I made the mistake of allowing myself to get into a Facebook argument the other day. For the last six months or so, I’ve been very good about just scrolling and eating popcorn. When you consider that this has been an election year, that’s a remarkable achievement. But somebody finally got me drawn into an argument.
I’m always really irritated when misconceptions are perpetuated, and there are a lot of misconceptions about writing. Heck, perpetuating misconceptions is so prevalent in writing that it seems to actually form part of the curriculum. However, when you’re a person who actually has conflicting experience from real life (instead of theory) and you step in to offer a counter-argument, the masses of posers instantly jump down your throat.
I was scrolling through Facebook when I saw somebody posted an article titled something like “How to Get Blacklisted.” The article was supposedly written by an agent who was reporting on the blog of an author. Apparently the author had met with her and been unsatisfied with the experience so he posted something about it. The agent found this post and took a bunch of screen shots of the article and the comments and then published those screen shots on her blog along with an introduction about how unprofessional the author was.
Right away I thought this was irritating because the agent was essentially taking the writing of the author and posting it on her page for her own notoriety. She also specifically said in the post that she wasn’t going to link back to the author, although I did find a link hidden at the bottom (which didn’t work). I thought the link was necessary because I wanted to see if the screen shots were taken out of context. But there’s also kind of a gray area in posting screen shots of somebody else’s intellectual material. I don’t know what the legal designation is on something like that, but I’d think a professional agent would be especially careful about essentially stealing a writer’s work.
I wrote a comment something to the effect of, “I don’t think the agent should benefit from copying a writer’s work and publishing it on her page for the purpose of gaining her own traffic.”
It was amazing how hostile the response I got from this.
There are a lot of writer’s groups online comprised of people who have never had anything published anywhere, but are part of groups with 5 or 6 thousand members so they think their opinion is more important than fact. They’re also completely full of the perpetrated illusion about what the writing industry is like…mainly this illusion can be boiled down to a misconception that it is fair.
What followed were a bunch of comments about how stupid the writer was to complain about his experience with the agent. “That’s career suicide!”, “What an idiot!”, “That’s a no-no!” Were the comments. “You have to diligently police your online persona!”
The writer was angry because he’d incurred the expense of a flight to visit the agent under the promise that she’d read his work, only to find out that she hadn’t. In his article he used some language that was a bit unfortunate, but overall I thought he had a right to complain about his experience. The mass of “writers” on Facebook seemed a little too eager to side with the agent…as if defending her on Facebook would lead them to book deals of their own.
The truth is that there are a lot of scams out there targeting writers. I think it’s dangerous to convey the belief that no writers should ever be critical of their dealings with an “industry” figure, because sometimes con artists pose as industry figures just to bilk writers out of money or rights. There just aren’t any absolute hard and fast rules.
Sure, it’s possible to get “blacklisted” if you’re extremely problematic. However, if you get involved in some sort of viral controversy that gives you all kinds of press, chances are that will actually help you get a publishing contract because of the notoriety. The belief that there are things you can say in a personal blog that will make you untouchable is kind of ridiculous. It might limit your options in some sectors, but it’s likely to open doors in others. You can’t limit what you have to say. The “industry” can’t be that writers need to remain silent even in the face of mistreatment.
I did some more research into the writer in question and he’d actually had a couple publishing contracts with some major publishers. In my mind, that changed things. An unknown writer has to act basically with the deference of a slave to get a contract, but somebody who is a bit established can expect better treatment. It’s just a matter of leverage, when you have a following and a real career you have some leverage. I brought this up on the thread, but again received nothing but attacks. When people post something on Facebook in the midst of a haughty arrogance they become instantly furious when you point out their initial premise was flawed.
The last thing that struck me funny about this whole ordeal was the fact that agents aren’t “make or break” personalities anyway. I’ve had friends who have signed with agents and then never had their book picked up.
All that “please the master” nonsense is nothing I’ve ever been interested in dealing with (maybe to my detriment). I’ve just thought it was better to focus on writing the best possible stuff I could. That, at least, is something I can control. It’s a positive focus of energy rather than kowtowing to some corrupt system in the misplaced hope of a distant payoff. But I’m clearly in the minority because all the writers commenting seemed to think a writer should never post anything bad about an industry figure.
I eventually got the email of the writer in question and asked him what he thought and he wasn’t concerned at all. He dismissed the blog with the screen shots as irrelevant, so I thought that was interesting. I’ll be having coffee with him when I get back to the states to see what other insights I can glean. Here’s what I know so far:

 

  • Agents aren’t all powerful
  • You can write about a bad experience in the “publishing industry” without sacrificing your career
  • It’s good to listen to contrasting opinions on discussion topics
  • A lot of people perpetuate myths about the “publishing industry”
  • There are a lot of scams that target writers that need to be exposed
Sure, in extreme situations the opposite can be true so take things on a case by case basis. When in doubt, just focus on your own writing…at least that can be productive unlike having an argument on Facebook.