Crabs In A Bucket

I received a rather salty (unfriendly) comment on an old blog today that read as an author who had been either mistreated by the publishing industry venting or an author who hated published authors and everyone associated with them because they hadn’t been successful in that route. While I understand frustration when the industry mistreats an author (and saying “no, we don’t want your book,” is not mistreating authors), there’s no need to take it out on others.

I came across the phrase “crabs in a bucket” in a fabulous editing group I’m part of on Facebook, and I thought maybe it was time to address something I’ve been witnessing more and more as social media continues its roll into the gutters of human interaction: Authors being jerks to others because they feel it somehow validates them. Like so many other people in the world (and bullies on the grade school playground), there are those who believe that tearing others down will raise them up. Let me make it very clear: that does not work.

The term comes from a phenomenon where if you put more than one crab in a bucket, they will try and climb over one another in an effort to escape the bucket and, thereby, get nowhere. And that’s exactly what the sort of vitriol I received today accomplished: nothing. They received a polite response from me, because I don’t find it helpful or positive to be unfriendly in return, but their point is no closer to validation than it was before.

In this day and age, I have seen it happen everywhere that authors will teach each other down and kick each other as they try to gain the almighty dollar. Writing groups are full of petty, bickering jerks who make snide comments about work and writing without having understanding of the industry or the art. Twitter and Facebook are full of people ready to tear an author apart over a misplaced comma in a novel where there were 50,000 correct commas. We have developed this thought that if we see something we don’t like in someone else’s book that we have to tear them apart. It comes from this mentality that there is only so much attention to go around, and every author has to fight for the slightest shred of attention.

IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. STOP.

While it’s true that not every book will find its audience and there is a finite amount of money, resources, and reading time available, what will really set you apart from others is how good your book is, how well it’s produced, and how well you market it. Tearing down the author next to you is like punching the runner beside you in a marathon. It’s wrong, it’s not going to help you much in the end, and eventually everyone’s going to either ostracize you or get together and destroy you. Doing this kind of thing will hurt your brand. As such—STOP DOING IT.

That said, if you encounter something very wrong (an editor who is charging for subpar work, a publisher who behaves in predatory ways, a cover designer who takes off with your money, etc.) then you should by all means speak up about it. I’m not saying this to encourage people to be silent about real issues facing the industry and individuals who are taking advantage of others. However, we should address these things in a professional manner rather than making salty comments on the blogs of individuals. There are places and ways to make those things known and to research folks with whom you tend to work. There are also litmus tests you can do to see if the people you’re working with are legitimate. I’ve covered those in previous blogs and would be happy to do so again.

Authors, publishers, editors, typesetters, designers, marketers—we’re all in this together. We’re all in this to publish books and put them out in front of audiences. We’re all in this to make money (you wouldn’t publish otherwise). Other than expelling predatory folks from our midst, we should be in this to help each other. The more support we can provide one another, the better off the whole industry is altogether. Stop tearing each other down and work on your own skills, talent, and contacts. Improve yourself, and stop trying to yank others back because it will not improve your chances. You will not succeed that way.

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