Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What is Author Blaming, And How Can You Deal With It?

We're all familiar with victim blaming. You know, when you look at a victim of a crime and suggest that what happened was somehow, in some way, that person's fault. The tired old saw of, "it's terrible she got raped, but look at what she wore to the club!" is perhaps the most well-known example of victim blaming. Others, like how the fellow who got mugged shouldn't have been flashing his cash around at the bar, or how the family who got burglarized should have installed a security system, point out that, at some level, people viewing the situation want to believe that the victims brought what happened on themselves. That there is some blame these victims can be saddled with in order to make them at least partially (if not fully) culpable in the terrible events they've endured.

Using this as a basis, I'd like to explain author blaming, why it happens, and how you can deal with it.

Are You Saying That Writers Are All Victims?

Don't get ahead of me.

By using the term author blaming, I'm not attempting to claim that authors deal with something that's anywhere near as bad as the victims of actual crimes. I'm not attempting to belittle victim blaming that happens in other areas, nor to usurp the sympathy for those victims to re-direct it onto my own cause. The point I'm trying to make is that authors, as well as other creative professionals who are not yet household names, often face extreme criticism from people who insinuate that an author's lack of monetary success is entirely their own fault.

I've got no joke, so have a silly goat instead.
If you're a creative professional, you've likely have a conversation that goes something like this with a friend, family member, or just a casual acquaintance.

Person: Wow, I really admire the guts it takes to put yourself out there. I love what you create, and I can't wait for your next project.
You: It's the job! Long hours, crap pay, but every day is a little closer. If I can grow my fan base a little, and get a firm hold in a niche, I'll be able to do more.
Person: So, you up for going out to lunch?
You: I wish I could, but I've got $5 to my name right now.
Person: Ugh! Have you ever considered just working a regular job so you can stop being so poor all the time?

Authors have to deal with a bizarre Catch-22. On the one hand, our profession is outside the realm of most people's experiences. For the average person the path is clear; you go to school, get some kind of training, get a job, and then you work that job (or a job like it) until you retire. To those people, people who have never stepped off the path where they work for someone else, an author is a rare and magical thing, because they're people who have decided to use their own talent to create stories (or blog entries, poems, or whatever else you write) instead of putting on the workaday yoke.

On one side of the coin, the author is the daring revolutionary, refusing to follow the status quo while blazing his or her own path with nothing but guts and talent!

On the other hand, though, most people seem to believe in the idea of cosmic fairness. Put in simple terms, if you write good books that deserve to be read and recognized, then fate will ensure you rise to stardom. Even if you wrote a book, published that book, marketed that book, and are actively writing more books, there's this unquestioned assumption in many people's minds that if you're not a success, it's because you aren't good enough to be one.

On the other side of the coin, authors should be punished for stepping off the path, and for their arrogance in believing that their creativity means they should be able to make a living.

It's kind of like nudity in a slasher movie. The public wants to see authors take their tops off, but then when the market drives a machete through our chests it's obviously our own fault for not deciding to stick to the straight and narrow like the chaste girl in glasses. You know, the one who's probably going to survive to the end, and chop the market's masked head off in the bargain.

How Do You Deal With That?

Make no mistake, it is homicide-inducing levels of frustrating to have people who are not creative professionals themselves, and who have no idea what it takes to do your job, try to tell you what you need to do to be successful. Or worse, telling you, personally, that you're a failure and should give up (something that happens a lot more virtually than it does in person, but it's not an unknown occurrence). However, depending on how well you know someone, and how much effort you're willing to put in, there are some steps you can take to turn the situation to your advantage.

Everyone loves bullet points!

Step One: Correct Your Audience's Misconceptions

Interactions between authors and non-authors are a lot like when you have to deal with tourists from another country. In this case, the country of normal. Tourists have an idea of what life in your country is like, and they make an effort to speak your language and follow your customs. Unfortunately, their knowledge is imperfect, so you have two choices; correct their knowledge, or walk away and let someone else deal with it.

Sometimes it may be as simple as directing them toward the massive archive of work you have created (between this blog, Improved Initiative, my Amazon author page, and my Infobarrel article archive, I think I'm starting to make a dent), and explaining to them that you weren't hoping to live independently off the sales of one book. You might also need to explain that you work longer hours as an author than anyone who has to punch a time clock, just in case they thought you were trying to skate by on an hour of writing a day. Sometimes the conversation may be more complex, and you'll have to explain current trends in fiction, illustrate how difficult it is to get assistance marketing your work, or explain that even if you sell a lot of copies, it might be months before you actually have that money in your bank account.

No matter what, though, you must maintain a professional, and friendly demeanor during the first step. You're not attempting to prove your critics wrong, but rather to show them that their assumptions are based off of an incomplete knowledge of how your career actually works.

A lot of people will just tell you you're making excuses, and walk off in a cloud of smug. Some people won't, though, and that's where the next step comes in.

Step Two: Show Them How They Can Help You

Sometimes step one is all you get. Someone criticizes your career choice, and you engage them in a conversation about it. Sometimes nothing gets resolved, and all you get for your trouble is a headache and a lot of wasted energy. Other times, though, someone will have his or her perspective corrected, and realize there are many more factors at play than personal effort, and that it's just as impossible for an author to self-levitate through use of their bootstraps as it is for anyone else.

A lot of the time this is where the conversation ends. If you're lucky, and you make a positive impression, it's possible to turn this person into a supporter. That's why it's important to give people business cards, persuade them to take a look at your book, or if you're online give them web addresses where they can find your work (sort of like I did above).

The key with this step is to weave people into your network by showing them all the different ways they can help support you and your career if they want to. For example, people who really like your work can buy your books, and leave reviews to help make your books more visible. If someone wants to give money right to you, then you can put a tip jar on your blog (like I have in the upper right corner), or they can become a patron on your Patreon page (mine is right here, if you're curious) to help fund you by tossing a few bucks in your account every month.

If your mysterious someone doesn't have the money to support you financially, or simply isn't sold on being that big of a fan, that's all right, too. They can still support you by following you on your social media pages (I'm on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, for instance), and by promoting your posts through liking, sharing, and most importantly actually viewing them. Between book sales, blog traffic, patronage, and just using word of mouth to make more people aware of you, it's possible for one person to make a big damn difference in your career.

Not Everyone is Going to Be a Fan

It doesn't matter how talented you are, or how many people love your work, you're not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Your Aunt Rita will always pat you on the hand, and tell you that she prays for you, because she's too polite to say she thinks you're refusing to grow up. Your friend Jake will live through you vicariously, but he'll never buy a copy of your books because he'll feel like he should get one for free because he knows you. And there will always be people, at conventions, on forums, and even at talks and book signings you set up, who will think you're a sham because you don't have a laundry list of awards, and you don't have a six-figure income.

When that happens, it's best to just do like Disney says, and let it go.

Trolls gonna troll.
You should make an effort to get as many people on your side as possible. After all, sometimes all it takes is one person to share your post with their massive group of online friends to find yourself at the start of a viral avalanche. Maybe that person you were polite and friendly to knows someone at a major publishing house, or a radio station, or a TV network, and suddenly you find doors opening to help boost your profile that you'd never expected.

Author blaming happens, and it happens a lot. How you respond to it can often have unexpected consequences, though.

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