Todd Robinson, as usual, pegs (ha!) one facet of the problem over on Facebook.
I’m not sure I’m 100% with him, but Todd’s had more skin in the game for far longer than I have. The sentiment is absolutely shared, I’m maybe still a little too dumb to realize that I should stop injecting so much hope into things. And to Todd’s point: I consider him a good friend – not a writing peer or a “fellow community member”. I break bread and interact with him because I think he’s one of the best people I know.
So coming off of all this and coming off of Todd’s points (as well as a few pointed tweets from Ben LeRoy).
While community may be too much to call this ecosystem of ours, I do think we can easily call it an economy of sorts. We trade in favors: blurbs, retweets, and good faith promotion. Because it’s more than writers in the kiddie pool. We’ve got reviewers, readers, bloggers, podcasters, etc. Obviously, the tit for tat is stupid strong in the business. Blurbed my book? Sure, I’ll drop a review on Goodreads or whatever. For the most part, at least for me, I like being nice to someone that’s been nice to me. Can’t say I’ve ever felt obligated (maybe straddling the line if someone was incredibly gracious to me) but never in that weird way where I feel I have to lie or cheat for someone.
Unfortunately? There are those who feel the obligation should exist – especially to their benefit.
I’ll provide an example, but just want to caveat that there are a ton of different types of relationships in the arts that are like this.
I’ve mentioned it before, but did you know I still review books from time to time? Did you know I’ll NEVER tell you what genre or where or even retweet about those books?
When I first started reviewing, I was pretty open about it. Magically, I made a TON of new writer friends. So supportive! So eager to read my work! So eager to send me their books!
It was a magical fantasy land of friendship and ice cream!
Then I “stopped” reviewing.
Guess how quiet it got? (and I’ll be petty, I know who the fuck people are and judge accordingly).
That transactional expectation? That’s bullshit and it eats any sense of community alive. It’s why people forgive the behavior of those like Otto Penzler (I mean, hell, his letter took away a party he hosted for the MWA. He literally took a thing away to change their minds). This is why writers so often fall for publisher traps (pay-to-play scams especially). You take a desperate pool of people and it’s easy to push them towards objectives that don’t benefit them as much as it benefits those smart enough to smell the desperation.
It’s why I stopped reviewing under my name. It was exhausting to see the emails and get the dirty looks from said emailers because I did the professional thing and didn’t review as a favor or provide a blurb because we stood in the same room at some point.
On the flip side, there are also a good number of reviewers out there looking to entrap writers into doing favors for them. That’s like most of my Twitter feed. Like watching an ouroboros in action – gross. Yet another reason why I stopped letting people know I review. I didn’t want people thinking I was angling at favors by writing gushing reviews of them or including them on my top ten lists to ensure they keep my name on their lips when I shat out a crummy short story in an anthology at some point.
I’m damn sure many relationships I have with writers, especially guarded ones, work on the idea that we may not know each other well enough to trust just yet because of those transactional leeches – they outnumber the trustworthy.
So to Todd and Ben’s points – is there truly a community? I think there’s something smaller than that – a mob, if I can borrow a word from our octogenarian asshole du jour. It’s a great mob, even. We can have our differences at times, but in my experience, that mob includes good people and good writers.
Just felt like sharing some more without making it all about outrage or whatever. I can certainly see how the constant stream of reaction is overwhelming, but I’d say that people need to learn that the marginalized finally have a means of venting. We’re now capable of ‘speaking to your manager’ in a safe way. The privileged need to understand that a lot of folks only just recently have a voice. YOU might be tired of hearing people complain in your own space, but imagine having to hold that all in.
Quick shout out to Jessica Laine for her Twitter thoughts on the Penzler Epistles. I think she put into words what I felt without as much cursing (outside of rejoining the MWA – I’m still not entirely there with the organization that I’d leap to pay them right now).
Anyway, be easy folks.