Friday, June 18, 2010

A Man's Gotta Have a Code

The crime fiction community is small. Mostly everyone knows everyone else, or if you don't know someone, someone you know does know him. It's like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing. This is what makes conferences like Bouchercon and Malice Domestic so much fun. You get to meet readers, booksellers, librarians . . . and see all your friends and make new ones. I met my First Offender friends Alison Gaylin, Jeff Shelby, and Lori Armstrong at my very first Bouchercon in Chicago five years ago. We've stayed really tight through the years, and we've met other friends through each other: Jim Born, Megan Abbott, Toni McGee Causey, JT Ellison, Harlan Coben, Trey Barker, Neil Smith, Victor Gischler, Sean Doolittle, Laura Lippman . . . the list goes on and on.

But because it's such a tight-knit community, sometimes we forget that we don't know everyone and everyone isn't a good friend. There should be a code for writers, some rules that should be followed across the board, sort of like Omar's code in THE WIRE:

These would be on my list:

  • Don't compare what's going on with you with what you hear from other writers. The business is different for everyone and not everyone might be honest (This comes from my agent)
  • Don't ever review a friend's book, unless you're willing to disclose that the author is a friend
  • Don't review a friend's book and trash it, unless you're willing to lose a friend
  • Don't check your Amazon numbers and compare them to other books
  • Google yourself only when you've got a new book out and you might need to cull some blurbs from blogs or online sites for your website
  • Don't promise to blurb a book you think you might not like, and if you do promise and then don't like the book, see if you can find something nice to say about it
  • If you get a blurb from someone, don't rewrite it to make it sound more like what you want
  • Ask only people you know well and trust to be honest to read your manuscript
  • If you get a bad review on Amazon or another site, don't respond to it publicly, if at all
  • Don't poach anyone's ideas, even if they say they're not going to use them. Because they might want to someday
  • Don't ask a writer to recommend you to his agent or editor unless you are a good friend, and even then it should come from the writer, who should be familiar with your work
  • Downplay misfortune with anyone you're not really close with and don't take advantage of a friend's misfortune behind his back
  • Don't drink too much at conferences. You don't want to be the person gossiped about afterward
  • If you promise to have someone guest blog on your blog, then honor that in a timely manner
Would you add any others?


AnswerGirl said...

I agree completely about not responding to bad reviews in public, but I never believe authors who say they don't read their reviews, and in fact I'd argue that maybe they should.

A filmmaker friend of mine who admits to reading his reviews — not one at a time, but all at once, after some time has elapsed — says that if he sees more than a certain number make the same criticism, he takes it seriously, and considers changing things the next time around. Too many bestselling authors, in particular, never see a need to change anything they're doing, and grow stale over time.

Rob Walker said...

Your list is already too long and too much for a working, harried writer trying to make a living at this game to memorize or go to each time he needs reread it, but rather a guy working in an unethical business has to find his or her own standard and I agree have at it that way. Meanwhile, the best defense against the whole ugly system is to get out of it and become an indie author/publisher via Kindle/Amazon and you'd be surprised how a grumpy, angry, put-upon author like myself overnight becomes a happy camper as for the first time in ever I am getting paid what I am worth in the brave new world of indie authorship via kindle-lization of books deemed dead and useless or rejected otherwise. When we authors get paid what we are worth, it is far easier to abide by such codes as you present here.

Karen Olson said...

Clair, I read all my reviews, and I bet every writer does, too.

Rob, I don't get why this code wouldn't apply to you, too. It's mostly being courteous, polite, and not taking advantage. This applies to all writers, whether published or not. This is not about "the system," but about how a writer can go about treating himself and others and keeping up personal and professional standards. So I'm confused why you're pushing "indie," which I take to mean "self publishing" and why you wouldn't have to stand up to a code if you're self published.

Clea Simon said...

This is a great code, and I say that as someone who has broken at least four of the rules. But I'm trying, I'm trying...

Aspiring to Omar-hood.

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Excellent code points, every one!

Timothy Hallinan said...

Is there ANYONE who doesn't check his/her Amazon numbers? Is there anyone who doesn't know it's a stupid thing to do, but who does it anyway? I certainly do.

These are great rules. I would add only one, Never talk money except to your agent and, if absolutely necessary, your publisher.

Karen Olson said...

Clea, we all need to aspire to Omar-hood!

Timothy, you are absolutely right about not talking about money. I would add that to my list, definitely.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I'm with the talented Mr. Hallinan. Don't talk money unless it's a private conversation. Maybe I live in la-la land, but I've never used money as a measure of success or failure, and it has nothing to do with why I write.

James O. Born said...

Very well stated.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

I'm safe, Tim. I don't know how to check my numbers. thank you for this great reminder, karen. We don't need to memorize it,
Rob, it all boils down to being decent, sensible, polite human beings— like our mothers told us!

jenny milchman said...

These are all very interesting to see.

I guess heretofore I've only had one rule. Do all you can to shine a light on other authors and their works. Anything that's good for books and reading is good for your own writing as well.

I am not in a position to follow this code but if one day I am I hope to send the elevator down (thank you, Dennis Lehane, for the phrase) to other emerging writers. Anyone who makes it in this business has to acknowledge the enormous luck (in addition to hard work) factor. And luck needs to be spread around.

David Terrenoire said...

Great rules, a terrific clip (God, I loved the Wire), and really good additions. There's one unwritten rule that everyone seems to abide by, mostly for self-protection I suspect, but no one asks "Have you read my book?" It's rude to put a person on the spot and you'll almost never like the answer. If they've read it and liked it, they'll say.

And amen to helping others. I do what small things I can. There's so much crap information out there for sale that it's shameful.

L.J. Sellers said...

It's always good to be reminded of the basics. The hardest part is defining who is a friend when I meet so many people online and at conferences. Everyone feels like my friend, but another writer might not see it that way. I'm never sure when it's okay to approach a writer about a blurb or agent referral.

Karen Olson said...

David, you're right about outright asking if someone's read your book. I did that once, and the person was trying to be polite, but it was clear he didn't like it. I stopped after that. It was a rookie mistake.

LJ, most of the time it's easy to know who is a true friend and who is just little more than an acquaintance. But sometimes it's not so easy. I have found that some of the most successful writers do try to pay it forward and are very helpful to those of us who are still struggling to find our place.

patty said...

And don't tell a fellow writer that you type out your first draft of a novel in ten days and it's always brilliant because that seems like a lie and probably is.