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.