Monday, November 26

It's about respect.


I attend a couple of writers’ groups and I really enjoy them both. The other writers are interesting and it’s fun to be with people who talk the same peculiar language I do. Like in any collection of writers, some are better at their craft than others.
In one of the groups, we have monthly writing prompts and we read our work aloud. We’re also free to bring other work and ask for critiques or any other form of help we need. It’s a friendly group. One of the men—I’ll call him Ted—attends with his wife—let’s name her Susan—and they are a joy to watch as they interact together. Ted has written at least two books. I think he’s self-published them. Susan writes lovely poetry. Since the poetic gene passed me by, I’m unabashedly jealous of this, but that’s neither here nor there.
In October, Susan read Ted’s essay aloud because his throat hurt. It was well-written and entertaining. We all enjoyed it. But there was this one part…
Where he was at a garage sale and looking at books on a shelf and referred to the “row of cheap romances.”
Susan read that part, meeting my eyes quickly and looking back at what she was reading. Ted chuckled and said in a jolly, gravelly voice, “Sorry, Liz.”
“It’s okay. I’m used to it,” I said, and everyone else chuckled a little, too, relieved that I was fine with it.
Fine with it? Really? No, I’m not fine with it! I’m ticked off. I don’t know that I’ll ever come back here. I doubt that I’ll ever consider you a writer again, Ted you Idiot.
I didn’t say any of that, though when I went to the other writers’ meeting I delivered a lecture (which none of them needed, probably) about respect and professionalism.
Because those things are important. I don’t like a lot of the books that are out there today. I don’t read certain genres or even sub-genres in my own particular line of writing work. But my respect for the writers of what I don’t like is as absolute as it is for the other Wranglers, Kathleen Gilles Seidel, Carla Kelly, and my other literary heroines. (I was going to put “heroes” in that sentence, but sexist though it may sound, my favorite writers are all girls.)
Snark is a big thing right now, and I have to admit I think some of the snarky reviews are funny. But the truth is that even while I’m laughing, I’m cringing because someone’s feelings are being hurt. I know that by putting ourselves “out there,” we invite any kind of criticism in reviews. But not from our peers, not from the guy sitting at the same table as we are. That particular criticism needs to be constructive—that’s the professional way to do it. And it needs to be respectful.

29 comments:

  1. Aw, Liz, I feel for you. I think we've all been there and it just sucks. I get all defensive about romance because it's the ugly stepchild of 'literary' work. *eye roll* Isn't there another cliche other writers could use? Romance novels and comics get no respect...and that's a sad state of affairs because they're two of the most-read genres. Putting us down is putting down a huge sub-set of readers...why do people do that?!?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Kristi, and I wonder if they even realize how many readers they're dissing and potentially alienating.

      Delete
  2. Respect and professionalism are so important.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've attended several writing extension courses at UCLA, and in one, we all read our work aloud each week. I never disclosed that I was published in romance, because of the built in judgment that goes along with it, that you blog about here. Anyway, the class was filled with wannabe screenwriters. What I heard from them in class was not so great, and I kept my thoughts to myself, choosing to be respectful.
    One week, one of the young men commented on break about how much he liked the characters I was writing about. It was then I mentioned that I was actually published in romance and he said, "Oh, those cheesy books." Yeah, those cheesy books he's probably never read one word of, but has the gaul to dismiss. I gave my stock answer (again out of respect for others it wasn't nasty). They're relationship books, stories about people struggling to make things work, like the characters you like in our class.
    In my head I thought - yeah those "cheesy romances" have gotten me advances and royalties, and respect from my peers. They've gotten me private e-mails from people around the world, and they give people hope. What about you, bucko?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You go, Lynne! You were the "better man."

      Delete
  4. Oh, boy.
    This makes me see red.
    I used to be in a crit group with 3 men and 4 other women, who all wrote romance or women's fic. I got a request for a full, and two of those women were so ugly on the crit of the full ms, I quit the group and I've never gone back, and I don't speak to them unless I just have to.
    Respect.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope they're aware of where your writing life has gone! :-)

      Delete
  5. Not long ago I was at an author event in a small town nearby. I was shunned for not only being a romance writer, but also for writing ebooks. As I perused the print books by the twenty other authors there, I realized that they'd all been printed by a local vanity publisher who had probably charged them each an arm and leg for a box full of their printed memoirs that now sit in local consignment shops and second-hand stores. I was polite and complimentary, but I laughed all the way home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What's scary is how few of them know what vanity pubs are.

      Delete
  6. At least he recognized his error and apologized:) He may have felt that way when he wrote the essay, then realized too late who would hear it.

    When I began attending our local writer's group, a few people dismissed my first two books as 'college stuff'. But then I was picked up by an e-publisher, and one of the guys in the group began reading first my Arbor U books, then another MS. And he came to my in private and apologized for pre-judging my romance books, because of the plot twists I'd written. And now he's one of my cheerleaders, 9 books later, while he's still self-pubbed.

    And I agree; respect is VITAL among all authors and writers. I wish more authors would see we're not in competition with each other, but here to HELP each other. Friendly competition is okay, but not to the extent we're tearing each other down in the process. Esp in 'reviews'. Keep the snark in private.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Molly. In "Ted's" defense, he may have been embarrassed, but he was also amused, so I'm not all that forgiving--which doesn't say anything good about me. :-(

      Delete
  7. Liz, what a timely post for me! I just entered the Golden Heart contest and am now girding my loins for the criticism that may ensue come March 2013.I find whenever I enter a contest I am bound to get one snarky comment.The 2011 So You Think You Can Write winner blogged recently that there is a clear difference between a critique and criticism and it appears some authors just do not "get it". And while you write of the snubbing by those in "literary" circles I find the snarky attitudes towards fellow romance authors hurt more.

    But shame on Ted! If you were a meaner type, next meeting you would bring a page to share with a character who is an egg head literary writer that believes he (or she) is God's gift to literature. Wonder if he'd be offended?

    ReplyDelete
  8. I can only add an emphatic AMEN to your wonderful post, Liz. When I've come up against "critique" like this, I respond with a smile and say, "To my mind, there's nothing much better than writing about, and celebrating the most powerful emotion we're given as human beings...and that's love." Blessings to you! I alw

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Marianne. It was one of those "I wish I'd said..." times, yet, like Lynne said above, I owed respect to the others at the meeting.

      Delete
  9. Just remembered this: A woman came by my table and after a few moments, I asked her what she liked to read. She responded, "I only read historical books and non-fiction. My sister likes to read that romance trash, though."

    I just smiled and said, "Well go get HER then."

    The woman walked off; I told my hubby about it, who then said, "Well, if you'd write something more popular, like Harry Potter..."

    I threatened him with the cast-iron skillet, then mentioned I do have a paranormal in the works. MEN!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL. My husband is super-supportive, but even he refers to my "hobby" sometimes.

      Delete
  10. Thank you for sharing your story, Liz, so that we all let your reaction sink in a bit. Writing means developing a thick skin--not just in preparation for reader's reviews, but also others' perceptions about us. If you're published, you're envied--no matter what the genre (and no matter what rubbish is streaming from their mouths).

    Be proud of your accomplishments, and secure in your successes. And if someone pokes fun at what you do, don't take it too hard. Poking fun means you were on their mind, and if you were on their mind, then you have much more power over them than they probably realize. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make me hope I don't react negatively to people who are more successful (and probably deservedly so!) than I am. I forget about the envy factor because it's been so long since I actually experienced it. But I did. Thanks for bringing that to mind!

      Delete
  11. Someone once told me she's never read a romance because they're all trash. I asked her how did she know they're trash if she's never read one. She rolled her eyes and told me everyone knows that. I said "then I guess I'm no one." We don't talk much anymore.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I have a friend who talked about "all" Harlequins because, after all, she read a couple in the 1970s. :) Thanks for coming by, Shawn.

      Delete
  12. When I first started writing YA, it didn't really have a name. I just called it books for teenagers--and I used to get that same kind of response. I know some children's authors have gotten "Why don't you write books for adults?"

    Now YA is the hottest, in-vogue category of writing that established "adult" superstars are even giving it a go.

    It all comes around eventually.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It does, doesn't it? And I'm so glad "YAs" are reading!

      Delete
  13. Enjoyed your post Liz. I wish I had the talent that you and many of your associate writing artist have. I wish I had a nickle for every one of those "trashie" books that my mother in law read ,I might be rich. She was a nurse and a good one at that. She read what we called the nursie novels and lots of them. You wouldnt tell her that they were less than any other novel. She once remarked when someone called them "oh those books" that she suspected that the authors and publishers that produce"those books" made some pretty good money and were probably more well healed than you suspect. She was a wise woman and her vast reading list ran from "those books" thru the Bible, classics,current novels and oddles of periodicals like the Biblical Archiology. You wouldnt tell her that romance novels were other than some of the best. I applaud you and the other authors - I have ideas but not talent to write them down. If someone has the balls to insult you all when they probably havent written AND published then they need to crawl off somewhere and leave those of you who are talented to do what you do best - write! Cudos to you for not ripping in to him - it would be beneath you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Martha, and good on your mother! I've read hundreds of "nursie" novels over the years and they're still a good comfort read for me.

      Delete
    2. I LOVE 'nursie' novels! And medical thrillers...the first series I ever read was Cherry Ames, then a few Vicki Barr and the Dana Twins mysteries. Then I moved onto Sue Barton, RN, and have a few others in my library.

      Delete
    3. I read Cherry Ames, too, and Sue Barton, then made a career of reading Betty Neels!

      Delete