Dear Writer: I’m Sorry, I Don’t Have Time to CRUSH YOU

Holly Black — who is awesome has a post on her LiveJournal concerning a recent shibboleth floating about regarding a cabal of young adult authors (“the YA Mafia”) who some writers in the field apparently believe will go out of their way to crush under their Doc Martens those writers who would do anything untoward to a member of the YA Mafia, like, say, write something negative about one of their books.

Holly for her part denies the existence of a YA Mafia — but then she would, wouldn’t she — and also points out that even if such a cabal of writers did exist, sniggering nefariously in the shadows, the chance of them actually being able to crush someone else’s career is nil, because, honestly, that’s not how it works in the real world — not in the least because, as Holly notes: “writers are basically lazy and impractical people. We live in our heads a lot and we can barely get it together to do anything. Seriously, it took me until after 3pm yesterday to get myself a sandwich.”

First, I want to agree with her wholeheartedly on the lazy thing, because for the last week I’ve been subsisting on Nature Valley Fruit and Nut Bars, not because I’m in love with their sticky, graintastic goodness but because at this point, the thought of having to shove something into the microwave to cook it fills me with such a sense of ennui even just typing those words makes me tired.

Second, this wave of anxiety is part of a recurring theme in the writeosphere, in which it is posited that those people with some measure of success actively and jealously guard their perks and privileges against the smudgy others mewling on the other side of the gate, and collude to maintain the status quo, and so on and so forth, back, back you mangy animals! Right now this fear is erupting in YA circles, but it’s been everywhere else, too. It’s not new, and it’s not news.

So in the interest of explaining why it’s unlikely that any group of successful writers is colluding to keep you down, let me offer up an example of just the sort obnoxious bastard writer who would want to keep the rabble at bay, namely me.

So, hi, I’m your basic reasonably successful author type, and despite being lazy enough to grumble how how awful it is that I have to unwrap my granola bar before I can eat it, my daily schedule is not unpacked. On a daily basis I write a couple thousand words on whatever novel I’m writing,  crank out two or three blog posts, check in with SFWA in my capacity as the organization’s president and take care of what needs to be addressed that day, do other paid copy not related to novels, take the dog out on at least two walks, answer e-mail and other correspondence, make business-related phone calls to agents, editors and such, spend time with wife, child and pets, occasionally leave the house for errands, read the entire Internet, maybe also some portion of a book, update Livejournal and Twitter, kill me some zombies, eat, ablute and sleep. That’s not on days when I’m traveling, mind you, during which I often do many of these things and also hurl myself across the country at several hundred miles an hour.

That being my schedule, let me ask you: Where do you propose I slide in fucking with your career?

Because, I gotta tell you, after everything else I do on a daily basis, I don’t have a lot of time left over to take your dreams, lovingly cradle them in my arms and then just when they feel safe fling them into a pit filled with gasoline and napalm and laugh boisterously while they shrivel and burn. I mean, sure, I suppose I could cut back on reading the Internet or headshooting the undead and pencil you in there, but you know, I really do love reading Gizmodo, and those pesky zombies won’t kill themselves (again). If I have to choose, I’m going with tech blog reading and Left 4 Dead.

It’s nothing personal. It’s not like I’m saying that thwarting your career isn’t important. Indeed, that’s just the thing: If I have decided that what I really need to do is to block your every entryway into the world of publishing, you better believe I’m gonna focus. It’s going to be my new hobby to make every single day of your life a miserable cesspool of unremitting woe. And that’s not something you can just do in five minutes a day, or whatever. No, that shit’s hand-crafted and detailed-oriented, and that takes time. Lots and lots and lots of time. Nor am I going to farm it out to a posse of lackeys; no, when I come for you and your career, you’re going to see me coming from a long way off, and you’re going to have lots of time to think about just what I’m going to do to you before I stand in front of you. Giving you lots of time to think about what I’m going to do to you is what makes it fun.

But I have to say: unless I’ve decided to give you that level of personal, absolutely terrifyingly psychotic attention, eh, I’m just not going to bother messing with your career. Because, again: who has the time? I don’t. No one does, except for people who are, in fact, absolutely and terrifyingly psychotic, and very few of them are successful enough at publishing that they are the people these other folks are paranoid about. Even if they were, they wouldn’t start a cabal. Terrifying psychotics get along with each other about as well as cats in a bag. It’s well-nigh part of the definition of “terrifying psychotics.”

Yes: There is the occasional writer who gets their undies all bunched up about a review and then goes on a passive-aggressive public rampage about it. Authors are often neurotic. This should not be news. But what can they really do to you or your career? Short of doing something will get them rightfully thrown into jail, pretty much not a damn thing. Because you know what? It’s not the way it works in the real world.

Let’s go back a couple of paragraphs to where I got all steroid-y about the level of woe I would rain down upon you if I decided to make you my personal project. Sure, I talk a good game up there — I’ve got a way with words, you know — but in the real world, how would that play out? Let’s whip up scenarios, here:

STEROID SCALZI MEETS WITH HIS EDITOR:

Me: There’s this writer who I hate with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Never ever publish her. I am Scalzi. You must heed my words.

Editor: Well, I will take that under consideration (makes mental note that I have finally crossed the line from “reasonable human” to “text-extruding asshole who must be managed”).

STEROID SCALZI MEETS WITH OTHER WRITERS:

Me: There is a writer whom I wish to destroy. Join me in my quest to smoosh his career like a grape caught under a high school cafeteria table wheel.

Other writers: Send us an e-mail about that (make mental notes to avoid me in the future, because I am clearly a mean drunk).

STEROID SCALZI MEETS WITH A REVIEWER:

Me: If you do not give this writer whom I despise a soul-shriveling review, then never again will I have my publicist send you advance copies of my work. EVER.

Reviewer: I’ll remember that (crosses me off the list of people he reviews, reviews someone who is not a dick instead).

STEROID SCALZI COMMUNICATES WITH THE INTERNET:

Me: ARRRGH MINIONS MUST SMASH POOPY WRITER WHO POOPS DO MY BIDDING YOU DARK LOVELIES

Internet: Dude, you’re kind of a prick.

And so on. Look, when you’re an asshole to people, then other people know it. And while people generally will not stop you from being an asshole, if such is your joy, they’re also not going to go out of their way to help you. Humans see assholes as damage and route around them. So much for mafias and cabals.

One final thing to remember is every presumed cabal member is someone who was outside looking in, and probably not as far back as you think. I do like reminding people that my first novel was published in 2005, which was six years ago. Six years is not a lot of time to go from schmooging one’s face against the glass of the cabal HQ to being well into the cabal itself. Perhaps it’s more accurate to note instead that the idea of a cabal or a mafia is a little silly, and in fact there are just writers. Some of them are nice, some of them are neurotic jackasses, and in all cases the influence they can have on one’s career is exponentially smaller than the influence one has on one’s own.

169 thoughts on “Dear Writer: I’m Sorry, I Don’t Have Time to CRUSH YOU

  1. Is this the same secret cabal who steals every budding young screenplay writer’s script from under their nose and sells it on Hollywood Boulevard to producers who resemble “Buddy Ackerman” ?

  2. [General broadside against a particular writer deleted, mostly because it's counter to what I know and also because this isn't the place to stick knives into other authors, especially without concrete documentation -- JS]

  3. Don’t you know that crushing the dreams of crappy wannabes is Mamatas’s job? Back off, Steroid Scalzi! Mamatas will eat you for lunch. He’s so mean he makes fun of high school students.

    [sits back, grabs popcorn]

  4. Hmmm – that is news to me. I haven’t read anything by [name of author the subject of deleted comment above deleted -- JS] in a very long time, but I also hadn’t heard that rumor. Is it substantiated?

  5. John,

    Yes, but I do know you are coming to get me. The bookcases at the library send me radiowave messages telling me that. So I am in hiding…

    Michael

  6. I remember a year or two back there was an author that went PSYCHO in the amazon review thread of one of their books. The kind of psycho that is both very entertaining and very sad at the same time. I believe he/she made ominous threats about how the FBI was investigating the people posting the negative reviews of the book. Similar to threats I made in the 4th grade when I was being bullied on the school bus. Let me let you guys in on a little secret – I really didn’t know anyone in the FBI.

    Here is a Guardian article I just found on it. It seems relevant to John’s post.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/dec/22/when-authors-attack

  7. Scalzi has no faith in the loyalty of us minions! My heart rends with pain! Come, my fellow minions, we must find poopy writer to smash!

    Seuss, huh? Okay, sure. Come, we must find this poopy Seuss and smash his or her work mercilessly to prove our loyal minion status! Onward!

  8. So, you’re saying it’s not normal to wake up every morning with MUST SMASH POOPY WRITER foremost on your mind? What about just POOPY WRITER? Cuz that does actually happen to me a lot–usually when I’m in the midst of churning out a first draft.

    Awesome post.

  9. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten was a while back and in the screenwriting world:

    Yes, who you know is a huge factor in becoming successful. But the quality of your writing determines who you get to know.

  10. What’s the fun in being president of the SWFA if you can’t crush dreams with your mighty Gavel of Doom?

    (They did give you a Gavel of Doom, right?)

  11. I should note that, as Scalzi mentions, professional reviewers who engage in vendetta exercises are eventually shunned by the community. No one wants to read reviews based on the reviewer being out to get the author. They pollute the integrity of the system

  12. Note to potential jackasses: Scalzi may be too busy to crush you, but he has Athena available for jobs like that. Remember what happened when Westerfeld expressed disdain for Pluto.

  13. But if I can’t blame all my failures on you, who can I blame them on?

    Oh, wait, I’m an artist, not a writer. Must find another scapegoat.

  14. Extra points for making me look up the meaning of shibboleth. :)

    Also jp @#7 wins One (1) Internet with that comment.

  15. I have to unwrap my granola bar before I can eat it

    What, something wrong with your teeth? Those wrappers aren’t that chewy, and you’re never going to get fiber like that from broccoli.

  16. A question Mr. Scalzi; could it be that you’re channeling the vibe of your next master villain?

  17. It is especially devious when the same
    writers who crush others’ dreams also teach at workshops and meet fans at conventions in order to disguise their evil intentions.

  18. Obviously there’s no mafia of writers who can crush people they don’t like. But there has been a recent spate of YA authors writing blog posts in which they basically say, “You should never write negative reviews if you want to be published, or at least, once you are published.” Of course they aren’t threatening a vendetta against anyone who does write a negative review, nor do I think that’s what they meant to imply. But the tone I read in several of these authors’ posts was very much, “I am smiling and being very pleasant but if you ever write anything bad about my books I will quietly but definitely HATE U 4EVER.” And the response has been a bunch of terrified young people with writing aspirations who also review books saying, “OMG, I once wrote a negative review of a book I didn’t like on my blog DO YOU THINK I SHOULD TAKE IT DOWN???”

    Nobody is making threats, but it still smells of cliquishness, a bunch of authors who are all friends and all agreeing that writing negative book reviews is not what the Cool Kids do.

  19. 28: Maybe these are the people who participated in the assorted “racefail” mud-flinging fests and who are now having second thoughts about their conduct?

    Then again, anyone who goes into writing without conviction and lacking a thick skin probably should find a different avocation. Being too sensitive to live doesn’t cut it.

  20. You’re not going to crush my dreams?
    Darn. I had that penned in for Thursday between 10:30 and 11:30 am.
    I like to get these things out of the way before lunch.

  21. #34: So true. It’s only when the question of young bloggers came up it sparked a thought. Probably wrong but I’m just thinking; usually a mistake.

  22. My Partner In Crime notes that should the above proceedings actually occur, the next step is “Fandom Wank: POPCORN!” She also suggests that the above should be read aloud by Yahtzee.

  23. Oh Mighty Scalzi, you who are so evil, we all know you are just saying that to lull us into a false sense of “ha-ha, he’s not that bad” before you swoop–I say SWOOP!–down upon us in your upstart-destroying way and smoosh us like hapless frozen burritos. Indeed.

  24. I hadn’t even realized there was a contingent of people who thought that other writers were out to get them. The fact that anybody in the YA community seriously believes this is more proof in my mind that it’s just like high school. But for adults. Cliques and all.

  25. Hmmmm. Methinks these ‘young and upcoming writers’ have a rather high (and probably unwarranted) opinion of themselves and their work if they think established authors are going to waste time and energy on squashing them like bugs.
    Perhaps they should keep the conspiracy theories for their books and get back to work.

    Just a thought.

  26. I LOVE this article on oh so many levels!

    First, because I am possibly the laziest writer in the world! Some days I literally just don’t eat because I can’t be bothered to get up and walk the fifteen feet from my computer to my refrigerator. Forget the granola bars even, unless someone is going to hand deliver it to my couch.

    Second, because I am the new writer you wish to crush and this was oddly inspiring. Not because you wish to crush me and not because I really had any genuine belief that there were writers who were out to make sure I starve as an artist, but because you threw in the bits at the end about how recent your own success was.

    Thank you for this. Best shit I’ve read all day.

  27. I think it’s partly that when you read certain YA writers blogs and watch their videos and find out they hang out with each other and have a perfectly terrific time, you forget that you graduated from high school.

  28. Always good to remember Wil Wheaton’s directive. While it may be true that there is no organized YA Mafia to hunt you down, the more people you offend, the more likely it is to have an affect on your career. So, as Karen Healey points out, best not to call authors weasel-fuckers in your reviews.

    And thank you John Scalzi for the oh-so-helpful aphorism: the failure state of clever is asshole.

  29. Ell, can you tell me why the fact that people are friends seems to mean (to so many people) that they are necessarily corrupt? If John Scalzi wrote a blurb for Holly Black’s next book would you seriously think he blurbed it only because they were friends?

  30. When the day comes that I can list “writer” as my occupation with the IRS, I am sooo going to be tempted to instead put down “text-extruding asshole.” Because, dammit, how awesome would that be? Hella awesome, I tell you what.

  31. “Nor am I going to farm it out to a posse of lackeys; no, when I come for you and your career, you’re going to see me coming from a long way off, and you’re going to have lots of time to think about just what I’m going to do to you before I stand in front of you.”

    The only thing I can picture now is you in the Lancelot-running-towards-Swamp-Castle scene.

  32. I think it’s rather sneaky that you try to crush people’s careers while simultaneously having a regular feature on your blog where writers can say “OHAI! My new books! Let me tell you about them”. Insidious.

    Personally, I’d be honored if you’d attempt to crush my career. I know I’m just an insignificant insect, but I think it would be sort of sweet. Perhaps you can have some sort of contest where the Grand Prize is John Scalzi Will Destroy You GRAAR.

  33. It always astounds me the lengths people will go to in order to justify their lack of success. It’s easier to imagine a conspiracy of writer-monsters than to improve your craft, up your game at getting published/exposed, or even finding another means of expression that best suits you.

    No, clearly it’s Daniel Handler under your bed with scary grin and oodles of time to plot your DOOM.

    Reminds me of that bit in “The Shawshank Redemption” when Red points out to Andy that there are no innocent men in the ‘Shank. “Lawyer (screwed) me!”

    Excuses are really comforting to some people.

  34. I am deeply disappointed to learn that yet another conspiracy theory has been debunked before I’d even heard of it. Much more of this, and I’ll have no recourse but to think about real problems.

  35. Does anyone else find it a bit odd that they think negative reviews are verboten? I would have thought that writing an honest yet critical review would be good – it shows the reviewer is capable of reasoned analysis, and possibly indicates that their own work is subject to the same. It gives the reviewee valuable information that they can use to improve their writing.

    I have to say, I would start smelling something fishy if every review on a blog was positive. Playing nicey-nice might keep friends, but come on – good writing is what we strive for every day (I assume most of us here are writers, anyway). We do other authors a disservice if we pull our punches out of friendship.

    This doesn’t include rampant abuse, of course. There’s a difference between useful criticism and shredding the book, kicking the author in the nads, and burning whatever’s left over.

  36. So you say you, and they aren’t out to get me?

    *shifty eyes*

    That’s just what you want me to think. The goldfish says differently.

  37. This is all silly, everyone knows it’s not other writers who can destroy your career. It’s editors. And over the most trivial things. Like blowing deadlines and not telling them before it happens. While it might make the sales dept happy that they have to run 4 or 5 extra pages of ads, editors really take it unreasonably personally. If you do it enough, they might even talk about you with other editors, behind your back.

  38. @52

    “This doesn’t include rampant abuse, of course. There’s a difference between useful criticism and shredding the book, kicking the author in the nads, and burning whatever’s left over.”

    The people that I have seen wringing their hands about the mean mean authors like to lump both things, the honest but critical review and the nad-kicking, into the same category. Thus, anyone who says, “it’s uncool to write nasty things about people,” really means “say one bad thing about my books and I will DESTROY you.”

  39. >>>Holly notes: “writers are basically lazy and impractical people. We live in our heads a lot and we can barely get it together to do anything. Seriously, it took me until after 3pm yesterday to get myself a sandwich.”<<<

    This made me think of the laugh I get when people talk about "The Gay Agenda". As if we could agree on anything often enough to develop an actual agenda. Much less meet an actual deadline in a timely fashion. I wonder how gay writers actually manage to put pen to paper (or electrons to MSWord)

  40. There are actually people who are not very good writers who manage to get published. I never really understand how that works. Jean Auel comes to mind as does SM Sterling.
    Dont get me wrong, I READ SM Stirling’s books, but frankly, I enjoy the idea of his stories and the way they play out in my head, rather than the actual way they read. The IDEA of islands getting ripped out of the present and sent back in time is a fun one, but I fell asleep way early in the heros involvement in the Trojan War.
    And Auel’s heroine inventing fire, the wheel, transportation by horse, slingshots and a myriad of other things is sort of stupid, but dog knows she has sold alot of it.

  41. I think everybody’s missing the most important point of the post, which was “Nature Valley Fruit and Nut Bars”……man, those things are good. In fact, stickily, graintastically good and I imagine Nature Valley will be buying the advertising copy from you soon.

  42. As a third posting (sorry about that) and an aside, thanks John, for bringing this up, so other people post links I can go to and find the phrase ‘Mad as a box of frogs” – I cant wait to start inserting this into conversations.

    I also looked up ‘ablate.’

  43. Wow, it never occurred to me that other writers might try to keep me down. I’m almost sorry that you’ve demolished this notion before I even got the chance to use it as a crutch.

  44. Schmooging? No really, schmooging??

    Then again, who am I to question the writer who has the 6th, 7th, and 8th Google results for the word “schmooging”?

    But really, schmooging? My yiddishe bubbe would not have been amused.

  45. Not that I’ve reached any level where anyone would consider recruiting me for a shadowy, nefarious cabal, but I’d like to add another wild generalization about writers that would prevent proper cabal-building: many (if not most) writers are too neurotic to wind themselves up to the kind of self-entitlement that would be required to behave like Steroid Scalzi. I cannot imagine how many books I will have to have under my belt before I stop feeling like a kid at the grown-up table when I talk to reviewers/editors/other writers. I can barely overcome my neurotic, paranoid social anxieties long enough to write a pleasant email to a writer I LIKE without wondering if I’m somehow sticking my foot in my mouth or sounding like an idiot. I have literally been composing this reply for, like, half an hour. The idea of composing any kind of correspondence intended to be severe or (god forbid) angry just short-circuits my brain. That isn’t just me, is it? (Please say it isn’t just me.)

    On the other hand, every writer I have overcome my fears and written to has been nothing but kind, generous, and encouraging, and I’m an utter newbie none of them had any reason to be nice to except that…well, they’re nice people, and they remember what it was like to have their first books published.

    It does pain me that this whole thing is becoming visible suddenly as a YA lit problem–surely this kind of paranoia exists in other places than just the YA blogosphere, right? Many authors of books for kids and teens have felt at various times that they’re not viewed as “serious” writers, and now, thanks to this mess, here’s another reason for the literary and internet world to think we’re not to be taken seriously. (No, Racouswriter, it isn’t just like high school, cliques and all–at least not in my experience–but throw a hashtag on the evidence of a few people’s persecution fantasies and retweet like crazy and it’s sure going to look that way if that’s all you’re looking at.)

    The lazy thing, though…that’s true. Let’s talk about that some more. I have more days than I care to admit to where I go and work at my local diner so that people will just, you know, BRING me food and coffee.

  46. While I can see that DESTROYING SOMEONE UTTERLY could take a lot of time I could also see a person or group of people saying “while I don’t dislike you enough to actively seek your downfall, I am also going to be sure never to help you out.” While some people are talented enough to reach success on their own the vast majority had some kind of help or push along the way.

    If the person who is fated to discover the next great author asks someone for their favorite bloggers, not mentioning a name takes no time but could do damage to someone’s career.

  47. JD:

    “If the person who is fated to discover the next great author asks someone for their favorite bloggers, not mentioning a name takes no time but could do damage to someone’s career.”

    People can in some way be responsible for someone’s lack of success by not mentioning them to someone else that they’re not aware of being significant for that person’s career? I’m not sure I approve of your police work 100%, there, JD.

  48. People feel a sense of entitlement to the positive and reinforcing opinions they believe their favorite media figures should bear toward them or their produce (film, book, poo, whatever). When reality meets this expectation, they get their pee-pee slapped and wonder at the pain. Pee-Pee slap pain still reverberating through their thin hides, these people decide that since they feel under-supported, there must be evildoers out to get them.

    Heaven forbid someone have a contrary opinion and express it.

  49. OK, granted, that sentence was not my best work. What I was trying to say was if you never got that boost from someone helping you out along the way, well it could be significant. Many successful people credit one persons help along the way as the reason they are where they are today. If that one person had instead decided “that guy is kind of a dick, I am not going to help them out” then…

    Semantically I realize it is like proving you can’t fly.

  50. Damn. It’d be nice if I could blame someone for everything that goes wrong in my career. But I’m still blaming Scalzi for the slow leak the rear left tire of my ’95 Prizm.

  51. JD:

    I think this pre-supposes that there is only one path to success for any person, which I don’t particularly believe is true.

    Greg Van Eekhout:

    AND I WOULD DO IT AGAIN.

  52. Until Scalzi and Holly described their actual laziness, I thought I had no useful characteristics for being a writer. But now I see that I am destined for writing. I’m still in bed, with a belly growling and I can’t even drum up the energy to put down the laptop and get some crackers from the cupboard.
    So clearly – I will be the next great author of the 21st century.
    Destiny here I come.

  53. JD, I think it’s kind of hard to argue against someone’s right to quietly and unobtrusively elect not to give help to someone they perceived as obnoxious. That’s kind of like arguing that the theory behind “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is still fundamentally mean to the person you can’t say anything nice about. The paranoia about the secret mafia is fear that if an up-and-comer or blogger upsets some weird collective of power-brokers, they’ll pull strings with everyone and their mothers to keep that up-and-comer or blogger down. Which, of course, is silly, because obviously what a rational person does when they get a bad review is cry in private, eat an entire chocolate cake, or, if there is no chocolate cake in the house, go to the diner and order an entire chocolate cake, and IGNORE SAID REVIEW AND GET ON WITH THEIR LIVES. But maybe not mention that individual as one of their favorite online presences in the future…which would be kind of understandable. That’s sort of the rational response.

    I maintain, however, that, absent some reason for perceiving someone as “kind of a dick,” people are generally willing to give someone a hand up.

  54. Well that would be where the Cabal comes in. You have multiple people not helping the person in question.

    I am not arguing that there is a Cabal or that anyone has done this. Just pointing out that you could do your part to keep someone down and still have enough time to kill zombies. It would not as effective as the white hot hate obviously.

  55. JD:

    Meh. “Not affirmatively helping” is nowhere near the same as “Actively interfering.” There are literally thousands of writers who are not affirmatively helping me every single day, after all. They do not form a cabal simply because they do not help me. And they are not keeping me (or anyone else) down. Because — and I speak from personal experience here — it’s entirely possible to get published without another author affirmatively helping you.

  56. Kate @ #66:I cannot imagine how many books I will have to have under my belt before I stop feeling like a kid at the grown-up table when I talk to reviewers/editors/other writers. I can barely overcome my neurotic, paranoid social anxieties long enough to write a pleasant email to a writer I LIKE without wondering if I’m somehow sticking my foot in my mouth or sounding like an idiot.

    Kate,
    I feel like that ALL THE TIME. I’m not a writer, but as an illustrator/graphic designer, I can identify with what you go through in a big way. Of course, that never stops me from sending some God-awful email to John and others that I just know will leave them shaking their heads and wondering how I manage to keep myself gainfully employed. “If you ain’t tryin, you’re dyin’!” as the saying goes.

  57. I’d be more worried about the cabal of young readers that aren’t buying your books, if I was published. But that’s just me.

  58. Since I haven’t seen any of the whinging in question, nor the YA writer blogs that started it all, I just want to point out that there’s a world of difference between a negative review and an asshole review, and maybe perchance those YA writers were trying to point that out? It’s perfectly possible to say, “I didn’t like this book and here’s why” without being a jerk about it. In fact, in my experience if you can politely tell why you didn’t like something, you’re more likely to get a positive notice from the author. That’s how it’s worked for me in the past.

  59. John–

    Could you please stop being so sensible — like giving promising people ‘Big Idea’ slots — and crush careers by the bucket load?

    It would increase traffic by an order of magnitude, it could be made into a reality TV show — Be Crushed by the Mighty Scalzi! — and make you the evil overlord of the Sci-Fi Universe.

    But noooooooo.

    You insist on being sensible. While your minions are waiting. And waiting. And waiting…

    No wonder your career’s in such a slump.

    ;-)

  60. I think it is interesting that several folks have made note of this supposed “YA Cabal” being just a rationalization and/or convenient excuse to aid in explaining away one’s failures. Perhaps this mythic beastie could be seen as a good thing, as defeating said Cabal could stoke the writer’s will to work harder and improve their craft. The motivation of defeating the beast could eventually result in getting them published. But then again, if the writer does indeed suck to the point of being able to remove chrome plating from trailer hitches without the aid of harsh chemicals, then it could just feed their neurosis to the point of it making the jump to full blown psychosis. That’s where the fun times really begin!

    SIGH…such is the eternal dilemma of the unsung artisan…are you misunderstood or just out and out stink?

  61. I’m not famous enough to get asked to join a shadowy cabal and destroy the hopes and dreams of unpublished writers…but if asked, I’d join in a heartbeat. Sure, eventually I’d be kicked out for not getting off my lazy ass and participating in the actual destroying part of the gig, which is okay. I’m only in it for the free “I Heart Cabals” t-shirt and coffee mug anyway.

  62. Does the Cabal employ Anne Rice as its enforcer?

    Also Steroid Scalzi says to the internet: Crush them my minions ahhahahahaha!
    /b/ says, sure why not he likes cats and we’re bored.
    Steroid Sclazi says: Do you even know who you are attacking?
    /b/ says: does it matter?

  63. Just wasted twenty minutes practicing my “I am crushing you” block. Hah. I block you. Now it is I who is crushing you.

    Wait. This is how you’re destroying dreams of success! You…you’re an enabler for the ADHD driven minds of budding writers. Or. Wait. Is that pretty much the definition of author? I’m going to do some reading on this. Back in an hour.

  64. It’s laughable to suppose that anyone could do a better job of destroying my career than I will, inevitably, do myself, given sufficient time. Just try, cabalistas! Race ya!

  65. Can I skip the whole “writing” thing and apply for a spot in the cabal? I’m pretty sure I’d be brilliant at it.

    Is there a form I can fill out or something?

  66. Are there networks of people in every profession who dig each other and each other’s work and are eager to do each other a solid when it’s professionally appropriate? Yes.

    Does this mean that these are terrifying cabals that must be propitiated like an Elder God or else nothing but DOOOOOOOOOOM will result?

    No.

    People are allowed to have friends and favorite colleagues. People are also allowed to have less favorite colleagues. Sometimes, yes, nepotism happens in the publishing industry, just like it happens in every single profession that has ever existed in the history of ever.

    That doesn’t mean that every time you yourself don’t get something it’s because of the secret cabal working against you, or working for their pets; it means that you need to send that story or novel or what have you somewhere else like a grown-up writer who understands that not every opportunity works out to your advantage every time.

    I mean, yeah, mutual log-rolling fests can be amusing when they’re over the top, especially in back-cover blurbs, but ultimately what does it matter to You The Writer that Jane Doe wrote “Richard Roe is the BEST THING EVER” on the back of Richard Roe’s book and that Richard Roe wrote “Jane Doe is PROBABLY SUPERNATURAL BECAUSE NO MERE MORTAL COULD WRITE LIKE THIS” on the back of Jane Doe’s book? It’s not like sulking about it is going to make anyone on Earth–let alone Jane Doe or Richard Roe–like you or your book any more than they do now.

    What will make people like your book more is making it better, which is something that is always in your control.

  67. Except for the person who has a blurb on the back cover of their spouse’s book, without that relationship being acknowledged. That’s just hilarious.

  68. You should get a personal assistant to handle the dog-walking, business doing and granola bar unwrapping so you have time to fuck with people’s careers.

  69. hope @46

    “Ell, can you tell me why the fact that people are friends seems to mean (to so many people) that they are necessarily corrupt? If John Scalzi wrote a blurb for Holly Black’s next book would you seriously think he blurbed it only because they were friends?”

    I could guess why, but it would just be a guess.

    As for the blurb, no, I wouldn’t think that. I didn’t even think that in the case of an author I once knew (20 years ago) who told me a blurb by a better-known author didn’t count because they were friends. I figured she blurbed it because it was a good book (I read it).

    People are weird.

  70. You know, I thought this whole thing was ridiculous, but then Kate Milford and Tim Pratt show up in the comments to say “Ahahahaha, no, of course there’s no cabal!”

    … and I’m starting to think they’re protesting a little TOO much…

    *puts on tinfoil hat* (+1 protection against Author Cabals)

  71. for the last week I’ve been subsisting on Nature Valley Fruit and Nut Bars, not because I’m in love with their sticky, graintastic goodness but because at this point, the thought of having to shove something into the microwave to cook it fills me with such a sense of ennui even just typing those words makes me tired.

    ::blink:: I thought I was the only one.

  72. This was hilarious. And true. Hilarious and true. My favorite combination.

    By the way, that paragraph about cooking stuff in the…m-m-mi–ugh. I can’t do it. It’s too much work. Thinking about it hurts.

  73. At the risk of sounding pedantic, I think a little background on the issue that gave birth to this is in order, before people start getting the wrong idea of what’s really going on here.

    Without naming names (except to note that one of the people involved is a friend)…

    There’s a small cadre of YA authors who have been doing Twilight clones, complete with purple prose, disempowered female protagonists, etc. A few bloggers/readers/reviewers have taken said authors and their works to task for these failings. The reviews in question were harsh, absolutely, but well-warranted not just on a craft level, but on a sociopolitical one. These were rants that needed to be said, given the flood of books aimed at young women that have so much anti-feminist garbage in them.

    A couple of the authors whose works were thus dissected took offense at this, and set to whining about the reviews. In some cases, they started commenting on the blog entries/reviews in question, trying to pick fights with the reviewers. Then a couple of them, noting that some of these reviewers were themselves aspiring authors, apparently decided to shut down these discussions with thinly-veiled threats of blackballing in the publishing industry. In almost so many words, they basically said that if you give a negative review to one of their books, they’d see to it that you never ate lunch in this town again. So to speak.

    In other words: It’s not aspiring authors who believed that such a mafia existed; it was an idea pushed by a couple of published ones who were unhappy with being called on what they wrote and were trying scare tactics to shut down discussion.

  74. Tal:

    “It’s not aspiring authors who believed that such a mafia existed; it was an idea pushed by a couple of published ones who were unhappy with being called on what they wrote and were trying scare tactics to shut down discussion.”

    I think that assessment depends on where in the conversation you enter. It’s a hydra, it is.

    Regardless, if there were authors maintaining that they would use their awesome powers to crush others, the appropriate response is to laugh and point.

  75. A person who writes a negative review about my book is NOT my enemy. Once it’s published, it no longer belongs to me, and it is available for anyone to do what they like with it. That includes not liking it. There’s no point in taking any of it personally. It would be exhausting trying to maintain all that negative energy, even without having to organise a cabal. As Scalzi says, I’d rather use my (very limited supply of) energy on writing a new book.

  76. Roger @100: XD

    Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”

    CoYAA: “No, Mister Bond, we expect you to feel understood and empowered.”

    from the movie Goldstar

  77. I am *such* a dupe. Just last week, I wrote a warm fuzzy post about how nice I thought the writing community was, and how supported I felt as I work toward publication.

    Thank you for telling me why I *really* haven’t made it yet. It’s clear there’s a conspiracy at work.

    Catherine

  78. Tal@99

    Funny, that’s not what I have been reading about at all. I think this is what people mean when they say YMMV.

  79. After observing the field for 15 years, I can safely say that it is nearly impossible to screw up your career by pissing off other writers and/or editors. Case in point: hundreds of well-published writers that I personally know who have pissed off other writers. Some of them have even pissed off everyone.

    In fact, I have found only one surefire way to screw up your career: stop writing. There is another way that is not quite as effective. You could try writing very badly. But in my experience writers who do a lot of bad writing get good, so it’s really better to go with plan A.

  80. I believe that there’s a certain level of pissing everyone off that does eventually have a negative effect on someone’s career.

    I can think of at least one well known example, but I don’t think that naming them would help.

  81. “If I have decided that what I really need to do is to block your every entryway into the world of publishing, you better believe I’m gonna focus. It’s going to be my new hobby to make every single day of your life a miserable cesspool of unremitting woe.”

    And that, friends, is the reason members of the Society of American Magicians locked Houdini in a phone booth only once. Because when he got out he promised this, plus attending every show they ever put on for the rest of their lives no matter where and doing every trick from the audience first and better then they could, and publishing the nuts and bolts of how their act worked in detail. Because they were absolutely certain he was crazy enough to do it, and had the money and determination to do so.

  82. Hope @44

    Actually, the reason I feel it inappropriate to call authors weasel-fuckers and stopped doing it has nothing to do with the potential backlash. Frank Miller’s kind of a big name in comics and a known one in the general creative world, but I think his career crushing potential is both non-existent and exceedingly unlikely to ever be employed, for the reasons Scalzi lays out.

    The reason it’s bad to call creators bad names in a review is because personal attacks are stupid, tiresome, very often inaccurate, and totally unprofessional. In writing that column I was working as a volunteer, but I was trying to work to professional standards, and personal attacks have no place at all in professional reviewing.

  83. STEROID SCALZI MEETS WITH A REVIEWER:

    Me: If you do not give this writer whom I despise a soul-shriveling review, then never again will I have my publicist send you advance copies of my work. EVER.

    Reviewer: I’ll remember that (crosses me off the list of people he reviews, reviews someone who is not a dick instead).

    Actually, your hypothetical dickish behavior is so irrelevant to professional reviewers that it wouldn’t even be enough to get you crossed off the list of people we review, unless your publicist actually did stop sending your books out for reviews (which they’d probably only do if you were a dick to your publicist, behavior I do not recommend to any author no matter how famous).

    I do know you well enough that if you sent me an email like that, I’d probably raise an eyebrow and ask whether you were feeling okay. If I got an email like that from someone I didn’t know, I wouldn’t waste ergs on the eyebrow-raising; I’d just hit delete. Like you, I’m just plain too busy to be bothered with undertaking vendettas of my own, let alone assisting anyone else’s.

  84. But there has been a recent spate of YA authors writing blog posts in which they basically say, “You should never write negative reviews if you want to be published, or at least, once you are published.” Of course they aren’t threatening a vendetta against anyone who does write a negative review, nor do I think that’s what they meant to imply.

    No, but if that’s an accurate paraphrase then their publishers should be pretty fucking offended and draft a terse “bitch, please” notice. There are actually quite a few authors who also write criticism (I happen to have a rather stout volume of John Updike’s in the TBR pile), and I don’t think any sane publisher would use ‘have they given one of our titles a bad review’ as a criteria for considering a manuscript.

  85. @RoseFox #115:

    Also, I don’t know about but while I don’t have much respect for Michiko Kakutani’s criticism, I’d rather have a bad lead review in the New York Times than get no review at all. Paul Fussell has written a couple of genius essays on authors bitching about reviews (what he called the “Author’s Big Mistake”) and in one recalled a generally review of one of his books in the NYT Book review that had him seething. Until friends complimented him on getting a long, prominent notice in such a prestigious organ.

  86. Can I just recommend the instant rice noodle bowls that one can get at Trader Joe’s (and apparently Safeway too) and the electric kettle? Fill kettle. Make tea. Unwrap some packaging and snip open some packets. Pour in hot water. Wait a few minutes. DELICIOUS UMAMI NOODLES. Perfect for the “But I would rather not microwave anything!” woefulness. I have been living off them for a while, even though one tried to kill me.

    If the schedules of full-time writers are anything like my schedule, I don’t know where they would fit in crushing hopes and dreams. Maybe in the five minutes between pounding head on keyboard and while procrastinating from taking out the trash?

  87. @47BDiamond:I am so happy to see “hella” out there. Did you also spend language-formative time in Central PA or has that word migrated?

  88. As one of the smudgy others mewling on the other side of the gate, I almost peed myself when reading this.

  89. After Tal’s summary above, I googled. yahighway has a roundup post, if you’re curious enough to follow eighty gazillion links. (I’m not linking directly because for something this controversial I’d rather you care enough to do more than just click.)

  90. I dunno, man, that’s 1500 words — almost your daily quota — on this subject. At that rate you’re less than a month from a full-blown Unabomber Manifesto, at which point you’re a cabal of one.

    Hm, on reflection this line of “logic” seems to have petered out.

  91. And this is why you have 50,000 followers, Snarkman. The idea of a YA Mafia (or apparently a YA Morman Mafia, which gets really ugly,) is one of the truly stupider things to have popped up in the writosphere in some time. It comes from a fundamental lack of understanding about how fiction publishing and publishing in general work, especially with the view that authors are some sort of rock stars before which publishers tremble. (Okay, stop giggling, authors! And rock stars!) Authors are lucky if their editor ever returns their calls. Editors are lucky if they can find their phone under piles of ms. It seems to stem from the fact that some authors who are new to the business freak out over negative reivews and go and rant at the reviewers, which if you are a published author, you should never, ever do. Ever. But seriously, if you are going to try to get published, wouldn’t it make sense to learn about the business first and not assume you’re in some bad Hollywood movie?

  92. John, following up on Rose Fox @ 116 above: Actually, I think that if I ever got orders like that from a writer, the writer (giving the order, not the target of his ire) would absolutely go to the very top of my review queue. Seriously, get the popcorn poppin! If anyone didn’t think I could outdo my review of Watch on the Rhine, they’d have another think comink.

  93. As a fellow writer who considers getting out of bed to take a shower and wearing matching socks worthy of a Nobel: thank you. This made me laugh so much had to muffle the sound in order not to disturb my roommates.

  94. So confusing.

    How many writer’s hopes of being crushed byScalzi have just been crushed by Scalzi’s languid refusal to crush them?

  95. Karen Healey @ 112

    Whoops, my bad. I’m sorry if I misled anyone with my comment; I knew that was what you meant. What I was trying to say is that it’s not just the author who is going to think that “personal attacks are stupid, tiresome, very often inaccurate, and totally unprofessional.” Frank Miller isn’t going to pencil in an appointment for Tuesday at 3:30 to crush your career, but LOTS of other people might eventually decide you aren’t worth reading.

    There are many, many, people who are writing professional, workman like books that make some money, but are not great art or best sellers. These are people who can’t afford to be unprofessional and they know it. It’s their advice that tends to get passed around at SCBWI and online forums. Of course, there are other people who could easily get away with being unprofessional who don’t try to, because, you know, the “stupid” and “tiresome” bit.

  96. I think that the YA Mafia thing is ridiculous, but the idea is pretty cool. Stalkers uniting for a common goal would be pretty powerful and way cool. Stalker-Zombies.

  97. Ceri @96–When the YA mafia gets so organized and influential that it’s twisting the arms of pathetic little middle-grade writers like me, OF COURSE I’M GOING TO SHOW UP HERE AND TELL YOU THERE’S NO MAFIA. They won. Done. That’s it.

    Sigh. Now I gotta flee the country.

  98. Aw, if I’d *known* you like Nature Valley Fruit & Nut bars, I’d have given you one of mine at Capricon! Kinda smooshed in the backpack, but still stickily graintastic! Best thing in the world to carry around at a con for when you forget / don’t have time to eat.

    I shall bring you some in Reno. Can’t have my Toastmaster for Chicon falling over from hunger!

  99. But… but… but… you shattered my dreams in Martha’s Vineyard! You are part of the cabal. I witnessed it firsthand you bastard! Your scorching wrathful commentary of pure negativity destroyed my soul so much that I went out and sold a story to John Joseph Adams.

    So clearly your efforts to destroy THIS writer were successful.

    Oh. Never mind.

  100. But I have to say, not long ago I read an article about the discovery of the secret files of the Stasi. One woman learned that they really *had* been stealing her stroller every time she went to the store and poking holes in her bike tires when she parked it outside.
    Of course, if I ever meet a writer who is as organized and methodical as the secret police, I will hire him/her on the spot!

  101. Seems like some people just find a lot more comfort from believing there’s a universe conspiring against them, rather than more likely truth that it’s simply indifferent to them. But what about building 7!!!!

  102. “ARRRGH MINIONS MUST SMASH POOPY WRITER WHO POOPS DO MY BIDDING YOU DARK LOVELIES”

    Mr. Ellis? Warren? How did you insert yourself into Scalzi’s blog?

  103. I compare this paranoia to the author who stopped by the bookshop yesterday and cheered about her first negative review. And her book is YA too!

    Cabal? So intriguing – write that into the next novel, will ya? The readers will dig it.

    Nice posts, Holly and John…

  104. If unwrapping a granola bar is too much work, perhaps you might try a new MRE I’m working on. The wrapper is edible. It’s also waterproof and airtight. A combination of heat and stomach acids kicks in a chemical reaction that converts it to high fiber food mass, and then your stomach can access whatever tasty goodness is inside. Sure, sometimes the reaction is slow and binds you up something fierce, but those were statistical anomolies, I promise.

  105. If we add “I am an inherantly lazy writer” to “I plan to spend the rest of my days making yours miserable” we have a net return of zero.

    Oh–that sounded like math. Sorry!

    Also… How exactly would a cabal of psycho writers intent on destroying other writers survive more than a week? They’d have their first meeting, piss each other off, switch targets to other writers in the group, and commit mass suicide by associate. (It’s like suicide by cop, but by someone who’s not a cop.)

  106. Perhaps you can recruit Thomas F Montelone and Harlan Ellison over for an evening of “Yes, Your Writing Does Indeed Suck” at the next big con and donate the proceeds for charity.

    I promise I will buy tickets to that event!

  107. We all know people online who really have given a psychotic amount of energy toward revenge. And by “we” I mean “those of us who were on Usenet,” but that goes without saying. Add into that the fact that, every so often, a writer or editor melts down online and says “You did something I don’t like, so I will remember who you are and enact revenge if your work ever comes near me,” it’s easy to get paranoid. You’re right in that most people will get mad and then quickly become distracted by a bit of leftover shiny, shiny tinsel and move on, but there’s always a chance, and that chance is all it takes for some people to get paranoid.

  108. Are you a successfully published author? Too busy (or tired) to crush those up and coming wanna-be authors you don’t like? Need to weed out some of the competition? Then Yo-Yo Dyne Propulsion Laboratories has the solution for you. Our patented oscillation overthruster ™ will allow you to instantly banish your enemies to the guaranteed eternal prison that is the 8th dimension. Just send us the address of the person you wish to banish (a photo is also appreciated) and our operations department will do the work for you.

    Not valid in MI, KY, and ID. NJ residents add 6.5% sales tax. Subject to credit approval. Eternal guarantee does not cover escape via possessing the body of an experimental physicist temporarily entering the 8th dimension. YoYoDyne cannot banish anyone whose first name is John. All sales final.

  109. Oh, but John, it would mean so much to me to believe that you were dead-set on destroying my career! I would revel in your terrifyingly psychotic-ness! Because that would mean… that SOMEBODY had actually paid enough attention to my writing to hate me!

    Seriously, well spoken! (Ooh, I just love exclamation points!)

  110. Man, when I had a real job and a co-worker told me to “sit down and shut up” in front of the department head and her boss, I simply did the adult thing and took the high ground. Funny how the realization that someone’s actions are “so sixth grade” tells you they are not worthy of another ounce of your energy. Wait, the cabal are YA authors, so I guess saying they are “so sixth grade” is a backhanded compliment.

    Sorry. Great blog. Great posts. Thanks for making me laugh so hard I almost had an asthma attack and thanks to Laura Resnick for passing it on.

  111. “Six years is not a lot of time to go from schmooging one’s face against the glass of the cabal HQ to being well into the cabal itself.”

    June 2004, Barack Obama is a well-regarded state senator from Illinois, little known to people outside his district and a few leading Democrats who think he’d make a good speaker at the upcoming party convention.

    June 2010, Barack Obama has already been President of the United States for more than a year.

    The case, it rests.

  112. I can say nothing that doesn’t violate the Omerta, other than ROCK ON, MR. SCALZI AND MS. BLACK.

    (Wait, I’m not actually *in* the cabal? WHAT, AGAIN? Dammit. First I’m rejected by the Rotarians, and now this.)

    I personally subscribe to the general human theory of “Work hard, and try not to be a dick.” It seems to work surprisingly well, all things considered.

  113. Doug: Roger Bannister started his running career in 1948. In 1954, he ran the world’s first four minute mile.

    Now, everybody runs four-minute miles…wait. Something’s wrong with this logic…

  114. I had to google ‘ablute’. I thought it meant poop. I consider this comment useful to the other person who was overcoming self esteem issues in the decision to google ablute.

  115. Excellent. So all we need to do to achieve our stated goal of destroying Mr Scalzi’s productivity is to release L4D3. We’ll get right on it, just as soon as we finish up all those other games ending with “3” first. We’ll get back to you around 2016… or thereabouts.

  116. Ok, I stumbled on this post (linked to by a friend on Live Journal) and I practically bust a gut laughing. Now, I’ve read the OLD MAN’S WAR books, and enjoyed them, but I didn’t realize just how humorous you could be, Mr. Scalzi (yes, I know, need to pull off the dunce cap and think). Your “text-extruding asshole who must be managed” definitely helped make my day (although, like at least one other person here, it generated an image that I will try diligently to erase form my mind and get back to work).

  117. …and it is stupid, childish, idiotic feuds like this, are the reason why online writing communities get about as much respect as the Twilight Fan Club.

  118. This brings to mind what happened at a Society for American Magicians meeting/convention when they locked Houdini in a phone booth. When he got out he explained that if that ever happened again he would find out who did it, quit touring, and make it impossible to make a living as a magician: he’d attend every show they put on and from the audience would outdo whatever they tried with handheld magic or mentalism, he’d explain how every stage trick worked, he’d go to the managers of every theater chain and independent theater who booked the magician and do everything he could to get them stricken off the bill, he’d go to the newspapers and raise hell there, and then he’d go back to the typewriter and write about the magician involved. Considering how both “The Unmaking of Robert Houdin” (a detailed attack on Houdin and interesting but scattershot history of magic) and “A Magician Among the Spirits” (a hand grenade/book lobbed against Spiritualist mediums) had been written while he was partially distracted with a touring career and what he could do if he concentrated all his efforts on one thing that was the last time a professional magician tried that stunt. (As I remember it, the pay toilet incident was “civilians.”)

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