Publish or perish, Part 2
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WHO AM I: THE HIGH PRIESTESS OF THE WRITER'S GROUPS?
Ok. Looking back, I gotta confess that sometimes I really rode hard on my bipolar hypomanic high horse in these writer's groups. I thought I was really hot stuff--big published writer and all--so I would offer feedback, ideas, suggestions, helpful links, support and encouragement to all. But though some responded with the gratitude and thanks I felt I so richly deserved, most did not.
I must also hasten to add that many writers in these groups were NOT newbies. No Stephen Kings, but many had achieved at least a modicum of success in publishing their books, poetry, and short works and/or editing e-zines. .
Still and all, I thought my "positive vibes" in the groups served as a shining example to all. I wanted to be like my hero Susan Shapiro--spreading good karma by praising other's accomplishments, and checking out and often bookmarking the links to their sites or e-zines. In a word, I thought my demeanor in the groups was siimply beyond reproach.
Well, to be painfully honest, what really got my back up was when I started posting about my new blog. In my heady excitement, I actually posted several entries (or excerpts) to three of the groups, with a link to my site. Although some people responded--especially those who had some solid publishing creds under their belt--it wasn't enough for me.
So after all my kind-hearted posts to the Donut Guy (DG) who had written so eloquently on "craftsmanship," I finally got fed up with singing his praises--including, in one post, actually comparing his laid back, conversational style to Stephen King. I meant it too--I found his work really good, though he probably needed a merciless editor to cut down on some of the excessively flowery background details, or so I thought.
When a new member of the group--let's call her Angie--wrote in saying that the short story she'd posted had been deleted, I saw it as a chance to finally air my resentments. Angie said that in other groups, when people posted, they would receive constructive criticism--sometimes very specific--and that was what she wanted as long as it didn't degenerate into a simple "this sucks."
Turns out later that she'd actually posted the story to another group by mistake. But I jumped at the opportunity to get up on the soapbox. I decided that I'd had enough of the unrequited "caring and sharing" crap--I was putting my foot down this time, and giving this group the scolding they deserved!
OK, GET A LOAD OF THIS CRINGE-WORTHY PONTIFICATING!
Here's my shameful, ego-bloated post:
I may have responded to your offering, but I took a quick look and can't find your post either--although I only did a quick glance through my in-box. I'd contact the moderator directly to see what happened--I'm sure it was an honest computer error.
But I'm glad you brought this up, actually, because there's something I've been meaning to share for awhile. I've been a member of this forum and other writer's groups for awhile, and have observed the following:
Some people post stories very frequently, some every day in fact. That is fine. I have occasionally supplied positive feedback when I was particularly impressed by a story. But you don't always exactly get a thank you for that--maybe a response with further info on their work, but not necessarily a simple thank you. Some do, some don't. But if someone says something positive about my work, you'd better believe I will let them know how much I appreciate it.
Despite the fact that up until now I'd only posted compliments as well as info that I thought might be of help to other writers, I was disappointed to find that when I finally posted a few pieces from my new site that no-one responded--and probably never visited the site. Of course, you can't force someone to read anything or press their finger on a link provided to visit your site, but do people only read their own writing? As Angie said, this group is supposedly for mutual support, no?
Another aside--since starting my site, I've received some private positive comments (not from writer's forums, BTW) but these folks rarely post these on my site. The nasty commenters love to add their two cents, and I love it because I can either delve more deeply into the topic I started, or else just gleefully and humorously insult the s##t out of them for revenge. But a little thing like "liked your story" or even, "hated it--you're an idiot" (that's just me; I don't mind any comment--positive, negative, or indifferent) means an awful lot to me and most writers who crave some sort of feedback.
I have been on some (non-writers) boards where there was a great deal of flaming, and I'm grateful that the moderators at the writer's boards don't tolerate this--either that, or we writers are very kind and empathetic folk. It is probably the case that if someone has constructive criticism about a piece they fear saying anything for fear of offending. But there are ways to help without being condescending or nasty.
And lastly, on this and other boards, I have often gone out of my way to provide some helpful info in response to people writing in for assistance. Many times I get no acknowlegement and no thanks for this effort.
I know writing is a competitive field, and some of us may indeed just delete other's offerings while posting our own. But I agree with Angie that this should be a supportive and helpful forum for all writers--hopefully not just a one-sided ego boost.
Hope this post doesn't get deleted too! And I hope someone out there, at least Angie--will respond.
THE STIRRINGS OF REVOLT!
As soon as I posted this, people started to come out of the woodwork in "support" of my position, directly or indirectly. Angie liked my site, and we soon developed a nice little e-mail friendship. A long-time lurker wrote in--he had already published a well received book--offering a sample of his soon-to-be-published novel. I read it, and it was great--and I said so. In return, he made nice about my blog, and before long we were linking to each other's sites. Another author (more on him later) wrote in to announce the upcoming publication of his new book, which had already received great responses. I visited his book site, congratulated him warmly, and he in turn called my site "wickedly funny." Angie posted some of her fictional pieces, which were fab, and I sang her praises, along with just a smidge of constructive feedback.
Even the moderator got into the act, saying that she had been trying in vain to get the group to be more responsive. So I felt vindicated in speaking up and straightening out these passive-agressive, self-centered namby-pambies once and for all.
Predictably, in the middle of all this heady excitement, Donut Guy posted another one of his pompous ramblings about how his stellar novel-to-be was progressing. Flush from my victory, I dashed off the following note:
I've given you feedback several times--positive feedback, so I hope you read my previous post and perhaps consider giving some to others.
THE KID GLOVES COME OFF
Soon after, DG posted another revision to a chapter he was working on. I said it was great, but noted a few references to places or things that puzzled me. He replied affably, saying he'd welcome some clarification.
So I cited a few more references that had gone over my head. At the end of the post, I added the following little nudge:
"One final thing I brought up in a previous post--and this is the last time I will attempt to get a response--
In order to answer your latest question, I had to hunt down your post, my post, cut and past portions of your old post, etc. I could have just said screw it, but I didn't, because I think you're a good writer and I assume you wanted some specific feedback from a fellow writer.
But as I mentioned the other day, the forum, up until one or two days ago, seemed to consist predominantly of frequent postings by a few people, with occasional replies of "sounds good, liked it," etc.
If you want more specific responses like the one I'm giving you, rather than no response or just "liked it," I think it would be only fair that you also comment on other people's stuff once in awhile. What's your take on what others are writing? Do you have any feedback or suggestions?
Otherwise I think this gets to be a very one-sided group. More people would probably respond to your fine posts if you responded to some of theirs. Otherwise what's the real purpose of posting with no responses forthcoming? Are we not here to support each other?
What do you think?"
DONUT GUY FIGHTS BACK!
That's when the shit hit the fan. DG first petulantly lambasted my latest feedback, and then berated me verily. Here's what he had to say about moi:
'I think that I don't need lectures on how to conduct my life, not even that portion of my life which occurs in public forums such as this. You don't know why people don't comment at length on every piece of writing. You have no right to presume to tell us to do so when you don't know why we don't. And it may very well be none of your business why someone doesn't write 50 pages about what a writer posted.
If "you" wish to comment at length on every poem, short story, or excerpt that someone posts, that's your right and you should do it. But you have no right to lecture us on the subject; we will, or won't, comment as seems good to us.
For my part, I'm a very busy person. I have a life outside this list. I work 40 or more hours a week, and I'm currently looking for a second job. This is because my wife is going to retire in just a few days due to failing eyesight, and we need the income until we can get the Social Security Administration to admit the painful reality of her deteriorating vision. Because my wife's Korean and her English is fractured, I'm spending considerable time doing paperwork for her, and going with her to appointments (we have one Tuesday--an MD, even though it's her eyes that are the problem). Somewhere in all this I try to find time to read, and to walk, and to write, and to at least glance at most of the posts I receive. On top of that, this week I'm fighting YahooGroups so that my mail will get out. and even if that weren't all happening, I'm not a critic and don't pretend to be. Those who are able to analyze and offer criticism are free to do so. I won't pretend that's one of my abilities to please you, even though I envy those who possess the ability and wish I had it.
Now I was under no obligation to offer this explanation. Given your attitude, I could have legitimately told you to walk north till your hat floats. But I've offered it because I am quite frankly upset at you treating me like a little kid who needs instructions on when to sit and when to stand and when to go to bed. I'm 45 years old and I don't need lectures or instructions, and I resent you presuming to lecture and instruct me. Perhaps knowing just how many balls I'm juggling will remind you that you're not the center of my universe.'
I just laughed heartily and cynically at his post. I was still smug in my role as writer's group queen, single-handedly transforming the forum into the interactive, lively, mutually supportive vehicle it should have been from the beginning! Yesiree, my hypomania was, like, totally under control. I'd just dash off a little judiciously worded reply and show him up in front of the whole group! Mmmm-yeah!
REPLY OF THE HYPOMANIC ASSHOLE
"Wowie zowie! I'm sorry I asked.
OK--firstly, I and others have been sympathetic to your plight with your wife's disability, BTW. You never seem, however, to have any empathy or compassion--not even a word of thank you, if I recall--when someone expresses interest or concern in your personal or professional life as you've chose to share them in this forum.
We are all writers; we are all busy; we all have lives. I just find it personally annoying after awhile when someone uses this as a (very time consuming) forum solely to just post and post and then comment on what they just wrote, etc. It just seems a little solipsistic to me. But of course I can't tell anyone else what to do.
I guess you don't really want any feedback anyway, since you were so defensive about it. I am just telling you my viewpoint as a reader (who I personally try to keep in mind when I write for publication). I think it helps when one wishes to sell one's work.
As I said, that's the last I'll say about the matter. I'll let the tone and the content of your reply speak for themselves."
DOG-PADDLING WITH THE SHARKS
Well, that was the end of that. This was not the adolescent, flame-throwing kind of group I chronicled in Support Group? Feh!.
Oh no. We were way too civilized for that. We maintained an admirably calm and mature level of discourse and decorum. We were writers, after all. Professionals-- or soon-to-be.
Yeah. It's true. But the group was also often mind-numbingly boring.
Moreover, underneath the surface, there was plenty of the stuff that makes for a good scary read. Seething jealousy. Mean-spiritedness. And worst of all, indifference. (Anyway, in my self-righteous indignation, that's the way I saw it at the time). But it was all done in a subtle, passive agressive, ultra-civilized, writerly way. More on that later.
And so it went. No unruliness or further flaming (if that's what the previous exchange could be called), no writers taking sides (publicly) with one or the other asshole. Angie, however, did agree with me privately that she thought DG was rather full of himself, etc. But that was that.
The denouement? DG actually posted a few responses to other's posts--for a few days. I considered it a major example of social engineering at its finest.
BUT LOOKING BACK, THOUGH DG WAS A BIT FULL OF HIMSELF, DARN IF I DIDN'T DESERVE HIS TONGUE LASHING AS WELL!
I was triumphant. I ruled! All hail the queen of the writer's groups!
But I soon had to admit to myself that my hypomanic alter-ego, which I thought I had tamed and rendered obedient to my will like a wild horse, had still exhibited its dark, ugly side. Just for starters, I hadn't stopped to consider that I'd humiliated DG in front of the whole group. I began to feel the pangs of shame and remorse.
I now realized that I had been just as big of an asshole as he was. Actually maybe more. If the asshole quotient of my messages (EB) were to be compared to the assole quotient of his (DG), the algebraic formula would be thus:
EB > or = DG
BUT WAIT--LEMME JUST GET IN ONE MORE PRIME EXAMPLE OF THE KIND OF THING THAT PISSED ME OFF...
At virtually the exact same time that all this was going on, a few great writers, as I mentioned, wrote into the group about their new books. One had actually had his manuscript accepted by several of the traditional, print (aka brick and mortar) pub houses, but they were dragging their feet too much. So he fuguratively flipped the bird at them, and went ahead and self-published it with one of the more reputable, proactive self-publishing sites. This, combined with his own marketing efforts, was already leading to great advance reviews on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com.
So of course, not more than a millisecond after he hit the "send" button, other group members instantly descended like ravenous vultures. These posts were all basically craven efforts to find out more about his positive experience and get info so that they, too, could "instantly" succeed. The author also told me in a private e-mail that others had also contacted him off-group with the same intention. No one even bothered to preface their craven "what can you do for me lately" messages with a simple: "Congrats, guy! Way to go!"
Of course I, in my infinite wisdom, composed a wry little note from atop my lofty perch: something to the effect of: "My, my...you certainly have created quite a stir in our little group! Congrats (etc etc)--best of luck!"
Ah yes; those pitiful, desperate, self-centered twits! I knew all about the big bad scary publishing world. If only these numbskulls would heed my sage advice. I had clawed my way up the "ladder,"after all-- paying my dues for year after agonizing year!
Meanwhile, I was as ego-bloated as all the rest of them. Of course I was! I was a writer, and I wanted to be read. Not to mention my pathetic new obsession with the number of hits I was getting for my new blog, as chronicled in my e-mail exchange with Henry where I bared my pathetically publicity-hungry soul.
CAN YOU SPELL PASSIVE-AGRESSIVE?
Despite realizing in retrospect that I had made a horse's ass out of myself, there was one more beef I had that was the beefiest of all by far.
In another writer's group, we'd had a long standing debate about the merits of blogging. Some wrote in, saying they were puzzled as to how blogging could help one become published. The old guy who had written all the books that never got bought up said that blogging was a young person's game, and the only "hits" he was interested in were from publishers who wanted to buy his work. He felt that blogging was a passing fad, like the internet had been (!?)
In this group, I wrote in once or twice on the joys of blogging, siting examples where published authors often used a blog to help promote it. Conversely, and probably less often, some bloggers were noticed by editors who might conceivably approach them. There was one author, in fact, who began an great but infamous blog that actually cost her her job due to the nasty things she had to say about her employment experiences. She is now a regular columnist at Salon.com. Another possiblility was to send a query to an e-zine, and give a link to your blog to provide a sample of your style. If you then published a piece in the e-zine, you could post a link to your blog, and conversely, post a link from your blog back to the e-zine's site--and maybe re-post the article there too, depending on copyright issues.
Lastly, I offered the caveat that most e-zine editors would probably not accept a piece that had been previously "published" on one's blog. One person responded with another caveat--always check carefully for typos and other egregious errors, since many e-zine editors, including herself, often checked out blogs. Too many typos could make one look unprofessional.
I was disconcerted to note that she made no direct reference to my blog. When she talked about typos, was she referring to me? Sure, I had some gaffes, but not many, I didn't think. Why did she so studiously avoid saying anything directly about my site?
Meanwhile, Angie told me she was looking for e-zines to submit some of her short stories to. I recalled that there was one member of another group who had a link to her cool e-zine, which aimed to give aspiring writers some solid feedback on their submissions. If they accepted the piece, they would work with the writer to edit it, if necessary. If they didn't accept it, they would nonetheless provide helpful insight into how the writer might proceed. This represented an admirable attempt to help clue the hapless writer into the mysteries of how an actual editor thinks, rather than merely receiving yet another rejection form letter.
I checked out the site, bookmarket it, and even plugged it later when I sent several writer's groups a list of helpful links I'd found for writers. So when Angie said she was looking for some vehicles for her short stories, I enthusiastically suggested she check out this site.
She did so, and while she found the e-zine to be a fairly good one, she noticed that in the archives there were articles that had typos, and this gave her pause.
I thought about it, and finally put two and two together. Sure enough, the poster who'd darkly warned of blogging typos was the same woman who published this e-zine which claimed to be staffed with attentive and supportive editors who would work with the author to produce a professional published piece!
With gleeful relish, I dashed off this note:
"You wrote a reply to my e-mail awhile back re:blogging and my blog on the "X" Writer's group. Here it is:
'Another caveat: if you are planning on using your blog like this, make sure you take the time to make sure you are posting clean copy on it. Sure, editors can see your style, but even if they love how you write, they may pass you over if your blog is riddled with grammar and spelling errors. No one's perfect, so I'm not saying absolute precision in every post. I am saying that if you know you have a tendency of making many typos/spelling errors/grammatical errors, double-check your writing before posting. And yes, I often read blogs of writers, and I know I'm not the only editor/publisher who does.'
Wasn't sure if you were referring to my blog or just in general, but I thought I'd alert you to the following:
I directed one of the members of another group, XXX, to check out your site because she was looking for a place for her short story. She said your site looked quite good, but when she looked back in the archives, she found typos, which gave her pause.
Just passing the info on.
She in turn wrote me a rather defensive, yet admirably restrained reply, where she attempted to cover her ass by saying that she was understaffed, writers often submitted works with a lot of typos, there was virtually no publication that had no typos, etc.
That's when I rolled up my sleeves and wrote her back,
"I'll be honest with you. I am not concerned myself with the typos in your pub. What I was responding to was your assertion on holding blogs to a certain standard, which I think I ably fulfill on my site.
I have praised your site to you and others; have listed your link in 3 of my writer's groups; and have just referred someone directly to you.
What troubled me was that in response to my excitement over my blog, you merely commented on typos on blogs; which I wasn't sure was directed toward me, since you made no direct comment on my site.
What I'd hoped, after all the above plugs, was that you might take a moment to check out my blog and perhaps comment to the blog or to the group.
This merely prompted another long winded reply where she stated that she was referring to blogs in general, not mine in particular, etc. etc. But once again, no mention of my site whatsoever. She didn't (sob) even thank me (sob sob) for my thoughtfulness (wah), generosity (blubber blubber) and infinite coolness (boo hoo hoo)!!!
The thing is, Angie also thought it was highly unprofessional to turn out an e-zine with typos. Wasn't that what editors were for--to polish up a piece before it was launched into the world? Likewise, I said that I had spent many years doing copyediting for academic promo pieces, and the two most important things any editor had to keep in mind were:
1. Always assume that every writer will make errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, transitions, and so on. Sometimes a manuscript might have to be virtually rewriteen before being published.
2. It was an editor's sworn and sacred duty to hunt down all instances of this kind of sullying of the English language and cast them all asunder like some horrible plague, leaving no typo unturned.
I also noted with grim glee that this same woman was posting a lot of know-it-all messages to the group: things like how she would fail any of her students who tried to provide composite characters for a creative non-fiction piece, and how she personally knew the illustrious editor of a "noted" site. If anyone wrote to him with a question and received no response, she would contact him and see to it that he did so.
Yeah, what an asshole. Reminded me of someone, somehow. Hmmm...could it be--ME?!?
I thought about replying yet again to the e-zine editor, but decided instead to blog about it.
BG and I believe in karma and the golden rule. Of course, I for one am not perfect, so I don't always, in my heart of hearts, follow the karma-axiom of putting your positive vibes, helpful deeds, etc. out there, wIthout expecting praise or appreciation in return.
We also subscribe to the notion that some experience that seems bad at the time can turn into something terrific later. So in this case, I have to admit that I did meet a few great writers that I corresponded with privately several times, and a few that I continue to e-mail back and forth.
Perhaps providing helpful links that I had culled did help other writers, some of whom did acknowlege my efforts.
And looking back, I know that my hypomanic self-righteousness made me look like an asshole to others and myself.
Let he amongeth you who is without typos cast the first nasty e-mail!
But the real beauty part? I got to write this piece and get it all off my chest.
And ironically enough, my in-box has now accumulated about a hundred unopened messages from my writer's groups, because I have become a "bad" member--too busy blogging to do my part for my fellow writer's in arms!
For a shamelessly cruel--and totally hysterical--look at the Gotham Writer's Workshop, see Harris Bloom's Memoirs of a Memoir Writing Class. This link will get you to chapter 10, but you can scroll down for links to all the previous chapters. Also check out the spellbinding Epilogue here.