Having Friends in the Business Isn’t A Conspiracy

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In 1995, I saw a flyer on the library’s community board, a flyer announcing that a local writing group was open to accept new members.  At the time I’d been writing and submitting short stories to small press magazines for about three years, with only a bit of minor success, and it seemed to me that this was a sign from the Powers That Be.  A writing group was just what I needed to help push me along.  I was terrified at the thought of reading to a bunch of strangers, but I sucked it up and went to the meeting.  Where I met some wonderful, supportive people, including Faith Hunter.  We became friends.  She has given me great suggestions and support all along, pushed me when I was dragging and put me in the way of lots of opportunities over the years.  I can’t say for sure I would ever have tried to write a novel at all without Faith strongarming me into it.  I met David B Coe through Faith, and lots of other writers through them both.  When you’re starting out in a new business, it’s good to familiarize oneself with others in the same industry, and if you become friends, so much the better.  One never knows when a friend or acquaintance will be able to smooth the way.

Lately there’s been a kerfluffle among would-be-published YA writers complaining that there’s some sort of conspiracy designed to keep them and their work from being seriously considered by New York publishing.   This conspiracy is apparently made up of the currently published YA authors.  According to the scuttlebutt, they share glowing reviews of each other all the time whether the work warrants it or not and defend each other with claws extended.  They’ve been called incestuous.  I’ve seen people complaining that writers making friends on social networking sites is somehow creepy, and that groups of YA writers going on retreats or tours together is just like those cliquish girls in high school who planned wicked parties then invited everyone in class except you and the weird kid that the football players shoved into the dumpster at lunchtime every day.  But it’s far more evil and insidious than merely leaving certain people home on a Saturday night alone.  The goal of this clique is, according to the complainers, to keep as-yet-unpublished writers from ever being noticed by agents and editors, thus crushing their career dreams and…well, yeah, making them stay home alone on a Saturday night.

Part of the problem seems to stem from certain authors arguing with bloggers about reviews of their books or those of their friends.  Remember last week when we talked about how important being nice is?  We talked about how tight the writing community is, and how easily an ugly comment can find its way to the last ear you intended to hear it.  It’s not just the hopefuls who need to behave themselves, though.  If a blogger reviews a writer’s book and hates it with a blinding passion, the writer’s best move is to keep her mouth shut and her fingers off the keyboard.  No one book pleases everyone, and arguing with a review is the surest way to make yourself look like a jerk.  But this is the age of the internet, where everyone can talk to everyone else regardless of her level of fame.  So if a blogger trashes a book and gets the author’s attention, should he really be surprised when the author pops in with a comment?  And if the author’s got friends who want to defend her, again, how is that a surprise?  It’s what friends do.  Not necessarily wise, certainly not mannerly, but hey, it happens.

Writers hang out with each other because we’re essentially coworkers.  We’re all in the same business, we speak the same language and we know what the latest buzz is.  Doctors and dentists and physicists do it, and so do writers.  We’re not making friends with each other to keep anyone out.  There’s nothing so fun as discovering a new writer, especially when we knew that person first.  I know, not everyone is lucky enough to meet and become the friend of a published author right off the bat.  Luck does play a part in one’s success.  But there are chances to meet professional writers all along the way.  I’m just home from StellarCon, for example, where I met some incredibly nice folks (hi, Lauren, Raven and Corey!)   That first meeting can lead to friendship, or just acquaintance, and both of those are useful in building a career.  The thing that isn’t useful is standing against the wall with a sour expression, telling anyone close enough to hear that all those kids talking happily near the cookie tray are holding you down.

It all comes back to that rule about being nice.  If you’re unpublished and hoping to break in to the business, you should be nice.  If you’re an established writer with multiple books on the shelves, you should be nice.  And don’t be afraid to come over to the cookie table and say hello.  We’ll move over and make a spot for you.

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29 comments to Having Friends in the Business Isn’t A Conspiracy

  • I was just reading about this so-called “YA Mafia” at John Scalzi’s site, and he brings up a really good point to add to yours — those people who are successful writers don’t have the time or energy to fight this nonsense. It would take a lot of both to seek out authors and try to sabotage their books.

  • I’m a software developer. All of the good jobs I’ve had in the industry have come through networking and friendships. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s just how things work.

  • Mmmm, are there snickerdoodles on the cookie table? 😀

  • Conspiracies, treachery, and back-stabbing sounds like my first book. lol

    I have writer friends and I’ve done my best not to abuse them or their influence. I want to succeed on my own merit. That said, when an author introduced me to their agent at a recent con and the agent gave me their card, requesting a query, I didn’t say no.

    Maybe these shunned YA authors need to rethink their strategy since calling out the influential authors in public hasn’t been an effective option. Plus they sound like a bunch of whiny brats.

    -NGD

  • I’m with NGD on wanting to do things on my own if I can, but I don’t think I’d turn my nose up at a proffered hand either. I have a lot of writer acquaintances on FB, but none I’ve met face to face. Hoping to rectify that, in part at least, at ConCarolinas this year. 🙂

  • I think Daniel’s comment brings up an important point. I’m happy to be nice to people. But sharing cookies is another issue entirely. Especially if they’re Misty’s chocolate chip cookies….

    In all seriousness, this is like the stories of aspiring writers putting copyright notices on their submissions to agents and editors, or of that one writer who was so afraid of having work stolen that s/he submitted thirty pages to a writing conference for critique, but chose the thirty pages randomly from a much longer manuscript. Professional writers gain nothing by trying to keep people down; we are far more concerned with building our own careers. If an aspiring writer is having trouble getting that first publication, it’s because he/she hasn’t caught that break yet, or because the work he/she is submitting is flawed in some way. And, if some writers are complaining about others “keeping them down” it may be that their attitude is getting in the way, too.

  • Talk about shooting themselves in the foot! In an industry that relies heavily on word-of-mouth and personal reputation, this just sounds like suicide.

  • Hi Misty 😀 It was a real pleasure meeting you and all the MW folks at Stellarcon. I just wanted to say thanks again to all of you for your awesome advice and delicious cookies. We really enjoyed your panels and look forward to reading the books we picked up!

    And to anyone who complains about feeling excluded by writing circles, I say: Go check out your local con or coffee shop and MEET some writers for crying outloud! If you’re feeling left out to complain about it online, chances are YOU are the one who’s leaving yourself out!

  • Thank you for helping to spread the word about the widespread conspiracy to undermine potential future writers.

    I’d like now to share with you a few words about the reptilian overlords from Sirius….

  • What David said, except for the part about the chocolate chip cookies. I want the oatmeal raisin cookies. Other than that, he’s got it nailed.

  • Mikaela

    A great post, Misty!

    Since I live in Sweden, I do most of my networking through the internet. One of the first things I did was to join FMwriters. And I am glad I did. I learned so much there. The last 3-4 years, I have out grown it. Catie Murpy posted about her word war room. I hesitated for months before I clicked the link :D. The wordwars help me with BIC.

    I must add that I don’t have many intresting local cons. *sniffle*
    But Eurocon is in Stockholm this year :D. And I am definitely going!

  • Hi, Misty! Thanks for the shout-out! I echo Raven’s sentiment on meeting you all at Stellarcon. It was wonderful to speak in person to the folks behind Magical Words. I was even more impressed once I discovered you’re all just as sharp and eloquent when speaking on a panel as you are on the blog. Even if Edmund says he’s “a crockpot, not a microwave”, I was really moved by how quickly and understandably you answered questions and discussed complex matters of writing. I dream of someday either being that eloquent, or figuring out how to go back and edit my talking.

    I have to agree that the whole “YA Writer Conspiracy” is ridiculous. Publishing isn’t elementary school tee-ball, where someone always makes sure every kid gets a turn–a writer who wants to get published has to make their own way into the game, and know the rules, and play it well and graciously. I say this as someone still warming up, practicing my swing.

    Take care, and I look forward to diving into all the great books we got, and the new blog posts.

  • David and Edmund are both wrong. It’s Misty’s Lemon and Lavendar cookies. OMGosh! (floating to the ceiling)

    As to the conspiracy — is there a secret handshake? A secret handsign? Why didn’t they share it with me?

    And why don’t all you guys rush to my Amazon site and put up five star reviews? Huh? Why not???

    Misty this is a great post! And idiots abound out there. If anyone puts something up in print, *anywhere* they have to own it. It is theirs and most people do *not* forget! When I get good reviews, I post them on my sites. In Feb. I got a *nasty* negative review for Mercy Blade that was so bad, it had me laughing. So I posted it too, in all the usual places. Fans took issue with it and reported it so many times it was removed from Amazon. But the fans did it, not me.

    Yeah, there will always be whiners and conspiracy theorists. I remember a guy at a con standing up and saying (to a panel of editors and agents) “You are all unfair. You each have different requirements and demands. Like one of you wants ten pages and a one page page synopsis, and another of you wants three chapters and a five page synopsis. It’s too much work to find out what you want!” And the idiot was serious.

    Yeah, like if I want to find a job, I’ll go to MickeyD’s and grab a handful of employment aps and fill them out and take them to every fast food restaurant. Hey — all the fast food places should have the same exact paperwork. Right? Wrong.

    Being a writer is hard. Very hard. Whining about conspiracies only makes them look like they are not ready for the big time, but only ready for the sandbox. The whiners need to get over themselves. God knows the published writers had to.

  • I’m hesitant to admit this, but…snickerdoodles are actually my favorite cookies. Even more than ginger snaps, which I made to bribe an editor with over the weekend. I guess I’m going to have to make some for the next MW party, just so people can make truly informed decisions. 😀

    Misty Massey, writer of fantasy and cookie goddess.

  • This whole YA Conspiracy thing sounds so much like sour grapes. Being a writer is an intense emotional rollarcoaster ride. You pour your heart and soul into a story and worry over “the rules of the road” so much that you begin to go prematurely bald. Then you send it out to agents and editors each time expecting to be declared the next “Great American Author”. Yet when rejections start piling up (which ar eusually cold and without explanation), it can be very disheartening. This breeds things like weird conspiracies to keep great writers down and stories of Illuminati-esque groups working for your (yes YOURS specifically) demise.

    People just need to chill out and find a support group of other writers who know what they are going through to talk about their frustrations. Oh wait…. that sounds very much like the start of another conspiracy. 🙂

    I appreciate Magicalwords being here to help keep us Unpubs sane in our quest to be succesful writers. Please don’t ever go away.

    P.S. – Do you have an cranberry macadamia white choloate cookies? I love those.

  • Sarah

    I agree with Mark Wise. When you’re on the outside looking it, it can be awfully frustrating. All those author people, laughing and sharing stories and talking about their agents. Why can’t I be one of them? Why not ME? They think they’re so special. I bet they’re laughing at me right now.

    Except that in my experience all you have to do is walk up to those author people and say hi. I have yet to be snubbed by an author or agent or editor at a Con. In fact, they’ve been ridiculously generous with advice and encouragement. I’ve been turned down by editors and agents too, but that’s part of the learning process. And even the turn downs were gentle – more like a teacher saying “you’re growing, but it needs more work” than a megalomaniac laughing at my ambitions. Not a single pro that I’ve met has suggested that I was wasting my time or that I shouldn’t keep trying. When I sold my first short story and mentioned it at ConCarolinas, Faith Hunter hugged me and told me to keep writing. I’ve never gotten the vibe that the other authors are threatened by young up and comers. (Or semi- middle aged ones, in my case.)

  • I think the whiners just don’t realize how small publishing really is. And I’m not sure that fact is really something you can believe until you start seeing it play out around you. Yes, there are tons of editors and agents for big important presses and agencies whose names I wouldn’t recognize (I’m admittedly horrid with names) but that said, I’ve yet to attend a con where I haven’t shared either an agent or an editor with at least one other attending author–usually more than one author. The degrees of separation are way closer than six in publishing. There’s no conspiracy, but like Misty said, you have to be nice because people talk. The good news is, people talk about the good stuff too.

    As far as cookies, omg, sign me up for the snickerdoodles! (I’ll just have to remember to migrate far enough into the room to grab one before they are gone. ^_^ )

  • Kalayna, some of the whiners were saying that they felt threatened by being told that publishing is a small, tight-knit business. *rolls eyes* Which goes to prove you can’t talk to people like that.

  • And Mark, I’ll have to look into those cranberry macadamia white chocolate cookies. They sound very rich!

  • mudepoz

    :P. Some of my best friends are writers (LOL). Perhaps half I met via the internet. In fact, a group of us from all over the world met last year. This year it’s here. *Gulp* So far, nary a serial killer in the group. You might want to stay far away from my cookies. I tend to torch things. My water burns.

  • It isn’t just the YAs that make this noise. I’ve heard the same comments from wannabe SF/Fantasy/Horror writers, too. One person (who insisted on submitting manuscripts in single-spaced, purple, script fonts) often made the complaint, “Editors won’t buy if you aren’t a member of SFWA or HWA, but you can’t get into SFWA/HWA without making sales!” She didn’t realize it was her lack of professionalism in following submission guidelines that kept her from getting read, and her sour attitude that kept anyone from taking her seriously.

    Misty – my specialties are Capuccino Cookies and Buttershots Schnapps Sugar Cookies.

  • Ooh, Lyn, those cookies sound yummalicious!

  • Razziecat

    I heard there was a cookie conspiracy over here.:)

    It’s sad that someone would put so much effort into imagining conspiracies everywhere. That kind of creativity would be better used in their writing.

    Now, as for cookies…I’m not much of a baker, but Butter Bits are easy and very, very, melt-in-your-mouth tasty.

  • I’m thinking cookie party….

  • Maybe we should add it to our advertising, “Come to Magicalwords.net. We have cookies!” 🙂

  • I like the idea of a cookie conspiracy! Much more pleasant than the YA Mafia! And I just realized my son took the last of the ginger snaps to school for lunch. Looks like I have more baking in my future.

  • Beatriz

    Wait! There were COOKIES? There were cookies at the con and you told me it was okay if I skipped it??

    COOKIES? Misty’s World Famous Cookies??????

    *huddles in the corner, sobbing*

    Woulda driven up for cookies.

  • The Cookie Confederacy? I suggest a Facebook group, then tee-shirts, followed in short-order by world domination. They’ll never see it coming.

  • Misty’s lemon lavender cookies sound like they’d go well with the honey lavender frozen custard recipe I got laying around here.