Friday, February 26, 2016

Keeping a stone face

I've just been watching the first Super Rugby game of the year, and what always gets me is the coaches. Inevitably, they sit in the coach's box and show absolutely no emotion whatsoever, no matter what happens on the field. (And show no sign of what they're thinking.) Mind you, the South African rugby coaches are not like this - they jump up and down and get mad and happy for all to see.

How does apply to writing? It seems to me that writers are continually pressured to show "the stone face". No matter what happens, whether your publisher dumps you, or rejects Book 6 after five reasonable sellers, or even if you're a new writer and nobody will give you that much-wanted contract for your book. No, you have to maintain silence, show no emotion, be professional and move on. To somewhere...

The rule is: no whining on social media or your website or blog. No whining in public, or you'll undoubtedly be blacklisted somehow. In fact, the stone face is required everywhere. Bad review? Stone face. Some lunatic on Amazon gives you a one star review and says crazy things? Stone face. Believe your editor secretly hates your book and is wrecking it? Stone face.

Well, not completely. If you have an agent, that will help immensely. You can whine to them, and they will say good things and calm you down. But no, you can't say it in public.

What does this really mean? In the past month or so, a number of very well-known writers have come out in protest against the practice of expecting writers to appear at festivals for NOTHING. Because your reward is the "free promotion you get". It's great that they have, because they are the only ones who are able to speak out and be heard. Nevertheless, they've been criticised for whining. Imagine, however, if a mid-list or new author or two had been the ones to protest.

I think they would have been crucified.

This is what kills us as authors (writers). Along with "professionalism" comes the stone face. Don't protest, don't whine - no matter how real and solid the justification - because you'll be lambasted for it. And it's not just festival appearances. It comes with crap advances or no advances (because publishers are not doing so well). It comes with educational publishers who insist on flat fee and taking your copyright and threaten authors who let others know and warn them.

You're supposed to feel grateful they want your stories at all. Stone face.

And then over there in Indie-publishing land, there's a whole pile of authors working damned hard and knowing that if they're going to whine, hell, they're whining to themselves and then getting on with it and that's OK. And then they celebrate their successes and keep working. No, it's not magic but it does seem to be where individual power and self-belief and autonomy goes a long way towards authors feeling less powerless and I don't think I've seen many stone faces over there at all! (Except those bizarre one-star reviews - yes, stone face.)

1 comment:

Varun said...
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