It has been a frighteningly weird few months in book world, ladies and gentlemen. Sometimes more frightening than weird. I've been somewhat out of the loop due to my personal life giving me repeated proverbial swirlies in a shit-filled toilet.
Most of you know my grandfather passed away in early February. Literally a month later, my husband's aunt lost her long battle with cancer. She was one of the first people to call and offer condolences on my grandfather's passing, though she undoubtedly knew her time was nearing as well.
Death is a part of life, but the grieving process belongs solely to the living. And it takes time. Time most of us who are operating in this fast-paced modern society don't have. (Ironic, considering time is the only thing we truly DO have. We'd better make the most of it while we're here.)
Since the week leading up to my grandfather's death, I've only written 6 chapters for Revenge Love. SIX.
That might not sound horrendous, but let me put it to you in another way:
In SEVEN weeks, I only wrote SIX chapters. That's less than a chapter per week. It works out to roughly 23k words. I began writing this book in October of last year. I'm six months into it and nowhere near finished.
By comparison, Fourth and Inches, a 109k word novel, took me six months to write to completion, and that involved a major rewrite about halfway through.
My brain, which needs to function at 100% capacity for creative writing, is still reeling from loss and not yet completely invested in going back to work. Every day, I get up and try again. Every day, what I see in this book community makes it harder and harder to try.
And it's already so damn hard! Even massively successful authors who've been around since the beginning of the indie boom are constantly plagued by self-doubt and imposter syndrome. It's a million times easier to read someone else's work than to create your own.
Why do we constantly make it more difficult on ourselves? Some of it is our own doing. But, to be completely honest, some of it is also this cess pool we're trying desperately to tread in without drowning. We can't afford to simply haul ourselves out of the infested waters and wash off the filth. That would be career suicide. It's absolutely impossible to be a published author (either traditional or indie) and not engage on social media.
Ahh, social media. An inescapable part of the aforementioned fast-paced modern society. The great equalizer of the global community and also a damning spotlight of the worst humanity has to offer.
I'm sure most of you are aware of the drama relevant to our neck of the internet woods. Event organizers disappearing with thousands of dollars. Authors pretending to be someone they're not, engaging in theft by deception*. Authors behaving badly. (Pretty sure this one has its own hashtag.) Publishing houses abusing their employees/authors. Artists stealing designs. Coordinated online bullying. Attempted suicide. Denials. One side of the story being fed kindling until it burns down half the internet. The latest plagiarism/piracy debacle.
Perhaps my favorite posts related to all this nonsense are the ones that begin, "I don't like to get involved, BUT..." "I don't pay any attention to the drama, BUT..." "I try to steer clear of this stuff, BUT..."
Listen. We're all aware of it. Even if we choose to say nothing, we see it. We "hear" it. If you have to preface what you're about to say with BUT, just know it smells like a butt from a mile away.
It is SO easy to hide behind a computer screen and be brave. Half the things we type, we'd never have the guts to say face-to-face. (Case in point, this very blog post. I'm 99.99% certain I'd never be able to stand up in a room of people and deliver this as a speech.)
BUT, I'm going to publish this blog post anyway. Not because I want to weigh in on the latest scandal and offer my highly important two cents that everyone should pay attention to, BUT rather because...
Maybe instead of not wanting to get involved, it's time we start talking about it.
If the current American political landscape teaches us anything, it should be that NOTHING can be accomplished by polarized sides that have lost the ability to come together to engage in meaningful discourse to solve problems and achieve a desirable outcome for everyone involved.
Is that really what we want our beloved book community to become? A mirror of Congress?
I think not.
Much like my previous blog post about author financials, bad behavior in the book community is something everyone is aware of, but no one wants to talk meaningfully about. Brush it under the rug. Hide it behind the curtain a lá the Wizard of Oz. It's too uncomfortable; it will ruin our reputations; it will make our already slighted indie community seem even less professional; people will forget all about it if you don't respond or say anything to rock the boat.
Yep. *nods understandingly*
How's that avoidance working out for you?
'Cause I gotta say, from where I'm sitting, it sucks. Maybe it hasn't personally touched you yet, but the way things are going, it's not a matter of IF but WHEN you become personally involved. It doesn't matter if you're an author, blogger, or reader. The same things keep happening over and over. More people get hurt. More people are forced to leave this book community.
My professional life crumbled into dust last year, while finishing the Moving the Chains series. It shattered my trust in anyone remotely related to the book world. I was blindsided by parts of the situation. I seriously considered quitting. The fall-out hasn't yet ebbed, and just when I think it might finally be over, something else happens to stab me in the back and re-open the wound. And I consider quitting still.
The worst part of the above paragraph? I'm not the only one.
This has happened to countless other authors/bloggers/readers. The circumstances may be different, but the end result is the same.
It makes it harder for us to want to continue doing this, whatever THIS may be.
And so much of it is due to...the internet. Or, as I've begun calling it, The Dark Web. (The Dark Web is an actual thing. It is defined as "the part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.")
Re-read that definition.
It's not as hard to access as you think. Fake profiles are rampant on Facebook. It doesn't take any special software to create one. Sure, you might not be a hacker with Anonymous, but there is still a level of disconnect every time you engage with a human you've never met in person. Maybe you forge a friendship and begin to trust them with private information you would ground your children for sharing in a likewise manner, only to find out your trust was wildly misplaced.
Speaking of children, my daughters are in middle school. They're beginning to ask for social media. Many of their friends have been on it for years. My husband and I have always taken a very strict stance on it, even before the #deleteFacebook movement existed. As part of the Xennial generation, we distinctly remember life before social media. Puberty was awkward enough without it being documented on Instagram. Bullying existed, but not at the levels Snapchat now provides with its rapidly fading proof. We were free to attend drunken frat parties in togas without worry that our prospective employers might find the photographic evidence on Facebook and thereby deem us unfit for a position our degrees qualify us to do.
We constantly research the pros and cons of allowing our young teens access to the World Wide Web and all the monsters who lurk therein.
Recently, I stumbled upon this article, and it really hit home for me how hypocritical my resistance is.
I am guilty of so many things I don't want my daughters to either engage in or fall victim to.
No, I don't have an eating disorder nor am I posting pornographic photos of myself online.
BUT, I am just as desperate for attention as these young children (and every promoting/marketing/social media guru who advises authors on how to be successful says I SHOULD be). Every time someone unlikes my author page, I worry.
Is this more sabotage? Do people hate me now? How far has it spread since last year? (I am well aware there are rumors going around about me, and that some people will believe them. I also know who is behind them. I will never truly know why.)
So-and-so author has x followers on their IG feed. I only have y. Even though it makes me distinctly uncomfortable, I should post more pictures and talk about my personal life. We "brand the author," after all. Not the books.
Supposedly, I need to put my face out there more. Never mind I'm acutely aware of Facebook's facial recognition programs, which could easily give up my true identity.
*I write under a pen name for the sole purpose of protecting my KIDS' identities. I signed up for this gig; they did not. Kata Čuić is not my real name-it was my great-grandmother's name. Claire is very real. I was named after my grandfather who recently passed. I am, in fact, a 38yo wife and mother of three, who lives in the suburbs of Pittsburgh. Please understand, there is a distinct difference between using a pen name (or even several, in the case of authors who have different pen names for different genres), and completely fabricating a false persona in the interests of monetary gain/popularity beyond the boundaries of the profession of authoring.
I HAVE actually befriended people online whom I did not know at all in person. I trusted them. I confided in them things I could not publicly say. Worse yet, even when my gut told me something felt off, I ignored it. Because they were my tribe! And they were my friends! And they loved me, and they would never do anything to hurt me!
(If that sounds very much like something a teen girl would say about her groomer, you would be correct in that assumption.)
It's not hard to see why the state of the online book community is the way it is. We're all guilty of the very things we advise our children NOT to do.
We compare ourselves to others. We behave in ways we maybe normally wouldn't so people will like us, so we can "fit in." We scream from the top of our lungs that the indie community is an amazing place full of strong women lifting up other women, then watch silently as one of our sisters gets stabbed in the back because we "can't rock the boat." We claim we're taking back our dorky, book-loving teen years when we were subjected to untold cruelty by the "mean girls" only to find it all too easy to become like those very bullies now that we're in a position to be popular, ourselves.
Nothing will change if (we) never choose. (Shameless Marianas Trench quote, not even a little sorry. Song here: https://youtu.be/1_CbClV_eTU)
Can we realistically do anything to change the tide?
I'd like to think so.
The first step might be as simple as recognizing nearly all of us have been through it, on both sides of the fence. That shared denominator should ease our fears, bolster our hope, and make us check our own behaviors.
I can only speak to my experience as an author, but here are some ways I've been trying to change my online experience for the better. Feel free to adapt them to whatever way serves you best.
1. As stated in the Hippocratic oath, FIRST DO NO HARM. My mom told me and my siblings when we were kids, and I tell my own children now: If you can't come home, look your mother in the eyes, and tell her what you've done, then you shouldn't be doing it. I also try to live by the reverse. I never want to do anything to make my children ashamed or embarrassed of me. Yes, that includes the books I write.
2. Recognize there are two sides to every story. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. Don't blindly believe anything you're told. If possible, fact check. Look for the other side, hear them out. If not possible, then unless someone is in physical danger, walk away. (Side note: If you truly believe someone IS in physical danger, either to themselves, to others, or from someone else, don't play the hero. Get the appropriate authorities involved. It's better to be wrong and apologize to someone who is alive than it is to be sorry for someone who's dead.)
3. Stop comparing yourself to others. If need be, remove yourself as much as possible from the temptation. You have a gift to bring to the world and meaning to discover in this life. No one else can give it to you or take it away from you. Unless you let them.
4. (Related to the above; something else I tell my daughters.) You can only be offended if you take offense. Why give someone that much power over you?
5. People come and go in your life for reasons you may not always see at the time. Let them. If nothing else, learn from your experiences. Some people may only be there to use you. Let them. Because you DON'T truly know them, you can't possibly understand what is going on their life. You might be the only person who keeps their head above water. That is a great responsibility. Cherish it and use it wisely.
6. Remember what it feels like to be used. Do not inflict that on anyone else. Relationships are a two-way street. If you have no help to offer, be up front about it. Don't lead people on.
7. Remember the Platinum Rule: treat others as they wish to be treated. The Golden Rule no longer applies. Assuming people want to be treated in the same way as you reeks of egoism. Your wants/needs are not more important than anyone else's.
8. Be exceedingly careful what you put on the internet. What is written here, stays here. Hackers and the authorities can retrieve deleted files/profiles/web pages/photos. (This bears repeating and specifics, as it comes up constantly in the book world. Those private messages on Facebook Messenger you think are so private? Are NOT. Those screen shots you think you're seeing of conversations that have been brought to light in the interests of exposing a villain or for transparency? Are VERY easy to tamper with and alter. Be warned and be aware.)
9. You learn far more from failure than from success. The only guaranteed way to fail is never to try. If you DO try, you might just get lucky.
10. The truth will always come to light. It may take some time, and you may be bruised, beaten, and bloody before it happens, but it WILL happen. Don't force it. Eventually, people show themselves for who they really are. Just make sure when that truth is set free, you're standing on the right side.
11. If nothing else, this shit makes for great book ideas. ;)
So, there you have it. I'm nowhere near perfect nor without my own faults, but hopefully, I have many years of learning ahead of me.
As always, if you need a shoulder to cry on/safe place to vent/someone in your corner, I'm here. As long as you're not a robot or an asshole, hacking away at the other end of a computer across the globe.