Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Writer's Revenge

I was very dismayed to see this comment on a recent post of mine:

What happens when it's not the editors and agents that drag you down, but the other writers? How do you handle the added stress of other somewhat more successful writers who once encouraged you and now are telling not only you, but their editors and small fan base, that you are a horrible, unoriginal, immature person? When you've barely made a handhold and a few steps in the cliff of a writing career, how do you handle other writers stomping on your fingers?

Sadly, I’ve heard lots of stories like this—critique groups or even writers' organizations who can’t handle the success of someone else or are afraid that someone else is going to rise up and outshine them. Do you know what I think you do? Find new friends. Editors and agents listen to gossip with half an ear. It’s interesting, but in the end we are adults and know how to make our own decisions. People badmouth other people. It happens, it happens to me all the time. I personally find it amusing. I figure that I must have made it if people feel the need to try to sully my name. If other writers, friends, your critique group, whoever, are the people bringing your down, then it’s time to cut the cord. Find a new critique group, new friends, and new writing buddies (unfortunately there’s only so much you can do about family).

Usually it’s jealousy that causes people to talk the way they talk. If you aren’t published and they are, it’s fear. Maybe they know you’re a better writer, or just fear that you are. Maybe they like being the star and are afraid someone else might outshine them. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

Every single writer, or at least most writers, have had an experience like this at one point or another. So how did you handle it or what was your horror story?



Anonymous said...

i started using a pseudonym.
yes, i admit it. sweat shop sissy is not my real name.

Kimber Li said...

Oh, that's awful! Yes, find new friends. Real friends don't do that to each other.

Anonymous said...

I'm against soul and finger stompage. But in my experience there are also a lot of people out there who bust into writing groups/orgs and flood the place with several examples of poor writing, without having participated in the community first.

And then because the person does not have a relationship with the people offering critiques, the critiques sound harsh.

Writers who feel a lack of support from their peers should make sure they are giving as well as taking.

Anonymous said...

Okay call me naive here but just what do you mean 'anonymus' when you say someone is flooding the writing groups/orgs with poor writing examples. Aren't these groups designed to help people who have a genuine instrest in writing, not to scare them away so what if they are a little overeager,what's wrong with that. How about explaining to them the proper protocal instead of freezing them out.

I just really wish that some people in the writing industry would stop being so snotty, although this industry is highly competitve I believe that there room for everyone who has talent, perservance, and the will to succeed. We may not all become NYT bestselling authors but we can all hope to experience the satisfaction that comes with being a published author. Don't go and kill someone else's dream because their writing is a little underdeveloped.

This is exactly why I have a mentor, a single individual who can really provide the support that I need and believes in my writing instead of group of women (most times) who are trying to claw their way to the top and don't care who they step on to get there in the process.

Karma is a bitch, and let me tell you if you are mean and hateful to people you will see that behavior again directed towards you in your own life.

People have to learn to start payin it forward; that's just one of the things that's wrong with this country now, greed and selfishness.

Anonymous said...

Of course, there's always the possibility that this writer IS a horrible immature person, and the other writers are just trying to warn their colleagues.

Anonymous said...

Renaissance Grrl, I mean, for instance, if a person joins a critique group and brings five stories to the table without having read anyone else's work. And then, perhaps, after asking for honest feedback, it is too honest for the person and s/he becomes defensive and thinks everyone is out to get him or her.

Even the kindest people can begin to lose patience when a person expects glowing reviews for something that does not deserve them.

I am not saying every fledgling writer is this person; I am not saying people don't deserve to be uplifted, encouraged, and mentored.

I am saying, a lot of people say they want honesty, and what they really want is to be told they are great writers without having to put finger to keyboard to revise. And because writing is such a personal process, a lack of outright adoration for the work they have spent so much time and effort on is often interpreted as cruelty or a personal attack.

Writing/crit groups should not be places of viciousness. But they are also not charities. It is not their place to lie to a person about the quality of the work being examined.

Anonymous said...

I've found different degrees of snobbery in different parts of the writing world. The children's writing boards I've been on have all been very open and welcoming. Other genres (I won't point fingers) have been downright hostile to newcomers. Some areas of the writing world seem to attract bigger egoes, and where there is a big ego in operation, there is big defensiveness, which often translates into hostility toward anyone who even suggests that the egotist's writing might need a few touch-ups. And so the flames are fanned.

Anonymous said...

Full confession: I've sometimes encouraged people who were downright bad writers because 1) I didn't want to hurt their feelings and 2) who knows what a beginner might turn out to be with effort. Why smack down a beginner just for being a beginner?

But on two occassions, newbie writers wanted to use my name to make career contacts. When I refused to recommend them to editors or my agent, they became babyish and belligerent. One of them used my name anyway, and I had to disassociate myself rather forcefully from her.

Encouraging newbies isn't the same as giving a referral to an editor or publisher. One's a goodwill gesture, the other is a business relationship. Some writers don't understand the difference.

Anonymous said...

Posting this anonymously, which I usually dislike (for myself) and don't do. One of my BIGGEST pet peeves is the writer who was unpublisher or waiting for his or her first book to come out who befriends another writer who is unpublished. Then, once the first writer DOES become published, suddenly the unpublished friend isn't "good" enough anymore. I've actually had one writer who seemed to do that to another writer friend and myself. They (being purposely ambiguous) befriended us while waiting for their first book to come out, and were sort of mentoring us a little bit. Then, once that first book came out and they became a fairly big success (with lots of books published since), suddenly they seemed to lose all interest in us. Nothing had changed--it's not like we started pressuring them to introduce us to their agent or anything. They just seemed to enjoy interacting with their published friends far more than us. It actually made me sad, because I never would have guessed that would be the case...

Ah well. Success does things to people of all stripes, not just writers.

Anonymous said...

(Anonymous here.) I want to elaborate, because I don't like snobbery or snottiness and I don't condone rudeness.

What I mean is, if a writer finds a critique group, participates in three or four critiques of other people's work -- treads lightly but pays very careful attention to the responses of others, agrees with and/or respects what the person is saying and how it's being said --

Then if these people post negative responses to this writer's work, this writer should carefully consider the source before assuming that it's jealousy, pettiness, and snobbery in action.

It serves a writer well to be familiar with the critiquers before submitting for critique. Because that allows you to sit back and read the responses with an overall perspective on what you are reading. Maybe you've noticed that Chuckie always has a problem with an alpha male protag. Maybe Susie is always seeing political elements where there are none. Maybe John always has insightful, incisive comments, and he has problems with your plot. It is unlikely that you will then interpret John's reply as snobbery.

And so I am wary of the advice of "go get some new friends." I'm afraid a lot of people will find they have the same bat problem on a different bat channel.

Laura K. Curtis said...

I come from an academic background and I've never seen such backstabbing and snobbery as I saw in the academic world where everyone is fighting for every tiny bit of success. Of course there were great people who encouraged and mentored, but there were far more who...didn't.

I think those experiences gave me a relatively thick skin. It also made me realize how few people actually listen when someone is saying negative things about someone they don't even know. If X says something negative about you to an editor, and the editor doesn't even know you, it's not likely to have an impact. If the editor does know you, he will have formed his own opinion!

Now, it's one thing if someone doesn't like your writing. I know a couple very successful writers I adore personally, but their writing doesn't do anything for me. I'd never say they were bad writers because they're not. But even if I were to say that, professionals in the field would want to make that judgment for themselves.

As RenaissanceGrrl said, Karma's a bitch. It won't take long for people to realize that X is the kind of person who'll say negative things about other people to prop himself up. Hang in there...

Anonymous said...

Okay I understand now what you mean in regards to the writing groups.

And if this person who commented on Bookends is indeed a horrible, immature person than I guess Iqsyl can understand the blacklash. I would like to think that there aren't too many unpubbed writers out there like that. I guess I'm just a little too idealistic.

Anonymous said...

RenaissanceGrrl, I think you're right. Most writers are pretty nice people.

Maybe I overreacted -- it's just been on my mind lately! I certainly feel bad for anyone whose so-called friends are putting them down, especially in public. said...

Well said, RenaissanceGrrl. I hate that crap. I hated it in high school and I hate it now. One of the biggest reasons I left a crit group was because a very small number of people I can only surmise were the original members spent all their time patting each other on the back and telling each other what masters of the literary world they all were (uh ... not). The new members were largely ignored, although they all followed the protocol. Just reading some of the comments here makes my blood boil.
I don't care if you're the author of the next War and Peace or Gone With the Wind; if I know your heart is black, I'm not buying your book.

Dear writer of the original comment, please go over to my blog and go down my blog roll. I know some of the nicest people in this business. There's not a single snob among them. They are all helpful and supportive, and I know you will make many good friends there. Best wishes to you, and good luck with your writing (and don't worry about those other people - we all see through them).

Kate Douglas said...

When I started out in this business I was lucky enough to have very generous authors help me along the way, and I've tried to follow their lead with the philosophy of "paying it forward." I try to mentor new authors and help the unpublished when I can, but one thing I have learned, now that I am published and facing numerous deadlines, is that I don't always have the time to be as helpful as I would like. I hope that people don't see it as snobbery or an elitist attitude. I know I'm not the only writer with time issues--I can't always read for other writers like I used to, and I can't always take the time to critique or offer advice. It's not that I don't want to, it's that there are only so many hours in a day.

Spy Scribbler said...

People know how you write, if they read it. Their opinion isn't going to change when someone says something. And one person can't do much to hinder the many, many readers out there from reading your books.

My pseudonym had that problem. It didn't have that much effect on anything, really. The editor still wanted my stuff, and ... it reflected on her more than it did on me.

It will reflect even better on you, if you just shrug and casually say that one's writing will never please everyone, but you enjoy her writing.

Anonymous said...

I, too, have to go anonymous for my comment, just in case the wrong people stumble upon this. But you can call me Kitty.

My time in college creative writing classes was not far from good. As Laura Kramarsky said, not everyone in academia is prone to backstabbing and snobbery, but a lot of them are. And my experiences there are what make me afraid to join another critique group again.

My professor--a published author and son of a published poet--yelled at me and, worse, encouraged the class to laugh at me. He talked about how hilarious my mistakes were and elaborated on them, as they all roared. I have never been so humiliated in all my life.

He was also not a gifted fiction teacher. First of all, he had a very narrow view of what kind of short story was a good one. But just as bad, all the comments he made to "teach" was make cryptic comments about what I needed to do to fix my writing... but it was so vague and so interlaced with his personal fetishes (such as adding more sex and more descriptions of female characters' bodies) that I was utterly confused. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. I didn't find out until a year later when I began reading "how to write" books on my own, in private.

In the meantime, I tried to copy the themes the other students used that got praise from him. Sounds like a cop-out, but I was desperate. I ended up getting an A in the class, but he made sure to tell me that it was due to my class participation (despite the rest, I continued to critique my classmates' work as fairly and skilfully as I could) rather than my writing. He said that I understood the mechanics of fiction writing but couldn't seem to apply it to my own work, "so, heal thyself!"

It's not just that I thought I was a good writer of fiction and wanted praise. Sure, we all want that. But I never expected to be actively humiliated and mocked in the classroom. I never thought that I would get mounds of critique that never actually SAID anything. It was just, "You're doing it wrong." No hints on how to do it right, or what was wrong about what I'd written.

At this point, I feel like I would prefer never getting published to setting foot in a critique circle. Irrational, but that's my feeling. I'm hoping to shake it someday, because of all I've heard about how valuable critique groups are. Still, right now I would rather gnaw my own finger off than subject myself to those experiences again.

Anonymous said...

Sorry that was so very long!


Kimber Li said...

Oh, Kitty, how horrible. Have you tried It may not be professional, but the way its set up with earning credits for critting each other's works AND grading the critter's crit makes it easy to find good people. The nasty ones don't last long under that system. And it's easy to avoid them during their brief stays. You can set up private queues and message boards. I've made some wonderful friends there. Check it out.

Anonymous said...

Kitty, the story about your professor made me very sad--and mad! I hope you spoke to an administrator about his behavior.

At the very least, simply know that this was about HIM, not you. He clearly has his own doubts and fears, and makes himself feel better by putting others down. In fact, I can't help but wonder if he thought you were actually quite talented, and that frightened him.

Successful mystery author J.A. Jance tells a great story about one of her writing professors. (This was back in the 70s.) He told her women had no business being writers. She "murdered" this professor in one of her novels. ; )

If you happen to write in the mystery or suspense genre, RUN, don't walk, to the Sisters in Crime subgroup called Guppies. This online group is full of support and wisdom. (Several of these members happen to be BookEnds clients.) We also have a Critique Group Coordinator, who sets up groups. I found my wonderful partners this way. They helped me polish my book and land an agent.

Anonymous said...

The most liberating day of my writing life was the day I said, "NO MORE CRITIQUES FROM OTHER WRITERS!"

Yeah, folks, the unthinkable. For some unknown reason, we depend on writers for critiques. Our fundamental mistake is that we are writing to other writers when we should be writing to readers.

I thought of my target audience, pictured him or her and wrote for that person. Then I asked, (sometimes paid) my target audience for a critique. I even found people who hadn't read a book in years.

Damn, they were always right! And after years of struggling, I'm on my way to a publishing contract.

Folks, it's time to wake up and smell the ca-ca.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, Kimber An and Anonymous! The sympathy and the suggests are equally welcome and appreciated. I was afraid, after I wrote my post, that maybe my experience wasn't so bad after all.

I did talk to the department head about the professor, but all my complaints were rebuffed (including the ones about feeling sexually harassed). It was very frustrating. The department head said that not only was the professor untouchable thanks to his tenure, but he is also well liked by most students. There has been a steady trickle of students coming in to complain about him, the man said, but I was the first to have an A and still complain about the professor's behavior. The department had discussed these issues with the professor before, but to no avail. There's more, but I don't want to go on and on for too long! Basically, the department head didn't want to deal with it, I think.

Kimber An, I will definitely check out! The system you describe sounds really good. And maybe the critiquing process won't be so scary for me if it's online instead of in person. Immeasurable thanks!

Anonymous, I only wish I wrote mystery or suspense! My brain doesn't seem to work that way... maybe I could train it to, because I'd like that. I'll keep Guppies in mind. I love the story about J.A. Jance! My mom recently wrote a play about her family, focusing on her crazy harpy of a mother, and when she completed the manuscript she said proudly, "Don't f*** with the writer." She feels like she has finally stood up to her mother using that manuscript. I'm happy for her.

Thank you again, both of you. :-)


Anonymous said...

My horror story:

I've been published in non-fiction and short fiction for about twenty years. I set all of it aside so I could finish a novel and get it published. Since I do Web design, I have my site up with all my publishing credits.

Last year, someone online asked me to do a private critique of her query letter. I'd been doing critiques of query letters on a message board because I was using it to learn how to do the one I was getting ready to send.

No problems with the critique. She thanked me and went on her way. Then, a few months later, I get a very, very nasty, hateful email from her. She had submitted the query to Miss Snark for her crapometer and got a WTF. The writer blamed me personally for her failure. She told me I clearly didn't know how to do queries and needed to go back and read every book on writing queries. Then she went through the credits on my Web site and picked them apart, saying I had no business even critiquing queries for fiction because most of my publishing credits are non-fiction. She accused me of doing critiques without posting anything for critique--a first. Most people want to receive the critiques and don't want to give them. And she even acted like I was faking writing a book. She sent three such emails to me before I was able to take down all the email addresses from my site.

I thought it was all done with. But a few months later, I was in the process of submitting queries and put up a Publisher's Marketplace page. It has my summary paragraph from the query and synopsis. I posted some links in my signature line for message boards, since you never know. Guess who found it? She sent me, through the message board, an extremely mean-spirited critique, picking apart the synopsis. She also followed several of the online critiques I did and went out of her way to say things like "Oh, that doesn't really matter" simply because I had said something about it. She got banned off the board again, I think, and thankfully, I haven't heard anything from her since.

I also had someone else who looked at my writing credits after I did a critique, and then proceded to pick apart my critique because I "wasn't qualified" to critique his work (um, the other writers doing critiques weren't published). I'm still trying to figure out what exactly set him off because I did not say anything different than anyone else, but he attacked me three different times, calling my comments a "joke" and to stick with critiquing what I knew.

KateS said...

To Kitty: It really was all about the professor if he acted that way. Extremely unprofessional, rude, and bordering on sexual harassment as you've told it. Unacceptable on his part, NOT yours.

juanabacoa, I totally disagree with you about, in your words, the "ca ca". The problem with readers rather than writers is that they don't necessarily understand what a full writer critique is. I'm saying this as a writer and editor who started out a reader, as most of us did, lol. Often readers are great at saying "Why did that character do that? It doesn't seem to be like him" or "I really don't like this part, it's probably too graphic for some readers, you might want to turn it down." And that's great and what you definitely want. But they may not be thinking about deep characterization, plot holes, word choice, sentence structure, the speed of the book, and yes, the dreaded grammar, that often critiquers actively look for.

For my opinion on the matter, yes, authors can be nasty. Critique groups can be horrid if a writer cannot take criticism, or if the criticism given goes from constructive to plain mean. The point is to find the place YOU'RE comfortable with. If this group doesn't work for you, I can guarantee there IS a place that WILL work. Might be just a group of friends, it might be a critiquer you pay, but regardless of what it is make sure it works for YOU.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kate:

You're right. A reader cannot give you a full critique. In my case, I wanted a regular, book-buying reader to point to a scene or character in the manuscript and say, "me no likey."

Then I ask why. The answer was often "it was boring." In reader terms that means it didn't move the plot along or they didn't connect with the character. So I fixed it.

The point is: I don't need 18 different opinions on how I can improve my writing, half of which disagree with the other half. I need a straightforward here's where it's sucks. And I want that feedback from my target audience, (you know the folks that buy the book), not my competitors.

Non-writer feedback is underestimated. Try it; you'll be surprised how smart the public is.

Rebecca said...

Kitty - just like anonymous said (at 4:41) it sounds like your professor was just jealous or threatened by you somehow. People who are unkind to you for no reason often are.

And it is very telling about his sad little character that he would ridicule one of his own students in class. said...

There have been so many interesting comments here today. This topic seems to be one we all feel strongly about. Regarding the comments on crits, I lamented a while back that I felt I'd lost my voice from listening to too much advice from too many directions. A very kind author had this bit of advice for me:

"Writing by committee" has never worked for me. Other writers help me with generalities but for specifics with a story give me readers who don't write any day! I use beta readers who are not trying to have me tell THEIR story. Interestingly this problem with other writers happens more with unpublished writers than with my published writer friends. They understand (from working with editors) how to make constructive suggestions without destroying the author's voice and intent.

Her name is Patricia Wood, and her debut novel, Lottery is being promoted by her publisher with all the hoopla and fanfare an author dreams of, and she so richly deserves, because she's a nice person who pays it forward. We might all want to listen to her advice. She's obviously doing something right. If you'd like to know more about Lottery, see the promotional wheels in gear, or just congratulate Pat, go see her here:

Anonymous said...

I've been that jealous writer who put others down unfairly, and I dropped out of the critique group because I couldn't stand that side of myself.

Hmm. A lot of anonymous posts here! :)

Anonymous said...

My horror story:
I thought I was friends with three somewhat successful writers. Two were also editors (one freelance and one of a small press fantasy magazine). One had paid me to do line edits on a story of theirs. The four of us, with an occasional few others, had an informal "Hey can you check this story for me before I submit it" type critique group.

I had a difference of opinion with one of the three. It was completely personal. 100% I agreed to disagree, they cold shouldered me, and when I tried to apologize all three of them jumped on me and said it was hollow.

I ignored it and finished the review I had promised one of them. Good writing, the story wasn't spectacular. I said as much. I try to be honest.

That night one of the three "critiqued" a story for me (that had been sent a week before any of this happened and ripped it apart. If it had been the first stoy they even critiqued for me I just would have assumed that's how they always were. But the viciousness and sniping about things that had very little bearing on the story (for instance, whether the last names in a modern story were real last names of the area the story was set in).

I tried to just let it all go, to stop talking to them, stop depending on them, took my stories out of the queue, decided not to comment on theirs, stop going to the boards they went to, etc. It took two days before I saw a mass mail blog and board post by one of the three stating what an immature, unprofessional plagiarist I was.

I have since heard from editors who also received that mail. Even through I've been assured that editors are far too busy for this sort of thing it hurts that the people who were supportive and enthusiastic toward me in December are taking a personal disagreement and good but not great review into the professional realm of bad editor, plagiarist, theif, liar, backstabber, two faced... it goes on and on.

I feel singled out, betrayed and attacked. Because they have more publications and a more visible image than me people are listening to them (or, I'm scared they are) and it's hard enough to get published as is, much less with people actively trying to prevent it.

Lessons learned: Just because someone is friendly online doesn't mean that they are really your friend. I thought that I could be friends with writers and editors, not just professional. Now... freindly is okay, but online I'm sticking to all professional.

Anonymous said...

Kitty, your story touched me because I also had a bad experience with a male professor in college. It had nothing to do with writing. The bottom line is the department will always protect their professors. You cannot get satisfaction that way.

To anons at 5:50 and 11:07 - "no good deed goes unpunished." :(

Debra Moore said...

Wow...there are few things worse in the writing game than being torn to shreds personally for words on a page. My heart goes out to anyone trying to write a simple story and being attacked as a person.

Oh, man, my own saga on this front is a little bit funny, so maybe that will help us look at the funny side... (because living well is the best revenge).

A girl in one of the critique groups I was in years ago told me, (I was writing a romance at the time) "If this is how you think the relationship between a woman and a man should be, you might want to seek psychiatric help."

Ouch. Well, I did go on to publish a romance with Cobblestone Press without any help from the medical profession quite a few years later. I'm thinking a simple, "You might want to rethink the character motivations" would have sufficed... LOL

Anonymous said...

I wish I'd stumbled on this post earlier -- yes, I'm putting in my two cents a bit late, but even so, here I go:

Thanks, Southern Writer, for this: "I use beta readers who are not trying to have me tell THEIR story." Sounds like that's the way to go. In a nutshell, I've recently been burned, and it was because a fellow writer wanted me to tell her story and not mine.

This writer and I had become friends, or so I thought. I critiqued one of her novels; she critiqued one of mine. She was full of glowing praise for my novel, except for one thing: she disagreed with me on how I had drawn one character -- a supporting character, not a protagonist.

At first she was constructive, telling me where she thought I'd gone wrong with the character. I appreciated the constructive criticism, and some of it I incorporated into revisions, but some of it was, to my mind, off base and not applicable to my story.

It became more and more apparent to me that my character was riling this writer because of certain ideological and philosophical prejudices on the writer's part which made her have an irrational, knee-jerk reaction to the character.

And this writer just couldn't accept that I disagreed with her about my character. She wouldn't let it go. She began to hammer on me continually about the character even while I was critiquing her novel, and soon she made out like my writing ability and prospects for publication were entirely contingent on whether I could get that one character "right" (in other words, rewrite the character in line with her philosophical and ideological prejudices).

Then she went on to personally attack me, saying my inability to get that character "right" -- that is, write the character the way she would write the character -- meant that my life is a mess and that I'm destined for failure and oblivion. WTF?

The whole thing was very hurtful, but it has certainly helped to toughen my skin. And if there's anything a writer needs, it's a tough skin.