Why I don’t default trust iconic authors #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Granted there are exceptions, but in my experience, there tends to be a disconnect between the most iconic authors and the rest of us. And by disconnect, I mean the wealthier and more famous an author gets and the longer they’re at that level, the more out of touch they are with evolving worldviews and how to get from word one to book deal and beyond. On the former, and I’m just guessing at this, but if I’ve got a staff to free me up time for writing, and most everyone else reliant on me for paychecks says yes to me more than they dare say no, then I’m in an echo chamber. As to the latter, if I’m no longer fighting to get published/sell books, then my knowledge about what it takes for most authors to achieve these goals started tapering off the year I made it big.

Take this scenario. You’re a debut or midlist author who writes something oppressive on social media. Your agent emails you and says, hey, I recommend walking that statement back, and you immediately write an apology, because you don’t want to lose said agent, or you don’t and there’s a chance you and the agent part ways. Now imagine J.K. Rowling is the author who says the shitty thing. Her agent might disagree with her, but does he value his ethics more than his Cormoran Strike commissions? In this real-world situation, Rowling’s agent did indeed value his commissions more than the rights of trans people. And a really rich cis author was spared the slap-on-the-wrist email she was more likely to have received from her agent had Harry Potter never made it past midlist.

Scenario number 2: You’re not J.K. famous, but you’re about as renowned as a Canadian author can get, and then one day, you get Hulu famous. You’ve long advocated for freedom of speech, so when a peer asks you to co-sign a letter that on the surface, if you ignore the context of the letter writers’ motive, seems to be about that, you do.

“Concerns over PC culture seem to have long been a preoccupation for the letter’s ringleaders. Williams has previously written in the pages of Harper’s about his concerns over the left’s “fanaticism” and “totalitarianism.” Mark Lilla, who according to the New York Times was involved in early conversations that sparked the letter, has spent much of the past four years denouncing efforts to bring diversity and inclusion initiatives to politics and calling for society to move beyond identity politics. George Packer, another early participant in discussions that led to the letter, has used his prestigious platforms at The New Yorker and The Atlantic to warn at length of how culture wars are threatening our children, in the form of privilege checklists, gender-neutral bathrooms and school integration.” Quote from The Problem with ‘The Letter’ by Jeff Yang, CNN

And then when a co-signer pulls out once they learn that context, and a group of journalists Tweet from Margaret Atwood that reads, Opinion: When even a letter calling for open debate can be cancelled, we're in trouble/via @globeandmail, and then there's a link to the op ed: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-when-even-a-letter-calling-for-open-debate-can-be-cancelled-were/writes a letter addressing the flaws in the one you signed, you don’t acknowledge this side of the debate on Twitter even though it’s open debate your letter asks for. You instead tweet a day after the second letter is published, an op-ed that both validates the term ‘cancel culture’ and denounces those who disagreed with you, when you could have just owned up to the fact that you signed a letter that…

“Under the guise of free speech and free exchange of ideas, the letter appears to be asking for unrestricted freedom to espouse their points of view free from consequence or criticism. There are only so many outlets, and while these individuals have the ability to write in them, they have no intention of sharing that space or acknowledging their role in perpetuating a culture of fear and silence among writers who, for the most part, do not look like the majority of the signatories. When they demand debates, it is on their terms, on their turf.” Quote from A More Specific Letter on Justice and Open Debate, TheObjective.Substack.com

Last scenario: You’re so successful, your backlist takes up entire shelves at bookstores. You’re so successful, Masterclass invites you to teach an online course, and I sign up. The course workbook, written by Masterclass but endorsed by you, goes out with the following confusion. The excerpt teaches authors to find an agent but also insinuates authors can easily directly query the Big 5 without one. I emailed Masterclass about this incongruity in January 2017, but they’ve made no material changes to the text as of this writing.

Excerpt from 2016 version of 'James Patterson Teaches Writing Class Workbook', the class being a product of Masterclass. The excerpt reads, "If you're searching for the best publishing houses to send your query letter, we've got you covered. Here are a few commercial publishing houses to look into: -Link to Random House -- New York -Link to Hachette -- New York -Link to HarperCollins -- New York -Link to Penguin -- London -Link to Simon and Schuster -- New York Assignment -Write a query letter to pitch your novel to a publishing house. Start by simplifying your letter into three key elements to grab thier [sic] interest." The left-hand column beside this mentions "Find the Right Agent" so it seems like those involved in writing this workbook know that an agent can be necessary, but those involved in writing this book don't seem to know the Big 5 rarely take submissions if the author doesn't have an agent.

The title of the post, Why I don't default trust iconic authors is superimposed over a "wrong way" traffic sign.This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

Have any iconic authors ever done anything that made you trust them less? Or maybe it’s something they didn’t say or do when they should have? Can you think of any exceptions to my logic, iconic authors with advice that never fails and/or consistently thoughtful worldviews. 

The image I edited for this post is by bpcraddock and is from Pixabay.

18 thoughts on “Why I don’t default trust iconic authors #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

    1. You and I are noticing the same things. Or maybe more precisely a shift to being vocal about things a lot of us didn’t know a lot about one, two, five years ago. Speaking of five years ago, that’s when every other author identified their HP house in their Twitter bio. Less so now.

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  1. I used to be enamored of a fiction author who also writes nonfiction books about self publishing and writing. She’s prolific, and blogs and hosts a podcast too. But when I bought one of her non fiction How To books there wasn’t an index. There’s indexing software, you can index using Word functionality, and there’s a society of indexers, and I’m sure there’s even a few indexers on Fiverr. So there’s no excuse for a professional author of this calibre, who self-publishes, for not including a key element in a paperback book. It made me feel like she’s just cranking out the books with little regard for ensuring they’re the best quality. If she wasn’t such a vocal proponent of professionalism and quality in the indie author world – I’d overlook it … but this omission of an index in a nonfiction book – really irks me!

    Blog Hop: https://raimeygallant.com/2017/03/22/authortoolboxbloghop/

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  2. Great blog, Raimey. Really good points. I feel like what you’ve written can be expanded to include not just writers who through their success are removed from the situations of the majority of people, but all people who have enough fame and money that they are distanced from the struggles of most people. I definitely feel that people in those positions can still be connected to what is happening in the world, but as you say, we should not default trust people in those positions.

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    1. Exactly. I’ve definitely noticed some iconic authors are more outside the echo chamber than others. Stephen King, for instance, on a few occasions I can think of, though there are probably more, listened to what marginalized folks (and their allies) on Twitter were saying and he learned and did better.

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  3. This is a good example of a type of privilege we might not think about as much, that of past success. Certainly for folks who have risen to the top of the bestseller lists, the perspective on what it takes to get there is going to be different. I suppose we take advice always with a grain of salt, knowing that everyone’s experience is going to vary.

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  4. This is a great post, but depressed me. But you are so right! I also kept thinking about how it can pertain to all industries… The JK Rowlings “incident(s)” for lack of a better word is what made me realize how fragile it all is and how deafening it is as well. Yeah, can’t lose that commission, but you’d sell your soul for money? Ugghhh. You’re so on point.

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  5. Note from the administrator Raimey Gallant: There was a thread here that I’ve decided to take down, because I think the harm it could cause marginalized readers outweighs the value it could serve had I left it up as an example of the types of push back commonplace when speaking against oppression. Mandy asked me to take the thread down as well, and should she ever read this, I didn’t take it down because of her request. She came into my comments, tone and venue policed me and ultimately didn’t own the harm she caused. It’s not my responsibility to first take her bad faith arguments and then prioritize her comfort by deleting the receipts.

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  6. This is such a timely post! You make some really great points here, but it’s also so very upsetting to see this happen. It just reminds me why we have to keep folks accountable.

    Thank you for sharing this!

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  7. Raimey, I read your post and the comments. (I always read comments before I post on anything… I’m not entirely sure why other than habit.)

    “Silence is violent.” Your quote hit hard.

    I have typed and backspaced so many times right here… My brain is a tsunami of emotions and thoughts, and I’m not sure how to word them right now. All I can say is great post. Powerful.

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  8. True, Raimey. Everyone–especially the rich and famous–need to stop and think before they speak or write something. Thanks for the reminder. All best to you!

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