighting for it. Female hierarchy stays stagnant for longer. Once you define the authority figure, that’s how it is for the most part until someone is willing for a full-frontal coup.

-Women are more than willing to be submissive to enrich a dynamic, but only if it’s their choice. They will often let someone else take the lead, but if you try and force them, to sublimate them, that’s when they’re going to get pissed and will turn to Super Harpy, defender of Get Out of My Personal Space. In man’s world, you take authority and then are free to do what you want. In woman’s world, you are given authority and are expected to take care of those who gave it to you. If a woman gives you her submission, she expects you to protect her feelings. Once you refuse to do that, she will try to take it back.

-Men do tend to be harder on women, especially older men with more traditional perspectives. Either it’s because a woman looks like she’s not going to fight back, because he assumes her incompetence or inexperience, because he’s trying to impress her, or even because she’s just more pleasant to talk to. Make sure, no matter what the reason, you’re not censoring your criticism of the men and overdoing your criticism of women.

-Understand that submission, to a woman, is a sign of respect, not weakness. If you treat her like she is weak, you are disrespecting her.

-Always be diplomatic, even when talking to other men. By showing that you are trying to work with her rather than against her, she’s more likely to listen.

-Even though men will get over a conflict with a man, there are those do tend to have a harder time getting over a conflict with a woman. It’s not uncommon for a guy to approach a woman, be condescending at her (either aggressively or accidentally), then consider her an overemotional harpy when she responds in anything more than “Yes, sir.” Some men do expect women to be submissive to them, really believing that’s our roles. One of the reasons she gets so upset is because she feels trapped—I’m damned if I don’t stand up for myself, I’m damned if I do.

If you are a woman dealing with a man, realize…

-By being “overemotional” he means your tone; he doesn’t give a shit about your words. The kinds of blunt criticism men say is straightforward is actually far more emotion-based than the logical (but we’ll say lyrical) rant you went on. (Blunt, unthought out criticism is more influenced by feelings and preconceived notions than well-chosen words.) Men are taught to hide their emotions, women are not. In man world, letting your voice quiver or get high pitched is considered weakness. When a man is inappropriately trying to establish his dominance over you, often by going monotone and expressionless will you intimidate him more than shouting or crying. Even though men accuse us of being irrational, you shouldn’t depend too much on reason. Make eye contact, never smile, and stand your ground, say little, and he’s more likely to back down without incident.

-It’s possible he’s attacking you because he perceives you as weak, and you really just want to be left alone. But it’s also, as I learned, just how men talk to each other. Don’t be thrown off by suddenly having to defend yourself; it might actually be a sign of acceptance, you’re a peer who needs to set her place in the hierarchy. Realize that eventually you can prove your authority over him by sheer confidence and not being rattled at his undue hostility.

-Men do perceive submission as weakness, but that’s not your problem. In order to avoid being considered a shrill harpy, be predominantly unconcerned with their attempts to prove your ineptitude. Don’t try to prove yourself, but rather behave like the person you want to be. Your general apathy towards their aggression will actually assert dominance better than trying to fight them. Again, focus on the physical aspects. You can scare the shit out of a man by just staring him in the eyes and saying nothing.

I say it’s perfectly fine to be predominately concerned with yourself, and it is not necessarily a man’s job to make a woman feel comfortable in the space. But comments like Hunt’s are simplified until fictionalized as well as problematic. You can’t ask a person to stay out of your career or your lab (writer’s group, conference, street team, whatever), because they distract you with their sexiness, and you can’t just suggest that women don’t take criticism well when the majority of people don’t. In my personal life, I’ve seen more men fired and written up for passionate altercations with coworkers than I ever have women, and I’ve seen equal members of either gender flip a bitch at the slightest sign of derision.

Tim Hunt’s commentary has a point, but it’s deluded by his extreme bias and willingness to ask 50 percent of the population to stay away from him so as not to distract him.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When to Consider Traditional Publishing First

Like our childhood heroes when we first find them drunk, lying headfirst in a pile of their own puke, traditional publishing has had a hard fall off its pedestal. It’s one of those things that most would still kill to be a part of, and yet we see all kinds of posts praising self-publishing, trying to remove the stigma against it and promote its values.

And while I do find the new popularity of self-publishing to be a good change, allowing authors of all kinds to make more money and produce more diverse works, I find the bile for traditional publishing to be detrimental, and an option that is better for many people who refused to even consider it.

1) If you don’t really want control.

Artists, especially when first starting out, always think they want complete say over everything. Sometimes this is true, at least for the first few projects. Some people do have a thoroughly thought out vision that could be destroyed if not kept in check by the visionary, and there are those who are good at it, whose work prospers because it is defended by the creator’s diligence, but there are also those who it is not the best option for. Partially because they don’t actually want it.

Most creators get burned out after the first few works in which they did everything. You read things about actors who insisted  on doing their own stunts in the first season that you couldn’t beg to in the last. You have self-publishers who make a successful series only to go back and redo with professionals now that they have the money. I personally produced plays for a few years when I was living in L.A., and in the beginning I loved to do things like poster design and finding costumes, but towards the end, if I could find anyone else willing to lend a hand, or even who was responsible enough to earn their pay, I’d feel it was a successful production.

Not only is complete control only fun for some in the beginning, it’s also something that some artists actually don’t want at all. What they’re really interested in is not lacking final word; they’re not actually interested in about half the choices they have to make.

For instance, I worked with an independent director who wrote, starred, directed, and funded his own film. He was one of those people who wanted to be in charge of everything, and yet he actually refused to make decisions. It wasn’t even an issue of skills; it was an issue of he only wanted to think about the fun parts.

He didn’t care about camera angles. He had no vision for them, didn’t push the camera person to do anything interesting, didn’t push himself to actually make some interesting choices. The majority of the scenes were filmed from across the room in long, tedious shots. It ruined any semblance of pacing, made it look like he didn’t know what the hell he was doing, and was just an important aspect that he needed to pay more attention to.

If you don’t have skills, vision can make up for it, and skills can make up for vision, but nothing can make up for the lack of desire. If you aren’t interested in paying attention to the important  details of your work, obviously you need a team. Not only that, but it’s likely you would prefer it.

2) You have no money.

It is entirely possible to self-publish for no money whatsoever. It is also not a solid plan if you are trying to either gain readers or support yourself financially. You’re competing with an infinite number of people. Some of them are great writers, so you can’t bank on only the quality of your story making it stand out. You need to be professional and competitive, and mostly, willing to get the word out there.

Things add up. Even when you are frugal, talented, and business savvy, you’re going to end up spending some money.

It’s extraordinarily frustrating to read about people who can’t even afford to pay for copyrighting their work, let alone do any sort of advertising. Even if you were to go with less obvious paths than throwing your money at Facebook, you need to be able to find an extra 100 bucks occasionally. Can you make bookmarks ($40 for 500)? Register a website ($10/year for domain name, 5-15/month for a hosting)? Copyright your work ($30)? Possibly postage to send out announcements or giveaways? Do you have the ability to send free arcs to reviewers? Items for giveaways? Gas money to drive out to events? And if you don’t have drawing skills or know HTML, you will probably have to pay a designer to help you create the graphics or sites.

And of course, having a professional cover, headshot, and a thorough copyeditor are important factors in your book being taken seriously.

While having no money can’t prevent you from selling your book, if you don’t have a lot of financial flexibility, it’s a good idea to look for an investor. You really will have a tough time trying to be successful when you aren’t willing to have any budget at all while surrounded by authors who do. If you’re willing to put in the work and learn the necessary skills, you can do it, but it means a lot of time and effort to keep competing with people have time, effort, and money.

The point of the traditional publisher is to fund the project; that’s why they exist. Of course, if you are unable to find someone enthusiastic in taking you on, I don’t recommend letting this stop you. It just makes sense to seek an avenue that gives you more funds first rather than the one which requires you to be the primary financer.

On the flip side, if you are looking to supplement your income with writing, self-publishing is probably a better plan. Successful self-publishers make more money than traditional self-publishers on average, and you’re more likely to make at least a few bucks even if you aren’t successful. Whereas with traditional publishing you’ll be hard put to get accepted and get paid in a reasonable time-frame, self-publishing can get you at least some money for the amount of work you put in.

3) You have no skill sets or time.

If you want your book to do anything other than sit on an obscure Amazon page, you need to be competitive. If you want to say that it is different than all those crappy self-published first drafts we have become accustomed to, you have to show us. If you want people to know about it, to see it, to have it be more than just another droplet in an infinite ocean, you have to do more than just scribble a cover and slap it up on the internet.

If you have the money to pay people with skill sets or time, then self-publishing is actually a good choice. That’s what a traditional publisher is. Of course, they have experience you don’t, but their primary job is being the investor, and if you can pay people with the experience, then traditional publishers don’t have much to offer you.

You will be required to do your researching in finding the right contractors, making sure they’re not scams, sometimes having to chase them down or even just meet with them to discuss your options, but you hire the right people and you can easily spend most of your time writing instead of making the last book successful.

Unfortunately, few people have the funds to hire a marketing advisor, graphic designer, editor, formatter, and anyone else you might need. Most people will do the work themselves, which is a perfectly acceptable decision… as long as they’re up to the challenge.

It’s irritating to have authors on Facebook complaining about how much hard work they have to put in, whining that it’s hard every time they realize the expectations in an over flooded market, or when they have some color pencil cartoon with a comic sans title as their cover and still claim they’ve done everything they could.

If you have the skills to do it yourself, you should. If you want to learn the skills to do it yourself, you should. But you need to still hold yourself to higher standards—the standards you would hold other people to. Would you buy a book with typos on the first page and sans an actual ending? Remember that you want people to take you seriously, and not expect the world to recognize your genius when there’s a lot of good works floating about in a sea of crap.

Self-publishing is hard. In many ways, it’s harder than traditional publishing. Yes, with the big New York publishers you’re more likely to be rejected, you’re not going to get anything until you actually get something—and even then you need to pass through four more gates of something for it to really mean anything—and even then it won’t be the magical world you’re expecting.

But that just goes to show that being a writer is hard in general. The only thing that’s easier about self-publishing is that it’s faster and you’re guaranteed to have a product if you put the work in. If you’re looking to be successful, however, self-publishing requires more work, more money, and less respect, having to work harder just to get to the same level of reputation as a traditionally published author. If you do manage to get through a traditional publisher, you have a team of experienced people who have been tested already by their bosses and coworkers (if they weren’t moderately good at their job, they’d be fired. If that freelance graphic designer you hired isn’t good at his job, you might not know until after you’ve already worked with him.) You have someone to fund printing, give you at least a small budget and effort into marketing, you have people to bounce ideas off of, push you further, and compensate for the skills you lack. They have prior relationships with reviewers and readers and bookstores. If you say, “I’m published with HarperCollins,” people don’t assume you’ve just published a typo-ridden first draft.

If you are interested in experience, help, funding, and support, traditional publishing might be up your ally. Otherwise, you need to do all the work of all those people in order to compete with them.

4)  You hate selling yourself.

Yes, traditional publishers expect you to market your own book more so than they did in the past. But not only will a reputable company offer you something, even just the name will make your life so much easier.

Being self-published is still, even for the most confident person, a little embarrassing. You get this look of, “Oh, a vanity publisher? Yeah right. You’re an author. You keep telling yourself that.” Or, at least, that’s how your doubt interprets it. And that makes it very hard to ask someone to give your book a chance.

Not only do publishers already have a name and connections, but you will often feel more comfortable contacting people (bookstores, events) with a book someone else is willing to support.

A confident, secure, and friendly person can do well with a self-published work, but if you really hate selling yourself, traditional publishing is far more up your ally.

5) You’re a relatively new author.

I’m not going to define for you what a “new” author is because it doesn’t matter. You should interpret your experience level for yourself; it’s too vague and inconsistent a concept to take a definition from a blogger who’s never met you. But I will say that if you aren’t very experienced, getting a few rejections is a good thing. It is also a means to expedite your confidence level and push your skills more than if you were to just go straight to self-publishing.

You might consider traditional publishing if you…

Haven’t really been rejected yet
Haven’t received a cruel criticism
Haven’t had a solid impression about your writing yet
Haven’t had a lot of people read your work
Are still waiting to see if other people think you’re a good writer or not.

I’m assuming you don’t want to produce crap, you don’t want to ruin your reputation, and you don’t want to be demoralized, which is why the process of trying to get traditionally published first can help your self-publishing endeavors be more successful.

You will always have some doubt about your abilities, need an outsider’s praise and encouragement, wrongfully hate your own writing (and wrongfully love it), but those are issues that become lesser over time. You start to recognize the feeling of bias, start understanding what the common perception of your work is, and start to have very different opinions on different pieces you’ve written. All of that gains you a greater ability to take criticism. (When you already know about a problem, it doesn’t hurt as much. When you are confident in a piece more so than your others, you take criticism less hard.)

You really shouldn’t allow yourself to print crap, but on the other side, you will often feel like something is crap when it’s not. Experienced writers have a general impression about the quality of their work, even though they too can be wrought with bias, and they’re more equipped when to realize to push it further or call it a day. If you are new at writing and don’t have a strong sense of the quality/lack thereof of your work, going through a gatekeeper can help you try harder and believe in yourself when it actually is successful.

Traditional publishing can reject great books, but it does inspire authors to work more than self-publishing does. You’re more likely to publish something mediocre but adequate through traditional publishing, rather than a draft filled with basic beginner mistakes. Knowing that you have someone to prevent you from making an error in judgment allows you to take a risk on a work you’re not sure about—if it doesn’t get accepted, no one has to know.

And if you keep trying with a work, not only will you get at least a modicum of feedback (few agents will tell you why you got rejected, but you do receive some clues as to how your work was received), but you will grow more confident about that work over time, or, determine it really isn’t good enough.

For many self-publishers, their confidence came straight from their belief in a work despite all of the rejections. You can waddle around in the “what-if” stage of your book—I don’t know if it’s any good. What if I give it to other people and they think it is?—for a long time, and sometimes the only way to be sure is to give it out to others. Traditional publishing is a great way to learn what you feel about your writing without actually giving it to the public. You get rejected by agents rather than fans.

Which is important because in the beginning you’re malleable and fragile. Giving work out for everyone to judge too soon can demoralize you or mutate you faster than what any rejection could. With traditional publishing at least you have the knowledge of it being hyper-competitive (they can only take on a few clients at a time), and it being only one person’s opinion. But when you self-publish and no one cares, you get a cruel review, or a bunch of individuals criticize you for not writing like the person they think you should, you’re more likely to be affected by it. Either think it proves you’re not meant to be a writer, or try to change yourself to be like what the populace says they want, with little perspective about how the public can be naïve, shallow, or just closed-minded.

Writers for ages have survived off of the doubt of, “He might not have liked it, but if I could just get the real readers to see it…” which encourages them to keep trying. When it’s the public that meets you with hostility—or worse, complete apathy—you’re more likely to quit.

You also don’t want to have your first brush with criticism on the internet. Text is always harsher than criticism orally given, you don’t have the context to determine the validity or real meaning behind it, and it’s all in the view of everyone.

Most of us receive our first form of rejection (whether official or casual) in private where no one else can prove we acted up. And it’s less humiliating, like the difference between being lectured in your room versus at a party where everyone is watching. It’s useful to not make your self-published book the first place anyone has read your work.

Don’t let impatience lead you. Expedited criticism is harmful, and the best way to improve your writing is to take the time to work on it until it feels right, give it mild trial and error, let it rest for a while until you have fresh eyes again, and not just post it with the hope the public will love it.

Because self-publishing is guaranteed, doing it too soon can hurt your career. Trying to traditionally publish can give you a private place for trial and error until you’re confident enough to understand that, yes, this is the book I want to have written.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Kinds of Talent Writing Teachers Forget About

I have a headache. It means I should probably not write about academia because headaches and heartache made me try to pick fights on the internet. Fortunately, it seems the internet is like the world of fight club because people rarely take me up on the offer, so I thought maybe, just perhaps, I could discuss the academic world with an open mind and without sarcasm, or at least without someone calling me a whore on Twitter.

Which I have never managed to do in my life, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Recently I read an article by a professor who I would consider “burnt out”—if I was to be open-minded. If I wasn’t trying to be objective and positive, I might call him an ass hat, but luckily I’m censoring myself today.

As many of my readers know I had a bad experience in college which a bunch of ass— burnt out teachers. They didn’t criticize me so much. They were scared of me. So they just told other students that my plays "sucked" which is, you know, the best way to help someone get better. This was partially because I was producing them in their theatre without their permission, so in hindsight I give them a little credit for being angry with me.

It comes in more of a vigilantism when I grow irate about their outlook on students. These teachers were notorious for telling students they weren’t going to make it because they were “too brown” or “too fat” or “didn’t work hard enough” or were “character actors and character actors will only get parts when they’re past forty, so you might as well not bother.”

So, when I see an ex-MFA professor pushing the ideas he does in this article—like older writers will never be successful, questions about publishing are inane, and, most importantly, writers are born with talent—it makes me turn back to the good old days and return to an important argument to these sorts of people:

“Writers are born with talent,” claims Mr. Boudinot.

Well, I have a problem with that.

1) I am not paying you to judge if I will be successful, but to teach me how to be successful. What I do with your lessons is not your damn business. If you feel like it is a waste of your time because I’m talentless, or hell, even an ass hat myself (entirely possible) then find a career were you can pick and choose your customers. Just because you don’t like cleaning the bathrooms, just because it might be hard, and the customers are ungrateful, does not make it okay to do a crappy job.

2) There is no benefit to crushing a dream early, especially if you don’t have any other talent in mind that I might be wasting. There are very little downsides of trying. And anyone who writes, even if they don’t get published, still has something to show for their work, something to be proud of, something learned. It’s not like it’s a complete win-lose situation.

3)  Your pride should not be based around students who came in with the ability, but those who gained it under your teaching. If you have none who you’ve taught, then either your philosophy that they would never be great is true—then why teach?—or you aren’t a good teacher—so why teach?

But more importantly, his statement about there being Real Deals is an oversimplification of the issue. Now, I will admit that I firmly believe in nurture over nature, and I will confess I could easily be wrong about that. However, whether a student is “born” with skills or he just unknowingly practices them over time, it does not matter as much as he has to have some. Statistically.

The required skill sets in writing and the vast number of directions in which writing could be considered “good” are so diverse that every single person on the earth has to be good at storytelling in some way or another. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are successful in making people feel and think, but it does mean that they have something going for them.

For one thing, every flaw has a quality.

If you are too simple, you are clear. Too confusing, you are unique (your mind is your own and hard for other people to get a hand on). Too unrelatable, original. Too cliché, relatable.

When I critique work, I can always find something good to honestly say about it, and usually from looking at what I think is wrong with it. And if you don’t have any flaws or qualities, but balance somewhere in the middle, that can be a good thing as well. Hard to work with, but a sign of ability. It is impossible to be bad in every single way. Most writers, when trying to improve, are usually striving for a balance. They lean one way too much and now need to pull back. This “pendulum” solution is the reason why people go straight for the absolutes. They don’t say “Don’t use adverbs” because they’re always wrong, but because many depend on them way too much. Which is why, to the binary observer, the criticism of “just don’t” can seem completely inaccurate, but once he takes it with a grain of salt he’s more likely to find the right balance.

This is not meant to say that comments of your writing being “too simple” should be ignored. It’s just to say that it can’t be too simple and too confusing, which means that it has some sort of quality to it.

Sometimes mistakes are much more in your face and easier to see/point out than the qualities, which is why many will argue that there are no qualities. But I argue there has to be some. Even the worst story I’ve ever read I could say honestly good things about, and I really, really hated it.

Secondly, more importantly, there are two types of talent, one type that is praised relentlessly, the other type that is completely ignored.

Overt talents are those that stand out obviously in the art form. It’s what viewers tend to look for when considering if they should trust the artist. They are usually visual or, at least, less abstract, than more subtle but powerful elements.

Say you have two writers, one who has the ability to write convincing dialogue—he has a way with words and expressing himself—while the second has a deep, empathetic connection with people, a psychological insight to the way humans think, their motivations, their fears. The first, however, doesn’t get people in the least, the second can’t express himself worth crap.

Now, naturally, talents tend to seep into each other, (if you understand people, that will naturally affect your dialogue) and, normally, few people are completely talented in one area and worthless in the others. But this is hypothetical, so stay with me.

The first gets complimented all the time. It’s not that the teacher is exactly in love with the first’s work—there’s something missing… yet he seems to have more “natural talent” than the others. He is the biggest fish in the small pond and he knows it.

We’ve all had that kid in our class, whether it be painting, acting, or writing. There’s just someone who can make it look good. And yet, the other students have something to complain about. He’s a one trick pony—acting well but only with one character he does over and over again. Or he really does have a way with words, but he just can’t put in the gravity necessary. There is just something wrong about his work that really prevents it from being great—no matter how well it is written.

Then you got the second kid. He does not have a way with words. His language is stiff. The characters seem like they’re lying all the time. It’s a poorly executed piece with a brilliant depth—a depth that most people will not see, too distracted by execution. People don’t focus on concept when they’re paying attention to typos.

This kid will not get a lot of credit. Few people will be extraordinarily cruel to him (and those who are will do so for alternative reasons than pure, unbiased criticism). But he will not be encouraged, he will be self-doubting, and he will not, at that point in time, be seen as good.

As a teacher myself, I find that ignoring that second kid just because the first makes you look good (which a small amount of teachers have done in my lifetime) is a bad move. For one thing, improving your overt execution is a lot easier than the subtle subtext, if only because it is overt. You can see what is wrong easier, and that makes it simpler to fix. Meaning that you can teach a kid who is perceptive but bad with words faster than you can teach the kid who is good with words but bad with concepts.

They both deserve the lessons needed, and choosing the one with the more obvious talent is not only unfair, but also likely to be more difficult in helping him improve. Sometimes the kid who looks like he has more natural talent will have to work a lot harder.

Of course, this is an extreme example. In most context you have a person who is the sum of many different skill sets, some overt, some subtle, each with varying magnitudes. Combine that with his goals (which may have nothing to do with his actual skills) and there’s a decent chance that the amount of work it would take to help him become talented in the kinds of execution he desires is not worth it to him. And then you add in the whole aspect of luck and business-minded skill sets required in a successful career, and yes, it would seem that the person who happened to draw a specific pattern of traits and skills is the lotto winner of being a successful author. I, however, believe strongly in agency still being able to control some factors. If you don’t believe in it, teaching is a bad field.

To say that some authors “have it” and some don’t would require a definition of what “it” is. Being that there are so many “its” that could make a great writer in a certain context, it’s an oversimplification that is more up to the individual than for teachers to decide.

Most people who are successful are successful because they tried. I’ve been in many writers’ groups, classes, and conferences over the years, and my friends who have been able to be published, get agents, or make a decent living off of writing weren’t always the “best” in the group—they were the most dedicated. They wrote, they edited, they queried, and they had fun. Some of their skills may have been innate, but they definitely enhanced themselves over the years. Never write someone off just because you don’t see immediate value in them or their work. It’s far more likely you’re not looking for the right things than they don’t have it.

Especially when it is your job to teach them the best you possibly can.