Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Human Nature and Choices

Publishing is a relatively small world, especially in the confines of RWA. Even though there are upwards to 9000 members in our community, chances are you “know” many of the membership, whether it be through the online world of the RWA yahoo groups, online chapters, or live chapters. Most of the active members have “met” one way or another.
The sense of community we have is very strong, but like with any close-knit family, our closeness can also be our weakness.

We’re only human, after-all.

We’re not only human, most of us in RWA are also women.

Women are funny creatures. I’ve had (almost) 39 years to study them, me being a woman and all. On the whole, we are fiercely loyal, hardworking, supportive, and creative. I wish I could stop with our positive traits. I do. Because our positive traits are what make us such good mothers, wives, friends and employees.

Unfortunately, being human and all, we women also have a set of negative traits we carry around. Most times, we keep them buried because they directly interfere with the very things that make us so awesome.

Sometimes we have no choice but to be ugly. It’s a part of who we are. Something important in our life is threatened and Katie bar the door, we come out bearing our claws and fangs. We do what we have to do to make things right for those we love.

But in our little family of writers, I’ve noticed another kind of ugliness. Not the kind that comes out when someone you love is threatened, but the kind that rears its head for no reason other than pettiness. Ugliness. Bitterness.

Some people (mostly women, though I have heard a few things from some men in the industry as well) will badmouth anyone, whether they know them or not. It makes them feel better about their own mediocrity to bag on the successes of others—who happen to be mostly women. Funny that.

In a community built for women, by women, I am constantly surprised at the sniping and backbiting that goes on here. Are we adults? Because after some of the things I’ve heard, I have to wonder.

Publishing is constantly changing and you either change with it, or fade away. Nobody is successful because of pure luck. Sure, luck has something to do with it, but their success was built on the back hard work. They write, sweat, toil, and bleed over their manuscripts. Oftentimes they sign with their perfect agent who works, sweats, toils and bleeds over the negotiations. As a new writer, we want to take the first offer given. We have to leave it in the hands of our agent who work hard at getting us the best deal possible.

I’m almost amused by the whisperings I hear. Instead of genuine happiness, you hear things like “I bet that was a small deal. Probably just the basic. No negotiation there. She’s wasting commission with that agent.” Or “She’ll never sell through that advance.” So, damned if we do, damned if we don’t?

It’s hard work. All around. And in this world, the only way to succeed is to continue working hard. Badmouthing others might serve as temporary lidocaine to the bitterness in your gut, but it certainly won’t get that book written. Or more money in your pocket. Or make you happy with your career or lack thereof. And it won’t make those who are happy and successful any less so.

I guess all in all, this post boils down to choice. We’ve all had these feelings; it’s how we choose to act on those feelings that matters.

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.” Willie Nelson

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Blogger Maria Geraci said...

Well said, Mel. Negative emotions are part of our makeup, but it's how you channel those emotions that distinguish our character.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 4:34:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

I'm not at all thrilled with all the division and pettiness in RWA, not at all. No one seems interested in taking down the walls, just interested in getting into the special cliques and keeping others out.

I'm cool with an organization that decides to only admit some people and not others, like MWA. That's their prerogative.

RWA, however, admits everyone, has everyone pay the same fee, but then only gives some advantages to a minority of the members.

The way I was brought up, that's called taking advantage of people. Or biting the hand that feeds you, considering 80% of the members things are barred from seeing what the special groups can see.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 6:13:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, wonderful post, Mel. THANK YOU.

A few years ago we had one of our authors visit during RWA. She's a nonfiction author, and had never attended the event because, of course, she'd had no reason. But she wanted to meet up with Pamela while the event was nearby and she spent some time at RWA. THis is a wonderful person, btw--warm, caring, just great to work with. Her comment to Pamela after a day was, "I've never been around such a negative group of women in my entire life."

That's an incredibly sad portrait of what we become when we join together as women. It should be about sisterhood, empowerment. Instead, it seems that a select few resent any success or happiness that comes for others, convinced that it robs them in some way of success on their own.

THe world is not a limited pie with just a few slices that must be fought over. Positive energy and empowerment and helping others breeds more of the same. Petty back-biting and gossip, efforts to discredit agents or editors or authors, also yields a nasty harvest.

It's pretty simple in life: If you sow kindness and love and positive energy, that's what you reap. If you sow the opposite, it does give you a kind of cancer of the soul.

I've been amazed how much gossip there's been about TKA over the years. Much of it has been fabulous and positive and I'd call it "great buzz." But every now and then, there seems to be bitterness aimed back at us. Maybe because we rejected some author at one point or another. Maybe because they resent that we DO love people?? LOL. Maybe because we've defied the odds as an agency outside NYC (years ago, one agent used to lie about me, claiming that I charged 500/month in reading fees for "clients." UH HELLO?? That's totally unethical and if there's anything folks in RWA know about me is that ETHICS and INTEGRITY are huge to me.)

OR the gossip mill will be that I got so-and-so a ZILLION dollar advance when it was only a few hundred thousand. LOL. And, sometimes, it's that I don't really get my clients the big bucks...that I just take orders without negotiating. (FYI any editor in this business and any of my clients will tell you that is absolutely untrue. I've been called a pit bull by editors before.) But see what I mean? Gossip has a way of distorting everything. Anyone can see our sales record over on pub marketplace. Yes, of course the posted deals are in sweeping, broad terms, but you still get the idea. We're a mult-million dollar agency, year after year. We aren't a 17 agent firm, true. But we're not a podunk agency in Hee Haw Hell either. :) We've worked hard over the past twelve years to become a stellar example of a mid-sized agency.

Why do I make that point? Because just like the authors get disgusted by gossip and backbiting, so do agents. Pretty much all of us. :)

I love this industry, love my job as an agent, and wouldn't do anything else. But I wouldn't mind if the women in the romance world were just a bit more compassionate and focused on how they can give their fellow "sisters" a leg up in the world.

Off my soap box. Mel, sorry love, but your post was just pure genius and it really got me thinking.

love ya

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 6:58:00 PM EDT  
Blogger The Girl You Used to Know said...

Thanks you guys! Deidre, that comment is worthy of a post of its own!

I’m not saying it’s not okay to have a twinge of jealousy or envious feelings. Those things are legitimate and you wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t experience those things every once in a while. But to act on those feelings means one of two things: 1/ you weren’t really friends with the person you’re sniping about 2/you really need to look within and figure out why you’re so insecure.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 7:13:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Kristen Painter said...

Fabulous post, my birthday queen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 8:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Isabelle Santiago said...

Mel, wonderfully said.

I truly believe to succeed in this business, you can take those negative emotions that sometimes creep their ugly head up, and turn them into something positive. Motivating. Force us to work harder and longer. By channeling that, we make no room for ugly feelings of jealousy or resentment or idle gossip. We can focus on sharing something that we love with other people who love it, and let that be the first of many other bonding experiences.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 11:25:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Natalie J. Damschroder said...

It's a great post, but I have to we REALLY think men don't do the same thing? Have the same reactions and behaviors? They TOTALLY do. We just happen to be made up of more women than men.

The negative behavior described is sad and I wish it didn't happen, but to be honest, I see a lot more talk about bad behavior than I see the behavior itself. (It could just be where I hang out, I don't know. LOL) Do we give it more power when we discuss it at such lengths?

I'm a person who detests generalization. So maybe a few dozen (or hundred) people behave badly in public and call a lot of attention to it--but it's still the case, I believe, that the vast majority of RWA is positive and supportive and professional. I don't like to see the whole organization tarred with a negative brush.

Spy, I'm so sorry you've had a bad experience with RWA. There are SO many ways to benefit, and it's definitely not true that advantages go to the minority. In fact, most of the benefits are focused on the huge, unpublished majority. I encourage you to explore their website and take advantage of some of the educational and networking opportunities (the best one being the PRO benefits, for authors who have completed and submitted at least one manuscript). There are plenty of welcoming, helpful, warm, generous people out there, and I want to help you find them!

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:23:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Natalie, a great counter-perspective!And I should clarify my own comments. I adore RWA. Its an incredible banding together of women and the writers are some of the industry's most professional. All that said, I don't think that men behave the same way. After twelve yrs of agenting, I can tell you that male authors just don't go the gossip and comparison route. They, as a whole, focus on the books and writing and generally keep their heads in the game. The emotional weirdness, the petty stuff just doesn't go on with my "guy writers." I also think that speaks of their own loss--they don't have the same sense of united "brotherhood" that women feel as united "sisters.". So its how life goes--the best qualities have their polar opposite weaknesses. Women share deep kinship that can go too far and become backbiting. Men don't have the same gender camaderie...yet they don't stab each other in the back like women do. Lol.

Bottom line? RWA is amazing. I've made many fantastic friends and associates within the organization. I just wish that the small minority that thrives on negativity would become more self-reflective. Hugs!!

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 12:46:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Natalie J. Damschroder said...

You were pretty balanced in your comments, Deidre, and did talk about the positives in RWA--maybe my own perspective was too broad and I did some horrid generalizing of my own! Bad me!

I don't know a lot of male authors and none of them behave that way, but none of the female authors I know do, either! LOL But I've know plenty of men who AREN'T authors who gossip and backbite and try to sabotage other people.

I know I could be in complete denial about this. Maybe we as women are more sensitive because we're more emotional and when we "turn bad" we do it in a way that targets emotion, and maybe comparable men react more concretely than personally. I've been wrong a few times before (LOL). But even if I am wrong, maybe I can help change it with my constant assertion that it's not true!

Or maybe that's just more denial.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 7:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger The Girl You Used to Know said...

I think the biggest thing here is to realize how small RWA really is and that word gets around, even when you think you're just "venting" to a couple of friends.

I hope you never have to experience something like this. Unfortunately, I know way too many people it has happened to--by supposed friends. It's hurtful and a useless waste of energy. And a bigger energy waste is time spent dwelling on it, which is what I had been doing. I felt so much better after I wrote this!

Also, I'd like to say that I do believe women are like this in general, not just RWA. I saw it in the workforce all the time. I'll be honest and tell you there was only 1 woman I ever liked working for and that's because she worked like a man. I'm not talking about the career woman being called a bitch because she is tough. No, I'm talking about the women who get upset by their boss or in a meeting and the first thing they would do would be fire off an email or go to their friend's desk to "vent." It's unprofessional. Men generally take it to the person, hash it out, and have a beer later.

Yeah, it's a generalization, but after 20 years in the workforce, it's a very common occurrence. I believe the reason we see and hear about it in RWA more often is because we're mostly women.

The organization itself has been a godsend to me. I have just had to learn who to trust and to go with my gut when it comes to trusting.

Sorry for the early morning ramble. Should probably refrain from posting before coffee.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 7:58:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Sorry for the early morning ramble. Should probably refrain from posting before coffee.

Not at all, it was well said. Enough to convince me that my experiences may be too limited to support my opinion, or at the very least, are the aberration rather than the other way around.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 8:09:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great and interesting post! I must admit that my entire experience with RWA has been soooo wonderful, and only full of support. Every single time I leave a meeting, or after the two New England conferences I've attended, I've only felt lifted up as a writer and a person. I don't know if it's just the way I look at things or what, but it's been awesome for me.

I sure try to keep these THREE things in the forefront of my mind on this writing/life journey:

1) AS GRANDMA USED TO SAY: (along with a whole bunch of other people!) "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

2) THE UNIVERSE IS ABUNDANT: As Deidre points out: You reap what you sow! One person's success does not diminish another person's chances. It does not mean that someone else has to do without.

3) KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE. Let me clarify what that prize is. Yes, I want to get published and surely share similar dreams to other not-yet-published (and publsihed!) writers. HOWEVER, the true, true prize is writing a great story, and I have really, really come to appreciate and enjoy that part more than every before. I keep my focus on the writing separate from the "business" of sending out queries etc... This has allowed me to be much happier, and I honestly think it has helped me write better stories too. As I finish up my fourth book, I am happy.

I hope this helps somebody! Thanks for the post.
Ilana Katz

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 11:42:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Spy Scribbler said...

Diedre, that's awful! I'm so sorry, that's so unfair and unwarranted. It boggles my mind that people do things like that.

Natalie, I actually have had nothing but wonderful experiences in RWA. The people are great, it just boggles my mind how things ended up the way they did.

It all feels so wrong in my stomach. I'd stick around and do everything I could to work towards unifying the organization, but no one wants that. They just all want it to stay the same, but they don't want to be the ones left out. I know I'm eligible for PRO and I'm fairly certain I'm eligible for PAN, at least financially, but I just can't do it.

I believe in giving all I can to other writers. I can't join something that goes against that, and it breaks my heart. All year, I've tried finding a loophole in my beliefs, because I have loved my experiences and meeting the people.

Sadly, the nice people even blame the people who want change for "stirring up trouble." Most people say they join for friendship, and ignore the rest. That IS a great attitude, but I've never been about ignoring injustice when I see it.

My stomach won't let me write the renewal check, not unless there are people who really want change, who really want to make it a more supportive, inclusive organization.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 1:18:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mel, you are wise, and that is why we love you. (Seriously, you and your tiara are fab darling, *wink*)

I've got a confession to make. I am a class A NERD. All the way growing up, I had social problems with fitting in with groups of girls, and I learned a thing or two from being on the outside and looking in.

#1. Girls get nasty for protection from themselves.

I've noticed that the times that girls become the most nasty toward one another are the times in life when they are insecure about what they are doing. I hold a firm belief that middle school is the fifth circle of Hell. But this is one of those times that girls are the worst toward one another. I think it's because we don't know who we are, we don't LIKE who we are, and the only thing that makes us feel better is by finding others that clearly have it worse than we do. Then, to keep others from noticing our obvious flaws, we point the finger at them behind their back and make sure that EVERYONE knows how clearly ugly/stupid/nerdy/plastic/fill in your adjective here, they are. If you keep the attention on others, then clearly you'll look better by comparison.

Yeah right.

So, you think you escaped it by graduating high school? Try being a Mom for the first time and going to a "Mommies" group. Again, women are insecure about if they are doing things right, so "Oh my God, can you believe she is formula feeding her child? Can you believe she is on this environmental high horse, when she doesn't even buy organic carrots?" And it goes on and on and on.

And so we're at a natural disadvantage. We pour our hearts into a book. Unfortunately, we also pour our self worth into a book. When we get frustrated because we perceive others as having what we so desperately want, our self worth seems to take a knock. And how do we fight back? We regress to middle school. We feel bad, so we're going to point out someone else's flaws to hide it.

This happens with any group of women who attach their worth to what they're doing together. Work, motherhood, cheer leading.

So what do we do?

The only person you can control in life is yourself. I'm a genuinely happy person. I smile all the time. Writing or not writing, contract or no, I'm a whole person. And it radiates out, I can feel it.

We all get jealous, or at least feel that pang of longing when someone else gets something that we want. The proper thing to do is smile, force yourself to clap for them if you have to. Congratulate their success, then get to work, either on your book or on yourself whatever needs it more.

If you start sniping, eventually the bullet will bounce back and bite you in the you-know-what.

I've certainly met more fabulous people in RWA than people I'd rather not hang around. I'm very glad for those friends. When I hear things like this, it's like a window to the bitterness on the inside of the person.

You do reap what you sow.

Thanks for bringing this up, Mel, and for your response, Diedre. I got a little long winded, I'm sorry. This is one of those sticking issues with me, I guess.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 5:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I've been keeping myself from chiming in on every point, whether to agree or disagree--no one wants to hear me go on ad nauseum! :)

But I had to say...Chessie, you nailed it. That's a driving (if not THE driving) factor in most bad behavior. But that's true of BOTH genders. I think, frequently, it manifests more with males in physical ways--bullying, abuse, etc.--but emotional ones occur, too.

Though no one believes it now, LOL, I, too, was a shy nerd when I was a kid, and faced the same treatment. I love your attitude!

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 5:17:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I focused on the way the female wolf-pack turns on the omega, but the practice of belittling someone you perceive is "above" you to pull them down is just as bad.

That's like the pack taking bites at the heels of the Alpha so they can try to take her place. It doesn't work.

What a person has, is what a person has. It has nothing to do with you. You have what you have, if you want something more, work for it. But I think the true key to being happy in life is to stop thinking about what you want, and start really thinking about what you can give.

We all have a big hole in our soul. Ironically, it is only filled when we give out. You can't fill it with what you take in.

Thanks for the "hear hear." :)

Thursday, March 13, 2008 at 5:28:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Missy Sue Hanson said...

As awful as this sounds, this is one of the reasons I quit writing over a year ago. I was so blind to the fact that I had so many great new and wonderful friends that I didn't realize their friendship had a much more different meaning. I know now, though that I should've faced it instead of backing away. i should've chugged on and let it roll right off me, but I've learned that to be a writer, you have to be strong and nothing will stop me this time around! Love your blog, I'll be back to visit often!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 2:06:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Lauren said...

Hi Mel,

Sorry to chime in VERY late. An intriguing & timely topic. The 'net is certainly abuzz with gossip/rumors about different agencies, editors and publishers.

What I find most sad is that most of this seems to generate from a small but VERY vocal group of individuals. As Deidre mentioned in her comment (*waves to Deidre. You probably don't remember me, but I interviewed you for an article on paranormal romance in the March 2007 RWR. Just wanted to say Hi.*), publishing is a small world.

A history of backbiting (whether author, editor or agent) will return to haunt you. My advice to everyone *stands on soap box now* is to use disappointments/frustrations as motivation to work harder on our next project instead of reacting in jealousy.

While negate buzz follows you, so does positive buzz. Just as we all remember those "energy sucking" individuals who complain and only have bad things to say, we always remember those who were professional and kind.

Warm regards,

Michelle Lauren

Friday, April 11, 2008 at 7:30:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Lauren said...

Sorry to multi-post. I just had to respond to "Spyscribbler." We're in the same CLWOW chapter of RWA. I must say I will be sorry to see you leave this organization, especially since it has a lot to offer writers.

As I said, it is unfortunate the voice of negativity, which comes from small segments of RWA, often get heard the most. I am positive that the organization will adapt with the publishing trends, and that it will address the growing needs of its diverse membership. Writers who felt underrepresented will hopefully then return.

Friday, April 11, 2008 at 9:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Evangeline Holland said...

I'm VERY late to the conversation, but a portion of chessie's comment struck me:
This happens with any group of women who attach their worth to what they're doing together. Work, motherhood, cheer leading.

I know I'm guilty of this practice when it comes to writing and that's probably the culprit for a lot of ill-will in the romance genre--especially as the internet has made everything so immediate. You get to read any deal, any praise for an author, any successes, just any and everything positive and great that happens for so many other writers. And then you're told perhaps, "you can't write that", or "this isn't selling" or "this is the proper way to write a novel" and it makes you discouraged and envy festers because other people are experiencing success and it looks so darn easy for them. My experience with RWA and other romance writers groups have been half great and half negative; the great part has been the willingness to share stories, but the negative part has been an overemphasis on spooking and creating irrational fears based on The Market, on what so-and-so learned from a contest, etcetera. Everyone is in such a hurry to become published for the vestiges of grandeur it appears to hold that it fosters negativity, it seems.

Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 12:51:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm new to RWA, but I've worked with women for most of my adult life -- I'm a hairdresser by trade.

And let me tell you what, if there was EVER a profession that illustrated how women can twist, turn, and backstab each other, it's in the salon profession.

Don't get me wrong, I've had the priviledge of working with some incredibly talented and wonderful women in the salon industry, women I'd give anything to be able to do a haircut/color/style like they do.

But at the same time, I've worked with women who will lie, cheat, and stab someone in the back, just because they felt threatened by someone.

In a way, this environment has prepared me for being around the pettiness that flies around in the romance community.

It is a tragedy that people feel they must behave in such mean ways.

But I am a believer in karma -- and what goes around comes around.

Thursday, April 17, 2008 at 10:38:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a psychologist writing on the ways our emotional guidance system and our thinking guidance system affect the quality of our lives and our motivation.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 at 6:44:00 PM EDT  

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