(Aka Don’t Let Publishing Turn You Into a Delta Bravo)

Writers Groups are an interesting breed of beast.  In the ideal, you have people at various stages at their careers, each unthreatened by any other, especially their success, and thus are able to contribute freely and openly.  I was asked recently how does one handle themselves within a group of fairly newbie writers after they have gotten a pretty big sale.  I simply said “don’t follow my example.”

Look, writers have egos and no one wants to be thought of as the newbie writer, thus everyone is quick to shout their credentials, or tout their successes.  Basically, we’re caught up in the mindset of writing as a zero sum game, with someone else’s success somehow coming at your expense.  It takes a while to realize that’s not the case, so in the mean time, too often in a writers group the individuals are too busy playing “alpha writer.”  So when someone makes a big sale, it’s easy for them to suddenly think their feces has a particularly perfume-like aroma.

“I’ve been published in an anthology with [fill in the blank]”.  It’s hard to believe folks would actually lead with that, but the thing is that I KNOW it’s tough to NOT lead with that. As writers, after years of decorating your walls with rejection letters, you grasp onto your victories where you can get them.   When I got into the Dark Dreams anthologies, it was hard not to pull out the “do you know who I am?” card (despite the fact that it never got me anywhere.  It was just self-gratifying to whip out the card).  But suddenly no writing group I was in could tell me ANYTHING about writing (my writing in particular) because this major anthology series had bought one of my stories.

Nevermind the fact that I was still “and others”, that is, *I* was just another story folks skipped over on their way to Zane, Tananarive Due, or Eric Jerome Dickey.  Eventually I settled down.  INSIDE, I was still published alongside some great writers, which meant I thought a lot more of my work.  I also thought a lot more about the quality of markets I sent that work to, and I simply demanded more out of myself, out of the markets, and out of success.  OUTSIDE, I didn’t need to say anything.  Resumes speak for themselves (someone once made the observation about author bios in the back of books or in programs that the more accomplished the author, the shorter the bio … unless they just HAVE to club a newbie over their head with their credentials).

So, you let your success affect how you carry yourself professionally.  Bragging/speaking about it makes you sound like a douche. In case you’re wondering, only in the last few years has my douchiness been “forgiven” in the group.  No matter your level of success, no one stays hot forever.  So there’s no point in being a D.B. once I’ve “made it” since, as the adage goes, those I pass on the way up are those I will pass on the way down.  Anyway, I don’t have to prove myself to anyone.  I just have to write the best stories I can.  I can be satisfied with that.*

File Under:  The Emotional Life of Writing

Inhabiting the Space of Characters

*As long as the check clears