The Dirty Side of Complaining about Publishing Markets

Techguerrilla is one of those blogs that, when it talks about network sociology, just knocks it out of the park for me. I’m not in the same type or size of business, so it’s not 100% relevant to my work. But when it is, boy is it ever.

Recently, Matt Ridings wrote about the sociology of network connections. Some of his remarks brought to mind a phenomenon I’ve seen in my corner of publishing. There is almost no topic that strikes more to the heart of the book world’s current revolution than how we form connections between ourselves and the sales endpoint.

There are a myriad of ‘types’ of influencers, and they are generally defined by the motivations of those they influence and not their own motivations.  That part is important, and frequently missed so let’s state it again.  It is not the motivation of the influencer that matters it is the motivations of those being influenced.

I have found this to be very true. We meet here around thinky things–specifically, ways of thinking about life that we can use to better dialogue on socially relevant issues, usually relating to the faith-based subculture. That’s what I care about, but that’s simply a starting place.

Sometimes I present topics as analysis, sometimes as creative narrative. But anytime I stray from that general theme, the natural (and justified!) disengagement of my core group reminds me of what I’m here for.

Furthermore, the TG post said:

Take those people who complain about the nature of “A-Listers” (which they mean in a derogatory fashion) in social media as an example.  They bemoan the fact that such and such A-Lister doesn’t deserve their beloved pedestal, all the while using their rants to try and fashion a pedestal of their own.  They view social media as a forum which propels the unworthy snake oil salesman to the top and breeds the lemmings who listen to them.  This naturally keeps the worthy (assumedly them) folks who aren’t lemmings locked in a cage in the dungeon screaming to escape their bonds.

That all too easily transmutes to this little vignette from the area I work in:

Take those people who complain about the nature of “Christian publishing” (which they mean in a derogatory fashion) in guilds, books or blogs as an example. They bemoan the fact that such and such Christian influencer or institution doesn’t deserve their beloved pedestal, all the while using their rants to try and fashion a pedestal of their own. They view Christian publishing, its guilds and groups as a forum which propels the unworthy snake oil salesman to the top and breeds the lemmings who listen to them. This naturally keeps the worthy (assumedly them) folks who aren’t lemmings locked in a cage in the dungeon screaming to escape their bonds.

Given those people have chosen to engage in Christian publishing (or you might substitute literary, or romance, or whatever) does this make any sense?

From a reader’s perspective: Isn’t it great to be arbitrarily designated as a lemming for the sake of bolstering someone’s sour grapes tale?

From a markets perspective: there is nothing new under the sun. This is not a great crusade or a high ideal we’re talking about. It’s a very foolish behaviour that can and does occur anywhere that uninformed ambition does.

Regardless of the example–A-list blogging and its followers, or a particular print publishing market and its followers–trying to fashion a pedestal for oneself by trashing others in one’s chosen community is just bad PR strategy.

Yet, for years and years, I’ve encountered this behaviour from bitter would-be niche-busters who don’t like the shape of their desired publishing market.

Their woe fails to move me. And this is why.

Their frustration is misplaced.  If they really want to complain it should be about the nature of human societal structures and the hierarchy of motivators that drive it….

This is where things get complex, but if we simplify it down to just a couple of cold options it would look something like this: We either want to be her [the A-lister, or in my example, the successful author or publishing representative], or we want to leverage her…There are certainly many more motivators, but you might be surprised at how high a percentage can fit into those two simple criteria…

That’s why it looks so very bad when newcomers open by hurling monkey poo at their chosen niche rather than charting their own direction within it. It depicts them as ranting at the people they wish they were (the image of a wannabe), and/or at those who haven’t given them what they think they deserve (the image of a spoiled brat).

That’s not connection. At best, it’s coercion badly done, and at worst, it’s (or should be, if such individuals had any self-awareness) a ludicrous embarrassment. Either way, it’s a public relations travesty.

If a high percentage of it comes down to emulation–“wanting to be her”–then being a wailing pseudo-martyr is only going to make it tougher for the struggling writer or indie publisher. Who wants to emulate a bratty wannabe? And who wants to leverage that kind of influence?

Traditional publishing recognizes that such behavior is antithetical to creating functional branding and good market relationships, and that it’s a liability of an attitude to deal with. It’s called “lack of professionalism.” (Or, to broadly summarize the dictionary definition, lack of trusted character and skills qualifications.) And those supporters the independent writer/publisher needs most–book bloggers and influencers–recognize it too, as GavReads points out.

Professionalism involves meeting a community-defined standard of trust, which means the standard isn’t infallible. It also means each community will have a somewhat unique take on what’s involved. But it exists for a reason: because it’s what allows communities to function. It’s part of the nature of human societal structures.

If we know that, we can understand why the boundaries are sometimes fluid rather than rigid, or why “the rules” appear to change for various individuals and circumstances. It’s flexibility for the sake of maintaining and enhancing community trust. Boundaries open up as trust is earned, and tighten down as trust is eroded.

Back to TG:

And if you’re one of the ‘Anti A-Lister’ [or anti-this or that publishing market] crowd then might I suggest you go down to a wealthy town, sit in the local starbucks, and protest popular soccer moms since it makes about as much sense.  Yes yes, we realize that you deserve her money and popularity more than she does.  Yes, we realize you want to be the protector of the weak lemming (who doesn’t actually want protection) but perhaps if you put the same amount of energy into becoming influential for some altruistic saint-like purpose as you do expressing your frustrations at the unfairness of it all you could do some good in this world.

-Matt Ridings

One’s actual work, not the demands made on others’ work, earns one a trusted voice in the conversation. Talk is cheap, and the more there is, the more it tends to be cluttered with inaccurate and biased information. On the other hand, a picture, especially an action shot, is worth a thousand words.

It’s what fiction writers call, “show, don’t tell.”

Or, as author Chris Pavone put it in a Writer’s Digest guest column, “shut up and throw your best fastball.

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  1. Good thoughts! It’s so easy to get caught up in the drama without realizing it as I’m learning the ropes. Thanks for keeping us focused. :)

    1. Thanks, Jennette.

      I should probably have also said that limited, respectful dissent is fine, when it occurs as an explanation for why a person is charting their own course in a particular direction (such as self-publishers explaining why they choose to forgo traditional routes). It’s just not a substitute for maturely toned self-direction, nor is disagreement a good excuse for rejecting accountability from one’s professional community–whether indie or traditional. [/clarification]

  2. It’s good to keep an honest perspective either way. I tend to view all my social media failures as my fault, all my publishing failures as my fault–and it’s good to look at it in a broader sense. I try to avoid rants, even if I feel them [why is this crud published when all the doors are locked to genius me], but my schizoid personality also feels the fault is my own lack of talent or ability. And maybe it’s all timing. Maybe it’s none of the above.

    1. My friend Linda Yezak has the following quote on her Facebook tonight: “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” (Robert Hughes)

      Which, I guess, is kinda what I’ve seen–the perfect confidence of the less talented tends to be what leads them to Rantville instead of Resultsville. Patience and perennial self-evaluation are also forms of result.

      Hang in there, we can be schizophrenic maybe-geniuses-at-fault together. :)

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