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Writer Dilemma #47 - MoonScape [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
e_moon60

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Writer Dilemma #47 [Dec. 4th, 2009|09:24 am]
e_moon60
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[Current Mood |awake]

And no, I haven't posted #s1-46. Yet.

Writer dilemmas, like many other dilemmas, tend to be social and involve people with whom they interact: writers, editors, booksellers, and readers. Situations as tricky as any other human relationships.

Today's topic, for no good reason other than we're clearing out a lot of Stuff and some of it is books and manuscripts people have sent me to read and comment (i.e. "blurb") on over the years...is the disconnect between people and their writing. (When there's no disconnect--and there often isn't--it's easy: "Love you, love your work. Loathe you; loathe your work." Then it's just a matter of finding the polite excuse to not blurb the work of the person you don't like, whose work also--in your view--stinks.) But the disconnect--familiar to all the writers I know--is a serious dilemma.

You've got this friend whom you love dearly--to whom you would trust the care of your children--but their writing....you're just not into it, or--worse--you can't stand it. You love your friend, you don't want to hurt your friend, but their writing...?
Sigh. Why can't their work be as wonderful, warm-hearted, generous, kind, funny, productive of good feelings as they are?

You've got this person you can't stand, but their writing...damn, they're really good. Great, in fact. Why can't their work be as icky as they are???


Fact is, if you don't like your friend's work, and they find out, they're going to be hurt. They put their heart into that work...how can you not like it? How can you not feel that it's a true expression of their inner nature, which you profess to love? So you mumble and fumble and (if you're both experienced and also kind people) you arrive at an unspoken agreement not to ask each other what the other thinks. (It's worse if said friend likes your stuff--and it's obvious it's genuine liking--and you still can't summon up enthusiasm about theirs.) You struggle to find something nice to say about their (sigh. Deeper sigh) book when their editor sends you a copy, because if you don't at least say something--one little phrase of niceness--they can't help resenting it. You would resent it if they didn't at least say something nice about yours. That's what friends do, right?

And fact also is that if you like your--well, maybe not enemy's, but person's you don't like) work, and you're vocal about it, and you give it glowing comments, people will assume you are in fact that person's friend. One of those people making the assumption may be the person you don't like. Who may then decide you're his/her friend and continue to ask you to blurb books and expect you to chum up with him or her at conventions and listen to him/her talk...which is why you didn't like this person in the first place, since you hold violently opposing views on politics, religion, race, gender, or some other topic that's a hot-button for you.
So you waffle around between toning down your first wild enthusiasm for their (incredibly wonderful) book, or being honest about how great you think it is and risking the consequences of being considered one of this person's good buddies. When in fact you'd cross two streets covered in broken glass and swim through a canal full of toxic chemicals to avoid him/her.

Editors, who regard the personal likes and dislikes of writers as the whims of misguided children, often send books out to writers they think of as "helpful" (meaning, they think that writer's blurb will sell books, even though there's scant evidence for this.) This is the commonest way to be sent books or advanced reading copies of someone you loathe. They also send out books of people you've never heard of, sometimes with a note saying the equivalent of "This is right up your alley, so I'm sure you'll want to give us a quote." And it's not, and you don't want to, but you're aware that offending editors is unwise. So out comes the polite excuse (which probably doesn't fool them) and you don't say what you're thinking, which is "How could you possibly think I'd like something like that?" and then you go into at least four hours of self-examination wondering how you gave them the impression that you would be thrilled with a book that glorifies something you thought you'd made it clear disgusts you.

But back to the writer-thing. When these books and advanced reader copies and manuscripts emerged from the confusion of piles during the recent and continuing digging out of the place, every one of them was instantly memorable as falling into the easy (love you, love your book), moderately easy (hate you, hate your book), difficult (hate you, love your book), or heart-wrenching (love you, hate your book) categories. Waves of past emotion--emotion I'd thought were past, at least--rolled over me yet again.

So a bit of advice from a recent soldier in the trenches of writer-relationships. Throw everything in the last three categories away as soon as you've dealt with them. Do not keep friends' stuff out of sentiment, if you didn't like it--it will feel just as bad when you dig it up later. Do not keep enemies' stuff ditto--you will replay the decision you made and by then know how bad or good it was. Keep only the books you love by the people you love, that give you a happy feeling when you find them again.

And if your writer-friend's comments on your book aren't as wonderful as you were hoping for...choose the friendship over the blurb
. The most scintillant blurb in the world, even if it adds 10% to your sales, will not come to the hospital to sit with you when your kid's in surgery, or sympathize with you when your publisher drops you, or offer you a place to stay when your house burns down.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: moonsinger
2009-12-04 04:16 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this entry. So many people think that once you get published everything is easy. From the blogs I've seen of published writers, I know it isn't, I'm still shooting for it though. I don't believe I've read anything about this particular subject from one of the writer's I follow (and like).
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 05:13 pm (UTC)
It's...one of those things we usually don't write about openly. In conversation with trusted friends whose work you do like, it comes up..."I really like so-and-so, but I can't stand his/her books and he/she keeps wanting me to blurb them..." and "This is so awkward--you know what I think of X...but dammit, that new book of his/hers is brilliant, and I blurbed it, and then I got this fulsome thank-you and invitation to one of his/her anthologies about [hot button topic.]"

I am, as it were, opening the closet door on this one, partly because people coming into the field need to know this will happen to them, and partly because, after some days of digging things out, I had emotional baggage to shed. I may get thumped for it, too.
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[User Picture]From: moonsinger
2009-12-04 06:10 pm (UTC)
Well, I for one, appreciate your honesty. I'd rather people be candid than sugar coat things. Writing is work and a hard career. I've been working to become a published writer for over a decade. I haven't submitted very much, don't have an agent, and frankly I don't want to until I've gotten some polished novels to send out. It's nice to know some of the other pitfalls that are lurking out there at the end of the journey towards publication (aka the start of another journey equally treacherous).
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 05:18 pm (UTC)
Eeeeuw!! My sympathies.

Robertson Davies (Canadian author, for those who don't know the name--not in genre) wrote in one of his essays that people who find they don't have enough talent to write should not be dismayed, because so many writers are really not very nice people, and it's easier to be a nice person if you're not. (I'm doing this from memory as once again I can't find the book, so I may be off a little, but not much.) Writers who think being a writer makes them a Special Snowflake, and that therefore they have no need to practice common courtesy (or uncommon courtesy), that they are above all the social niceties, that they are Entitled...are indeed a PITA of the first order.
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[User Picture]From: foxfyre
2009-12-04 07:44 pm (UTC)
This is true in most creative fields, though. I can tell you it's true without a doubt in video games. They push a game out the door and suddenly everyone involved thinks s/he is a Special Snowflake entitled to respect and accolades everywhere they go...even if the product bombed, even when expressing opinions in no way related to their own area of expertise, even when they are blatantly and obviously uninformed about the topic at hand.

It's very silly, and watching a bunch of game development geeks get all pretentious is just funny enough to keep a saner person from throttling the lot of them. ;)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 10:44 pm (UTC)
I know it's true of some composers--when I was a kid, reading about composers (and had never met any) it was appalling to discover that though I might love so-and-so's music, I'd have hated so-and-so in person. For some reason I thought writers would be different.

Not.

I guess with people who aren't in the arts, we're less likely to form (or be asked for give) an opinion of their work...we're neither the employer nor the usual recipient of the work...so we can just like them or not like them as friends.
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[User Picture]From: blitheringpooks
2009-12-04 05:19 pm (UTC)
I hate blurbs for all these reasons. I don't trust them when I see them on books for all these reasons. Sigh.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 05:28 pm (UTC)
From what I see on a variety of other forums where readers comment, the majority of readers don't trust blurbs either. Or they trust blurbs from only a few people.

They know perfectly well that editors can excise words from a blurb (where those ellipses come from) to make it sound better in the advertising sense and that "This book is a huge pile of stinking excrement" can appear on the cover as "This book is...huge" (although personally I don't know an editor who would go that far, but this is just an example, OK? (Shrinks from being pounded, or worse, blackballed, by editors.)

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[User Picture]From: blitheringpooks
2009-12-04 05:33 pm (UTC)
I saw too many authors blurbing really bad books for their best friends to take blurbs seriously. Kind of like Amazon reviews. What's real? Too often, not much.
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[User Picture]From: groblek
2009-12-04 07:29 pm (UTC)
I tend to treat blurbs the same way I'd treat recommendations from friends - if the blurb is from an author who's done a blurb on several other books I've liked, I'll lend credence to it, otherwise I tend to ignore it.
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[User Picture]From: freyaw
2009-12-07 06:24 am (UTC)
Precisely. When one of my friends is gushing about a movie, saying I HAVE to see it, I ask them why... And often their reasons for loving the movie are irrelevant when it comes to my taste in movies. When they're gushing about a book, I listen to the review, and then I ask them what other books they'd recommend for the same reasons that they're recommending the current gush-book. This all tells me whether to ignore the recommendation or not.

Of course, I ignore most recommendations of movies because I just don't have the time AND brainspace AND free companions often enough to go see one :)
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[User Picture]From: cdozo
2009-12-04 05:59 pm (UTC)
If I ever wrote a book that you don't like (as if I will ever write a book at all), I would prefer that you tell me the truth. Kindly and gently, but the truth. Something like, "I tried reading it, but it's just not my kind of of book. Sorry."

I might sulk, but I'd survive and so would our friendship.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 10:42 pm (UTC)
I'm glad of that, because when someone gives me seeds of native plants, I don't want to alienate her. (As if that were the only reason we're friends...)
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[User Picture]From: gunhilda
2009-12-04 06:47 pm (UTC)
Hmmmm. Interesting insight into a topic I'd never considered.

I had to laugh at your comment, "Robertson Davies (Canadian author, for those who don't know the name--not in genre) wrote in one of his essays that people who find they don't have enough talent to write should not be dismayed, because so many writers are really not very nice people, and it's easier to be a nice person if you're not."

Yeah, it's true, but, then, most occupations have their share of "not nice people," don't they? But occupations that capture public attention probably have more opportunities to inflate egos in susceptible personalities.

Thankfully most of my favorite authors seem to be pretty down-to-earth types. But then, that's probably reflected in their characters... which may be why I'm drawn to them in the first place.
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[User Picture]From: gloriaoliver
2009-12-04 08:05 pm (UTC)
Oh oh do I know this feeling. Eek! Hopefully no one I know will see this if I've read their books. Would have to make anyone paranoid. lol. A very hard thing this... Eek!
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[User Picture]From: gloriaoliver
2009-12-04 08:32 pm (UTC)
I guess I should add that I have been on both sides of this fence. Had people I was very nervous about (cause theyy're awesome peeps and authors!) getting my books and not daring to ever ask if they liked it or not, just in case. Eek! (Lol)
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[User Picture]From: blitheringpooks
2009-12-04 08:58 pm (UTC)
I never asked people if they read my books or liked them. I figured they would tell me if they did and I didn't want to put them on the spot if they hadn't/didn't. I've never understood that, and I've also never understood asking someone to rec me to their agent. When I was looking for an agent, I made sure people knew it. If they wanted to rec me, that was wondering. If they didn't offer, I always assumed that was intentional and never put them on the spot.

I guess I'm just odd that way, but to me it's an embarrassing position to be in, on either side.
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[User Picture]From: gloriaoliver
2009-12-05 04:15 pm (UTC)
Totally agree!
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[User Picture]From: cricketb
2009-12-04 08:29 pm (UTC)
When I read blurbs, I look for details, not general glowing formula. "Intriguing characters", "fast-paced plot", "slowly-unraveling friendships". I also enjoy slow-paced plots, but details like that show the reader enjoyed the book enough to finish and think about why she enjoyed it. (This assumes authors never outgrow the habit of seeing what makes other authors' stories work.)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-05 01:36 pm (UTC)
Authors had better never outgrow the habit of seeing what makes other authors' stories work...because the blindness will spread to their own.
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[User Picture]From: martianmooncrab
2009-12-04 08:35 pm (UTC)
some writers I only buy in used bookstores.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-12-04 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the info. I'd often wondered about the reliability of such recommendations. When did author blurbs supplant reviews from, say, the NYT?

I was amazed to see the same thing on books for young children. Why destroy the back cover (and sometimes the front) of a board book? Heck, the blurbs provide more text than the books contain.

Sari
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 10:39 pm (UTC)
I do have to say that a book blurb gave our son's preschool staff (and me) one of the funniest incidents ever. Our son learned to read before he could talk clearly (as some autistic kids do) and one day at preschool, overhearing another parent complain to staff about her difficult day and the people she'd had to deal with, he came out with "A novel of romance and intrigue." It cracked everyone up, including the parent involved.

Another one wasn't the blurb but the title. He'd been benched for some misdeed, and one of the staff asked him, as they asked all the kids, if he understood why he had to sit on the bench. According to them, he said "Crime and Punishment."
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[User Picture]From: cricketb
2009-12-06 04:32 pm (UTC)
Most blurbs from book lists are collections of the the words marketing says are trendy. The only thing that's unique is the datestamp on the throw of the dice that determined which of the words to use. I trust reviews with non-trendy words more.
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[User Picture]From: ndozo
2009-12-04 09:08 pm (UTC)
"...Why can't their work be as icky as they are???"

I have been laughing about this all day.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2009-12-04 10:40 pm (UTC)
My work here is done...(giggle)
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[User Picture]From: hoosier_red
2009-12-05 04:22 am (UTC)
This is an incredibly good piece of advice on writing, and is something that just doesn't get covered very often. One of the nice things about my family not really being into specfic other than my brother is that I'm used to my nearest and dearest not liking my stuff. :-D Doesn't mean they don't love me or I don't love them -- my work is just not their cup of tea.
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