When You Can’t Get No Satisfaction

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John Adamus wrote a post today about The Writer and Fairness, in which he mentions how a lot of writers aren’t content because they’re not treated fairly, and why that shouldn’t be an issue.

I agree for the most part but, in my experiences, the issue of being treated fairly is often made complicated whenever finances or marketing of oneself, others, or a product (e.g. books) is involved. Additionally, it is absolutely true that sexism, racism, and all those other -isms exist. Sometimes, an author gets slighted (or receives unjust praise) not because the work is (or is not of) superior quality, but because the publishing industry, self-published or not, is run by people. Not robots, not hamsters on a wheel, or cultists — but mercurial human beings with all manner of beliefs and personalities.

Though it will increase your chances, I do not believe your success solely relies on writing the best story possible. Success is not achievable unless you define what “success” means. I feel you absolutely need to determine its parameters in order to be truly happy, manage expectations, and achieve your goals. Not everyone wants the same things. Again, this is another reason why people get extraordinarily nutty on occasion — peer at your creative works through the eyes of anyone else, and you will see a distorted image. We do this (I’ve done it once or twice) because honest feedback is rare even in an internet age. Occasionally, we seek guidance to know we’re headed in the right direction, even when you’re the only person who understands where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

When you hear something positive about the work you’re doing, it can be very encouraging. But when it’s not? Or when it’s fake or what have you? I think you know what happens when negativity hurts, because you’ve seen the result of that. You’ve seen “author bad behavior” where they go off on fans. You’ve heard about writers attacking other writers. This has happened before and it will happen again. Either way, positive or negative, those comments shouldn’t stop you from the act of creation. That, my readers, all circles back to you. This is where I feel the test of a truly contented artist lies: that you will go on, in spite of all the bullshit, because you are an artist, painter, sculptor, writer, etc. and you will not let anyone or anything get between you and your creative works.

Whenever I’m dealing with major dissatisfaction, I ask myself a few questions to hone in on the real problem. For smaller annoyances, I either rant or make a sarcastic comment or play a game or dive into a new project or whatever — and then I move forward as quickly as possible. Sometimes, I get stuck and I have to work through a tough decision about cutting personnel or severing ties with a publisher, etc. Other times, I require focus. e.g. Not be online. In the end, the work has to come first for me – which is where these queries come from.

1) What did I expect to get out of the situation in the first place? – If the answer is: I did this as a favor, took a lower rate, or let a lot of mistreatment go without saying anything, etc. etc. etc. Then, clearly, I should not expect to be treated well in return, because I did not put my own considerations first in a reasonable and healthy way. By taking too many shortcuts and one too many niceties, I’m basically sending out an unconscious message that I’m too accommodating or that I don’t care about myself or my work. Ergo: I’m supporting an illusion that I’m a doormat. Instead, the solution here is to remind myself of two things: one) I am self-employed and two) I have every right to take my career seriously. Because if I don’t — no one else will, either. That L’Oreal advertising phrase “I’m worth it!” from years back? Applies.

2) Is the company/person professional? – There are a lot of different types of authors out there. There are, also, a variety of publishers. Some run a business, full-time, and earn their income off what they do. Others? Well, you’ve seen market listings 4theluv. Some publishers don’t expect to make any money. Toss finances aside, for a second, and focus on the word “professional.” Size of publisher matters not. Volume and quality of publications matters not. People, on the other hand, are everything and it’s quite possible that no, they aren’t going to be professional. I’ve found that most don’t care where you’ve been or what direction you’re heading for; they deal with you as you are now according to their own objectives. Unprofessionalism explains a lot of industry-related treatment; while inexcusable from my perspective, even bullies get book deals. Knowing that, there’s really only one thing I have every right to be worried about: the words on my screen. Sometimes, though, certain comments and remarks are taken out of context and that can cause hurt feelings on both sides. Publishing is a people business. And people don’t always say or do the right thing. The majority of times, I believe mistakes are unintentional; sometimes, though, they are.

3) Has this sort of thing happened before? – In my experiences, problems can either be endemic or specific. When they are endemic, the answer is “YES!” But you don’t know that unless you talk to people or have loads of experience. When they’re specific, well, there’s still a bunch of factors that could have borked the situation. It’s fundamentally true that you will not get along with everyone; sometimes, you have to find the people that you DO get along with, but that requires social skills and/or copious amounts of alcohol. (I jest on that last. And not joking about the social skills.) This industry is pretty small and, if you’ve been around long enough, you’ll probably make a few friends, enemies, and (though I loathe to use this word) frenemies. You’ll hear rumors, conjecture, gossip. You’ll find opportunities, get recommendations, and exchange favors. And, eventually, you’ll start to navigate the industry the same way you do your day job (if you have one) or your social life. Having a support network, whether they’re in the industry or not, really helps ground me.

4) Am I happy with the quality of my work? My ability to produce words? Upcoming projects/contracts? Financial solubility? Where I’m at with my career? – These yes or no questions sum up the crux of any dissatisfaction issue for me. In order, right now, as if 1/21/2013: yes/yes/yes/no/no. Ah! So I’ve just confessed I’m happy with my work, but I’m not satisfied with my overall career.

This little reality check nails what I need to focus on and identifies the possible source — the real epicenter — of my distress. No room for “maybes.” If I say “maybe” for any one of those questions, I count that answer as a “no.” The more yes’s I have, the more content I usually am. Win win, I say. More words on the screen cures all ills.

Or, as they quip here in double digit freezing temperatures… Time for chocolate mint cookies.

    Mood: cold
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Not enough
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Blargh. Housework.
    In My Ears: Nothing.
    Game Last Played: Bears!
    Movie Last Viewed: Lorax
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology
2 Responses to When You Can’t Get No Satisfaction
  1. John Adamus

    Monica, thank you for bringing more sensibility to my idea than I had this morning. You have asked the questions I didn’t (and should have) and looked at the situation in a more grounded, more this-can-get-complicated way.

    In my saying “write the best story possible above all else”, I’m never looking to dismiss the practicalities or minimize the difficulties (although it appears to have that consequence), I’m trying to tell people to focus on telling the best story possible and SOME of the problems they may face (some rejections, some some self-doubt, some frustration) can be replaced with a sense of motivated accomplishment – a feeling that can/should/hopefully will propel them forward to accomplishing their goal(s). Naive? Perhaps. Should I know better? Perhaps.

    There should be more talk about this.

    • Monica Valentinelli

      I don’t think encouraging people is ever a naive thing to do. The reason why I fixated on that line a bit, is because it’s something a lot of people say, but the vast majority of those I’ve met who are truly frustrated are not beginners. They are between “beginning” and some amorphous point in their careers, where they haven’t made “it,” whatever “it” happens to be. Or, they’ve had something happen to them that they have every right to be bitter about, and they haven’t been able to move forward.

      Christine Merrill shared with me a nugget of wisdom a while back. She had said: protect the work. I didn’t understand what that meant until after I encountered some oddness this year, but now I do. And, after a fashion, I think that’s what we’re both trying to say. We’re just using different approaches to get to the same conclusion. :-)





About Monica

Monica Valentinelli is a writer, game designer, and consultant who lurks in the dark.

Monica has published both original stories as well as tie-in fiction for games like Vampire: the Masquerade. Her short stories have appeared in many anthologies and collections including Extreme Zombies, Don’t Read This Book, and New Hero Volume 1.

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