Friday, August 2, 2013

Road to Hell

I'll be honest. I probably should have gone with my first instinct and written about the county fair that's going on here this week. I mean, who doesn't love a good fair? There's the midway, the rides, the games and all sorts of weird fried foods to try, random musical performances, fireworks, livestock--it's fun.  But I've written that same post several times now. I'm kind of over it now. So instead, I'm going to talk about some things I've been observing lately.


There was a full moon last week. I blame some of the recent craziness on that. In Romancelandia, writers were off on another tangent (which is something we’re sometimes wont to do) about reviews on Goodreads. Quelle Surprise! The question under debate had to do with whether or not authors had the right to post “honest” (for which read “unfavorable”) reviews. “Don’t I have a right to my opinion?” was, I believe, how the question was most frequently framed.  And, much as I’d really, really like to be able to say “yes” to that question, I’m really not sure we do. 
I think once you give up your amateur standing you might have to rein in a little of your freedom to say whatever you please about someone else’s books in a public forum.  And not just because you might hurt someone’s feelings or lose a few friends, but because I don’t think it’s very professional.
Wanna criticize it in private, or among friends? Go for it. Someone asks you directly what you thought of the book? No need to lie. But to offer an unsolicited review, your very subjective opinion, in a way that might dissuade people from buying someone else’s book? A book that (opinions being what they are) they might actually have fallen in love with? That’s a little more iffy. Personally, I just happen to think it’s a poor business practice.
And this is a business, which leads into the next part of my story.
My husband and I went away last week and spent the night in a lovely bed and breakfast. As luck would have it, most of the guests were loosely involved in creative fields, film, music, writing. Which should have been fun, right? Something in common? As it turns out, not so much.
At breakfast, the conversation largely revolved around new technology and how it’s ruining so many things. Being something of a technophile and a proud early adopter, I politely kept my mouth shut until the woman seated beside me (who happened to be a psychologist) turned to me and asked me what I did for work.
I said I was a writer. She asked me what I wrote, I said novels, mostly in the romance genre. She favored me with a look of Extreme Skeptical Disbelief (I know this look. I have this look. I wear it often myself.) and asked, “And you actually make a living from that?”
I knew I should have just said yes, because many people can and do just that, but the truth is if I, personally, had to live solely off my royalties at this point...well, let's just say I wouldn’t be staying in lovely bed and breakfasts very often. So instead I said, “Not yet,” and my husband, bless him, launched into a passionate defense of my books in particular and digital publishing in general.
I could have told him it was a waste of time, and sure enough, his remarks were quickly met with cries of, “I know it’s supposed to be exploding, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it, myself.” And, “I like a book I can hold in my hands.”
Luddites. They’re everywhere.
But it got me thinking. What is it about books and writing that makes people think it's okay to be rude? To ask personal questions that they'd never think to ask about anyone else's income? Why do some people believe that their opinion is so critically important that they simply have to express it at any cost?
 I mean, I shoot my mouth off as much as the next person, and sometimes I shoot first and ask questions later. But do I go around asking random psychologists that I meet at breakfast if their choice of a career is an attempt to deal with their own psychological issues? Do I go around offering my unsolicited opinions of other people's work or career choice, or…well, anything that’s not actually my business, and then get offended when said people are not properly grateful for the gift of my fabulous insight?
Sigh. Well, anyway, the fair was lovely. And ooh, look; fireworks!

10 comments:

Meg Benjamin said...

Well, at least we don't get people asking us about stuff like the difference between "that" and "which," like my son the accounting student gets asked for tax advice.

Skylar Kade said...

I've heard (and been asked) some DOOZIES of personal questions about writing erotica. Oy.

I think it's something about writing (anything creative) being both intensely personal (you write a heroine with daddy issues? You do too, obvi. Paranormal author? Totally a vampire) and jealousy-provoking in the "oh, I'd like to write a book someday" crowd.

flchen1 said...

Boy, oh boy. Good grief. You know, there are rude people everywhere, sadly, PG. I think that no matter where you are, people are feeling more and more free to comment on you, what you're doing, and how you're doing it, whether it's your job, or your parenting, or your marriage, or how you vote, or your interior decorating... :( Hugs!

Juniper Bell said...

I tend to think that people's opinions reveal much about them, and zero about you. If they want to be judgmental and prying Luddites, too bad for them. You just keep doing what you do, and you'll have the last laugh. :-)

Erin Nicholas said...

I, not surprisingly, love this post. You absolutely must conduct this social experiment: ask the next ten strangers what they do for a living and how much they make, then disparage what they do with the attitude that
you're offering them valuable insight into their decisions. Then record how many names you are called and how many times you get smacked :-)

By the way, totally agre with what you said at the beginning... If you want to be a professional writer, act like one. All the time. Which includes how you treat your fellow professionals.

I am often appalled how writers act, esp the ones I *know* are in professional roles outside of their writing too. All those "rules" apply to your writing too, ladies and gentlemen. Not to mention common decency and kindness. Yeah, that too.

Erin Nicholas said...

I, not surprisingly, love this post. You absolutely must conduct this social experiment: ask the next ten strangers what they do for a living and how much they make, then disparage what they do with the attitude that
you're offering them valuable insight into their decisions. Then record how many names you are called and how many times you get smacked :-)

By the way, totally agre with what you said at the beginning... If you want to be a professional writer, act like one. All the time. Which includes how you treat your fellow professionals.

I am often appalled how writers act, esp the ones I *know* are in professional roles outside of their writing too. All those "rules" apply to your writing too, ladies and gentlemen. Not to mention common decency and kindness. Yeah, that too.

Kinsey Holley said...

God, what a great post.

Totally agree with not opining too much about other peoples' work; I'm not comfortable writing book reviews and I never review books I don't like.

As to how some people feel comfortable insulting your reading (or writing) habits - it's a fucking mystery to me. Especially when it comes from strangers. One of these days I'm going to respond with "Really? Is that how your mother raised you--to insult other peoples' tastes and occupations? Do you have a lot of friends, get invited to parties? Because if not, I think I might know why."

Or I'll just drop a "bless your heart" on 'em. That would be better, I guess.

Kinsey Holley said...

"I mean, I shoot my mouth off as much as the next person,..."

Unless the next person is me :)

Kelly Jamieson said...

I had an interesting moment last weekend when I was at a party, and the host mentioned to another guest who didn’t know me that I write romance novels. And of course, the question was, “Like Fifty Shades of Grey?” Before I could even answer that, she went on to say something like, “That book was so bad” and I weirdly found myself defending it and saying how popular it was and how many people loved it.

Now, I read Fifty Shades. There were some things I liked about it, but the quality of the writing was off-putting for me, so it’s not my favourite book ever. (I have NOT reviewed it on Goodreads, and it is my personal policy to NOT review books on Goodreads unless it blew me away and I give it 5 stars). So why did I defend it?

Because when she disparaged it, she disparaged all the people who read it and loved it. And there are literally millions of people who read it and loved it. And they have a right to love it. And I guess I was defending those people, more so than the book, because often readers of romance are disaparaged. And because yes, the books I write ARE kind of like Fifty Shades of Grey, and I could see her already turning her nose up at that.

Sydney Somers said...

Loved the post!

The question/assumption I get the most often is when Master Chef is with me and people make comments/digs about my books being all about him.

I think we're in a field that seems so surreal to a lot of people that their commonsense when it comes to asking questions about income etc flys right out the window. My sister's co workers for example, upon hearing what I did for a living, assumed I must live in Hollywood and spent my days rolling around in my millions. I wish lol