At after work drinks I was introduced to a friend of a friend. My pal gave a brief preamble saying we both write fiction and left us to chat. The guy said, “Oh right, you’ve had some stuff published, I’ve got stories that need publishing, where should I send them?”
I asked him what kind of fiction he wrote, what journals he read, who his favourite authors are. He told me he doesn’t read other people’s stories as they aren’t of interest, he doesn’t read literary publications, he just wanted to know the best places to send to and wondered if I’d make him a list as he didn’t want to waste his time.
I told him to check out Duotrope. I felt awkward, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to get into just how arrogant I thought his attitude. It has stuck with me though and I wanted to address it here. His sense that those journals would be lucky to get their hands on his words was strong. Even if he’s an amazing writer (which I really doubt) the attitude that people should read him but he will not offer the same courtesy, stinks.
I’m a writer who loves reading, is there really any other type? I read widely online and the high standard of many literary ‘zines stuns me. I subscribe to a few journals, to keep in print they need support, if you ever hope that a print magazine will want to take your words and other people pay to read them, you could buy that magazine yourself occasionally, right?
I try to keep up with blogs and read the stories that Facebook & Twitter pals link to. I give a cheer out every now and again. I’m not insincere though – I don’t go down a list going likelikelikelike. I’m not desperately trying to schmooze people, if I like or link it’s because I mean it.
“I think the big mistake most writers make is thinking that becoming involved in your community is something you do after your book is published. Instead, I urge writers to become involved as early as possible, in a genuine, non-book-related way. It’s always a little off-putting when a person suddenly becomes interested in book review venues only once they have their own book. In a similar way, it seems false to only be interested in independent bookstores when you’re trying to get your own book stocked. The better solution is, as a part of your daily work as a writer, support the communities you wish to be a part of, by reading books, writing reviews, promoting other writers or bookstores or whatever in your social networking. It’s a small but old truth, but the more you give, the more you will receive. And this isn’t any kind of slimy networking. This is every writer’s responsibility, and the writers who create the most buzz for the good work of others will find that same energy waiting for them, when their own excellent book finally comes out.”
I love that.
I try to do my bit, small as it is. I critique for some writer pals – I’m happy to do that, glad that they respect my writing enough they think I can help. I belong to a really good (tiny) online group and we flash together, offer thoughts on each other’s longer fiction. I’m lucky that if I need someone to look at a piece of mine I can turn to a few truly amazing writers and ask.
I’m proud to be a first reader for PANK. They are an awesome journal and it’s an education reading the submissions they receive. (By the way they were recently mentioned in The New York Times – that’s how fucking cool PANK is. If you’d like to support them they are having a Spring Funds Drive and would really appreciate any help.)
I often get asked to review. I’ve spoken about my wariness before; as I’ve got older I feel I have more respect for other folks endeavours and less inclination to put anyone down. If I hate a book I prefer not to mention it. If I like a book I’ll happily say so here on my blog, on Facebook, at work and so on. My bookseller recommendations are genuine. I LOVE to talk about great fiction, I’m thrilled to see a customer buy a book that I think highly of. When I was young I was hugely opinionated and very sure of myself. I would happily give my thoughts on anything and everything, but now I’m older I realize how little I know, how subjective everything is. I enjoy reading other people’s thoughts but my own often seem flimsy. I find it easier reviewing books by people I don’t know, preferably “names” so I can tell myself they won’t be affected by what I think. It’s the debut collections and novels that worry me. I don’t want to cause offence. With age has come an excruciating politeness. It’s not ideal for a reviewer to feel that way. I am sent heaps of books I think are ok. No better than that. I read many story submissions that are ok. I want to be dazzled but it’s a rare occurrence. One can’t simply review a book and say, “This is okay,” it wouldn’t tell anyone anything, and yet I keep feeling that’s all I have to offer. I’m trying though to be the best and most honest reviewer I can be and to say what I mean without being a rude bitch.
I get to do cool stuff at the bookshop. I support good writing via recommendations, readings, reviews, displays and promotions. I think I put a little back into the world I want to be part of.
Sadly I’ve been getting increasingly fucked off with the bad manners some writers have. It’s bad enough at work dealing with the occasional deluded writer (the self-published man who wanted me to order in his £20 hardback, 1 in a series of twelve self-published novels he’d written in the last two years, for example) but it’s part of the job I am paid to do. I’ve lost count, however, of the number of times I’ve been approached as a writer by another writer. We become friendly online or in person. Then, oh, their book is published, or due to be, and they wonder if I can get it into Waterstones? Can I review it? Can I organise an event? Then when I’m no longer any use to them they vanish. I try not to take it personally, I know how hard it is to get published, to get sales, publicity, etcetera and I really do want to help promote good words. It’s not wrong to ask if I can review and so on, but it is wrong to pretend to give a shit about me personally if you don’t. It’s really fucking rude. Please do consider when approaching someone, a nonprofessional, if your intention is simply to get them to do a particular thing for you. If so, why not ask directly? I’d much prefer to be asked “Can you review my book?” and offered a copy than be schmoozed for a while. The fact is I often give my review/critique/whatever for free. It’s a goodwill thing. If you are paying for my reviews/critiques you have every right to expect it to be a transaction but if ostensibly we’re writer chums and you ask for a favour and then disappear please know that I think you’re a twunt.
I’ve been feeling embarrassed about the fact I have sometimes felt I’m making genuine friendships, y’know, I’m a writer, they’re a writer, we’ve got stuff in common. We chat, email etc, I take things at face value; we seem to be getting on then, erm, we’re getting on, right? When I’ve ordered the book in, reviewed it, time passes and I think, hmm, whatever happened to so and so? And it hits, the realisation that, shit, it was another one of those networky things. I feel foolish at best and genuinely upset at worst.
Oh, and if you bad mouth someone to me and then I see you Twittering all over them I not only feel uncomfortable, I also assume if you do it to them you’ll do it to me too. Ugh.