Thursday, March 14, 2013

And Then What?

So, let's say you've gotten your work out there in your preferred venue. Let's say it's even moderately successful by whatever yardstick is used to measure success in that venue. (I would advise you to be flexible in your concept of success, as it will need redefining many times over the course of your career and it's best to be prepared.) What happens then?

Well, then you get responses. Or you don't. You get paid. Or you don't. You get asked to do things. Or you - no, wait, that's one of those sure things. You will be asked to do things, by total strangers, and all of these things will come at some cost to yourself. After all, you're published now! You must be ready and willing to give workshops, critique work in the same medium (or, sometimes, in a totally different medium), to advise other people who want to publish in the same venue, to mediate for other people who want to publish in the same venue because you have connections now - right? You must, in fact, be obliged to be available to anybody, anytime, and be glad to do it because it's "exposure"?

Do not, ever, fall into the trap of working for free, or of paying someone else to allow you to do work.

By "free," I do not mean "not paid in cold hard cash." As I've discussed before, cash is only the form of recompense that we can buy groceries with; it is not the only form of payment. You can get paid in satisfaction; in genuine effective publicity (by which I do not mean a chance to sell your books directly to schoolchildren); in prestige; in an equivalent exchange of work; in the pleasure it affords you to perform the service; in many, many potential forms. Only you can decide what currency will best recompense you for the service required.

The pleasure of being useful is a real and valuable one. None of us makes it through this world without help, and we all have people to whom we are grateful; but no one enjoys feeling like the recipient of charity. Having received considerable generous help from playtesters in making Widespot, I started hanging around the creator feedback forum, a part of the board I'd never entered till I needed it, hoping to return the favor - not to the same individuals, necessarily, but to people like them, and like me. "Paying forward" through volunteer work is an effective tactic for improving yourself and your community, if done in a sincere and generous spirit.

Nothing spoils paying forward like having it treated as a debt. If someone starts a thread asking for advice in making a neighborhood, I may download that neighborhood, playtest, and share my advice as someone who has done similar work. If someone contacts me and asks me, as someone who has done similar work that he has admired, to download a neighborhood and poke around in it and give him the benefit of my experience, I am fairly likely to do so if my life isn't crazy busy, because this sort of thing is done only by a small portion of the community and odds are good he's having trouble getting useful feedback. If I don't think I can afford the time to do so (bearing in mind that this is play that edges toward being work) I will at least try to give him references that should help him accomplish his purpose. If someone sends me an e-mail with an attachment demanding that I look at his neighborhood unless I'm a stuck-up bitch - well. I've got a delete button and I'm not afraid to use it.

I'm less generous with my writing critiques and advice; but that's a matter of supply and demand. The demand for advice on both writing as a craft and writing for publication is high, but it is not higher than the supply. Educating would-be writers is a full-fledged industry, and if you don't have the research skills necessary to tap into it, your first step is to get them. Generally speaking, if I don't know you personally, I don't want to read your manuscript; but I don't overvalue my time or my expertise. I agreed to mentor a high school student with writing ambitions last year, I've been in short-term critique groups in which we were all trading advice for advice, I've been involved in workshops for which I've been paid in free convention memberships, and I've been paid my school-visit rates for workshopping.

Among children's writers, the rule of thumb is that the less a school district pays you, the worse your school visit will be. If they want you, they will pay for you; and the more they pay for you, the more likely they are to prepare the classes so that your talk will do them some good, give you bathroom and lunch breaks, and not spring surprises on you like agreeing to four sessions with small groups in the library while actually arranging five sessions with large groups in the auditorium. (Yes, it happens.) If they pay you, they will treat you as someone whose time has value. If you don't, they will treat you like dirt.

That doesn't mean you should never, ever agree to do a free school visit. If you want to present for free in the poor district the day after you present for pay in the rich one; or at your own child's school where you know the librarian; or to polish your presentation and gain confidence, by all means work something out. But if someone approaches you to do one, and says the budget is limited, name a figure and offer to negotiate. If he wants you, he'll negotiate. If he goes away and never comes back, he didn't want you. And if he starts poormouthing about how you'd get a chance to sell your books and you should do it For the Community, you don't want him.

The people who try to pay you in guilt for doing them favors should always be given short shrift. Politely, of course. But if you allow them to get their teeth into you, they will suck you dry and then kick you. Sure, if you turn them down now they might temporarily reduce your standing in some community they share with you by badmouthing you; but the truth is, they'll badmouth you after they've sucked you dry and you can't give them anymore, anyway.

And the odds are good that the people they're badmouthing you to are either people who know what they're like, or people just like them, so you won't lose anything. Whereas, if you did him his favor, you'd be out your time, your effort, and a good chunk of self-esteem at being played for a sucker.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. I totally agree with this by the way. There are some people in the world who seem to force you to do their bidding (e.g. forcing you to say an apology even though you don't exactly what you should be sorry for, but feeling for their emotional pain, you say an empty apology anyway, hoping that the facade of feeling sorry is good enough for social acceptance); there are some people in the world who you can't really figure out why they like to nit-pick every single flaw that they can possibly find about you and then use those flaws to whisper to a person sitting RIGHT NEXT TO YOU. They may something like "Well, he's/she's so rude," after you borrow someone's eraser without permission but then return it right back. Sure, they may be bad-mouthing you right across the table from you with a classmate or friend, but personally I look highly of them and appease them, hoping that one day they will overlook my flaws. I would also recognize my mistakes silently and intend to not repeat them by saying "please" and "thank you" and "may I borrow _____?" from someone. The truth is, people change, and sometimes this change is not immediately observable. Personal experience has taught me that I should assume good faith of others, even when other people assume bad faith of me. This does not mean to overlook flaws or excuse flaws. Assuming good faith is hard to explain, because it promotes a counter-intuitive sort of thinking - that one should treat others well even though one has been poorly treated. However, it is this ethical code that I much enjoy from the Wikipedia community. Usually, I make edits with good intentions, and when I fail, I try to explain my intentions, hoping that they will understand me and forgive me. Wikipedian editors are usually friendly people, because they assume good faith and write lengthy articles on what it means to assume good faith of others, even to those people who treated a person poorly. Speaking from personal experience, when those Wikipedians assume good faith of me rather than trying to take revenge of me or forcing me to say sorry, I feel overwhelmingly guilty, and I think this overwhelming guilt is what causes me to change my behavior on the forum. Is there an apology? Yes, a sincere one based on a natural guilt rather than an insincere one to please people. But do I expect a return for my apology? No. All I expect of myself is that my behavior is changed, as I learn to try to control my own temper. Over time, I learn quickly how to handle disputes. If I have got the evidence to support my position, then I go for it. If I haven't got the evidence, I neglect it. If I don't understand what a person trying to say, I attempt to put those person's words into my own words, and if I still don't understand, then I draw a question mark inside my head and ignore the discussion. Personally, I disagree with the notion of revenge. But to each his own.