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Your Reputation Precedes You – by Chris Nuttall

Your Reputation Precedes You – by Chris Nuttall

 Never do an enemy a small injury.

-Machiavelli

I got asked to give some writing advice, so … here is a story for you.

A year or so ago, I wrote a short story for a collection.  The organiser was kind enough to accept it.  Everything went swimmingly until I saw the proofs and discovered – horror of horrors – that he’d spelt my name wrong.  It was an outrage!  It could not be born!

I knew what I had to do.  I unleashed a wave of outrage on him.  I summoned the mobs of Twitter, the faces of Facebook, the yahoos of Yahoo … all devoted to punishing him for daring to spell my name wrong.  How dare he?  It was a blatant insult to Lancastrians everywhere!  We howled and we raged and we wore him into submission … we sure taught him a lesson, didn’t we?  We sure did.

Actually, I did none of those things.

Being a reasonably mature person, or at least someone capable of pretending to be mature (strictly in the privacy of my own home, naturally), I simply dropped him an email.  And our discussion went something like this:

Me: Hi, you spelt my name wrong.  Please could you fix it?

Him: Sure thing.  Done!

Me: Great!  Thank you!

Him: You’re welcome.

No fuss, no muss and, best of all, no lingering bad feelings.

It should go without saying – but probably doesn’t, these days – that a person subjected to the kind of assault I described above is not going to be happy.  People make mistakes all the time.  Believe me, my name gets misspelled a lot.  If you treat someone with a degree of respect and courtesy, even if you’re annoyed with them, they generally respond well.  (And if they don’t, you can claim the moral high ground when outsiders say you’re overreacting.)  However, if you treat someone like an enemy who needs to be smashed flat for a minor mistake, you’ll make an enemy for life.  Worse, you’ll make outsiders see you as the bad guy.

And if I had treated him like that?

Well, he could have made an excuse and dropped me from the project.  If I lacked the self-awareness to realise that I’d jumped well over the line, I might even have accepted whatever excuse he devised at face value.  It isn’t that uncommon for someone to withdraw (or be withdrawn) from an anthology, particularly before the contacts are finalised.  Or, if he couldn’t kick me out, he certainly would have refused to publish me again.  Why go to all that hassle?  People do not like working with jerks.  There aren’t many authors I’d tolerate – if they acted like that – in exchange for a story.

And even if he didn’t do that either, he’d certainly badmouth me to everyone else who came along.  He might have a discussion like this:

Famous Author: I’m thinking of offering Nuttall a slot in my latest collection, which will boost his career into orbit.

Him: Nuttall is a total jerk!  I accidentally misspelled his name and he raised a hue and cry against me!

Famous Author: Blimey!  Lucky you warned me.  I’ll cross him off the list.

The thing you have to bear in mind, at all times, is that people talk.  And people listen.  And watch silently.  If you come across as a reasonable sort of guy, people will want to work with you.  If you come across as an asshole who makes other assholes look bland by comparison, they won’t.  It’s true everywhere.  You’d better be a really great [whatever] if you act like an asshole all the time or you’ll be fired.  Why would anyone tolerate you if you’re not?

Indeed, one of the dirty little secrets of the writing business is that there are a number of authors who are shunned – to some extent – by their fellows.  Not because of politics or social ineptitude or whatever, but because they treat their fellow writers poorly.  Smart people know that friction is common and that, with a few diplomatic words, you can sort the problem out without causing future headaches.  Others are too self-centred to realise that they’re coming across as the bad guy.  In days of yore, people talked: if you were an ass at a convention or came across as a blowhard, people quietly excluded you.  Now, the internet never forgets.

It’s odd for me to lecture anyone on social conduct.  I’m not good at being sociable.  I tend to fade into the background if there’s more than three or four people in the group.  But even I understand that I have to get on with people who can (or might be able to, later on) influence my career.  If I give a publisher a hard time, he’ll drop me; if I treat an editor badly, he’ll tell the other editors that I’m a pain in the butt.  I’m not saying – obviously – that you have to suck up to them, or ignore mistreatment, but you do have to be reasonable.  Give them a chance to fix the problem first, before you start screaming.  You’ll be surprised at how far it goes.

Humans – even geeks and nerds like myself – are social creatures.  We have an instinctive revulsion towards the betrayer, the one who weakens the group.  Most people respond badly to tattletales and sneaks even if they understand – intellectually – that the sneak did the right thing.  They also severely dislike people who demand massively over-the-top punishment for small offences, particularly ones that don’t look like offences to outside eyes.  If you do this, even if you feel perfectly justified, a great many people will regard you warily.  They certainly won’t feel comfortable in your presence.  Why should they?  You crossed a line.

If you react badly to reviews, people won’t review your books (or write sardonic pieces that make you look an utter fool.)  If you accuse another author of stealing your title, people will be wary of you.  If you use stock images for your covers and accuse another author of stealing your image, people will roll their eyes at you.  If you bash your fellow authors for any reason at all, people will inch away from you; if you do things that harm their careers, no matter how justified you feel yourself to be, people will do everything in their power to stay away from you.  A person who damaged another author’s career would not make anyone feel safe at a convention.

I’m not saying you can’t have opinions.  There’s nothing wrong with having a different opinion.  I’m proud to say that I have friends from all corners of the political axis.  But if you act in a way that damages social cohesion, people will draw away from you.  How many opportunities have you missed because you treated people poorly?  You don’t know.  You’ll never know.

The thing is, most people want to get along.  They want to keep their relationships with other people.  Most people will be quite happy to fix a minor mistake if you point it out to them (or be very apologetic if it’s too late to fix the mistake.)  But if you treat them badly – if you jump to the conclusion that you’re under personal attack – you’ll make enemies.  People may not say anything to you – you’ve already proved you’re immature, that you can’t take criticism – but they’ll remember.  And, in this day and age, nothing is ever truly forgotten.

 

And your career may be over before it has fairly begun.

22 Comments
  1. ROGER D STRAHAN #

    Great. I wish more people would act this way. The screaming and hatred is part of what brought the Dragon Awards into being, with authors being shunned from the Hugos for not being politically correct, etc. If people could remember to just ‘be nice’ the world would be so much nicer.

    February 19, 2020
  2. Joe Thornton #

    I have had my name spelled incorrectly a number of times. It has always been corrected when I ask. I think too many people want to seem like victims of some great wrong where they can create havoc over something that is most often a simple mistake.

    February 19, 2020
    • Christopher M. Chupik #

      Mine gets misspelled quite a bit. Not sure why. It’s not that long or complicated.

      February 19, 2020
      • I met a girl once whose name was Symone. Apparently people kept spelling it “Simon.”

        No, I didn’t get it either.

        February 19, 2020
    • Back when I worked at The Supermarket, I had a regular customer who called me “Aaron.” For four years. Even though my nametag was plainly visible.

      I stopped trying to correct her after the first half-dozen times. I didn’t think it was worth the hassle.

      February 19, 2020
      • A place I order from addresses the package to Sandra. EVERY TIME.

        February 19, 2020
        • Rhys once had his name misspelled to Ryhys. Not the usual ‘Rice’ or “Reece”. We puzzled over that one quite a bit.

          Mine regularly gets misspelled to ‘Aura’ or “Ora”.

          February 21, 2020
  3. Glen Cheal #

    My job would be so easier if people behaved like this…

    February 19, 2020
  4. In my previous career, aviation, everyone learned early that the three fastest methods of communication are telephone, telegraph, and tell-a-pilot. After watching one female airplane driver torpedo her career – and ruining opportunities for every other female pilot in the process – I learned that you never brag, and you admit foul ups, fix them, and go on. Throwing a hissy fit never improved things.

    February 19, 2020
    • Yep. My current boss (also a pilot) was amused when I called him immediately after screwing up something at work, to lay out what I’d done and ask how to fix it.

      “And you called me right off?”

      “Yes, sir. Climb, Confess, Comply!”

      “No, it’s Conserve, Confess, Comply. If you’re near the aircraft’s service ceiling, or you’re on an IFR flight plan at assigned altitude, you may not want to climb.”

      “Ah. If you’re flying VFR in Alaska, what with all the mountains…”

      “I see! Even so, you may want to use Conserve, because you are conserving altitude and options. It’s more useful in more situations.”

      “Yes, sir.”

      …That was not the correction I was expecting, but it was the correction I got.

      February 19, 2020
  5. *chuckles* Know someone who’s having an “interesting” time right now, her name is Catherine. Or Cathrine. Or Kathryn. And probably a couple of others, but I THINK those are all ways her stuff is spelled on various Parish documents. (Military family.)

    Bonus, we know that whoever typed them up was literally copying off of a page…..

    February 19, 2020
  6. Zsuzsa #

    In other words, be a professional. I would hope that a lawyer wouldn’t through a tantrum in court if the judge mispronounced his name, or that a doctor wouldn’t flounce out of the exam room if the patient said something like, “Gee, I thought you were a man.” As an author, you need to hold yourself to the same standards.

    I do feel like a hypocrite for giving this advice, because I’m ridiculously emotional (I once burst into tears in a math class because the professor forgot to give me a test). However, the internet has the advantage of putting a delay in that: if someone misspells my name, I can rage at the unfairness of it, cry that the editor just didn’t care enough about me to get it right, scream that these things always happen to me…and then, after I’ve finished with that, compose a calm email letting the editor know about the mistake and asking if he can correct it.

    February 19, 2020
    • “…or that a doctor wouldn’t flounce out of the exam room if the patient said something like, “Gee, I thought you were a man.” ”

      Oh, now you’ve done it. From today:

      https://summit.news/2020/02/18/uk-hospitals-to-deny-care-to-racist-or-homophobic-patients/

      ““In late 2017 an NHS patient who requested a female nurse to carry out a cervical smear complained when the hospital sent a person with “an obviously male appearance… close-cropped hair, a male facial appearance and voice, large number of tattoos and facial stubble” who insisted “My gender is not male. I’m a transsexual.””

      Har! ~:D

      February 19, 2020
      • Mary #

        One notices that people with fevers or other issues may babble uncontrollably and say horrible things. . . .

        Apparently they get to die.

        February 20, 2020
        • Stephen J. #

          Having seen a number of those “patient recovering from general anaesthesia says funny unfiltered things” videos, I fully intend that if I ever have to go through a procedure requiring it, I will insist that nobody I know talk to me afterwards until I am 100% awake and clear. I’ve bitten my tongue on too many acrimonious thoughts to be comfortable with the idea that if reminded of them I won’t be able to stop them slipping out.

          February 27, 2020
      • Well clearly that could’ve been handled better. However, just because one transitioning transwomen didn’t look the part, and yes that’s an issue transgendered people have, doesn’t mean that all don’t pass when or after transitioning.

        If you don’t believe me, go check out Blair White, an openly transwomen who is pretty hot to look at, and speaks like a woman too.

        Also, in my experience, NHS general nurses are poorly trained to handle confrontations, whereas mental health nurse get a lot of training in dealing with confrontations with patients.

        This probably stems from the culture of general nursing being rooted in a mythical past where patient were nice to their nurses, whereas nowadays the reality is different.

        February 20, 2020
  7. The Thumper Rule: If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.

    Caveat: Unless they’re an actual danger to others.

    February 19, 2020
  8. The fact that society seems to only give airtime to the assholes doesn’t help either.

    I’ve seen this firsthand: I’m part of a worldwide organization that is, among other things, heavily involved with charity work. Have been for over twenty years Unfortunately, we’re large enough (pushing 16k members last time I heard), that a handful of turdblossoms have worked their way in. These folks act like jerks and use their affiliation with the organization (which does have some weight behind its name) to justify their behavior. Guess who’s lucky to get a thirty-second spot on the 11:00 local news, and guess who goes viral?

    February 19, 2020
  9. Indeed. In a small field (and indy writing in Texas IS a small field) we all know each other, especially if we have done markets and events together. I could tell tales of how a formerly promising Christmas market in a medium-sized town has now totally sunk themselves, through being grasping and dickish to local authors. Or how a local indy bookstore has ruined their reputation with local authors through … dealing badly with authors. For a good few years … and now, most of us will steer wide of them, in doing events.
    A bad reputation is a stink in the nostrils which never quite dissipates.

    February 19, 2020
  10. Well said.

    February 19, 2020
  11. Technomad #

    My last name gets mispronounced (by people who’ve read it but not heard it) all the time. I don’t get angry about it. On the phone, it’s a useful filter—someone who asks for me but mispronounces my name has obviously never met me, and probably is up to no good.

    In my own interactions with editors, I’ve always striven to be as polite, professional, and fast as I could. If an editor sends a story back to me for a rewrite, I get right on it right now. And I follow his instructions as carefully as I can.

    February 20, 2020
    • My mom would use her first initial with her last name the same way– made it really easy to tell who was trying to bluff that they knew “Mr. So-And-So,” who was an honest business (also asking for Mr., but didn’t act like they knew ‘him’) and who actually knew her.

      February 20, 2020

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