Play Nice

On this end of the writing game, it’s easy to have your feelings hurt.  Writers hold their stories very dear to their hearts.  Just see my piece Wetting the Baby’s Head from a couple of weeks ago. A tongue-in-check piece, yes, but no less true.  A writer’s body of work is very precious.  So like I say, it’s easy to take things personally and go vigilante on someone’s ass.

Someone trashes your book on Amazon.  Another author belittles you in public.  A bookstore disrespects you.  Your mum tells you to clean up your room.  You, Johnny Author, what do you do?  The temptation to let them have it is overwhelming, but you have to take it on the chin if you want to last in the writing world.

The examples I used above have happened to me.  Yes, mum never stops telling me about the mess I left behind at home.  She called me up last week to ask when would I be flying home to clear out the attic.  Soon, mummy, soon, I told her.  Instead of, get off my back, woman.  I’m 38 now and you can’t boss me about.  I’m a writer with literally a dozen fans out there.

Hmm, I’m showing little too much leg there, aren’t I?  My point is that there are two ways of handling criticism—the right way and the wrong way.  The wrong way will get you blackballed quicker than you can say, sorry!

The rule of the game is simple—play nice.  It doesn’t matter what people say about you, play nice.  Say you get into a slanging match with a big name author or toss out insults about an editor, bookseller, etc.  The upshot won’t just be pistols at dawn with the person you’re arguing with, but a thousand pistols against your one.  The problem with answering back and getting dragged into a flame war is that people will pick sides.  Maybe you’ve said some author is a hack and anyone who reads him/her is a moron.  You’ve not only incited the author, but all the author’s fans who will be willing to stand by their fav author.

At a signing last week, the bookstore owner told me about an author who came into the store and saw an advance reading copy (ARC) on the bookshelf.  The author told the owner to remove it from the shelf or he would sue.  It’s a fair enough point, ARCs aren’t supposed to be available for sale.  A triumph for the author, but the bookseller admitted, “I took the book down, but do you think I’m ever inviting him in the store for a signing?”  There was a bridge burnt in a matter of minutes.

I’m not saying don’t get angry or develop a thick skin, because unless you are the Dalai Lama, you aren’t going to take it lying down.  I’m saying get it out of your system.  Get angry, kick a ball, bitch about it to your cats, whine to your best friend or wife, but don’t express those feelings in the public domain for all to see.  I’m with bestselling horror author Doug Clegg who says if you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say it.  Personally, I write a sternly worded email about the offending subject then hit delete.  No one is any the wiser and I’m over it.

The problem is that word of mouth works both ways.  If you say something nasty and one person didn’t like what you said then it’s likely that person will tell ten people and those ten people will tell another ten.  Soon your name is dirt.

This isn’t high school or the gym locker room after work.  What you say out loud is liable to hurt you.  A writer, no matter how small their readership, lives in a public forum and will be judged by the public.  Just consider how many actors or sport stars are disliked because of their antics.  Johnny Author is in there with ‘em.  You don’t have to be super nice or fake.  You just have to be professional.  Because as a writer, you are not only an artist— you are also a professional.  So act like a professional, as you would in any other line of work.  It doesn’t take much to torpedo a career.  Don’t make it yours.

Simon Wood

13 thoughts on “Play Nice

  1. Brett Battles

    Great advice, Simon. It’s something often forgotten. I like the write-the-email-then-delete option. That works well. I’ll often argue with inanimate objects, seldom do they talk back.

  2. JT Ellison

    Excellent advice, Simon! Starbuck’s makes money off me when I’m upset by something I see online. Getting out of the house is much smarter than getting in a flame war. And people need to realize that the emails and webthreads don’t shower the recipients with personality. Humor often doesn’t translate well. Snarkiness, on the other hand, does.

  3. Brett Battles

    Good point on the SEND button, Stephen. I’ve made that mistake once or twice in non-writing related communications. Not pleasant.

    JT…good point on the humor thing. I’ve often left a comment I think is light-hearted and funny, but looking back think it sounds snarky and mean. Definitely not my intention.

  4. JT Ellison

    Brett, I think we all have that problem. Especially if you have a dry sense of humor. Though I’ve never seen anything that’s comes from your fingertips which qualifies as snarky.

  5. Ray

    Dammit, Wood – I was going to write something about this very same subject. These weekly deadlines are a killer, ain’t they? For what it’s worth, I totally agree. And while I’m sure I’ve been guilty of bad-mouthing authors myself (though I stand firm and with tongue in cheek about the Rendell thing), I’m trying to be a lot more professional these days.

    Pfft. Professional. Right.

  6. simon


    The thing is you can go after an author head on or you can attack them from the side. For example, you hear an auhor (let’s call him Ray) was planning to discuss playing nice or professionalism for his article. You skuttle his plans by writing about the very same subject days before. You get your pound of flesh without ever saying a word. See how this works? 🙂

    Yes, weekly deadlines are a bugger, especially when you’ve got nothing to write about. 🙂

    All the best, matey.


  7. pari

    Simon,Good advice. It blows me away sometimes when I watch authors lose potential friends/readers/advocates because of rudeness and temper tantrums.

    Am typing on an unfamiliar laptop at Murder in the Grove . . . Boise is mighty pretty.


  8. Allison Brennan

    Wow, great minds think alike . . . I was getting ready to blog about JUST THIS SUBJECT next week for my monthly column at Romancing The Blog. Now everyone is going to this I copied 🙂 . . . maybe I’d better come up with another idea.

    Seriously, excellent post and very timely as the conference season is upon us (does it ever leave?) You never know who’s sitting on the barstool next to you . . . a fan, an author, or the editor of the author you diss.

    Play nice is great advice.


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