How do you know when you’re being lied to?
The truth is that these days few of us can know for sure. We rely, most of us, on other people to tell us what is going on everywhere else.
In general, this is getting better. Blogs are a great boon to this. If local newspaper reports a large crowd came out to greet a national celebrity and your buddy who has a blog shows three dogs and five people in an empty parking lot, you usually know who to believe. And even if bloggers aren’t any more impartial than journalists, there’s enough of them you can imagine the evidence and figure out who’s lying.
The problem, of course, is that the old institutions – Heinlein once said that nothing the Times magazine reported that he’d also been present at had ever been true. I can say the same for Newsweek and most US newspapers, particularly in foreign news – don’t like that and are fighting a battle by doubling down on the lie. Oh, wait, that isn’t a problem, since they are by and large underbussing themselves. (Totally is a word. And a sign of the times.)
But once you go outside the general and to the particular – in your field, say, particularly if you work in a highly subjective field – how do you know when they’re lying to you?
Well… Again, it’s getting better, at least in publishing.
First of all, there are little indications, like the fact that your statements are or might be mathematically impossible. That’s a new thing, and a sign of desperation. Beyond that, there are other signs: for instance, you’re supposedly selling five thousand copies of each work, but the book is still on the notoriously scarce bookshelf space at bookstores three years later; or random repair people have read you and you live in a relatively small town; or you’ve got more fan letters than people admit you sold books… or…
And then there is the other side of this – other people talk. You find out some of your colleagues are getting statements that swear they sold less than their Nielsen numbers which EVERYONE KNOWS are 1 to 2/3 of your sales, because of collection issues.
So, the “big lie” is getting harder to maintain.
But let’s take a time machine trip back ten years shall we? You’re a writer striving to break in. You’re also a reader. You read the magazines and the book publishers to find out what’s selling (to them, and which you assume they’re selling to the public, because they tell you they are.) And nine tenths of what you read you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, if you didn’t have to read for research. Meanwhile, you’re sending out your best efforts and they’re getting rejected partly because you’re naïve enough to believe they want to see “passion about your beliefs” and don’t realize it’s only if they agree with theirs. And no matter what you do, no matter how much you study, how much you improve, you can’t break in. And yet, beta readers, random strangers whom you show the work to, someone’s third cousin five times removed a friend asked to show your book to – all love it.
Then you start selling, and even though you have signing lines at cons, they tell you you’re not selling enough and you’ll have to change your name. And they keep paying you beginner advances that only allow you to live if you write six books a year.
And THEN they tell you that writers have a high rate of suicide and this means YOU’re crazy…
Then comes freedom, beautiful and terrible, like an army ready for battle. You can find out what you’re selling if you publish it yourself. You have access to some Nielsen via Amazon… and the lie melts.
Yes, some of us are now so cowed we’re afraid to know the truth. A lot of our writer friends are still caught in this. But I took the first chance I had to not work with lying thieves and to make for the indie hills. I work ONLY with the one publisher I like.
And you know what? Although indie hasn’t made me rich (I still don’t have novels out, partly because I’m in a fight for the rights to my series with my ex-publishers. They should be aware they’re fighting with a woman who has nothing to lose and I could get drastic: If I don’t hear soon, I think I’ll scan in and publish the mathematically inconsistent statements. Would you guys like that? Yes? Say it louder!) it’s restored my sanity in significant ways. For instance, those space opera shorts and novellas I couldn’t sell for love or money? Yep, they outsell all else ten to one. And this and my blog have allowed me to talk directly to fans. And guess what? They feel pretty much as I thought and as publishers told me they DIDN’T.
The big lie can only be maintained if you control all means of information. And they don’t.
I wasn’t crazy. I was being gaslighted. That warm liquid down my neck? It ain’t rain.
And we’ve had enough.
Anything the old publisher do now that doesn’t involve plain dealing is just more underbussing themselves. Watch and see.
(I have a different post today over at According To Hoyt)