Friday, May 21, 2010

US vs. THEM: on writer cliques and bra-snapping

I’ve never been one of the cool kids.

Not in middle school where I capped off the eighth grade by throwing up in my underwear, not in high school where I completed my Chemistry exams by writing poems about sodium hydroxide.

I vaguely recall a period in middle school where I cared about scaling the mountain of Guess jeans and hair-sprayed bangs to become one of THEM. The chosen ones. The cool clique.

That got exhausting, and I pretty much stopped caring after that.

The reason I bring this up is that I’ve seen a lot of chatter online about “cliques” in the Twitterverse and the writing community – these published authors who think they’re too sexy for their shirts, and the pre-published authors who secretly want to beat them with a can of Aquanet.

And I’ve gotta say, I don’t get it.

Maybe I’m missing something, and there really are hoards of published authors roaming the halls stuffing the pre-published authors into lockers and snapping their bras.

But more likely, you’ve got a bunch of authors with book deals and deadlines and editors breathing down their necks. Authors who are trying desperately to be accessible to fans and failing. Not failing, exactly, but just not reaching everyone.

I have 15 months to go before my debut novel hits shelves, and I certainly can’t claim to have any fans yet. But I can say that I desperately want to strike up personal relationships with everyone who reads this blog, and it breaks my heart that the best I can do most days is the dialogue in the comments trail and a few random Twitter exchanges.

I’m trying, but I’m failing, and I’m sure I’ll fail harder somewhere down the line.

I do understand the tendency to be star struck by certain authors. I have a special dance-of-joy I perform on the days Jennifer Crusie responds to a comment I’ve made on her blog. (Note to self: consider altering dance-of-joy so neighbor doesn’t think you’re having a seizure).

But on the days Ms. Crusie doesn’t respond, I don’t curse her name and burn her books. And I especially don’t think less of myself as a writer because she didn’t send me a personal note asking if we can get together to have martinis and brush each other’s hair (Note to Jennifer Crusie: I would totally brush your hair).

Our value as writers is not determined by how quickly we get an agent or a book deal, how sizeable our first advance check, or how quickly we climb to the top of the bestseller list.

And though I think it’s crucial to be friendly and accessible to fans and fellow authors, the value of an author can’t be judged by how kindly she treats others or how others view her.

What matters is how you perceive yourself and your writing – apart from all the clutter about cliques and US vs. THEM and thatbitchdidntsmileatmeinthehall.

How you value yourself is the only part you can control.

Whether you’re cool or not is irrelevant. Being cool with yourself – or with your own lack of coolness – that’s the only thing that counts.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a strange urge to tease my hair and rock out to Poison.

41 comments :

Karla Nellenbach said...

hahah! well said. I myself am very comfortable with my status as psycho/stalker/writer... :)

Sierra Godfrey said...

You're exactly right that there is a sense of us vs. them when it comes to authors who can't (or won't) respond to all the outreach from others, even though it's not necessarily the author's fault. Social media is so cool in the way it allows you to reach out personally to people you admire. When you stop having time to respond to every person, it's hard to see that that person on the other end now thinks you're being rude and elitist.

I don't know how one solves this. The key is probably to look for ways for reaching out that LOOKS lasting, but isn't necessarily. For example, following people's blogs through the google thingy gives the impression that you're reading the blog all the time, when you might just visit over when you have time. Twitter is harder, but following people back helps.

There's never going to be enough time to get around to every corner of the tinterweb. I think just be cognizant of the impression it gives if you never respond, or only ever respond to certain people (I see a lot of that). Not you specifically, Tawna, but in general.

JohnO said...

Well put. Not that I have ever held a grudge against a holier-than-thou published author (ahem). Then again, I have a pretty whompin' case of bedhead today, so maybe I'm just putting off the crazy vibes.

Jamie D. said...

I totally agree with this - I've been noticing the same disturbing trend, so I'm glad you spoke up, and so eloquently too. I may have had the same uncomfortable Aquanet "trying to be popular" experiences back in the day. It's far too much work, all that teasing and back-combing. And don't get me started on mascara... ;-)

I don't think it's "failing" though if we're just doing the best we can. Authors don't "fail" me if they don't respond to a comment I make for whatever reason. It just is what it is (man).

In any case, you do have at least one fan so far. I dare say more than that. ;-)

L. T. Host said...

I've been telling my fiance lately that I feel like I'm back in high school sometimes with this whole writing thing. The cool kids NEVER talk to me!!

Patrick Alan said...

I don't think you need any fans. I recommend going straight to central air.

annmariegamble said...

As long as you don't evah stop following me on twitter, we're good. ("No time for MOI???")

Terry Stonecrop said...

I haven't noticed this trend, mercifully, because I'm not on Twitter. Sounds weird.

Anyway, I liked what you said on Criminal Minds today and now I enjoyed this post so decided to follow along.

Candyland said...

I love that you're real. Unfortunately, some people like to treat everything as high school shenanigans. But it's always about US, the individual and how we react/feel about it.

Tawna Fenske said...

Karla, there's a lot of merit to being a psycho/stalker/writer. Be proud!

Sierra, excellent points all around! I have only a tiny fraction of the blog/Twitter followers of most big-name authors, but there are days I feel bowled down by trying to find time for actual writing when I'm flipping through blog comments trying to remember "Did I reply to her? Have I ever visited her blog?" I try, but I fail. Likewise, I reply to anyone on Twitter who mentions my name, but I know some fall through the cracks on busy days. I'm totally small potatoes, so I can't imagine how it must feel to be a big-name author with thousands of followers who may very well think you're an evil snob if you can't keep up. Not sure how the big-name authors fix this, but I suspect some have personal assistants. Lucky bitches.

JohnO, well yeah, I see you and the first thing I think is "crazy vibes" :)

Jamie D, great point about not seeing it as failing, though I do feel like that most of the time. Gotta work on that.

L.T. Host, vow to yourself not to look at it as "cool kids" versus "uncool kids." Just chat with everyone, and figure those who don't respond are busy (rather than snobby). I guess that's one thing I've learned in my three months of blogging/tweeting...no one really knows or cares who I am, so all I can do is be myself and try to be funny on occasion. If they follow me, great. If they don't, it's not personal.

Patrick, you will always be way cooler than me. You may have my fan.

annmariegamble, I try to follow everyone back on Twitter, though I probably miss some. You know what confuses me though? Changing avatar pics. I recognize people by their photos, and when those change, I suddenly have no idea who someone is.

Terry, thanks for the visit! You're right, the drama rages hardest on Twitter, so you probably miss a lot of it (mercifully) if you aren't out there. It happens to some extent on blogs, with this unspoken rule of "I'll comment on your blog if you comment on mine." I try hard, but I never make it to all the blogs to repay comments. I wish I could, but I've tried and failed and reached a point where I was pretty sure my editor would strangle me if all I had to show for my new manuscript was a pile of touchingly written blog comments.

Candyland, great point about it always being about US. It's a struggle not to take it personally when someone doesn't follow back or doesn't visit your blog even though you've commented on theirs a million times. I just figure all authors are doing the best they can, and I'd certainly prefer to have my favorite authors devoting their time to writing lovely books for me to enjoy instead of bantering with me on Twitter.

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Cynthia Reese said...

B-but-but Tawna! You are so cool! As is LT Host & Jaime and all your commenters.

Coolness can be defined by others, but it SHOULD be defined by yourself. And I think you've very eloquently made that point.

As for me, I learn from everybody, pubbed and unpubbed, and some of the coolest, funniest people I've met are unpubbed writers. I wish that they knew how tough life is after The Call, but I remember longing for that call, thinking it was the equivalent of a magic wand.

The writers I know -- WRITERS, all, even if they are not published -- are some of the coolest people on earth because they ARE writers.

danicaavet said...

I tried the big bang hair and hair spray thing...then grunge came along and I was like "screw it, this is much more comfortable!". So either I'm lazy, or I don't want to be part of any crowd, but a friend of all. Kind of like Switzerland.

I do try to be friends with everyone who posts on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook and sometimes I find it hard. I can only imagine how difficult it has to be for those authors who have hundreds of followers.

Tahereh said...

i honestly could not agree more. this was a fabulous post.

i think the real point here is that WE'RE ALL HUMAN. and -- just like everything else in this industry -- these things that feel like slights?? they're not personal. not to mention the fact that we all have varied methods of communicating online. it's easy to make assumptions when we can't see someone's face.

hell, it's easy to make assumptions in ANY case.

thanks for this.

i'm wishing you luck with everything! can't wait for your books to come out :D

kristina said...

Nice post. I love how I've found folks like me on Twitter. Especially you. :)

The cool vs uncool thing reminds me of something a student once told me when I was saying that I'd been a dork in high school. "I bet you were a lot more 'cool' than you thought..." and you know what, he was right. We look back/forward/toward/through/et cetera via the particular lens of the day. When I felt dorky, I assumed others perceived me as dorky. I am happily embracing my absolutely normalness these days.

And you, my dear, have made me think of myself as a writer. Regardless of pub status, I am a writer. And if people think I'm cool or uncool, well so be it. At least I'll always have dinner in May with Tawna. LOL!

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Oh my goodness. Well said. Martina & I keep scratching our heads at how lucky we are to be in the company of supportive, talented, and open-minded people in the writing community. We feel majorly humbled every single day by the talent we see. We feel even more blown away by the hearts people open to us in the blogosphere! I can say for myself at least, I'm no cool kid and never will be. I don't want to be :) I'd rather be surrounded by all of you and your greatness!

Marissa

Morgan Ives said...

I think @neilhimself is a great example of how a writer should approach social media. He couldn't possibly reply to everyone, and his followers know that. But he replies to a few, and people try harder for his attention because of it, rather than get in a snit.

It's funny you should mention that you feel short on time, because I was just wondering how you manage to blog _every day_. I love reading your blog and your tweets, but I would understand if you needed to scale back. In fact, I'm rather expecting it when you become famous. And that's okay with me :)

Jason said...

If I wasn't okay with people not responding to my blog postings I would have given up a long time ago. :) Google Analytics tells me enough people are reading that it's not just mom and dad...wait, never mind. They never read my blog. So that's two more clicks to account for...

My other writing persona, the much more public one, I've been there. For a while, when the site I work for was smaller, I was able to respond to each email and comment with a tailored answer, but nowadays it's simply not possible between two jobs and the desire to actually get something done that doesn't involve a computer (I know, I'm weird). It's just the way it goes. As a reader I would never begrudge a writer for not responding - people are busy. Like you said, I've asked things many times of people and when they actually do respond, I feel special (perhaps I just need to get out more). I couldn't imagine being down on someone for not responding.

Oh, and Poison rocks!

Dawn said...

This. Post. Rocks. Almost as much as throwing up in your underpants. And it's almost as cool as poems about sodium hydroxide. Really well said.

I'm exciting for your release - whether you respond to blog comments or not.

And yeah, Poison still rocks. I spent my high school years attending as many Poison concerts as I could.

Patty said...

Ah, Tawna... The boys in my computer repair department are looking into a frequent buyer's discount for me. There goes another keyboard.

Sure hope Bret Michaels recovers; have had a crush on him for like 20 years now. And Jon Bon Jovi. I grew up in the '80s. Big hair rules!

Anyhow, this post is exactly why I love Twitter so much. It's the great Equalizer. I'm a huge fan of various celebrities, singers, authors, agents, and so on.

Right now, my latest celeb-crush is Gilles Marini, the hot naked neighbor from the Sex in the City movie. Oddly, that's NOT why I'm his fan. I love him because he is the living, breathing embodiment of a character from my last novel. I follow him on twitter and facebook and when he replies TO ME (!), I gush, squeal and do a happy dance that puts your seizure to shame.

It's probably his publicist or manager, but still... it just makes my day.

Likewise, I am a huge fan of author Sherry Thomas, writer of historical romances. She tweets back. I still can't believe it.

And Jeff Somers! Damn, his Cates books were unputdownable. I can't freakin' wait to read book 3.

Twitter puts me... invisible little me in touch with these talents. It's both humbling and inspiring at once. I am touched that successful, busy people take the time to interact, to share their wisdom and experiences with me and I'm reminded that there are people following me who have not yet reached the point where I'm at. So, I can teach, share, and hopefully, inspire, too.

Yeah, I've felt the twitter clique a few times, even tweeted about it but usually, I ignore it.

Linda G. said...

So very well said. :)

But, you know, there was this one time...in band camp...(No, wait. That's another story.)

*ahem* There was this one time...on Twitter...when Harlan Coben actually replied to my fangirl gushing tweet about one of his characters. And I felt so SPECIAL! Just for one tiny moment in twime, we connected. *sighs at the memory*

But I really don't expect him chat with me every day. ;)

Liz Czukas said...

I haven't noticed the snits you're talking about recently, but I do know what you're talking about. I follow a certain big name writer on Twitter and send her random @messages now and again. She hasn't responded yet, but the thought of her Twitter feed makes my head throb. Over 15,000 followers. What if even 10% sent her a message at once. She could never get anything else done. Ever.

People have got to learn that their self-worth does not lie with other people.

Great post, Tawna.

- Liz

LR said...

Yes I agree with you. You have to be cool with yourself and not seek approval everywhere. The rest truly just is "clutter" (and steals precious writing time too).

Jan Markley said...

I've found most writers in the writing community to be very supportive.

Patrick Alan said...

Jan, I like to think of the similarities between writers and push-up bras. Surprisingly, they don't help you do push-ups.

Amie Boudreau said...

It's so funny that you addressed this topic.. I'd been feeling so similar!! I posted on it not too long ago myself about that feeling of being in middle school and trying to 'fit in'... and feeling like the uncool kid on the edge of the clique always trying to get noticed..
I was also never popular, never really tried to be.
I was a geek, a writer-geek actually lol.. the girl that wrote poetry and got A's in her classes and didn't wear cool clothes.

I'm still a writer-geek, and I'm cool with that... and I'm finding that I am loving connecting online with other writers who are cool with themselves and with me.. and loving it! :)

Robin said...

It's a funny thing about life... it is usually when you stop caring about what other people think that you know that you have finally made it to a healthy place. Because, really, your opinion of yourself is the only one that matters. So, if you are looking in the mirror and like your push-up bra then you are wearing the right one!

Tawna Fenske said...

Cynthia, amen to all you said (and thanks for the last-second critique this morning when I asked you to pre-read this blog post since I wasn't sure I'd succeeded in saying what I wanted to say!)

danicaavet, it's tough to find the balance between being friendly with everyone and leaving time for yourself and your writing.

Tahereh, love everything you said, especially this: "these things that feel like slights?? they're not personal. not to mention the fact that we all have varied methods of communicating online. it's easy to make assumptions when we can't see someone's face."

kristina, only dinner in May? C'mon, when are we doing it again?!

Adventures in Children's Publishing, very true, the support of fellow-uncool-authors in the blogosphere is tremendous!

Morgan, so far I'm keeping up OK, and the daily blog doesn't cut into my writing time too much. Ironically, the fact that I was laid off from my "real job" in December has turned out to be the best thing to happen to me in terms of having more time for writing-related endeavors!

Jason, good point about Google Analytics giving you a broader picture than just blog comments. Some of the days here with the fewest comments are actually the days where I track the highest number of hits. Go figure.

Dawn, Poison does indeed rock! And I'm planning to blog sometime in the future about the time I threw up in my underwear. A charming story, to be sure.

Patty, it's true, there really is a special thrill in having communication with someone you idolize. Social media can be overwhelming at times, but it sure beats the hell out of fan letters of yesteryear.

Linda G, you know, we should totally do a blog post on everyone's biggest fangirl/fanboy moments. Having Jennifer Crusie respond to my blog comments is nice, but my biggest was the time I was at a concert and the artist looked straight at me during my favorite line in my favorite song. Even my husband turned & looked at me and said "that was weird." As it turned out, his wife was sitting a few feet in front of me, but I still enjoyed the thought that he was singing just to ME!

Liz, couldn't have said this better myself: "People have got to learn that their self-worth does not lie with other people." Amen!

LR, so true - and it's easy to start resenting things that steal your writing time.

Jan, you're right - the writing community as a whole is extremely supportive. Just like all interactions though, there can be big gaps between someone's intent, and how another person chooses to take it.

Patrick, you obviously aren't doing push-ups correctly. Try the black bra, not the red.

Amie, long live the writer geek!

Robin, it can be tough not to care what other people think, but I agree - it's a healthy place to be once you reach it!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Delia said...

There are cliques on Twitter? I thought I'd escaped all that. Ugh. Honestly, I'm happy if anyone comments on my blog at all. Which is rather sad and needy, now that I think about it.

I was far too shy to be in a clique in school. There were some people who thought I hung out with the Cure-punks, but that was only because I wore a lot of black clothing (I hated matching my clothes, still do).

I will say this: I am a fan, I miss the social acceptability of using Aquanet in the white can, and C.C. can pick up that guitar and talk to me any time he damn well pleases.

I sincerely doubt that I'll ever be famous enough to worry about any of this, but should it happen, I'm bookmarking this page.

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I gotta admit, I get just as excited when Jenny Crusie responds to one of my blog comments! :)

Great post!

Claire Dawn said...

Imagining published authors stuffing anyone in lockers is hilarious! :)

Lynn Viehl said...

I think published authors do create circles of friends online, and rarely stray beyond them, but in most cases it's probably a matter of needing people they can trust versus instantly rejecting anyone somehow deemed unworthy. Often the people established pros trust most are the ones who liked them even when they were nobody.

The other problem is how much time a pro can spend online. I give myself an hour on the internet every day to answer reader e-mail, post to my blog, make the rounds of my friend's blogs and catch up on industry news. If I spend any more time online than that, I can't keep up with my obligations to my family, my publishers, my house, my pets, etc., so I unplug. That's the reason I don't get to answering the comments on my blog unless I sacrifice something else, which is why I rarely get to my comments (although if someone asks a question, I really do try to get back to them, either on the blog or by e-mail.)

Then there is this thing that is politely called networking. Oy. If I told you how often writers online have approached me, e-mailed me, befriended me or otherwise made overtures simply so they could use me, my experience and/or my connections in the industry, and then discarded me or bad-mouthed me as soon as they got what they wanted, it would torch your eyelashes. After ten years of that, every fresh face that pops up and offers me a bright and shiny "Hi!" invokes in me the immediate urge to hide under the bed until they go far, far away.

I still believe we writers should be a united community who talk to each other, no matter what level we're at in our careers, so I do wander around and check out new blogs when I can. Like now. :)

Talei said...

Hi Tawna, I'm starting my scribes journey and have found some great support at blogs. Twitter cliques, thats interesting. I was prob the kid at school who didn't pay attention to cliques at all. Love reading your post. Congrats on your debut novels!! :)

Tawna Fenske said...

Delia, ah yes, the Aquanet in the white can with the pink trim? I'm sure I inhaled gallons of the stuff in the girls' locker room back in the day :)

Alyssa, I'm so glad I'm not the only one who does this! I actually called my husband in to read one of her replies to me once. Pretty sure he thought I'd lost my mind.

Lynn, terrific points all around! You've hit the nail on the head with all the reasons published authors do sometimes erect walls around themselves (I said "erect") and those reasons don't have anything to do with seeing themselves as too-cool-for-school. It's unfortunate that there will always be those who perceive the distance as snobbery, and I think it's important for authors at any stage in their careers to put themselves in another author's shoes before judging too harshly. Thanks for stopping by, BTW!

Talei, thanks for the visit! You're right, there are some amazing sources of support to be found online. Definitely helps make the ups and downs more bearable!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Tawna Fenske said...

Claire Dawn, whoops, missed you up there in the comments! Yeah, I kinda cracked myself up picturing a bunch of romance authors cracking their gum and stuffing underclassmen in their lockers :)

Tawna

Elizabeth Flora Ross said...

What a fantastic post! I love it, but you are wrong. You ARE cool and you are NOT failing!

Julie Weathers said...

Oh, good grief. I am so far past being one of the cool kids. I just pretty much like me and I attract other strange people like me, so I'm happy.

The only ones I want to beat with a can of whup butt are the ones who think they are experts because they've been blogging for six years and have to correct everyone else. Or the fourteen-year-old who has just started their first book and they have all the answers.

Agents, publishers and many published authors I get along with just fine. I think they just want to hang around for the next disaster.

Marybeth Poppins said...

This is an awesome post. I have to admit, at times I have felt this way. (Not that I'd actually come out and announce!!!) But those are also the days where I think my book sucks and I'm lame and I should stop writing before I break a finger. (See the correlation?)It has nothing to do with published and unpublished authors, it has everything to do with self confidence.

Thanks for writing this post :)

Expat mum said...

New to your blog, but very interested,- as a published author. I hope I'm accessible to my legions of fans (cough, cough) but I'm so darn uncool that I didn't even notice the cliques. Pah!

Tawna Fenske said...

Elizabeth, aw, thanks. Maybe I'll have a T-shirt made up to say this.

Julie, agreed, know-it-alls can be annoying (though I'll admit I've occasionally been able to learn things even from them!)

Marybeth, you totally hit the nail on the head: "It has nothing to do with published and unpublished authors, it has everything to do with self confidence." Amen!

Expat mum, I think pubbed authors deserve credit just for TRYING to be accessible. We'll never please everyone, but pleasing a few counts for something.

Tawna

Penelope said...

This is exactly why you will have tons of fans. You're awesome, Tawna.

Lani Woodland said...

I loved my hair in the 80's. My daughter had a dance routine where she had to dress in eighties fashion. I double layered her socks and gave her hair wings. :) I may not be a fan of your books (you know since I haven't read them yet) but I love your blogs and tweets. :)