I recently read Kris Rusch’s blog post about being a professional. Various writers have been coming to Kris lately for her opinion on a contract they received from their publishers and, in most cases, have already signed. Most already had an inkling that it was a bad contract. What they were looking for was reassurance that signing it hadn’t hurt them too much.
Why am I talking about this here, in an article about self-publishing? Because this series is as much about the self, the emotions of publishing and how they help or hurt us, as it is about the publishing part. And emotions were definitely in play with those writers. One author even said she knew the contract was bad for her career, but she’d promised her editor she’d sign it and didn’t want to make her editor mad by negotiating something better.
Passive Guy recently put up this quote by Dorothy Parker:
He’ll be cross if he sees I have been crying. They don’t like you to cry. He doesn’t cry. I wish to God I could make him cry. I wish I could make him cry and tread the floor and feel his heart heavy and big and festering in him. I wish I could hurt him like hell.
. . . I don’t think he even knows how he makes me feel. I wish he could know, without my telling him. They don’t like you to tell them they’ve made you cry. They don’t like you to tell them you’re unhappy because of them. If you do, they think you’re possessive and exacting. And then they hate you. They hate you whenever you say anything you really think. You always have to keep playing little games.
When I read this I was expecting it to be a snarky comparison to traditional publishing. Instead it’s just a riff on emotional abuse.
Kris Rusch also writes that many writers fail to take the business side of writing seriously. The danger in this is that the publishers take it very seriously indeed. They, and agents, know they are in business, and they are looking out for their own bottom line. Many writers are not. Many writers have conducted business believing that their editor and their agent will look out for them. The publishers and the agents have encouraged this. Just as in many a dystopian novel, a passive populace is easier to control. And many authors are complicit in their own abuse. The problem with allowing your future to be controlled by others is that it trains you to be passive. To seek approval. To accept bad treatment because that’s “just how it is.” For a long time authors didn’t have a choice. Now we do.
The point of this is not to bash traditional publishing. The point is that for many of us, our business decisions are affected by our emotions, and we should be aware of how we react to situations that are emotionally difficult.
Are we making a certain choice because it’s less frightening, even though it’s not in our best interest? Do we choose something else because our friends are doing it? Because it’s safer and won’t expose us to ridicule if we fail?
Demanding respect for what you have done is not hubris.
It starts with self-respect. It’s having confidence that what you’ve done has value. It’s knowing where you sit on the spectrum of accomplishment, and having the humility to learn from others. It’s knowing that you are in business and being able to negotiate for what you want, and willing say, “No, you may not treat me badly.” It’s walking away from a bad deal.
In this shifting world of publishing some people will disagree with your decisions and question your judgement. Some will feel threatened by what you’re doing, and disparage it. But if you made your choices for the right reasons, it won’t matter.
I have a button with the quote, “Among animals, it’s eat or be eaten. Among humans, it’s define or be defined.” Whatever path you choose, don’t give up your power. Take control of your career. Define yourself as a professional.