Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can We All Just Behave?

Last month here at The Blood-Red Pencil I wrote about moral and ethical lines that we writers need to consider before we cross them just to make a buck. We had a great discussion about what we are comfortable writing, as well as our responsibility to consider what we're contributing to society with our work.

One of our regular BRP contributors, Diana Hurwitz, had this to say on the topic:
Stories have the power to shape the collective consciousness. You can write with brutal honesty about what has happened and what could happen without suggesting that it should happen. Your work has a slant - perhaps a subliminal one. As a writer, you should at least be aware of the message you send and make sure it is the one you intended.
How we use our words is indeed important, and it is also important to consider how we act as professional writers. Addressing that need to always put a professional foot forward, was an interesting article on Writer Unboxed, written by Katharine Grubb. She asked some ethical questions that focus  on how writers present themselves and handle business dealings, such as:
  • Are we honest in all our financial business dealings?
  • Do we refrain from slamming another author's work?
  • Do we publicly bemoan every negative review?
  • Do we love our readers?
On that last point, Katharine said:
When we slip into anything less than love for our reader we turn the beautiful into the ugly.
I liked that reminder that we need to have that kind of respect for the people who read our books.

In the blog piece, Katharine linked to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) - a professional association for authors who self-publish, and the organization fosters ethics and excellence in self-publishing. One of their campaigns is encouraging ethical behaviors, and authors can  make a pledge to keep those high standards. There's even a neat badge you can put on your website.

To join the campaign, a writer agrees to the following code of behavior:
When I market my books, I put my readers first. This means that I don’t engage in any practices that have the effect of misleading the readers/buyers of my books. I behave professionally online and offline when it comes to the following practices in my writing life:
The campaign has a list of eight ways to adhere to this code covering courtesy, respect, and honesty.

I'll have to admit that I found it a bit disheartening that writers need to be reminded of these things, but then I remembered that there have always been some writers who just don't seem to get it when it comes to professionalism. Most notable are the authors who have used interviews and social media to rant about a negative review or make themselves appear more important than they really are. On the ListVerse website is a list of ten writers who took themselves too seriously. Among them are Nicholas Sparks, Anne Rice, and Jacqueline Howett.

Earlier on there was Gore Vidal, who publicly shared his hatred of so many people including Joyce Carol Oates, journalists in general, Henry Miller and Walt Whitman. He was notoriously outspoken in interviews and once told William F. Buckley, junior to shut up. L. Ron Hubbard was noted for fabricating his past, and Norman Mailer was no saint. He stabbed his wife, then allegedly told a friend, "Let the bitch die."

Imagine how those bad boys could have burned up the Twitter feed.

In this age of instant everything, it is too easy to dash off some Tweet or comment on Facebook that may come back to bite us in the butt. What do you do to resist that impulse? Have you ever not resisted the impulse? What is your response to a negative comment or review of your work?
Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was chosen as the Best Mystery for 2015 by the Texas Association of Authors. She also writes the critically acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series. All of her books are available as e-books and as paperbacks, and a complete listing can be found on the books page of her website. For information about her editing services, visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 


  1. I don't know when it happened, Maryann ... or why ... but a some point in my life I stopped taking myself seriously ... or pretty much anything else. There is just too much wonder in the universe to think I'm all that ... or is anything I write. I sure wouldn't misrepresent my books on purpose, and if someone wants to go off on them, be my guest. In the meantime, let's party!

    1. Okay, Christopher. I'll bring the wine you bring the snacks.

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  3. When I receive the occasional negative review, I never comment on it publicly, and never address the reviewer about it. I have privately mentioned a couple to a couple of very close friends, when I felt concerned the reviews were prominent enough to do potential harm. We all need someone we trust to whom we can turn for relief and advice. However, if one of those people advised me to mention the issue publicly I would never do so.

    I know who I am, and I believe that's key to following a moral code. To be true to yourself, you must first be aware of what you value. I value my integrity, and my belief that what other people think about me is not my business. Those who do not like my work are not my readers, and my job is to connect with my readers. That is how I love them. A book is a platonic love affair, don't you think, Maryann?

    1. I'm not Maryann, but I want to share a comment made by the featured speaker at a writers conference some years ago. "You book is not your baby," the presenter declared with what I feel sure he considered to be appropriate emphasis.

      I beg to differ. Our books come from our innermost selves -- our lives, our experiences, what we've seen or read. We've longed to create them. We've carried them in our heads and hearts. We've nurtured their growth before delivery. We've birthed the finished products, sometimes with considerable difficulty and pain. Sounds a lot like a baby to me.

      A platonic love affair? I'd say so.

    2. I agree with you Cara. I love the thought of having a platonic love affair via our books. I just received the nicest note from a reader, and I could feel the love for my stories and my characters in what he said. When it makes your heart swell, it must be love. LOL

  4. I once read that some movie star (Brad Pitt?) had said something like this regarding his stardom and all his adoring fans: Making movies is what I do. It's not who I am.

    Shortly after my first novel came out, I mentioned to someone who asked what I did that I was a writer and had recently published a book. The person suddenly acted like I was some sort of celebrity, and what had been a friendly conversation immediately became an uncomfortable experience. I am NOT a celebrity, nor do I want to be one. I do NOT want to be recognized by strangers when I walk down the street or asked to appear on talk shows. Writing is what I do. It's not who I am.

    Will I work with other writers? Of course. (I'm an editor, remember?) Would I head up or participate in a critique group to help beginners (and others)? Definitely. I'm one of them. My experiences may be unique to me, but otherwise I'm no different from those who share my passion for writing. As for negative reviews, John Lydgate hit the proverbial nail on the head when he said, "You can't please all of the people all of the time." And personally, I don't want read a book by an author who feels so self-important that he or she must attack critics or readers who don't find perfection in all their works.

    1. Well said, Linda. I admire writers like Dennis Lehane and John Sandford and Laura Lippman, who are all very successful, but don't put on those "celebrity" airs when doing book signings or conferences. I've met them all several times, well, Dennis and John several times, and they were very unassuming. We had great conversations about stories and writing and life in general, and I felt like they were treating me as an equal. I've met other "name" authors, who were quick to let an underling know just where she stood. (smile)

  5. debby turner harrisMarch 26, 2015 at 10:33 AM

    Whatever the provocation, never be tempted to pick up a poison pen. There’s already more than enough bad feeling in the world as it is.


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