Friday, February 10, 2006

Talking 'Bout Your Reputation

Let's talk about reputations.

Writers have three.

The first, and most important, is your reputation with your fans.

The majority of this depends on the writer's books. Well-written, well-liked books will earn you a good reputation among your fanbase. And fans talk.

A writer's public persona, when meeting fans, is also important. Treating fans well can go a long way to helping a writer's career. Treating them badly can cause serious harm.

Some of your most important fans are booksellers and librarians. These are uber-fans. Give them uber-thanks.

The second reputation a writer must uphold is within the publishing business. What do agents and editors think of you? Honest, loyal, trustworthy, never complains and always makes deadlines? Or a whiney, hard to work with, conceited, spoiled brat?

The amount of time you survive in this business has to do with how many books you sell, but it also has to do with how well you get along with your key contacts in the industry. Being a jerk can come back to haunt you. I've seen this happen to friends of mine.

Finally, you'll have a reputation among you peers. This is the reputation that you have the least amount of control over.

Luckily, this is also the group that you don't need to worry about impressing.

Don't get me wrong---it's important to have some good contacts in this business among your peers. Being able to talk shop, let your hair down, and help each other with marketing, publicity, editing, etc., is a wonderful thing.

But you will have peers who don't like you. Always. And they'll talk behind your back. Or blog behind your back. Or both. Or worse.

Why?

Part of it is human nature. People talk about each other. Especially people in the same profession. No one is universally liked. If you think you are, you're wrong.

Jealousy or envy may come into play. You're getting more money. Better reviews. More press. More awards. More publicity. More exposure. Maybe you're a better writer, and they resent that. Or maybe you're a crummy writer, and they resent your success even more.

Sometimes personalities just clash. Oil and water won't mix, no matter how hard oil tries.

Hearsay abounds. Stories get twisted around. It's easy, while at the convention bar, to take a cheap shot at someone who isn't there, especially when everyone else is doing it.

Writers, for all their creativity, can be a pretty bitter bunch.

Should you worry about this? The back-biting? The name calling? The rumor mongering?

No.

It isn't your job to impress your peers, because they aren't the ones buying your books. Your job is to impress your fans and your publisher.

The bigger a writer gets, the more people who will hate him. Look at all of the criticism Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Patricia Cornwell get. Some writers actually get angry when you mention one of these names to them. Get a room full of writers together, mention "Patterson" and "Art" in the same sentence, and watch the sparks fly.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Maybe being hated isn't so bad...

Do I talk about other writers? Sure. But not in public.

Well, not really.

I've made some cheap shots about Cornwell's last few books, and I'm vocal about my hatred of Hannibal by Thomas Harris, but other than that, I keep my criticisms close to my chest. And there's a reason for this.

What Peter says about Paul often says more about Peter than it does about Paul.

Or, to put it in simpler terms: If you spend a lot of time spouting shit, people are going to realize you're an asshole.

So the next time you're Googling your name, and you come across some nasty comments, be proud. You've pissed some people off! Congratulations! You're on your way!

As Oscar Wilde said, "The only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you."

Now get out there and please some fans.