Last week a friend posted this on her Facebook timeline:
They say that one of the best ways to sell your books is to show yourself to be a wonderful person, not only to work with in business, but also on a personal level. I have heard many stories at conferences, etc. of big publishing houses and agents who chose authors based on their character, even to the point of rejecting popular authors and profitable series simply because everybody in the office hated to work with that author.
–Aubrey Hansen, reposted under the friend-rights clause.*
I agreed whole-heartedly, so obviously I had to follow up by jumping on the bandwagon and talking about something that everybody (hopefully!) already knows. So here goes.
Don’t be a jerk. A lot of authors out there (successful, not successful, wannabe) are total, utter expletives. Nobody likes them. They don’t like anyone else. (Except, oddly enough, in many cases, each other.) They’re mean to their fans. They’re derisive of people who ask them for advice or critiques. They go beserk over negative reviews.
Don’t be these people. I cannot stress this strongly enough. Too busy to answer fan mail? Don’t go on a long rampage about people not respecting your work. Too tired of reading the same awful drafts over and over again from newbie authors who don’t know commas from dashes? Don’t go on a long rant about people who think they’re writers but should go back to highschool.
But being an author sometimes means being busy. Being asked to critique friends or fans drafts sometimes means reading the same terrible novel over and over again. You find it hard to balance your work with the demands made on you by your adoring public (this is the theory, right?) But you find it equally hard to say no. So what do you do? I’ll tell you what to do.
How do you be Neil Gaiman? First, watch this video where he explains the problems of success. Then read the following story about how to be popular beyond your wildest dreams without being a jerk.
Last summer, Misha Collins made a lot of “professional” authors unhappy when he included them in his infamous scavenger hunt: GISHWHES. (The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, hereafter referred to as the Hunt.) One of the items teams had to scavenge was this:
Item #78: Get a previously published Sci-Fi author to write an original story (140 words max) about Misha, the Queen of England and an Elopus.
Obviously an item like this means a lot of authors are going to get a lot of requests for ridiculous short stories. Best selling authors were the primary targets as more people knew about them, but hardly anyone who’d ever published anything remotely recognizable soon was spared in the onslaught of desperate scavenging attempts. This lead to a number of angry diatribes on Facebook and elsewhere. Authors, successful authors who achieved everything they hoped for when they sent in their first manuscript, wined, complained, threatened, and called Misha Collins everything from disrespectful to downright evil. “We’re busy authors,” they complained. “You have no idea how big of an inconvenience it is to us to be recognized and have all these requests for our help.”
Were these people busy? Probably. Was it an inconvenience? Beyond doubt. Does that justify this kind of unspeakably rude behavior? Not a bit. But I’m not a popular author, I don’t have the problems of success, so how do I know that that’s not a normal response? Because Neil Gaiman, the most famous, in demand, successful, gracious author in the world dealt with it like this:
Repost: Dear everybody doing the GISHWHES scavenger hunt: thank you all for asking me to help, have fun, and you can do it without me. Neil
— Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) August 4, 2014
And as another twitterer replied: “That’s how you say no with class.”
Neil Gaiman is living proof that there is never an excuse to be rude. Never, ever, ever. No matter how uncomfortable you are with fame, no matter how many creepy fans you have stalking you, no matter how busy you are or impatient you get with idiots asking for autographs. This man stayed up until all ungodly hours of the night signing books for thousands of fans to the point where he had to ice his arm because it hurt so bad…and never a word of complaint. That’s the price of success, and he pays it with a smile.
So, you wanna be a writer? Good for you. You want to be successful and popular? Awesome. How do you do it? The Golden Rule. Be nice to other people. Do not use “professionalism” as a justification for your superiority complex. To sum up in one word: be gracious.
a : marked by kindness and courtesy
b : graceful
c : marked by tact and delicacy : urbane
d : characterized by charm, good taste, generosity of spirit, and the tasteful leisure of wealth and good breeding
*The Friend-rights clause states that if you need something and you’re in a hurry you may take it without permission on the following conditions. 1) you inform the friend as soon as possible about what you have taken and why. 2) you don’t use it to kill anyone. 3) you return it in the same or better condition than when you found it. Please note this clause is only applicable to people you’ve known for a very long time and/or who are married to your cousins. If the person is actually related to you then it’s called the family-rights clause.