Picking up a bit from Peter’s post yesterday, but also from something that has been weighing on my mind recently, I wanted to explore what I feel is my responsibility as a businesswoman to be professional. For one thing, when I interact with fans, I am acutely aware that they are where the money comes from. I write for my work to be appreciated, but the mark of appreciation is cold, hard cash. My customer is the reader, not a publisher or an editor or an agent, and after reading Peter’s and Kris’s posts on the topic, I think there are writers out there who have forgotten that the fans pay them, ultimately, not the middlemen who leech off the writer’s works.
We’ve discussed many times here on the blog the value in responding professionally to critical reviews. A professional approach to fans, whether in person, or on the internet, is crucial to developing a long-lasting fan base. You will erode that support when you act like a jerk, even if it makes you look cool to your peers when you do it. Your peers don’t buy enough of your books to pay the bills, I can almost guarantee, so as a sales ploy it’s bollocks unless you’re trying to be recruited by the Right People, and even then it’s more likely to backfire.
If you’re putting it on the internet it is public, and it is permanent. I was reminded of a poorly known example of this today when Tom Kratman asked if anyone had a copy of a certain infamous author’s ragequit letter from Baen’s Bar, an incident which took place some fifteen years ago. I vividly remember it, but didn’t think at the time to screenshot it… However, he got offers immediately of folks who had saved it. They, like me, had been so taken aback by the unprofessionalism that in the last fifteen years they haven’t bought anything with that name on it. It’s out there, and it’s still doing damage. Think before you hit send.
Remember to be professional in your interactions with vendors, as well. One of the things that Indie Authors can be bad about is thinking about their profession as a business. Heck, small presses can be included in this as well. I’m thinking of some examples I’ve seen over the years of conversations that went something like “That’s a nice cover, great art.” “Yeah, I found it online.” “Um, who’s the artist? You can’t just use an image without knowing what the copyright is!” “Oh, I have no idea, I couldn’t find that…” Five minutes later I had it and sent it to them. No idea if they changed the art or reached out to the artist for licensing. On a more personal note, I once had a publisher who had commissioned cover work from me reject the art. I’ve had that happen before, and it wasn’t a problem – my style isn’t going to work for every book. But this time, instead of a polite and professional ‘this art isn’t working for us.’ I got a cruel assessment of my work as ‘unrealistic and cartoonish’ which I took as personally as it had been given, and nearly stopped creating art altogether.
Because the personal passion of our creation is very close to the surface, professionalism gives us a way to build a shield between that hurt of being rejected with hurtful words and the knowledge that it just business, nothing personal. We’ve all gotten nasty reviews on our books. With the professional barrier up, we can analyze those as more reflective of the reviewer than of our work – Dorothy wrote an excellent article on how to read reviews professionally recently. Taken as a whole, the poo-flinging monkeys compared to the rave fan recommendations of our work balance into obscurity, as they should. Thoughtful critique does not look or smell like the review a monkey would fling.
Passionate support of a cause sometimes impinges on the professional, and it’s a very fine line. I’m not going to say that if you come out publicly in support of one thing, it will cut you off from 50% of your readers because I don’t think it’s true. I do think that if the message leaks into your books, that’s one thing. If the leak becomes a flood and your books become a vehicle to convey your passion for, say, the social good of patting penguins in the park, then you are going to start turning off fans who would rather not pat fishy penguins, and prefer to sass squirrels by the swings, instead. I’ve been guilty of supporting causes on my blog – no, guilty isn’t the right word. Passionately provoking the status quo, which when I got publicity due to my involvement in Sad Puppies, got picked up and I still see to this day ‘that Sanderson, she’s the Worst’ because I supported something that the speaker didn’t understand and didn’t like. Was I unprofessional in my passion? No, I don’t think so. I tried to be balanced and polite in my rants, and largely succeeded. Because for me it was about supporting friends and shining a light on the things scuttering and hiding in the shadows. Which it did, and now I’m back to shining the light on my blog with writing about sciency stuff, which is more my style and speed.
But I digress. One of the reasons this had been weighing on my mind was that I am tossed on the horns of a moral dilemma. A writer who is also a friend has a book out, and I would really love to promote it. I am a small voice, not influential at all, but I’m always pleased to be able to use the platforms I’ve built to promote friends and colleagues, not just myself. Other than buying and reviewing books, it’s one of the things I can do to give back to the generous writing community that has welcomed me in over the years. So. The problem is that the publisher is the one and same who nearly shattered my artistic confidence. If friends hadn’t poked and prodded me back into it, I’d have given it up entirely. I still have moments where I look at my work and go yeah, that’s…
I want to support the author, but not the publisher. Sigh. Isn’t that a familiar mantra? So what do I do? Forgive and forget how I was treated unprofessionally? Or take a pass, saying that my support isn’t likely to be huge anyway?