Professionalism and Passion

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?

A low-res version of the rejected artwork. Giant mecha and ruined city for the win! (Mecha is by Innovari)

54 Comments

Filed under CEDAR SANDERSON, WRITING: PUBLISHING

54 responses to “Professionalism and Passion

  1. Jane Meyerhofer

    Support your friend. If the book is good say so. Ignore the publisher. Because to do otherwise is for you to make it personal the way the publisher did to you. You wouldn’t be writing about this if you didn’t, in your hear, think that you should support your friend … I think. But I’m no one in particular.
    And I enjoyed the rest of the article.

  2. My advice would be simply to not mention the book at all. I have a similar issue, a publisher that I feel strongly about not supporting who has published multiple books by authors I consider (on-line) friends. When asked directly for promotional help I have explained to the author in private why I don’t support that publisher and so far all of the authors have accepted my reasons without argument.

        • Alas, Little Willie.
          We shall see him no more.
          For what he thought was H2O,
          Was H2SO4.

          • I knew that all I’d have to say was that, and someone would think of this! I recite it in my head every time I pull out the conc sulfuric at work.

          • TRX

            I like Asimov’s version:

            Willie was a chemist
            Willie is no more
            What Willie thought was H2O
            Was H2SO4

            A bit more alliteration, anyway.

            • You have to label beakers, if you’re a good chemist. Because sulfuric, nitric, and good ol’ water all look alike when they are poured into glass… and while sulfuric is slightly viscous, nitric pours just like water.

              • Xander Opal

                Never assume on appearance. I run into problems resulting from this at work regarding electronics, and the building of same. So many products that look the same from a foot away.

                Many tiny components are too small to have markings printed on them, so they absolutely must be stored correctly; if they get mixed up, the whole container has to be tossed.

                Alas, unlike chemistry, there is no immediate corrective feedback from doing so…

                • snelson134

                  Oh, sometimes there’s feedback… like the modem company that made the end of the power cable that plugged into the modem a perfect match for the original 9 pin PC keyboard port. Reach down blindly, fish up the round cable and plug it into the keyboard port…..

                  I’d never seen craters blown out of the middle of chips before. 😎

                  • Yikes! Last night the magic smoke escaped from my power supply. No big deal, we just happened to have bought a spare while trying to fix my husband’s computer and it wasn’t needed. So I carefully put it in, try to turn it on, and nothing. This morning while more coherent I checked connections and realized I’d put one on backwards. Turned it to match yellow wires with yellow, tried it again and it’s running sweetly. But I could have done bad things I know now.

                • Our line fuses look the same, the only difference is the box and the tiny writing on the very tip. So it was I found a 30 amp fuse where a 3 was supposed to go – and it had blown that 30 amp.

  3. Oooh, nice mecha! I really like it, and it would be really nice as a wraparound cover. Also, gotta love that Jack Gaughan orange — always eyecatching!

  4. Nice mecha suit. How are you at giant tanks?

  5. I’d check whether idiot art director is still there; it could make the positive decision somewhat more palatable.

    But, oooh! If I had a book for that artwork, I’d be proud to have it on the cover.

    Cedar, you are at the top of the list for my pro cover artist when I finally whip myself into getting the WIP done with. I’m going back over your cover creating posts today, so I can get to work again on a cover for the Christmas Tale By The Road. (Written last year, but the cover work was interrupted. This go around, I’m not procrastinating until the last minute, which is a recipe for my failure…)

    • If you want a bit of help, or just a nudge in the right direction, ping me. I’m happy to help. I do the cover work less for money and more for ‘it makes me happy’ plus I always want my fellow Indies to put their best foot forward – it makes us all look better 😉

      • It mostly is time that I need to put in on this one. I have the “core” image (the painting of Bethlehem by Lear), but have to get it masked off to turn it into a night scene, then add a star (that’s going to be the hard part for me). These give me much needed practice with GIMP.

        I do appreciate the offer, though. As I said, I’ll hopefully be engaging you for the novel cover. These Tales are doing about as I expected them to (going not much of anywhere commercially) – but they get some of the voices out of my head, plus give me practice on actually working this profession.

        • Practice is good – in writing, and in art. The star? Look at Apophysis. I’ve done some gorgeous stars and snowflakes with it.

          • THAT’s what I was trying to think of. I could have sworn I had bookmarked the post where you talked about it, but apparently not. Thank you!

            Doing the star in Apophysis, and then layering it over the rest of the almost finished piece, is exactly what I was planning to do for it.

  6. Luke

    I’m curious about this letter. It’s a bit of history I’m unfamiliar with.
    Would anyone care to enlighten me?

    • adventuresfantastic

      Same here.

      And Cedar, I like the cover.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      In brief, an author got really “pissed off” at Jim Baen and took the disagreement public.

      According to one of the by-standers who was privately aware of the situation, neither side was making themselves “look good” but the author should not have taken it public.

      Jim Baen was not willing to publicly discuss the disagreement especially on the Bar after the author left the Bar.

      While Jim Baen is dead, the author is still alive and has books currently published by Baen Books.

      Toni (head lady at Baen Books) has said to “drop the subject” and I’m not mentioning the author’s name so that the author (or the author’s fans) won’t come here annoyed about “disrespect toward the author”.

      • morrigan508

        yup I remember it vividly. Lost a lot of respect for that author.

      • Luke

        So it’s like whatever happened between S. John Ross and Steve Jackson. Part of the community’s lore, but those who know, know. And those that don’t, never will.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          There’s only so many places Kratman interacts with fans in public. If I was curious, I would first check Baen’s Bar in the Kratskeller.

          (I’m “has it really been that long”, combined with “if it is the person and incident I remember, I have other issues with them and still read them, if it isn’t, do I really want to be finding issues with another Baen author?”) I might not have ever seen the original letter, or maybe I didn’t take it personally.

          I count this website as Baen affiliated enough that I slightly curb my tongue when it comes to Baen authors or staff, and potentially unnecessarily harming Baen. Marion Bradley is one thing, and this, if I recall right, is another.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Right now I’m getting the idea that the author in question “wants to forget about that letter” so I see no reason to mention the author’s name.

            Yes, I was curious enough to see if there was any mention on-line about it and couldn’t find anything.

  7. snelson134

    I’d also like to point out that this doesn’t just apply to writing; one of the most useful concepts I picked up from a college professor is the concept of “egoless programming”. If any field has larger egos than software development, it has to involve politics or Hollywood.

    Too many developers can’t step back and look at the work without “that’s the child of my brain and heart; how dare you criticize it! Look at how elegant my design is and how it uses all the latest techniques!” “Yeah, but the user didn’t want or need half of this, and if you stress it, it breaks.”

    The end result is that the work has to deliver what the user is asking for.

  8. morrigan508

    My opinion (worth every cent you paid for it!) hook up the author, forget the publisher. Unless the publisher is HUGE (I mean BAEN here) most people, including me, don’t look for who published it, probably can’t even tell you who published it. Author’s names? That, they know and recognise. Make the author big enough and they can leave that publisher behind, and get a contract with a better one, or get the courage to go indi.

  9. Xander Opal

    Wow, fifteen years already. And I still can’t read books by that author. Not even the otherwise beloved ones that were a shining light in my childhood. The rant that this person left behind them ruined my enjoyment of their work. They may have had some good points, they may have had a legitimate problem, and a legitimate need to quit… but for goodness’ sake, bring them up or quit in a respectable way.

    Then you won’t lose many sales from people looking wistfully at a lovely book, then sighing as they can’t put aside what you’d said and done, the mental equivalent of someone talking politics that you hate on their cell phone behind you in a movie theater. People talk, too, and word-of-mouth spreads both sales and warnings.

    Rejecting an author or artist’s work should be done in a classy way as well. Producers of content talk with each other, in private, and if a content producer can afford to avoid someone who’s a jerk, I suspect they will. Yes, it is necessary to reject works–the publisher only has so much budget, and has a certain style they wish to promote. They go with covers and stories they think will make them money. Being jerks, though, and especially in this age of communication, is a bad move.

    … huh, what a rambly way for me to say ‘I agree!’

  10. There is an aspect of Professionalism that I don’t appreciate. Perhaps this has to do with my upbringing or my culture, but too often I see people using “Professionalism” as a club with which to beat down the protruding nail. I’ve seen publishers decry lack of professionalism from authors whose behavior to my mind is not unprofessional. Airing dirty laundry in public? As long as the author tried to address it first in private, then it is fair to go public when you fail to get a proper response (I’ve heard horror stories of author’s being blacklisted for asking for proper accounting and then getting further excoriated for unprofessionalism when they decide to go public, both from the publishers and from fellow authors).

    In publishing it seems like the publishers consider professionalism to be something different then it is considered elsewhere, wherein because they have the power they have the ability to define what is and is not proper behavior.

    Don’t push forward. Don’t ask why. Don’t stand up for yourself. You’ll be considered a jerk. And worse, unprofessional.

    At every job I’ve ever worked when a manager/supervisor/co-worker has been a prick I knew I could stand up for myself, yell back if need be, force the issue and not only would I not be considered unprofessional but the esteem with which they held me would usually go up on those occasions. In publishing? A guy with good sales can politely say he won’t take out the main plot point of his book because an editor was offended and he’s thrown out, contract withdrawn, not-so-secretly blacklisted, and when he dares to mention this in public people (authors, bloggers, other publishers) scream about how unprofessional he was being.

    Apparently to avoid the tag Nick Cole was supposed to quietly lie down and take his blacklisting like a man.

    Not that I think you’re wrong, Cedar, not at all, generally speaking a professional attitude and professional comportment is always the way to go. But in publishing? Such a messed up industry with an enormous power gap between publishers and authors.

    Yes, absolutely be professional and polite, but if anyone tells you that means you have to eat anyone’s crap with a smile on your face? Get your Irish up even if you don’t have a drop of Irish in you.

    As to your dilemma? I’d probably tell the author the truth privately (and generally offline) as to why you don’t feel you can support that publisher, partly to feel good in yourself and your decisions, and also partly to tell your friend what kind of person they’re potentially (it could have been a one-off, bad day kind of thing) dealing with. Like, when I was dating, if the girl I was with treated the waitress like a lesser person I would absolutely judge her on that basis and decide that I wouldn’t want to have kids with a woman like that. If someone had warned me they were like that before we dated I’d have been grateful for the heads up (might have saved me the cost of some steaks). Maybe that’s just me.

    Steve

  11. Just a me too, for the mecha image, which I liked for the use of colour. I’d also be interested in seeing a sample of your cybertank images, and how much you cost? Email me: ashley (at the squigley-wiggley) ashley-pollard (period dot) com.

    • Ashley, I create art as needed for covers, mostly. I’ll be playing around with tanks now that I’m thinking about it, but I don’t usually sell the art itself, I do covers. You can see some of my work here: http://www.cedarwrites.com/book-covers/

      If you’re looking for great elements you can pick up to fit into existing art, like the mecha, search Innovari on your favorite stock photo site, or google Luca Oleastri directly. You’ll instantly recognise his work, I suspect.

  12. Cedar, you do know that fishy penguins need sass too, right? I mean, I don’t want to have to get Evil Penguin in here to explain that Penguin Lives Matter, do I?

  13. Pingback: Wronged Way | Jason Cordova's Website

  14. I still can’t believe that publisher hated that cover. I think it’s so cool. I would love for you to do a cover for one of my long-form things once I finish them up. Seriously, never give up on your art, because it’s amazing.

  15. Two things that no-one else has mentioned (so I will) about the critique of your (digital?) painting. The first comes from an Andrew Klavan comment that, were women and men actually the same and the workplace sex-equitable, there’d be no reason to privilege female comfort zones. That actually depends on a Christianized ideal of chivalry. Where my husband used to work in the software industry, that comment on your work would be a mere friendly opening salvo! In the hammer-and-tongues forge of workplace combat to get the best work done, you’d shoot back:

    “Don’t be such a [censored] dolt. It’s digital. The sharp edges on the rock features can be smoothed, the laser fire reoriented to the mecha gun ports, and that one bit of iffy fire damage cleaned up easy-peasy. You wanted something that conveyed “space opera with over-the-top cool tech” and you got it. The texture conveys mood, the color on both front AND spine is eye-catching. Your book will look good even as a loner on the B&N shelves. Did you not notice the way I set up clear dark and light spaces on the cover and spine to make the title & author text pop?”

    Only with more vulgarity 🙂

    Seriously, that’s seems like a well-designed cover that most small press and indy would be grateful to get.

    The second thing is just that this might be an opportunity to make peace with the art department guy, assuming you should. And by “should,” I mean that this publisher isn’t predatory (cheasy contracts, not paying on time, or in full, “pushing” some authors who are friends/allies, and letting less-favored ones languish in production heck, etc.) but just a mix of good and bad like most people. The good news is that this is completely under your control. The bad news is that the only way I know of that has worked for me (I have a really bad temper) is to play a mind-game on myrself. That is, start doing nice things for the guy, while praying for help in forgiving the hurt he gave.

    Not sure if you actually want to do this, but I do generally recommend not letting guys who bullied you way back keeping a dinette set in your mental furnishings.

  16. Two things that no-one else has mentioned (so I will) about the critique of your (digital?) painting. The first comes from an Andrew Klavan comment that, were women and men actually the same and the workplace sex-equitable, there’d be no reason to privilege female comfort zones. That actually depends on a Christianized ideal of chivalry. Where my husband used to work in the software industry, that comment on your work would be a mere friendly opening salvo! In the hammer-and-tongues forge of workplace combat to get the best work done, you’d shoot back:

    “Don’t be such a [censored] dolt. It’s digital. The sharp edges on the rock features can be smoothed, the laser fire reoriented to the mecha gun ports, and that one bit of iffy fire damage cleaned up easy-peasy. You wanted something that conveyed “space opera with over-the-top cool tech” and you got it. The texture conveys mood, the color on both front AND spine is eye-catching. Your book will look good even as a loner on the B&N shelves. Did you not notice the way I set up clear dark and light spaces on the cover and spine to make the title & author text pop?”

    Only with more vulgarity

    Seriously, that’s seems like a well-designed cover that most small press and indy would be grateful to get.

    The second thing is just that this might be an opportunity to make peace with the art department guy, assuming you should. And by “should,” I mean that this publisher isn’t predatory (cheasy contracts, not paying on time, or in full, “pushing” some authors who are friends/allies, and letting less-favored ones languish in production heck, etc.) but just a mix of good and bad like most people. The good news is that this is completely under your control. The bad news is that the only way I know of that has worked for me (I have a really bad temper) is to play a mind-game on myrself. That is, start doing nice things for the guy, while praying for help in forgiving the hurt he gave.

    Not sure if you actually want to do this, but I do generally recommend not letting guys who bullied you way back keeping a dinette set in your mental furnishings.

    • That’s a good point that I may be coloring my reaction by my gender (or simply just because I’m more accustomed to a semi-formal professional culture, not just being female) although I will say that the communication prior to this had been on a casual but friendly basis, which also means that the critical feedback came out of the blue.

      And I have to say, with my background and belief, you convict me a bit about the being nice in spite of being treated badly – heaping coals, if you know what I mean.

      Thank you.

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