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Author Entitlement

Novel Survey Update: 130+ responses and counting.  My goal is to try to get at least 200.

Steven Saus pointed me toward A Softer World’s comic on fairy tale romance.  Yes!!!

Michael Cannon took the picture of me in my hat and photoshopped it into something awesome.  Yes, that is Smudge the fire-spider all blinged out on my shoulder.

#

The first time I noticed the author entitlement thing in myself was with book discussion forums.  I’d come across a post asking for recommendations for good fantasy humor, or maybe someone wanted suggestions for a fun SF/F series with strong women characters.  Naturally, I’d peek to see if anyone had recommended my books.

Occasionally someone would, but usually it was the same old Pratchett and Asprin, Bujold and Bradley.  And I realized I was getting cranky about this.  Some of it seems to spring from envy.  “Why aren’t I getting the same buzz as so-and-so? They should be recommending me!  Strong female leads?  Come on!  Have you seen my covers?  I deserve to be in those lists!”

Only that’s not my call to make.  The fact that I’ve written books about goblins and kick-ass princesses doesn’t mean I get a free pass to the top of everyone’s recommended reading list.  I happen to think I’m a pretty good writer, but I don’t get to say how successful I should be.  That’s up to the readers.  (And for the record, I’m tremendously grateful for the success I’ve had — thank you!)

The sense of entitlement seems worst with some of the authors from a certain subclass of “publisher.”  Check out a few quotes from the testimonials page at Publish America.

“…people always told me it was difficult to get published. WRONG!”

“…no one,except Publish America will give the little guy, the unknown poet,the chance to get recognized.”

“…PA creates a serious threat to the publishing industry. PA helps new authors get started.”

Ignoring the idiotic assertion that commercial publishers won’t publish new writers, the underlying assumption is that we all deserve to be published.  We’re all entitled to that success.

Sorry, but no.  In kindergarten, everyone’s drawing gets hung up on the classroom wall.  But you’re a grown-up now, and writing a book doesn’t entitle you to a publishing contract.  The fact that you think it’s good doesn’t mean you’re right, nor does it mean a publisher must invest tens of thousands of dollars to get your book out there.

For those of us who do break in with a big publisher, that contract does not entitle us to NYT Bestseller status.  It doesn’t obligate the publisher to buy major in-store displays or table placement at the major chains.  Do I want those things?  Heck yes!  But am I entitled to them?  Envious as I might feel when my friends get a bigger marketing push than me, I’m the last one qualified to say what my books do or don’t deserve.

I feel it with the day job sometimes, too.  I’m a published author.  Why should I have to work a desk job?  Unfortunately, just because I want to write full time doesn’t mean I get to do it.  The world doesn’t owe me a full-time writing career, a NYT bestselling series, or a pony.

Setting goals is good.  Working toward those goals is even better.  But the moment I start griping about not getting the success I deserve, the success I’m owed, then it just starts to feel tacky and childish.

Comments, questions, and outright disagreement are all welcome, as always :-)

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 64 comments — Leave a comment )
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defectivewookie
Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:35 pm (UTC)
I, for one, think you totally deserve a pony.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 02:45 pm (UTC)
I don't know. The cats are already a bit freaked out about the new dog. I can't imagine what they'd do if they saw a pony trotting around the back yard.
(no subject) - marycatelli - Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deire - Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
wookiemonster
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
For what it's worth, I'm not much of a Fantasy reader (more sci-fi), yet your books held as much interest and thrall for me as does Pratchett's Discworld. I haven't yet read any of the Princess novels - I'm waiting until I have a good three or four in a row - but I very much enjoyed the Jig trilogy. In fact, I gave the whole trilogy to both my sister and my best friend for Christmas. Haven't heard back from them on if they've read the books and what they thought of them, though my best friend (evilest_kitten) commented that they looked really good.

Give it time and keep writing. I'm sure Pratchett didn't get a big following until he'd put out about 10 books. And each book is a learning experience, making the next book you write just a little bit better. Well, usually. I thought Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a massive disappointment.

Those of us who are already your fans will continue to buy your books and recommend them to our friends. Hang in there and keep writing :)
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
That's a big part of it too, I think. It ties into the myth of overnight success, so we think as soon as we get published we're supposed to be sipping champagne and quitting the day job, just like on TV! When in reality, almost every big name author built readership over time. Heck, even Harry Potter didn't *really* start to take off until what, the 3rd or 4th book?

Of course, my 5th book is out now. Hm....

And thank you, both for the kind words about the books, and for passing the books along. Both are very much appreciated.
queenoftheskies
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
I, of course, think you're an amazing writer and that your books are wonderful. I do know that writing takes a lot of hard work, though, and I guess everything good in life takes time...sometimes more time than we'd like it to take.

You'e a brave man for looking your wants in the eye and facing them down. There are a lot of people who haved yet to learn to do that.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I suspect that's a lot of where the entitlement comes from, actually. The idea that writing should be an overnight success, just like in the movies, when in reality even most of the big names didn't make it big until their 5th, 10th, or even their 20th book.
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
But from everything I've seen, the blood/sweat/tears route does have a better chance of getting you to that point than any of the "shortcuts."
seanan_mcguire
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
The world doesn't owe me a pony, but the world can't stop me from getting my dinosaur army, either.

I have a print of that strip on the way, to be framed and hung in my office.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:11 pm (UTC)
I figured you'd have a comment about ponies :-)
ex_paulskem
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:10 pm (UTC)
The world doesn't owe me a pony?! The Hell you say!
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Oh, I didn't mean you. Come on -- you're Paul Freaking Kemp! The world owes you six ponies, a shiny new wagon, and a Red Ryder BB Gun.

But the rest of us, we're owed nothing.
burger_eater
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:17 pm (UTC)
No, the world doesn't owe me a pony, but my birthday is coming up soon...

Warning sign about the PA testimonials: they're all about how great the publisher is, not the books.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:26 pm (UTC)
Oh, yes. Everything on the PA site is a sales pitch, not to sell books, but to get authors. But I think one of the reasons they succeed is because they feed into that underlying assumption that everyone who writes a book has a right to be published.
(no subject) - burger_eater - Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - stargatedragon - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
nathreee
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:41 pm (UTC)
Entitlement scares me. Always has. It feels very alien to me when someone says "I deserve..." I don't think entitlement is something that happens a lot in my country... There's this joke in Dutch where we mix up the words to earn, to deserve and to receive, because there's usually a big difference, but I think the joke loses something in the translation.

It seems very strange to me that people can't tell the difference between what they would like and reality. Or maybe the Dutch are just a very cynical people who have embraced the fact that you never get what you want.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
"There's this joke in Dutch where we mix up the words to earn, to deserve and to receive..."

I think a lot of people here in the States need to learn the difference between those three words.
barbarienne
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
People mistake entitled to express yourself publicly for entitled to be paid. (Payment in cash, or respect, or acclaim.)

People are entitled to write whatever they want, and to put it forth in a public forum if they so choose.

A few months ago, in a comment on my own blog, I wrote the following. My feelings have not changed at all.
There seem to be many writers (it's always writers, never readers) who feel that (a) anyone should be allowed to publish, and (b) they are being unfairly censored.

These are people who cannot think outside of their own heads.

Anyone has a right to express themselves in a public forum, yes. (Subject to local laws, which are blessedly few in the USA thanks to our Bill of Rights.)

But publishing is a business. Someone who is paying money to a writer for the privilege of selling that writer's books owes NOTHING to the writers they don't want to publish.

Artists are not automatically owed payment simply because they have exercised their craft any more than a bus driver is owed payment because he drove his mother to church.

Writers who don't like gatekeepers are free to avail themselves of the now-myriad ways of presenting their work to the public. No one is stopping them!

They can post to a blog or website, they can go to Lulu.com--hell, they pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press if they really, really want to. Real publishers will not give even one teeny tiny bit of a damn. They won't even notice.

If the public doesn't come clamoring with cash in hand and adoring accolades, how is that the fault of real publishers, who have spent decades (or centuries!) building channels that help present work to the public?

I just don't get it. It's possibly the most obvious and revolting demonstration of egocentrism I see on a recurring basis. These are writers who simply cannot imagine that the world is bigger than them and their wants.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC)
Do you have a link back to the comment? I'm curious about the context or conversation that led to this.

Agreed, as usual. It's much like the complaining about freedom of speech and censorship. Yes, you have the freedom to speak, but that doesn't obligate me to give you a platform.
(no subject) - barbarienne - Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
sixteenbynine
Feb. 22nd, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
This is exactly why I don't gripe about my stunning lack of wildfire underground success. Why, I deserve so much more for my end-run around the Great Publishing Establishment!

I probably got lucky, since I watched many other people make utter fools of themselves with various inbred strains of this entitlement nonsense before I ever got started on my DIY gig. Like you, I kept my day job not just because it was a good idea, but because you kinda didn't have any other choice.

If I get a fandom that numbers in the dozens and I can address all of them by first name in a single convention panel room, that'll be great.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC)
Sometimes seeing someone else go down in flames is an incredibly helpful lesson...

(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Feb. 22nd, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
sleigh
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:24 pm (UTC)
Well, you're not alone in glancing at those "books with strong female characters" recommendation lists and wondering why my books are rarely mentioned, since many of them feature a female protagonist. :-)

But yes, you're right -- there's no 'entitlement' involved in publishing. Your books will catch on or (most likely) they won't. They'll get good reviews or bad (or, most likely, a very strange mixture of both). You'll garner thousands of fans, or hundreds, or dozens, or none. You'll make the best selling lists or (most likely) you won't. You'll be nominated for awards, or (most likely) you won't.

It's a crapshoot where you not only don't control the dice, you don't even get to see them. And there are never, ever, any guarantees.
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
No guarantees, but I wouldn't say it's a crapshoot. I think there are things you can control, most of which come down to how hard you work at it and improving the stories. The better the stories, the better your chances of success. But there's a difference between "Work your ass off, and you've got a better chance of breaking in" vs. "I wrote this book. Now where's my movie deal???"
kellymccullough
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Oh hell, that would explain a lot. I guess I missed the memo. Better call the contractor and cancel the tiny little stable. *sighs longingly, then puts the picture of the pony aside*
deborahblakehps
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:33 pm (UTC)
I find, in general, that many Americans seem to have this feeling of entitlement. The current generation, especially. (Oh, dang--I'm starting to sound like a geezer!) I know a lot of folks who seem to think that things (and success) should be handed to them on a silver platter without them putting in any hard work, or paying any dues.

Personally, I would love to be an overnight success :-) The fact that I've been working toward that end for years might make that a little more likely...on the other hand, lots of people work hard, do their best, and still don't make it.

All you can do is continue to pursue your dreams, do your best work, and try and have a good time while doing it. And if you can't get a pony, try to be happy with ice cream!
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
I find myself doing the geezer thing more these days too :-) These kids and their texting and their iPhone and their electronic books...

I think most people spend years working to become an overnight success!
deire
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:36 pm (UTC)
I have friends who reply to their chldren's "I want" with "you know what I want? A solid gold pony." Implication: And we're neither one of us getting what we want.

Last time I saw the "I want"s strike went like this.

"I want--"

"Hey, S--"

Sullen tone. "I know. Solid gold pony." Lip out and face down. Tantrum over.
realmjit
Feb. 22nd, 2010 05:12 pm (UTC)
my friend's mom used to respond with "People in hell want ice water."
deire
Feb. 22nd, 2010 04:39 pm (UTC)
The world owes you nothing. It was here first.-_Twain
jimhines
Feb. 22nd, 2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
I love Twain :-)
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