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Burying Hatchets

January 11th, 2008 6 comments

You’re not important enough to hold a grudge.

There are thousands of people who don’t believe that.  Writers, especially genre writers, simply cannot afford to number themselves among them. It has been suggested recently that writers have large egos.  That assertion was made by a highly regarded author and was quoted by yet another professional.  It also meshes perfectly with my own experience.  Writers have a belief that their stories are important enough to be distributed.  This is true of anyone who tries to publish even when they recognize their technical skills are lacking.

Many authors also spend time at conventions, where they get drunk and let their tongues loose and their minds devolve.  Or they spend time on the computer participating in opinion forums.  In a combined effort to generate publicity, interact with fans, and vent their daily frustrations many will even blog.

Conflicts arise.  It happens all the time.  I’ve had it happen with me.  Someone says something, another person disagrees (or even agrees in a way which offends the original speaker/scribe) and the feud begins.  Perhaps it is a quiet anger held by the person who perceives offense but unsuspected by the offender.  Perhaps it is goaded into existence by others who were present or merely heard about the disagreement.  Perhaps it is a mutual decision.  All of that is immaterial; what matters is that offense was given and offense was taken.  Intent and extent are moot.

Now, “Forgive and Forget” is a maxim which long predates my years on this planet, but I don’t ascribe to it.  I think forgetting is for the delusional.  I prefer the adage which begins “Fool me once….”  But the Forgive part of the first saying is important.  More than that, it’s key, and it’s often forgotten or purposefully ignored by many people today.

If you think I’m talking about you… I am.  Not specifically, probably not even thinking about you when I’m writing this, but if you’re wondering then there’s a reason.

And obviously there are limits.  I don’t think many people would rationally argue for a “live and let live” attitude toward known pedophiles, or allow someone to verbally or physically assault their loved ones and minutes later chalk it up to water under the bridge.  But those limits should only rarely be invoked.  If you’re finding yourself with an enemies list approaching that of Harlan Ellison or Richard Nixon, you’re doing something wrong and should immediately take a critical look at your attitude with an eye toward improving it.

Even if you disbelieve all of the health warnings associated with chronic anger, you should remember one thing: it’s tough to walk across a burned bridge.  At their height, authors may have thousands of appreciative readers, but they’ll still be dealing with the same core group of people over and over: a handful of people at each of the various publishers, a few local friends and associates, some other professional creators, and a handful of other field-related professionals.  If the author hasn’t reached the heights of fame, they’ll have a few less people they know, but the categories will be the same.

Those are the people from whom the majority of your career leads will come.  They are also likely to be the people from whom the majority of your career leads cease to come, if and when conflicts arise.  Worse still, because so many people in the industry know so many others, it’s nearly impossible to tell when a feud with one person will bleed over into an unexpected conflict with another.  This is particularly true of sf, fantasy, and horror, where convention attendance often leads to unexpected connections and relationships.

This is an extremely difficult business in which to succeed.  The last time I checked, more than nine out of ten authors making professional sales had at least one other job or were being supported by their partner.  Intentionally lowering the odds of your initial or continued success because of your pride ranges from counterproductive to downright asinine.

Again, I’m not suggesting everyone lose every scrap of judgment they possess.  And I’m not suggesting that people fail to recognize the individuals who disappoint or irritate them.  But there’s a big step between disliking someone and engaging them about it, and it behooves everyone to consider the odds against their ultimate success before taking steps which could diminish those odds.

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