A dear friend of mine recently had an experience at a bardic circle (a musical event where folks sit around a campfire and perform to each other) where a group of semi-professionals who didn’t care that it was someone else’s turn decided to shout her down and sing over her. Now, my friend is a wonderful singer (you can’t tell me otherwise—I know you’re going to see this, too), and she is working to overcome dreadful stage fright. These people, on top of being unthinkably rude, could have damaged a less confident person’s sense of worthiness to perform. Luckily, my friend is as stalwart as they come and recognized these folks were just being horrid; it had nothing to do with her.
So how does this relate to writing? Well, I’ve seen authors do this exact thing. We live in an over-saturated market where, despite ourselves, we jockey for positions of dubious merit. We fight for review time, advertising space, interviews, and any other scrap of exposure we can collect. Unfortunately, that kind of pressure often brings out the worst in people. There is also, at times, an inherent egotism that comes with the status of “author” that leads others to think their opinion is somehow more valid just because they’ve been “published”.
Let me pop that bubble right now: at no point are you ever more valuable than someone else. Your opinion may be better-informed and worth more in that regard if you have experience and study, but that doesn’t mean you deserve to treat others like crap. In fact, it will only harm you to treat others like that. Could I walk up to a newbie author or editor and tapdance on them with my five years of experience and several publications? Sure. It wouldn’t make me any better than them, though. It also wouldn’t endear anyone to me because, frankly, who likes a bully? Instead, I’d rather encourage, mentor, and inspire other people. It’s similar to the difference between being a “boss” and being a “leader”.
I also want to note that, while I am technically in competition with other publishers and editors and writers… I’m not really. No matter how much I want to, I can’t publish all the books in the world. I can’t edit all the books in the world. I can’t write all the books in the world. I might be publishing science fiction right alongside other presses, but you know what? Good for them. I’d rather support their sales and develop a good rapport. Particularly in the indie game, that networking can be a huge help. The same goes with author-to-author relationships. There might be another fantasy author whose books are technically in direct competition with mine, but I’d much rather be friends with them than try and sabotage them.
We can all win this race. It’s not as though we’re competing to have someone purchase our car. After all, with cars you only really need one, and it’s a huge investment. Books? Well… if the number of books I own is any indication, I’m probably going to be buying and reading books for a long, long time. That also means that if I see an author I enjoy recommend a book (or a movie, or…) I’ll probably check it out. If I like that author I’ll read what they recommend and so on. You can see where I’m going with this.
Now, in addition to just being jerks, how many of you have seen (or, be honest, done) this: Join a group on social media, drop an advertisement for your book, and leave? That’s kind of like trying to sing over everyone else at the campfire. Particularly since, most of the time, the rules say differently. It’s disrespectful to the people who are there because, in essence, you’re saying: I don’t care what you have to say, just listen to me! You aren’t contributing anything; you’re not even really participating; you’re just throwing out your piece to the detriment of the group as a whole. Don’t be that guy (or gal).
The only way authors, publishers, and editors are going to succeed in this increasingly-hostile landscape where we have to fight for every shred of recognition we receive is to do it together. You can all sing at the campfire. We will all applaud and be happy you joined us. We’ll pass around the marshmallows and moonshine and have fun together. I’d rather eat s’mores with my friends than shout them down because if we’re all yelling no one is heard.