Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to tank your career

Yes, I'm posting late. The long post I drafted earlier this week got eaten by Blogger. I will be saving this one every other keystroke. An all day class and now EasterCon sort of consumed the rest of my week. EasterCon is the big UK science fiction convention, where I've been spending time with old friends. The Guest of Honor, George RR Martin, and I were in the same writer's group for a while. And get this: he's up for the Hugo for best novel, as is James SA Cory. James SA Corey is actually a pen name for cowriters, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. Ty is George's personal assistant and Leviathan Wakes, the novel that got nominated, is the first one he's ever written. Ty met George and Daniel while out in New Mexico to visit me. He and I had been friends for years before that.

I'm going to be kind of rambly because it's late and I'm exhausted. Sorry about that. Okay, focus Emily!

On my blog I've been doing a series called The Indie Experiment about my experiences in indie publishing, and I have one last post to do in the series, so I'm posting it over here since it applies to both indie and traditional publishing. It's my list of ways to tank your career. It isn't an exhaustive list, please feel free to add more items in comments. In my eleven years working on the professional writing thing, ways I've seen people tank their careers:

1) Decide you're too good for your readers. Ever heard an author complain that their readers are too stupid to "get" what they write? The best place to find people like that? Not on the bestseller list. Just sayin'

2) Feel entitled to the royal treatment. I was talking with George this weekend about various other mutual friends and non-friends and he filled me in on someone who demands that s/he get the same treatment George does. You probably have not heard of him/her, s/he does not have a commercial success like Song of Ice and Fire and the associated Game of Thrones HBO series. George wasn't cruel or insulting when he spoke of this person- George isn't arrogant or disdainful like that -but he did detail how poorly this strategy was working for said writer who will remain nameless.

3) Complain about your publisher/cover designer/editor/etc. Listen, this isn't about kissing up to everyone or believing that everyone else on your team is flawless, it's about respecting the fact that they're on your team. Consider this scenario: You ask your favorite author why their book had an awful cover. Which answer makes them look good? "Yeah, that loser cover artist is an idiot. I think he had a drug problem. I hate the cover." Or: "The cover artist is a guy named Barry Madeupname. Great guy. I can see why the cover might not appeal to everyone, and it's fine if it doesn't appeal to you. Hope it doesn't put you off the book, though. I assure you, the inside is still all me." It's all about class. Show some.

4) Talk about yourself non-stop. When I spoke to Ty Franck the other day, I suspected he was up for the Hugo even though the news hadn't broken. How did I guess? He expressed the hope that someone else whom we know and respect would be nominated. Rather than gloat and make smug remarks, he expressed a desire that other people not feel left out. Ty is a likeable person. It's easy to feel unreserved happiness for his success, which I most certainly do. In the end of the day, art is an expressive process and we're all part of a larger community of people who lay it all on the line emotionally day in and day out. Selfish people are worse than the proverbial bull in the china shop.

5) Whine and beg for readers. Writing is like dating, and desperation scares people off. No matter how low your sales are, whining will drive them down lower. Even if you aren't the hottest in the market, behaving like you could be once the right readers come along will make all the difference.

Okay, a long, rambly, and not comprehensive list. There are many that I missed, I know!


  1. Thanks for the post, Emily!

    If you really want to tank your career and all else fails, you could try giving up.

    I would like to think that every other bad move on my part can be overcome in time. But giving up? That's permanent.

  2. Timely post. I'm trying not to whine right now. Never having been in the situation I'm presently in, naturally I don't know what to do, and I'm scared. People keep telling me that every writer goes through slumps, but I've been climbing up for so long, it's hard to watch the numbers go backwards. But I promise I won't whine. I detest whiners myself. No sense being one.

  3. I love Rebecca's addition - no quitting! And Anne has a fantastic point about not letting the slumps get you down. They WILL happen, but try telling that to a brain hyped up on success. It's not easy, but it's important (and humbling) to remember that EVERY writer goes through them, even the big names.

    For me, it's holding myself back - I think writing is an act of courage and some days that courage is hiding under the sofa cushions and has to be dug out.

    Thanks for the wonderful post! (And best of luck with your novels!)

  4. Hi guys! I wrote that on so little sleep that I'm just relieved it's kind of coherent. Thanks, Rebecca, for pointing out the most obvious one that I left off the list!

    I totally hear you about slumps, Anne. My sales are going through one too. You can tell yourself, rationally, that this is part of the process, but your hindbrain will still have you curl up in fetal position and tell you you're better off quitting while you're ahead. My strategy is to get stuck into the next project before the sales slump hits (because it always will). This time it worked, at least.

    And Susan, I completely relate to holding yourself back. I think everyone struggles with this. It's hard to put yourself out there when you feel that what you've got is not worth seeing (but in your case it is.)

  5. It seems half the battle of getting published is knowing what NOT to do. It's easy to think we wouldn't do the things you listed - but obviously it happens. It's good to have a warning. Thanks, Emily!


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