Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Elbow Room

On Castle this week, the murder centered around a body shoved into a pizza oven and nearly burned beyond recognition. The owner, Authentic Nick, whose real name was Ralph, was certain the culprit was one of his three competitors, each with their own Nick's Pizza store and a different version of Authentic on one of the four corners on Mott Street. Each of his competitors had once worked for Ralph and had stolen his recipe to create their own empire, and thus the pizza wars. Their tactics were strictly sophomoric: soap in the pizza sauce, flaming bags of poo, etc. No one admitted to having put the body in Ralph's oven, which was admittedly the best and served as a way to ruin sales. After all, who wants a pizza cooked in an oven that also cooked a human being?

As I watched the show, I was reminded of the tricks that writers will pull on each other to thin the field of competition, like bad mouthing someone's hard work when there is no reason to do so or spreading untruths about their competition's personal life. As hard as I try to understand, I just don't get it. I thought we had matured past the need to ruin the competition. There is room for us all and I've found the best revenge is not living well but writing well.

As in the case of one upset writer who carried on a virtual shouting match with a reviewer, it seems there really is no such thing as bad publicity -- at least for the reviewer. Everyone wants to read the exchange and find out what there was about that particular writer that was so nuts. First of all, she should never have taken on the reviewer. That was bad form and highly unprofessional. The only other worse thing the author could have done was lampoon the reviewer in series after series of articles in order to shore up her self esteem. Honey, it was just one review. Fix the problems and move on.

As a reviewer, I have had to consider first whether or not I should review someone who has hurt me personally and tried to hurt me professionally. If I cannot be completely objective, then I don't do the review. Fortunately for me, I have had to deal with this situation very few times. Since that reviewer didn't know that particular author personally or professionally, and since she had approached him for a review, the point of whether he could be completely objective is moot. However, I doubt he will consider reviewing any more of her work and there is little doubt that she will approach him again, even though the review was on the whole a good one.

What we need is more professionalism and less of the schoolyard rivalries in writing. Authors and reviewers have enough problems finding room for their work; they do not need to squabble with their colleagues. There is plenty of room for all writers, even the bad ones, who make the good ones look that much better. All we need to do is keep a few rules in mind.

1. Don't engage the reviewer except to thank him for the review and move on. You'll gain notoriety, but it won't be the good kind. Instead, thank the reviewer for his time and take a good hard look at the comments to see if you could improve the work.

2. Make your work error-free. You've written complex and interesting characters, plotted flawlessly and written sparkling dialogue, but don't forget the basics: grammar, punctuation and spelling, and get rid of all the typos whenever you find them. This is easier with self-publishing. And make sure you use the correct words. For instance: You sight a gun, but you work at a building site. I recently found that mistake in a work I'm currently reviewing from a respected and award-winning author. We all make mistakes.

3. Be professional. It doesn't hurt to mind your manners and keep professionalism uppermost in mind. It's like wearing a suit to a first interview instead of your favorite jeans and a T-shirt or simply treating everyone around you, especially those that can help or hurt your career, with respect and honor. An interviewer asked the Queen Mother of England why she never spoke in public. She told him it was because she didn't want to give a bad impression or give anyone the chance to misquote her. It's like the old saying about appearing stupid and then opening your mouth to remove all doubt. The Queen Mother was reportedly one of the most intelligent and politically astute women of her time.

It's simple when you get right down to it and it boils down to the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is also true for writing. Do your job. Do it flawlessly and treat everyone with respect and professionalism. How hard is that? With a good attitude and professional matters, there is elbow room for us all.

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