Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Conspiracy, or Not?

I think I've figured out how to resolve the computer issue. I've managed to find all those settings and archive files and how to transfer them to a new machine. The only thing I'm not absolutely certain about is the Internet connection set-up, which isn't helped by the fact that you have to be able to get online to use the online set-up tools my ISP has. I think I'll try writing down the settings from the old computer and entering them into the new computer to see what happens. At the very worst, I could use dial-up to get the set-up done. This way of doing things is probably better in the long run because it avoids bringing over a lot of stuff that I'd have to update anyway, like printer and scanner drivers. I'll probably do the initial set-up for the Internet stuff later this week, after I've taken care of a few things that have to be done and that I know I can do on the old computer. Then I can take my time moving everything else over and installing software.

The latest Internet kerfluffle seems to involve questions of whether there's a YA mafia that conspires to exclude and destroy any aspiring author who dares to give one of their books a bad review. The basis of this is that a lot of YA fantasy authors are friends and hang out together (which is true -- I even got to be sort of included in one of these sessions, so maybe I'm a satellite member) and that some of them on their blogs have cautioned new writers about saying lots of mean things about other writers on their blogs because that could harm their careers. That has been taken to mean that they will crush you and keep you out if you dare insult a member of the mafia. Some authors are debunking this on the basis that authors are too lazy or busy to come up with grand schemes to destroy their enemies.

I guess I'm more industrious (or vindictive) than they are because I have binders full of my plans to crush my enemies under my heel (not really -- my plans are in a spiral notebook). But my enemies are not other authors. When I ride triumphantly into New York at the head of my conquering army (figuratively speaking), I know exactly how I will make the people who've thwarted my ambitions grovel before me (actually, I'll probably just smile and make the occasional thinly veiled reference to the fact that they haven't always been so eager to work with me and then enjoy their discomfort). But there's just no point in bringing down other authors because that doesn't bring me any closer to world domination. Mind you, even my plans for crushing my enemies under my heel don't call for me to do anything more than be so extremely successful that any past decisions about me will be called into question (like "Why didn't we manage to make her a bestseller when we had her?" or "We could have bought this book for a song back then, and now we're having to pay a fortune for it"). These plans don't involve me actually doing anything to harm anyone.

If another author fails -- if her book tanks or she has a book rejected -- it doesn't help me at all. If a book that got a huge advance fails, it only means the publisher has less money to use to buy a book from me. Another book being rejected doesn't mean they'll buy my book. While I wouldn't mind it if publishers became less enamored of dark and angsty books about sexy vampires or dark and gritty books about half-vampire, half-fey assassins, it wouldn't really help me much if those entire categories suddenly tanked. The way the publishing world works, publishers wouldn't then say, "Hey, if the darker books aren't selling, maybe lighter books would sell." Their response to an entire category tanking would be more along the lines of, "AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! We're all going to die!!!!" followed by a period in which they refuse to buy anything that isn't an absolutely surefire success, which generally means an author who's already a known bestseller (which isn't me). About the only way another author's failure might help me is if someone designated for a lead slot didn't turn in her manuscript on time so that my book got moved into that slot and stood a better chance of being positioned as a bestseller (so be wary if I'm suddenly challenging you to in-depth online debates about TV shows or sending you links to TV Tropes. I may be trying to keep you from meeting your deadline. But that only works if I've already sold a book, if I know who has the lead slot in my release period, if my book is already done, and if mine is definitely the one that would get moved up to lead).

As for that issue of whether writing negative reviews can hurt your career as an author, I would have to say that it depends. I don't think it will get you blacklisted, but it may cost you some of the possible support you might have had otherwise. What can an established author do to help another author's career? We can recommend them to our agents, which may get them one step beyond the slushpile. We might be able to recommend them to our editors, which again is a step beyond the slushpile. This isn't a make-or-break thing, though. If the book is something the editor would buy, it would have been bought with or without the recommendation. It just might take longer without it. A negative recommendation is probably going to be ignored and will only make the author making it look petty, unless there's concrete evidence or a specific reason (I will warn an editor or agent if some weirdo who stalked me at a convention tells me he's going to send a manuscript and say I recommended it). Besides, unless the person tells the author they're submitting to that author's agent or editor, the author won't know to tell the editor or agent to reject them, and just generally telling everyone in the industry to reject a particular person would go beyond "petty" and into "Charlie Sheen" levels of crazy. Once the book is bought, a more famous author might be asked to give a promotional blurb for the cover. Established authors may sometimes get sent advance copies, with the hope that they'll talk about them. Again, this isn't make-or-break. They can always find someone else to blurb or talk about the book.

So, do negative reviews hurt, in those areas? Well, it does seem pretty nervy to tell someone her baby is ugly and then turn around and ask that person to tell you your baby is pretty. But it does depend on how the negative reviews are handled. If it's a thoughtful, well-written review that doesn't seem to be grinding a personal axe, that's one thing, and I can probably get past it if I really like the book. If it's a real mean-girl snarkfest done purely to make the reviewer look clever with her ability to tear a book apart or if it sounds like the reviewer has some kind of personal issue with me and is trying to bring me down, then don't hold your breath. I'll probably think you're a bit of a backstabber if you shred my book or me like that and then turn around and ask me to recommend you to my agent or ask me for a blurb. However, I also won't go around telling my editor or agent to reject you or other authors not to blurb you. They're not going to use a blurb saying "this book sucks!" and I wouldn't send one, anyway, because it would hurt my relationship with that editor. I can't speak for editors or agents about this sort of thing. They probably take reviews less personally than authors do, so they're not likely to blacklist you for daring to say anything negative about a book they worked on. However, they do look for patterns. If they see that you hate everything they've worked on, they're likely to think you're a bad fit -- and why would you want an editor or agent whose books/authors you tend to hate? If you're always posting those mean-girl shredfests that come across as personal vendettas, then you may come across as someone who'd be a nightmare to work with.

I, as an author, generally don't talk negatively about books, for a number of reasons. For one thing, even negative publicity can be good publicity because it makes people more aware of the book, and a really negative review may send people running to find it just to see if the review was right. If I really hate a book, I won't want to give it the publicity. I'll just ignore it. In my blog, I only talk about books I think my readers might enjoy that I can generally recommend. I may sometimes include critical comments if I have to recommend something with caveats -- you might find it interesting, but there's an aspect you'll have to get past. I'll admit that I'm also a bit of a weenie. I know a lot of authors and run into a lot of authors in situations where I have to work with them, like on convention panels. I'd rather avoid the awkward position of being on a panel with someone whose work I've reviewed scathingly. I also don't want to be someone whose name comes up under "don't put me on panels with this person" on convention programming questionnaires. Meanwhile, my career is currently in a fairly fragile state, so I'm not going to run the risk of getting on the bad side of an editor I want to buy my work by shredding a book she's worked on. There's also the fact that I don't always like the books compared to mine either in the industry or by fans, and it would be foolish of me to essentially sabotage a publisher's marketing campaign using those comparisons by criticizing the books I don't like. I'm not going to praise a book I didn't like just to help with that marketing, though. I'll just not say anything. Maybe that's playing "nice-nice," but I just consider it to be diplomacy. And, believe me, there are times when I'd love to unleash the snark on a book, but I have to consider my own motives and the possible results. My tastes seem to be out of the mainstream (I seldom like the really popular books), so it's not as though I'd really be warning people away from books they're sure to hate. A lot of the time, the snark would probably mostly be about "how can this book possibly be so popular when I think it sucks?" and I don't think I'm in a position to say that.

Actually, I seem to see a lot more semi-organized campaigns to destroy authors' careers from reviewers or unpublished authors than I do the other way around. There are those campaigns to post negative Amazon reviews trashing books if they cost more than $9.99 on the Kindle, and there are a few authors that certain review sites seem to be on a mission to bring down. Some of the unpublished author reviewers seem to have that "how could this dreck be published while my books are being rejected?" attitude in their reviews. And then there are the times when one author's more ardent fans go on the offensive against another author who dared speak negatively about their idol (with or without the knowledge or encouragement of that author). When published authors do try to bring down other authors, it tends to be less-prominent authors trashing more successful ones rather than the successful ones trying to stomp on those just breaking in. You're more likely to hear of published authors helping and supporting newer authors through speaking, how-to articles or even outright mentoring. While I've heard tons and tons of trash talking from unpublished or less successful authors about bestsellers, I've never heard successful authors talking about wanting to ruin the competition. Though it is possible that I haven't been invited to the meetings (hey, maybe they're plotting against me!).

I guess that's another reason I avoid negativity when discussing books. I don't want other authors to think I'm spiteful about those more successful than I am (since they know that does happen), and I don't want readers or unpublished authors to think I'm trying to squash potential competition (since a lot of people believe that happens). I'm not perceived as a neutral, objective party when it comes to talking about books.

And now, since my Ongoing Plan for World Domination involves being so successful that it will make anyone who's ever rejected me look shortsighted, I need to get to work.

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