Sunday, September 19, 2010

But Who is the Enemy?

There is a scene at the end of the movie The Bridge at Remagen where Major Kruger (played by Robert Vaughn) is being escorted to the firing squad. In the distance he hears planes and he looks up and asks "Ours or theirs?" His escort, who has already apologized for what is about to happen, responds, "The enemy's, sir!" Kruger continues looking skyward for a moment and then looks at the SS officer before saying, "But who is the enemy?"

That's a question we, as writers, need to ask ourselves on a number of different levels and in several different contexts on a regular basis. The most obvious reason to ask the question is to determine who the enemies are in what we write. We need to know who the protagonist and antagonist are, their motivations and what the resolution -- if any -- to their antagonism will be. That truly is the simplest application of the question and the easiest to resolve. (I'll admit right here that I'm going to expand on this next week but that, having spent the weekend at a local con, the topic has gotten sidetracked.)

But there are other applications of the question as well that we have to consider. We have to look at it with regard to the business aspect of our careers. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not telling you to go out and draw a line in the sand and make enemies in the publishing world. Far from it, in fact. What I am saying is that we have to recognize that no one has our best interests as much at heart as we do. Our agents -- for those of us lucky enough to have one -- will come second. Why? Because if they don't have the best interest of their authors at heart, they don't make money. At least not in the long run. But editors and publishers have to look more at what their bottom line will be. They might like you as a person, they might even love you as a writer, but if you aren't making money for them and making money quickly, the bean counters are going to say to cut you loose.

Then there is the enemy in the mirror. Yes, that person whose reflection you see every morning when you stumble into the bathroom. We can be our own worst enemy in so many ways. As I mentioned earlier, I've spent the weekend at a local con and, while this con has been pretty good and those in attendance far from the, er, more colorful I've seen, it did bring to mind how we do tend to shoot ourselves in the foot from time to time and usually at the worst possible time.

There is something about a con that makes normally sane people forget they are in public. Mouths run wild without a thought about who might overhear you. Authors critique and condemn editors with abandon...often when that editor or someone from his house is within earshot. Editors bitch about authors or agents. Authors backbite other authors. It can be like a scrum in the middle of a muddy rugby field. While entertaining and informative for those standing out the outside, it can be career suicide if you aren't careful.

I'm not even going to get into the authors who think they are sooooo much better than anyone else or the fans who stalk their favorite author just so they can tell the author this really great idea they have for the authors next book.

I guess what I'd like to do is present you with the premise that this is a cautionary tale, much as that last scene in The Bridge at Remagen is. We need to be aware at all times of where we are and who is around unless we want to commit professional suicide. That includes taking care with what we write in blogs, on facebook, twitter, etc. Not only should we think about how we comment on the business -- and this goes for me as much as anyone. I am often negative about how the major publishers approach e-books and e-book pricing and royalties, but I try to have facts and figures to back me up -- and on how much of ourselves we open up to the public at large. Remember, when you submit something to an agent or editor, one of the first things they do if they think they might be interested in your work is google you. Is there anything out there you wouldn't want them to see? And fans will do the do you really want to put out your political views, pictures of your kids, etc?

I have certain lines I don't cross -- or at least lines I try not to cross -- when putting something on facebook or my blogs or twitter. What about you? Do you have lines you won't cross and why?


MataPam said...

I try to keep my temper. And more important, my perspective as a debater.

You need to recognize when someone is unpersuadable. State your case for the sake of the spectators, and walk away.

It's getting easy to spot the people who twist every possible opportunity into a debate on their own hot button items. We'll be getting a lot of this for the next six weeks, until the US midterm elections.

For the Non-Americans, these "mid term" elections fall inbetween our presidential elections. One third of all Senators and _all_ Representatives are up for reelection. It's our first opportunity to let our government know how we feel about what they've been doing since our new president was installed.

Since President Obama didn't have a magic wand . . .

It's going to get dirty, quickly.

So we all need to mind our manners online these next few weeks. No matter the provication, no matter which side we're on.

Because what happens on the internet, stays on the internet, and can be tracked down and quoted, years, decades, from now.

Brendan said...

If I want to say things aren't right in the industry or blow off steam I tend to use a passive voice. It comes across as less confrontational and has the added bonus that many people aren't used to reading it these days so read the first para(and perhaps the last if they won't have to scroll down) and skip on. That way I get to blow off steam and nobody notices. It is either that or use a phudonym.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


What you said ties in with what Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith say: Whose career is it? Yours. Who makes sure your best interests are served? You. Now, mind you, often you're between a rock and a hard place, but you can still choose the least of two evils. Of course your relationship with your editor AND PARTICULARLY your relationship with your agent shouldn't be one of enemity -- but neither should you assume they always know what's best for you. It doesn't excuse you from doing your homework.
This said, please don't go all paranoid and keep things from your editor/agent, or deliberately sabotage them. For a given value/most of the time they do have what they view as your best interests at heart.
Of course, I once got rid of an agent who wouldn't let me work with Baen....

Stephen Simmons said...

As Kant wrote, while I will never say things that I do not believe, there are things I believe that I do not say, even to close friends. There are a longer list of things I believe which I don't type online, and didn't even when I was participating in political blogs every day and hadn't yet begun to think that I might become "a writer" some day. I work for a defense contractor, so a certain degree of circumspection and self-restraint is an expected part of the territory.

That said ... there are some political views I DO share online. But I don't argue online. I add my input on an issue, if I think doing so might have merit and I respect the principals in the discussion, and leave it to be accepted or rejected by them, based on their needs and beliefs. I only "argue" in person, with an eye to who can hear me -- and frequently not even then.

I don't know anybody in the business yet, except as a fan. So I haven't had to worry -- yet -- about the other pitfalls you pointed out. And the warning is worth having. Thank you.

Dave Freer said...

I try to keep my snout out of politics (Which of course can just as awkward as the industry's leading lights make no effort whatsoever to do this. And NOT ranting about how bad the 'others' are makes you suspect at best and almost inevitably simply lumped as 'enemy'. Given that in the US and probably everywhere else that matters to authors, support for any major political party does not reach 1/3 and enthusiasic support does not reach 1/10 (and only the enthusiastic supporters want fat books of self-congratualatory sermons or diatribes on the hellfire that the other bad guys are going to get.) This implies that any loud supporter (and if I was tactless enough, I could name major editors on both sides of the divide) obviously have no interest in 66.6% of the possible market, and probably 90%... Or think their audience can be told what to read.

I try not get into politics - mine don't fit molds anyway - but I am actually getting to the point where, after 15 years of being polite (ish) about the industry, and having had this make no difference really, where I actually talk about the taboo areas -- like the share that authors get of books sale price. I appreciate that this is not something publishers, or agents, or retailers or distributors want mentioned in public. I just think it's something that readers need to know because the situation as is, is not tenable for their authors.

Amanda Green said...

Pam, exactly. Of course, I'd add in the caveat that we need to mind our manners all the time and not let our tongue get ahead of our brains. I've seen too many stupid things make it onto the web simply because the person posting them forgot that when he blows off steam online, it never goes away.

Amanda Green said...

Brendan, sounds like a good approach. I use a pseudonym a lot when it comes to politics. Part of it is because you never know who is reading what you just posted. Part of it comes from knowing too many people who have read a comment by an author or movie star or whomever and vowing never again to buy/read/etc anything by that person simply because they don't like their politics. And we won't get into the whole misquoting or misrepresenting what might have been said thing.

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, I agree -- especially with regard to agents -- that they do have our best interests at heart. However, they are also human and you know as well as I do that if you are just starting out in the business and they google you and find you have been running your mouth off online about things they either feel strongly against or something they know will rub an editor the wrong way, the door closes pretty fast. While I'm not advocating not speaking your mind, I am saying that we all need to be a little circumspect in what we say and how we say it -- not that I don't all too often open mouth and insert both feet, especially when it comes to digital publishing.

Amanda Green said...

Stephen, np. Most of this is nothing but common sense. But it does amaze me how that one thing seems to fly out the door, especially when at a con or workshop or, honestly, any gathering of more than two writers. We're human, and we make our living with words. So we tend, all too often, to express ourselves a bit more broadly and clearly than perhaps we should.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not advocating always keeping quiet. If I was, there are a lot of things I've said on this blog over the last year or so I never would have said. What I am saying is that we need to be cognizant of who is around when we say it.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, you know I pretty much agree with you. Especially when it comes to educating the public. I get very tired of hearing in bookstores or reading in the online fora how authors must be making so much money because of the high price of books. I have absolutely no problem shouting from the rooftops the truth of the matter. It's the other stuff, those moments where we shoot ourselves in the foot -- or the ass -- by running our mouths off that I was talking about.

We've all been there. The con where the author on a panel disses another author or editor in no uncertain terms. That trip to the bathroom where a group of agents or editors are verbally castrating someone...and all too often someone who knows the castratee is in a stall taking notes. Or worse, when we let our own guard down and say something out of anger or frustration or even disappointment only to turn around and there's the person in question.

But, as you know, I think the industry needs to be talked about and shaken up, especially regarding digital rights. That's long as we present the facts and our reasoned interpretations of them.