Rationalizations Run Thick

Nick Mamatas, following the comment thread over at the Josh Olsen “I won’t read your script” Village Voice article, comes up with this whopper of a comment, from “Bierce_Bitchslap”:

There’s thousands of writers in America – especially in the fly-over states – who will never have a chance at getting prestige status in their niche of the professional writing industry. That doesn’t mean they aren’t good writers. It has far more to do with proximity than talent.

Oh, it’s true. This is why, from my compound in rural Ohio, I have never managed to sell a novel, or win an award, or show up on a bestseller list, or work on a television series. And if you think I have it rough, please spare a thought for that poor bastard Neil Gaiman, living as he does in the wilds outside Minneapolis. Why, that’s almost Canada. It’s a miracle he can feed his family anything other than the grubs he can pull out of tree bark.

Hey, writers! If you are looking for an outside rationalization to explain why you are not yet clutching an Oscar/Pulitzer/Hugo and a trophy spouse/groupie/willing goat, and give you the excuse you need to stop trying and retire to a life of bitterness/alcoholism/World of Warcraft, you will always find one, and it will always work. Whether it’s actually true is something else entirely. But, then rationalizations don’t have to be true, they just need to let you feel it’s not your fault you gave up.

And now I’m off for the rest of the day, to stew in my anger that Ohio is keeping me down.

157 Comments on “Rationalizations Run Thick”

  1. People like that show why they are unsuccessful. Most are just “come on, let me in and I’ll show you how good I am” without having the talent, let alone the good manners to gracefully understand that they just can’t impose on people because they feel it’s their god-given right.

  2. Just think how successful you might be if you’d move someplace in the literary thick of things like Arthur C. Clarke or Henry Watson.

  3. Neil Gaiman is a pretty lousy example given that he was in London when he got his first gigs.

    In all due respect, you’re experience at getting discovered after posting your novel on a website is hardly typical. In general, I find it hard to believe that writing is any different from any other industry in that success is as much due to a combination of luck and who you know as talent.

    Sure, the vast majority of unpublished authors completely suck, but then, so do some published ones. It would be a massive stretch to claim that the publishing industry was 100% efficient at finding those authors that don’t suck…it can’t be. It doesn’t have enough people to wade through the slush.

    I wrote three technical books just out of college, and the reason this happened was because my high school English teacher was friends with an agent. I suspect that is a far more typical entry into the industry than yours. Do you really think that someone growing up in rural Minnesota and going the UM is going to have an equal shot at the pages of the New Yorker as someone who grew up in Manhattan and went to Columbia?

    Yeah…you succeeded…but that’s anecdotal evidence. I suspect that statistics would tell a different story.

  4. It’s a good thing that the Iowa Writers’ Workshop is smack dab in the middle of a major city with grand publishing empires . . . .

    Oh, wait.

    Well it’s a good thing that it’s never produced any successful authors.

  5. James Pope@3: I doubt you’d have heard of Arthur C. Clarke if he’d grown up in Sri Lanka. His career started in London.

  6. I wonder how he was able to post the comment since he obviously hasn’t heard of this great thing called the internet. It allows people from anywhere to stay connected with the rest of the world.

  7. I imagine that the author of that comment is referring specifically to the movie business – the term “fly-over” seems strange when applied to novels – but even then there’s Diablo Cody, who lived in Minnesota when she was discovered.

  8. Having made your migration in reverse, I will say this: If you want to be a screenwriter, living in LA or NY certainly ups the statistical likelihood that you’ll run into somebody career-changing at Trader Joes.

    So your odds go from .0000000012 to .0000000015

    None of which will matter if you don’t work your craft.

    Writing well is the best revenge.

  9. @Scalzi: While Bierce’s comment makes me laugh at his troubles (oh, no! He’s in Ohio! Oh wow, what woe he is in. Try being in South-East Asia, sugarplum), I don’t think using yourself and Neil Gaiman as examples might be a terribly good idea. After all, Gaiman worked in comics and involved himself with 2000AD before breaking into fiction. While in London.

    You may have actually gotten lucky. I’m with Steve on this — one cannot expect that the publishing industry’s rejection of a work is because the work sucks, and it’s acceptance of a particular work is because it was good.

    Because if this was true, then one must actually admit that, at some level, books by Stephanie Meyer and Christopher Paolini have some kind of merit associated with them.

    @Jeremy: I really dislike it when people like you say that.

    Really? That’s only true when online access is ubiquitous and reliable the way it can be in the West, and countries like in, say, South Korea.

    When connectivity is an issue, when access is an issue, when reliability is an issue? Forget it.

    When a site blocks your entire freakin’ region, you come back to me and talk.

  10. Writing seems like one of the relatively small number of professions which doesn’t require you to be in a particular part of the globe, as long as you have reliable mail service to wherever you publisher is. It’s easy to write wherever you are, and far harder to operate heavy machinery remotely. And “reliable” in “reliable mail service” may be a loose term — I seem to recall one or both of PNH or TNH talking about editing writers who lived off-the-grid in the intermountain West. A burro coming by once a month is sufficient. The key is that you can send manuscripts and receive and cash checks. Given how much one can do online these days, including receiving physical mail and depositing checks, you pretty much just need an occasional Internet connection as long as your publisher will take your mss. electronically (cf. technomads).

    Sure, it’s useful for networking if you show up at the occasional con with your publisher and agent, but that too requires relatively little infrastructure, and certainly doesn’t require you to be a member of the Coastal Elite(tm).

    (I say this not as a writer but as a sometimes-itinerant programmer, a profession which it seems to me has much the same sort of structure.)

  11. “In general, I find it hard to believe that writing is any different from any other industry in that success is as much due to a combination of luck and who you know as talent.”

    Seems that even if this is so important (which I’ve seen any number of good arguments as to why it is not – here’s one from Writer Beware), who you know will generally only open the door. For the vast majority of us who aren’t struck by lightning and propelled to success for no apparent reason whatsoever (hi there Mr. and Ms. Pratt), if the door’s open and we don’t have any skill to show, it’s gonna get closed again pretty quick. Maybe we’ll get a couple of mediocre books sold, but when our sales numbers are low, it’s back on the street.

  12. Us up here in Minnesota are definitely far from anything that matters, and very, very deprived. In order to get television up here, we have to plug a cable into the back of the TV. Similarly, the internet requires cables and an actual computer to access. If we want to talk to anyone, we have to use telephones.

    I’m sure that everyone living on the Coasts doesn’t have to bother with any of that, as they’re so much more advanced than the people of the fly-over states.

    I’m jealous.

  13. I just love to watch how far the theme of the comments (here, proximity to markets) get from the original rant (I did this person a favor and they weren’t grateful, with some gratuitous ‘I’m a better writer than you’ crowing).

  14. On the contrary, never has proximity mattered less than now. With fast, inexpensive broadband internet, fast computers, huge HDs, dual monitors, Skype and other VOIP, proximity means exactly jack.

    No, what this means is that we can no longer excuse a lack of writing success on anything than a lack of effort or lack of actual talent.

    All things being equal, I agree with #10, Angelle:

    Writing well is the best revenge.

  15. @Steve Burnap @#5 & #7
    Betcha Neil Gaiman and ACC mailed in their first manuscripts. Then again, there’s probably and editorial assistant whose only task is to sort mail by postcode – big city? Read. Rural? discard.

  16. Whether or not you agree with what Nick Mamatas said, I don’t think it’s accurate to refer to him as “unsuccessful.” He has three published novels, two Stoker award nominations, and has just finished co-editing an anthology with Ellen Datlow.

    Nick is from New York so comments about proximity would not be an excuse anyway.

  17. Steve Burnap@#5: I was living in rural Maine and had been for 14 years when my first ms was accepted through the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic contest, which was and continues to be free and open to all. I knew no one in publishing and had no educational connections to anyone in the creative writing MFA world.

    What I did have was an original story, in my own voice.

    (Full disclosure: I did live in London during my senior year in college, but foolishly spent my time networking with cute guys instead of literary powerhouses.)

  18. Stephen King has managed to eke out a meager living from Maine. Imagine how successful he could have been if he’d moved to NY.

  19. It seems that the rules are different depending on which kind of writing you’re doing. My friend Alex Sokoloff is a screenwriter-turned-novelist. She’s done quite well as a novelist living in Raleigh NC, but insists that if you want to do screenwriting you have to live in LA.

    I think even as a novelist, though, living in the same place where editors, agents, etc. live will give you certain advantages. But not living there certainly won’t be a bar to getting published.

  20. Looking over those comments, one thing came to mind — the people who are bitching don’t strike me as the kind of people I’d want to work with.

    If someone gets that upset when a dude they don’t know says he doesn’t want to do unpaid editorial work for people who throw his labor away, well.

    That doesn’t sound like someone who’d do well in a writer’s group, let alone the publishing industry.

  21. I’ve said this of writers I know, and I’ll say it of some writers I don’t know: If these guys spent the time working on their craft they currently spend bitching about why they can’t get a break, they’d be far more likely to get a break.

  22. Grubs aren’t too bad. Had caserole of them in Guanzhou one time. All the locals were watching to see my reaction. I admit to trepidation on the first two bites. Then I realized they tasted and felt like my Grandmother’s scalloped potatoes. I don’t know the recipe, but I recommend writers to start collecting and carefully cooking.

  23. It’s not just writing – I’ve seen people in every profession make similar arguments. Frankly, I think that mindset alone makes a large part of the difference between the wildly successful, the complete washouts, and every step in between those extremes. If you whine about how The Man or other imaginary factors are keeping you down, you will always be kept down by your own tendency toward failure; if you just Do The Job, you will always have a job to do; if you Live The Dream, there will always be a dream life.

    The thing is that very few people have the laserlike focus to be the next star in their profession, never mind the Lotto-odds luck it requires to be a published author. Life gets in the way, and we get distracted by putting food on the table and supporting our families.

    I once heard Dennis Miller talking to an aspiring stand-up comic about what it took to be a success as a comedian. This aspiring funnyman had a day job and did open mic nights and the occasional gig at a local comedy club. Dennis’ advice was that if he wanted to be a successful comedian, he had to do that as his single focus all the time. Being funny for pay, like writing for pay, is not something you can only do after hours – it has to be your main job and everything else has to be secondary.

    Successful authors tend to treat their craft the same way. They are either writing, advancing their craft in other ways, or resenting the intrusion other things make on their writing time.

    If you’re going to write, *write*. Do other things only as a means to keep body and soul together. If you were going to be an Olympic athlete, you would expect to train hard for eight to ten hours a day, every day, and to live every other moment of your life in support of your goals. You can’t come home from a long day preparing tax returns or selling cars and expect to write the next Great American (or other nationality as appropriate) Novel before bed.

    All of the above is why I am a moderately successful person in my own job and not a Great Author.

  24. geographical location is fairly irrelevant today. getting to know some smart people who can give you good critiques that you’ll listen to is priceless though.

    I think a large number of writers don’t come out of the chute with the perfect writing “voice” and style and all that. They have to practice. They have to write. And most importantly, someone has to read it and tell them they like or dislike it.

    Your first million words are practice is what I’ve heard.

    But I think if you write a million words in a vacuum, with no feedback, you missed the point. Feedback is crucial.

    Not that your feedback has to be from some professional, award-winning author. Sometimes the people who “do” something aren’t the best at teaching it. I think Stephen King wrote a book on writing once that said at one point something to the effect of “I have no idea how to teach this, but I’ll tell you the parts I do know.” or something like that.

    I took a course that taught people how to train others a few years back. I was thinking about teaching programming to others. I knew how to do program when I went in. But what I got was teaching something is a whole different skillset that has nothing to do with programming or writing or anything else.

    So, geographical location isn’t important. But having connections is. Connections as in people you can work with as you learn. People you can learn from and you can teach. People you can get critiques from and give critiques back.

    And Olsen is pulling a Simon Cowell move. It’s perfectly fine that he refuse to read someone’s script, but he doesn’t have to be an ass about it. People aren’t asses for asking. They’re asses if they get mad for you saying no. But they’re not asses for asking. Olsen is being an ass just for being asked.

  25. Sherwooding (aka one roundup remark on many parts of a thread):

    #1: maybe some of the sense of entitlement comes from writing school assignments as kids? Teachers HAVE to read your stuff, after all, and are likely to award A’s for moderate technical prowess even if the _fun to read_ element is completely missing.

    #10, #12, absolutely right to point out that the First Big Break mindset ignores the fact that you have to have craft, marketability, and/or talent to sustain any part of that altitude. How are Yoko Ono records selling these days?

    #29: I still feel for the screenwriting guy. If my options, several times a week, were “I can spend X hours precious working time giving critique that will 99% chance have no effect besides getting me called a dick, or saying no NOW and getting called a dick” I’d probably verge on the crabby too.

  26. “I can spend X hours precious working time giving critique that will 99% chance have no effect besides getting me called a dick, or saying no NOW and getting called a dick” I’d probably verge on the crabby too.

    What amazes me is Olsen apparently never had the experience of giving advice and the person not worshipping at his fucking feet for it. I’ve gotten lots of feedback from lots of people. Not everyone’s feedback is helpful to the story I’m trying to write. And I’ve given feedback and people have ignored it.

    If that’s why he’s acting like an ass, then Olsen needs to get that he isn’t lord and master of all that is writing. He can actually be wrong sometimes.

    Or, he may be giving feedback in a way that the other guy can’t hear. That’s what I mean by teaching being a completely different skill than the thing you’re actually doing. Which means the other guy isn’t learning anything. And if THAT is the case than Olsen needs to get he is a lousy teacher.

    Nothing wrong with being a lousy teacher. But if you try to teach someone, but can’t teach, don’t piss your pants if they don’t worship your “wisdom”.

  27. Yes! I have sold more than 20 books, but being stuck in southern Ohio is OBVIOUSLY why I am not a New York Times bestseller! There could be no other possible reason! Imagine what I could have accomplished by with with my career if I were in THE RIGHT GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION! Good God, man, I’d be outselling Grisham!

    …Oh, wait. Doesn’t he live in the South? Okay, no, never mind, I’d be outselling Nora Roberts! … Oh, wait, no she lives in Maryland…. Okay, I’d be outselling George RR Martin, who lives in… hmmm, New Mexico. Sandra Brown! Oops, Texas. Jane Austen! Oh, wait, not living =anywhere= these days.

    Never mind.

  28. Question: If Patrick Neilson Haydon hadn’t run across this blog, when John be a published fiction author?

    If he wasn’t a published fiction author, would that mean he was less talented?

    Talent doesn’t equal success. It sure helps, and is perhaps a prerequisite, but I am bothered by the implicit here that lack of success means lack of talent and/or lack of effort. The history of literature is filled with stories of writers who repeatedly failed to get published before eventually succeeding. Sometimes, they didn’t succeed until after death.

    Given that, it certainly stands to reason that there are writers out there with talent who have not found success despite continued effort. To deride people who have failed as rationalization is, IMHO, pretty crappy, in particular coming from someone who didn’t have to do the hard “shopping around the manuscript” bit himself.

  29. #32 – Pointing out solecisms to the illiterate is an excercise in futility. Not that the futile is always a waste. There are hundred of writers within a block of me (upper west side) whom I’ll never read.

  30. Louann@31: Sorry to diverge from the topic at hand but Yoko creates art. (Which is what she was doing when she met John, and it’s notable that she had an extensive career before she became another one of the Beatles wives.) And she does well by it. She still (In addition to managing her share of Lennon’s estate–which I will add, she did when Lennon was alive, since she had better business acumen than he did.) Just because she didn’t hit the fame highs that her husband did, doesn’t mean that she didn’t have talent, craft, and marketability. It’s easy to overlook Yoko or to buy completely into the Beatles mythos about her, but I’m not going to say she didn’t have talent or vision or drive. I’m not going to deny that being John’s wife probably opened certain doors for her, but you know, she was doing perfectly fine without him and before him. In fact, there’s a decent argument to be made that becoming “John’s wife” in some ways wrecked her art career and image, not the other way round. She did have work and an identity before she met John and so many people don’t seem to get that. It seems unfair to throw her out as an example of somebody who had connections but lacked “craft, marketability, and/or talent”.

  31. I should also point out that the topic of discussion over there is screenwriting, not novel writing, and screenwriting is far more about “who you know” than fiction writing.

  32. Steve wrote: “In general, I find it hard to believe that writing is any different from any other industry in that success is as much due to a combination of luck and who you know as talent.”

    You find it hard to believe because you don’t know anything about the publishing industry. Which is fine–most writers don’t. And why should they?

    But the number one factor in getting, building, and maintaining a writing career is perseverance. Not even talent. Perseverance. There are any number of quotes and stories about the business pointing out that the main difference between a professional writer and an amateur is that an amateur is someone who gave up too soon. I have a close friend in Kentucky, now being built in terms of promo and distirbution) toward the NYT list by her house in NYC, who wrote twenty books before making her first sale. I have a friend here in Ohio who’s had multiple NYT bestters by now, who wrote ten books before making her first sale.

    The ONLY advantage that living in Manhattan, London, or L.A. confers on a novelist would be if living in those locations teaches you greater perseverance.

    I was raised among sf/f writers and my dad is a well-known sf novelist. However, I had no interest in sf, and I broke in by writing romance–a genre where I knew no one and no one knew me. To make my first sale, I had to get pulled out of a slush pile of six thousand people. Editorial assistants and assistant editors seeking promotion do read the slush pile. Very slowly, and, yes, there are submissions that never even get opened. Indeed, upon trying to make my 22nd book sale on my own, having recently fired my fourth agent, my UNopened submission was sent back to me with form rejections by a number of places that didn’t even both to open it and read my cover letter. This would’ve happened even if I lived in Manhattan rather than Ohio. (Fortunately, some houses did open it, and the book was acquired and will be published in January by DAW.) But enough slush gets opened that new writers who don’t know anyone and who live in the wilds of Illinois or Arizona still get acquired every single year.

    The occasional example of someone who had a friend who knew an editor or had an agent is like the occasional example an unknown who got a major role in a feature film because they knew someone. Mostly, alas, the way you sell a book is persistence. Which doesn’t get publicized, shared, and propounded nearly as well as the “you must know someone” tale, because it’s not nearly as sexy, and also because it involves taking responsibility for oneself.


  33. Yoko Ono Tori Spelling

    Seriously. Anyone saying that connections don’t matter are living in a fantasy meritocracy that doesn’t exist.

    Or George Bush Junior, for that matter.

  34. Charlie Brown @4 – exactly. I was baffled at the comment that “prestige status in their niche of the professional writing industry” was what writers are after – not success, not money, not a published work, but ‘prestige status’. O-kay.

    Steve Burnap – don’t pull anecdotal evidence and then whine that anybody who disagrees with you is waving around anecdata.

  35. Pretty sure his reference to the states between NY & LA — where the majority of the U.S. population resides, don’tcha know — as “fly-over states” is about all you need to know to see where his head’s at with this.

  36. @40: I agree – connections matter, to an extent. There are no absolutes. Furthermore, whining about things never helps. My brother is a screenwriter, and rather than whine about how he didn’t know anyone when he got into the business he worked hard on his writing and made social connections with studio people. People with talent can often create their own opportunities.

  37. Having worked in the industry, though, I think it’s necessary to point out that it’s naive to think that you can write anywhere to work in film or TV. Writing is the least of what you do as a screenwriter. Going to endless production meetings is what you do.

  38. Merus, yes, that’s true, in this country, I gather it’s VERY important to live in L.A. or NYC if you’re serious specifically about writing for -film- or -TV-.

    Which suggests to me that someone who doesn’t move to those locations isn’t that serious–and has the handy built-in excuse of “I live in the wrong place” to explain to everyone why he calls himself an aspiring screenwriter through years and years of not actually selling anything.

    Screenwriting involves many verbal pitches, many meetings, and often on-set rewrites. Scriptwriting involves fairly similar in-person processes, and the goal is often to get a staff job–which job means you have to show up every day.

    None of this is true of fiction writing. No one wants to meet you or sit through listening to you talk about your work until AFTER they’ve read it and decided it’s so good they want to buy it. And there’s only one rewrite, done via email or phone, with notes from one sole editor. Until/unless they send you on tour, your physical presence is never required in publishing.

  39. I’m amused by the idea that connections/location matter far more than talent.

    I never visited the West Coast software development havens. I was hired by them from the Midwest (and still work there years later). The only things I did was to (a) persevere a LOT, (b) be good at what I do. Luck plays a role, but reapplying (a) even when luck fails you is what mitigates luck in the end. But nothing mitigates lack of talent.

    The funny part is that I live in an industry that always says “make your network! Make your network!” but when we hire, we don’t pay attention to that at all. Someone can have all the connections internally they want, and still fail to make it past the first interview of the process (even fail to be brought over at all). Having connections means someone is more likely to be able to pass muster, but doesn’t actually mean anything else.

    And I note that simply living somewhere will not actually get you the right connections.

    And thus we continue to hire from everywhere.

    And when I read dustjacket author bios, they continue to come from just about everywhere.

    Oh well, I’m sure I’m just a horrible fluke.

    All slush piles are the same if you’re an unknown, even if you’re an unknown in New York.

  40. Sure, connections matter. Never denied that. But there’s positive connections and negative connections. Do you want people to associate you as the pushy person who had no regard for their time? Because, hey, that’s a connection too.

  41. (clarification on “work there years later”—I now live in one of the West Coast software havens, but they had to persuade me to come out here. To a somewhat happy monetary tune.)

  42. Rob Pierce, thanks but as already cleared up, I found that silly comment, I didn’t make it. (I don’t make silly comment, damn you! And it’s three-time Stoker nominee.)

    One thing that strikes me: if someone really thinks he or she needs to be in LA or NY to make it, then friggin’ move to LA or NY! Sure, both towns are expensive, but the fact is that both towns are also full of recent transplants, many of whom are quite poor, may not have all the legal documents in place to confirm status as resident alients, who may be from marginalized populations, have limited English-language skills, etc.

    They make their way in these large expensive cities by making themselves available for some of the worst forms of exploitation, which is horrible and unfortunate but also shows that it can be done without a bankroll.

    So why cannot Todd from Kansas (or whomever) move to NY and get one job driving a cab and another job working in light manufacture and live with six or seven people in three rooms in Queens? His situation, as he is often white, generally has native fluency in English, and likely has a few bucks in hand, won’t be nearly so bad as the poor people who manage to make it NY, after all.

    Well, the Toddster needs his Xbox time to really get those creative juices flowing, and all that extra work and that lousy apartment will really cramp his style!

  43. Arachne: I work in the software industry in San Francisco. I work with people from Kansas, Ohio, Kentucky, rural California and Michigan.

    Or, at least, that is where they are *from*. They all work in our office in downtown SF.

    In my entire 20 year career, I’ve worked with exactly one contractor who wasn’t in California, Washington or New York. Your experience is *extremely* unusual.

    Also, of the 20 or so people who have worked in our engineering group, only three were hired cold. All the rest were personal recommendations.

    The software development industry, at least for the biggies like Google, Yahoo, Apple, Adobe, etc. is far more incestuous than the writing industry.

  44. Dammitol!
    THATS why I haven’t won a Hugo!
    I live in Spokane. I’ll never be a famous writer here.

    Now, I have to pick a coast and move.

    And write something remotely interesting.

    And literate.

    And submit it.

  45. Steve Burnap:

    “I should also point out that the topic of discussion over there is screenwriting, not novel writing”

    However, you should also point out that the comment I’m responding to in particular doesn’t bother to limit itself to screenwriting; it refers to the “professional writing industry.”

    As to the rest of your various complaints, I’m not at all sure what you’re getting act, actually. I’m saying that anyone who wants to give themselves an excuse to fail will find lots of reasons to fail which are safely located outside of themselves. People who want to succeed can do so by many paths, including talent, luck and connections (or any combination of the three) and they don’t really waste a lot of time bitching about how the world is keeping them down.

  46. In any case, the people posting their vicious, obscene, and occasionally anti-Semitic rants (all of which, I find, explains the tone of the health care debate–there are more raging lunatics out there than I realized), I think what one mostly sees on the comments page of Olsen’s article are what one sees everywhere: people who say they want to be writers who aren’t ever going to BE writers.

    Maybe they’re not writing at all (which is the single most common example). Maybe they’re writing a little but seldom (if ever) finishing what they write. Maybe they’ve been working pretty hard on one sole projects for years and years, but (a) they’ll never finish it or (b) they’ll quit writing permanently when it doesn’t sell. (Both examples of very common.)

    Or maybe they’ve finished two or three projects and have now slowed down or stopped because those projects “should” be enough to launch their careers. (Even though Nora Roberts, for example, couldn’t sell her first four books, Lori Foster couldn’t sell her first ten, and Toni Blake couldn’t sell her first twenty.) Maybe they’ve submitted 4-6-10-20 times and given up (even though many published novels famously went through a hundred rejections before being published). Or maybe they haven’t submitted at ALL because they’re afraid of rejection. (I’m amazed at how many aspiring writers I meet of who WON’T SUBMIT what they write, because they can’t stand the anticipated pain of rejection; folks, there is no way to be published professionally =without= risking the pain of rejection.)

    All of the most common (FAR AND AWAY the most common) reasons people don’t sell a book having nothing whatsoever to do with luck, and certainly nothing whatsoever to do with whether an established writer will read their MS for them. Indeed, far and away the most common reasons people never sell a book also has nothing whatsoever to do with talent.


  47. In any case, the people posting their vicious, obscene, and occasionally anti-Semitic rants

    Obscene: Olsen set the obscene tone by saying “fuck” 14 times, including one in the title.

    As for “vicious”, Olsen starts out with “That’s simple enough, isn’t it? What’s not clear about that?”

    Usually when someone says a question of the sort of “that simple enough for you?” they’re attempting to be condescending. You a moron? You don’t understand “no”?

    Which is the part that’s hilarious. Olsen’s justification for his rant is some guy he said yes to. Olsen isnt pissed because the guy wouldn’t take “no” for an answer (What part of “no” don’t you understand), Olsen was pissed because he said yes on the first ask and then the guy ignored his advice.

    Olsen mentions in his tale of woe that when the guy asked him, he normally has a song and dance routine to get out of doing it. Then he says, “But hell, this was a two page synopsis, and there was no time to go into either song or dance, and it was just easier to take it. How long can two pages take?”

    So, by Olsen’s own account, the guy asked him and he said yes. In his expository dump, he fails to mention anything about the guy needling him over and over as Olsen said no and the guy tried to needle him into yes. So, I’ll assume it didn’t happen that way.

    So, then Olsen’s little rant starts off with several paragraphs of “What part of NO don’t you understand?”

    Except Olsen never said no to the guy as far as we know.

    If Olsen wanted his rant to match what happened with this guy, it would be more like “You fucking bastard, I gave you my heart and soul in a critique, and you ignored it all. Don’t you know who I am? I’m Josh Olsen. Obey my red squiggly marks!”

    He’s acting all bent out of shape as if he kept saying “no” and the guy kept needling him. But that’s not how Olsen describes the actual conversation.

  48. Louann @ 31:

    #1: maybe some of the sense of entitlement comes from writing school assignments as kids? Teachers HAVE to read your stuff, after all, and are likely to award A’s for moderate technical prowess even if the _fun to read_ element is completely missing.

    I rather suspect that a certain type of would-be writer is so in love with their work that they, deep down, really consider asking someone to “look it over” as doing that person a favor.

  49. @ CAO # 30 – Thanks for pointing out my misread before I embarrassed myself by bragging about it. I really shouldn’t say anything before I’ve finished my first coffee.

    @ Alex # 23 – Thanks for bringing up David Weber. I sort of know his brother and have been meaning to contact him.

    @ Nick Mamatas # 50 – I just wish all my acts of stupidity were well-intended and didn’t hurt anyone.

    As to what was being discussed, of course luck is involved. But your odds of getting lucky go way up if you work hard. And writing isn’t some little dreamworld where you project your brilliance through an agent to a publisher and into the hands of millions of grateful readers.

    You see? I know what writing isn’t. Now I’m off to try and figure out what writing is.

  50. When it comes to the number of successful writers living in or around LA or New York, the primary factor is not proximity, but population density. New York city has a population of more that 8 million. The greater Los Angeles area has 17 million people. The entire state of Ohio has about 11 million. If you can fit an entire state’s population into one metropolitan area, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a great number of successful individuals in every field of endeavor.

    Or to put it another way, yes there are more working, professional writers in L.A. and New York than in Ohio. There are also more unsuccessful, unemployed, failed writers in LA than there are in every other state (except New York) combined.

    “New York (or L.A.), if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” is damn right. It’s easier to find success pretty much anywhere else.

  51. Location, location, location. Living in New England is often a hardship: the harsh winters, the lack of agriculture, the crummy airport schedules. It’s also tough because of all the roving literary agents hunting for the next Stephen King or Robert Frost. Just this morning I had to kick one out of my driveway. He’d been bothering me for weeks to try my hand at writing, “Just to see,” he kept saying. “You could be another Frost and not know it.” Finally I couldn’t take it any more and threatened to roll my car over his sleeping bag if he didn’t move on. I hear he moved to the next town over and started bothering this nice little old lady. He thinks she might be “The Belle of Peabody”. Most of my neighbors have had similar problems.

  52. I will give this one defense of that opinion: if your primary objective is to write for TV and/or movies, you do need to live in (or at least be able to easily get to) Los Angeles, because most of the work given in this town is to people producers already know and like. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. You have to do a lot of going to parties and premieres and “taking meetings” before someone will read your script.

    If you’re already a known quantity because of your novels or comic books, it’s not necessary because, well, you’re a known quantity. They don’t have to worry that you’re a flake, or that you can’t tell a story, because they already know that you can. So producers are going to be much, much more likely to be willing to give you movie and TV work even if you don’t live in Los Angeles, because they already have some confidence that you can do it.

  53. I’m pretty sure Patrick Rothfuss lives nowhere near any major metropolitan locations, and he seemed to do pretty well with his debut.

  54. The problem is that people always lump all the writing industries together and think they operate the same. They don’t. Screenwriting, magazine writing, fiction book writing and non-fiction book writing are all separate industries with different requirements, procedures and levels of money available. What is very important in one of these industries is not at all in another.

  55. @GregLondon, if I understand your post correctly, you think that Olsen using the word “fucking” for emphasis (as in: “I will not read your fucking script”) entitles people commenting on his article to assert that he gets work by performing oral sex, for example, and to describe him as a “self-hating Jew.”

    Frankly, I fucking disagree with you.

    I also don’t think we read the same article. In the article I read, Olsen was approached by an acquaintance who asked him to read an outline. Like Olsen, I, too, have often awkwardly felt put on the spot by people who have a faint social connection to me, and I think it’s bad manners–much like saying to a doctor at a party, “Will you come into another room with me to give me an examination and diagnosis? It’ll only take a few hours.” Olsen read it, he invested considerable effort in trying to formulate a tactful commentary about bad material, because he wanted to be honest without being cruel… and in exchange for investing this time and effort in someone he scarcely knew who had asked him for this favor, he was shunned and gossiped about.

    And this is a very common experience, which is among the many reasons that so many professional writers don’t want to read manuscripts for people.

    In general, the fantasy entertaining by the person asking for this favor is that the writer is going to love the book. The more elaborate fantasy is that the writer is going to love it so much that he’ll show it to his agent or his editor.

    It is very, very rare that what someone is actually looking for is constructive criticism. It’s even rarer that someone takes the constructive criticism well instead of responding as Olsen’s acquaintance responded–by telling a mutual acquaintance that Olsen had done him wrong (which is a very common outcome).

    Lots of novelists, when asked for this favor, say, “My agent forbids me to look at unpublished manuscripts.” I sometimes say that my literary lawyer advises me against looking at unpublished manuscrupts. But more often, I say that I don’t read or critique manuscripts, because I’m a writer not an editor, but if you go to my website at http://www.LauraResnick.com and look on the Writers Resource page, you’ll find a list of about 10 reputable freelance editors, all of whom I know personally or who’ve been recommended by writers whom I know personally, who -do- read and critique unpublished manuscripts.

    I think that a LOT of people who ask a writer to read a MS and give feedback have no idea how big a favor they’re asking. They THINK they’re doing the same thing as handing me an engaging published novel to relax with and enjoy, and that reading it and giving feedback is like a leisure activity.

    So I think that visiting the websites of legitimate, reputable freelance editors whom I’ve recommended and seeing what it COSTS to have a MS evaluated and read, and seeing the specifications of what the fees are based on (IOW, what depth or format of critiquing you get for various fees) is many people’s first realization that, in fact, they were asking a HUGE favor, not a minor one.

    But, in fact, I think that most people I say this to probably never even look at the page with those links. Because I don’t think they want a constructive critique of their MS; what they want is for an established writer to say, “I LOVE your book! My agent is asking to see it! We’re going to walk it in to my editor!”


  56. I think everyone is ignoring the well known fact that all small towns are cursed, and intentionally act to keep talented people down.

    Oh, you know how it is… you take your query letter in hand, and you’re about forty-one cents in postage away from becoming the next Stephen King… and… wait a minute? How is it that no matter how many steps you take toward the mail box it’s always the same distance away? Why does the postman smile at you with yellowed teeth and mad glowing-red eyes?

    Why is it the second you’ve put a clock in your makeshift office to follow a schedule it suddenly refuses to keep time? Why do its hands go BACKWARDS when you turn your head, causing you to have NEGATIVE accomplishment on your novel?

    Oh sure, you could TRY to leave. Except there would be a storm and all the bridges would be washed out. And even if you DID manage to get out SOMEHOW, you’d get a letter in the mail stating that some rich uncle you didn’t even know existed has died and left you a fortune. And of course, the town, acting at a distance, would have made you so poor you’d have no recourse but to go back to try to get the money.

    Then, of course, the small town will lure you to your rich uncle’s masnion to try to enslave you, because it eats the hopes of talented people just to maintain its unnatural life. Then the only way to even stay alive is to burn your own novel just so you can starve the magical forces of the town just enough that the town doesn’t cause you’re bannister to break the second you’re walking down the stairs.

    It must be easy for all you big city elites, what with your COSMOLOGICAL PRINCIPLES, NATURAL LAWS, and RATIONAL SELF-INTEREST to write books.

    And before anyone can say “electronic submission” here’s what happens every time I try to copy and paste something I’ve written from my genius works:

    “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn. Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

    I hoped this helps clarify the position that many of us in small towns happen to find ourselves in.

  57. Now that I think about it, there is one way to get TV and movie writing jobs without living in Los Angeles: make an entire movie yourself, where you live, using your own money. That then becomes your calling card and your proof that, yes, you can tell a coherent story and see a project through from beginning to end. This is why Robert Rodriguez and Mike Judge are able to be based in Texas — they had completed work to show people and not just a screenplay that they wanted people to read.

  58. I have to say I read Josh Olson’s piece to be an exaggerated-for-effect tongue-in-cheek piece.

    Greg sez: So, then Olsen’s little rant starts off with several paragraphs of “What part of NO don’t you understand?”

    Except Olsen never said no to the guy as far as we know.

    See, I didn’t read the first part of the article as being directed at the guy, but saying, “hey, guys in the future, this is why I say no.” The You he is referring to is the hypothetical dicksmack in the future that can’t take no for an answer. It’s not You, the respectful aspiring writer who knows what’s up. It’s a hypothetical You–similar to the hypothetical You that Scalzi addresses. I don’t take it personally, nor do I see it as laying the smackdown and crushing my hopes and dreams.

    The use of the word “fuck” didn’t strike me as particularly obscene, but the casual “fuck” dropping of somebody who uses it pretty regularly. (This reminds me of getting used to my boyfriend saying “Fucking fuckity fuck fuck” under his breath while playing World of Warcraft. At first I worried about his blood pressure, and then I realised he was actually having a lot of fun. Fuck didn’t mean what I thought it meant.)

  59. Laura: Frankly, I fucking disagree with you.

    You’re telling me that Olsen would have the same level of response if his post had been titled : “Thank you for asking, but no thanks”?


    I did a quick search on Scalzi’s version of thanks but no thanks, and I didn’t find a single occurrence of teh word “fuck”. Not in Scalzi’s post, not in any of the replies.

    You think Olsen starting off the first couple of paragraphs with “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” might have caused a slightly different response if he’d said something in which he used his cognitive skills rather than ranting?

    If that’s what you really, really, really think, then yeah, we’ll have to disagree on that one.

    But I don’t think Olsen get’s to have it both ways. He doesn’t get to swear like a sailor at the reader and not expect the reader to respond in kind. His article is in fact written in second-person, ‘you’, point of view.

    No, I won’t read your fucking script. What part of no do you not understand.

    Olsen pulled a Simon Cowell, but he may have forgotten that Simon has the luxury of not having a comment section.

    And this is a very common experience, which is among the many reasons that so many professional writers don’t want to read manuscripts for people.

    Which is exactly why Olsen should have said “no”. Apparently he has his own little handy excuse memorized, but for whatever reason, he failed to implement it. Olsen said “yes”.

    acquaintance: Would you read my two page synopsys

    Olsen: yes

    Olsen (later): here’s my feedback.

    acquaintence: no thanks.

    Olsen (on rant): What part of “no” don’t you understand?

    Who the hell is he talking to? if his acquaintence had gotten a “no” and badgered him into “yes”, that woudl be one thing, but olsen screwed up and said “yes” straight out. The “waht part of no don’t you understand” is part of a conversation that exists as a figment of his imagination.

    It’s like Smith said “wanna play dodgeball”, Olsen said “yes”, and then got whalloped in the eye with the ball. Then olsen goes home and tells mom and dad that Smith “killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!”

    Olsen, if getting the guts to say “no” is the worst thing you have to deal with as a professional screenwriter, then don’t pass it off as some horrible tribulation the world should feel sorry to you about. And don’t tell me about how horrible it is to say no and then tell me the whole basis for your rant is some guy you said “yes” to straight out of the chute.

  60. Scalzi’s version refers to finishing the damned thing. So it’s got thirteen less swears than Olson’s article.

    Again, I take no offense. I’m not the hypothetical You Scalzi or Olson are referring to.

  61. Nick@66: but I fail to see how saying “fuck” fourteen times can justify comments like Just another asshole Jew that should have exterminated back in the 40’s.

    I didn’t say it justified it. Like I said in #68, Olsen writes in second-person, “you”, directly to the reader, and says stuff like “what part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” and “your fucking script” and “whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living”.

    Olsen is either attempting insult comedy or is completely fucking tone deaf as to the emotional in-your-face attitude he is writing with.

    I challenge you the next time you’re in a setting with some strangers who are trying to become writers, try taking on the personality required to say Olsen’s first two paragraphs, pick a random aspiring writer, then get in his face and unload that Olsen’s shpeel at him, verbatim.

    What the fuck did Olsen think would happen?

    If he was going for insult comedy, then that’s what he got. But insult comics get plenty of heat back. Think Andrew Dice Clay and all his hecklers.

    If he was trying to be “funny” funny, light-hearted, then he seriously ought to get a better set of beta readers, cause they missed it.

    If he was writing a piece intended only for other writers, as in a “we all know how it is to suffer the plebes”, then he should have emailed it directly to his writer friends, not published it online.

    But there’s no way I can read the first couple of paragraphs without getting that he’s being an asshole. Insult comic. Whatever.

    And while being an asshole doesn’t justify antisemitism, what the fuck did Olsen think random people on the web would do, send him nothing but praise?

    You pull an Andrew Dice Clay routine, you’ll get hecklers in the audience giving you shit. Does it justify the shit they give? Wasn’t the point. The point is, you act like Diceman, you get his audience.

  62. Several comments have been made about connections vs talent in screenwriting. Judging from over 50 years of seeing movies and watching TV, connections are far more important than talent in that field. I don’t know how else to explain most of the crap that makes it to the screen. That also makes me wonder how bad the stuff is that gets rejected. Fortunately, there are some talented screenwriters, so we get some good or very good TV and movies. But think how it would be if they all had talent! (Me? I have no talent for writing and freely admit it.)

  63. John@53: Two things bother me about your post.

    1) You are calling out a particular human being who you know little about and making them the poster child for the lazy writer who blames their failure on the world so they don’t have to try.

    2) This entire conversation is skirting very closely to “if you fail as a writer it is because you didn’t try hard enough” which is really the same argument as “if you don’t have a job it is because you didn’t look hard enough” which is something I know damn well you’d agree with.

    For the record, I completely agree with Olsen and you about reading other people’s stories/scripts…I don’t work for free either. I just think there’s a lot of callousness about people who may not have had the breaks you (or he) have had being displayed.

  64. Gah! Know damn well you’d NOT agree with.

    That was an extremely unfortunate typo in a system that doesn’t allow editing.

  65. Ohio? Keeping you down?

    It could be worse, it could be Iowa. Nobody ever got a screenwriting career out of Iowa. Joe Haldeman is just a myth (although his wife is real).

  66. Oh, I think that people who accuse Olsen of getting work by performing oral sex, being ugly, and deserving to be put to death for being Jewish were going to say these things even if the word “fuck” had never once darkened the surface of his keyboard.

    People who are hysterically vicious don’t really need a reason to address others with hysterical viciousness–though they’re usually eager to seize upon any old excuse for their behavior, i.e. “You used the word ‘fuck’ in your rhetoric, so that completely entitled me to accuse you of being a prostitute, immoral, ugly, and untalented, and to declare your ethnicity unacceptable.”‘

    Call me cynical, but I don’t find it credible that, in the absence of the word “fuck,” such a person would instead rely on well-expressed logical argument to disagree with the article.

    Which is, again, beside the point. The point being, surely, the content of Olsen’s article, which is that professional writers have good reasons for not reading the work of aspiring writers. If one prefers John’s way of expressing it, one would presumably like having a drink with John better than having a drink with Olsen, and one might even prefer John’s work to Olsen’s work. It doesn’t mean Olsen’s point is invalid.

  67. Greg, you’re playing a silly game. Nobody said “Olson clearly just expected praise!” (nor is there any evidence that he is upset over the comments). There is simply nothing in Olson’s piece that sets the tone for pro-Holocaust commentary. (I notice you skipped the anti-Semitism in your first rejoinder.)

    You can also spare me the “be mean to aspiring writers and see what happens” schtick—the fact is that aspiring writers occasionally have meltdowns whether people are mean or not. Back when I was editing for a small press, I got a physical printed letter in response to the submission guidelines on our website which read, in part:

    And your fucking “double spaced” stipulation sucks wind just like blowing it out your ass. Get real.

    He then went on to say:

    The guidelines outlined in your article and web site are like unto Hitler – Yeah, Adolph – in that the limitations are white middle class and mundane and hardly fit for the radical venue you proclaim.

    This guy, at least, signed his name, unlike the anonymous commenters at the Voice. One can also look at, say, RejectionCollection or Literary Rejections on Display to see ranting and flailing, and not infrequent racist language, in response to even the most innocuous of form rejections. It happens all the time. All the time.

  68. Steve Burnap:

    To your two points:

    1. Indeed, because he made a jackassed statement that has very little to do with reality. I do that sort of thing a lot, you’ll note. I do grant he might not be lazy and bitter; he might simply be ignorant and bitter. However, neither condition means that what he’s saying makes any sense, or has relation to the real world, and I’m fine saying so. That said, anyone walking around with the internet handle “Bierce Bitchslap” is signaling a bit about themselves.

    2. No it’s not. You can work very hard and still fail, and that’s just the way it is sometimes. However, if you don’t work, and/or choose to pile up rationalizations about how the professional publishing industry is out to get you, it’s a safe bet your chance of failing is commensurately greater.

    Nick Mamatas:

    You should have copy-edited his letter to let him know it’s actually spelled “Adolf.”

  69. Laura: Oh, I think that people who accuse Olsen of getting work by performing oral sex, being ugly, and deserving to be put to death for being Jewish were going to say these things even if the word “fuck” had never once darkened the surface of his keyboard.

    Again, Scalzi’s version is here.

    It says, in part:

    1. I’m really flattered that you would think of asking me to critique your work and would trust me to give you valuable feedback. Thank you.

    2. No.

    Please explain why Scalzi’s post, which has been up since January of 2007, has 50 posts and none of them invoke oral-sex-for-work responses, while Olsen’s post , which has been up for 3 days, has all manner of angry responses.

    Did Olsen post it in a “bad” neighborhood on the internet?

    Which is, again, beside the point. The point being, surely, the content of Olsen’s article, which is that professional writers have good reasons for not reading the work of aspiring writers.

    The point is the content? If one compares Scalzi’s post with Olsen’s post, both have the same content. But Olsen is the one with all the rage in the comment section. So maybe content isn’t what people are angry about. Maybe it’s that he was intentionally or unintentionally being an ass while delivering said content.

  70. Boy I’m glad it’s my location here in the Midwest that’s preventing me from being a successful writer, rather than my unwillingness to actually sit down and write.

    I’m so glad that’s been straightened out.

  71. @ Steve–I have no idea it’s John’s argument that someone’s not a professional writer because they didn’t try hard enough, but it’s certainly -my- argument.

    Over and over, time and time again, perseverance is THE single most undervalued and underestimated quality of people who think they want to be professional writers. Most of them think it’s all about talent and relies entirely on luck.

    Luck is marginal in most writing careers. It does indeed have a role–but the role is minor… and the vast majority of the time, luck arises as a result of persistence. You get “lucky” when the 17th editor you send your MS to LOVES it, after 16 others have rejected it without reading it, or read the first page and told you it’s unpublishable.

    Talent is certainly important, but it’s =highly= subjective (after all, if I’d read THE DA VINCI CODE in manuscript format, I’d have told Brown it was too predictable, derivative, and poorly written to be published). Once you get reach a basic professional level of literary competence (use of language, grammar, punctuation, story structure), everything thereafter is in the eye of the beholder, with regard to talent. And talent is no replacement for perseverance. Talent is the gasoline, perseverance is the vehicle; they’re mutually dependent, but a five gallon cannister of gas without a car is, if anything, even LESS likely to transport you to your destination than a car without any gas is.

    Someone may never sell a book because they’re not talented. But someone extremely talented may well never sell a book because they lack the necessary perseverance. Additionally, talented people who’ve SOLD books disappear from this profession all of the time–in herds and droves–because they lack the perseverance that a long career inevitably requires.

    My first book sale was relatively easy. It only took about a year, and only about 12 agents and 3 publishers told me my work was unpublishable before an assistant editor pulled my MS out of a slushpile of 6,000 and told me she liked it and was going to try to get her superiors to approve acquiring it. (She did, they did, and she got promoted as a result of finding a new writer in the slushpile.) But my second, fourth, fifth, eighth, tenth, eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth, seventeenth, eithteenth, nineteenth, and twenty-second book sales were each really hard to make. I wouldn’t have made -any- of those sales (and wouldn’t have a writing career) without a lot of perseverance.


  72. There is simply nothing in Olson’s piece that sets the tone for pro-Holocaust commentary.

    Jeebus. Olsen was an ass. Some commenters were asses in reply.

    If you want to play the “who is a bigger asshole”, well I wasn’t playing that one, but yeah, antisemitism is a bigger asshole than Olsen’s rant.

    I’m just saying that Olsen was being a dick on the internet, and he got a perfectly predictable response. If he didn’t want that response, he shouldn’t have been a dick. If that’s a “silly game”, well, I’m playing that one, sure. But we’re talking basic internet 101 rules here I think.

    And no, I don’t think his “content” must be judged independent of his delivery. He’s a fucking writer and knows that there’s one basic plot, and every story is different because of the voice used and the narrative style, among other details. Olsen picked a voice and style that got him flamed. It would get anyone flamed.

    Scalzi’s got the exact same “story” on his own “I won’t read your manuscript” page, but Scalzi has a completely different voice and style to deliver it with. Scalzi isn’t a dick about it. I just read it again, and he’s out and out gracious about it. And, Hey! Scalzi got a completely different response.

    Sure, antisemitism is a bigger asshole than Olsen’s assholish rant. But Olsen was still an asshole. And he was an asshole on the internet. What the fuck did he expect?

  73. GregLondon:

    “Please explain why Scalzi’s post, which has been up since January of 2007, has 50 posts and none of them invoke oral-sex-for-work responses, while Olsen’s post , which has been up for 3 days, has all manner of angry responses.”


    1. Because Olsen’s piece is on the Village Voice web site, and mine is here;

    2. Because a piece written by an Oscar-nominated screenwriter in a high-profile venue has very likely gotten far more links into it then mine did;

    3. Because in a general sense the comment sections of “old-line” media sites like newspapers and weekly magazines are far more likely to garner drive-by idiotic responses than this site;

    4. Because if someone did drop comments of such colossal dickitude as the ones in that comment thread, I would delete them per my oft-noted comment standards, whereas the VV apparently does not.

    Mind you, I’ve used harsh language such as Olsen uses from time to time (please read the Creation Museum Trip entry, which features several dozen uses of the word “horsehit”), and it got some fairly intemperate drive-by comments at the time. However, the majority of them were quickly deleted, because that’s not how I roll around here.

    Basically, comparing responses in comments between the two pieces is not particularly useful.

  74. And no, I don’t think his “content” must be judged independent of his delivery.

    You’re still playing the silly game. Who said anything about divorcing content from delivery?

    What is being said is this: the extent to which would be writers flip out is orthogonal to the actual content OR delivery of messages they receive from working writers or publishers or editors or agents. Often, they divorce content from whatever message they decided to decode, thus the example of someone fuming about double-spaced submissions, or any number of threads on LROD in which form rejections are dissected for hidden specific meanings, etc.

    Scalzi already covered most of the reasons why he didn’t get the same response as Olson—another is that Scalzi is an active part of the comments section of this blog. Often, comments are a discussion with Scalzi. It is a bit harder to show up and say, oh, I dunno, “Die you fucking bald-headed wop!” when Scalzi will quickly respond with, “Oh, did you mean me?”

  75. comparing responses in comments between the two pieces is not particularly useful.

    I thought you deleted naughty comments, but left them empty. That’s how you usually do it nowadays anyway. Probably so as to not mess up the message numbers.

    I didn’t see any empty comments on your “I won’t read your manuscript” thread. So I assume there weren’t any.

    Well, then the alternative is to compare your “I won’t read your manuscript” thread with your “teenagers, your writing sucks” thread. Both have the same audience, same quality of posters.

    The “your writing probably sucks” thread got a lot more nasty reponses then your “I won’t read your manuscript” thread. At least that’s based on looking at the comments that haven’t already been deleted, so I could be wrong.

    But at least the number of comments on your teen thread is way more than on your “no” thread, and it seems to be driven by teens who disagree, partly triggered by your use of the word “suck”, which is more combative language than how you worded your “no I wont read your manuscript” thread.

    Course it’s impossible to compare apples to completely identical apples, but, I think the point still remains, Olsen was a dick on the internet and got a totally predictable reply. And if he hadn’t been such a dick about it, he probably would have gotten a less-hostile reply.

  76. GregLondon:

    “I thought you deleted naughty comments, but left them empty. That’s how you usually do it nowadays anyway. Probably so as to not mess up the message numbers.”

    I do that when the volume of deletable posts is low. If I get a high number of them in a short period of time, I delete without leaving traces, because there’s really no point in making an example then.

  77. You’re still playing the silly game. Who said anything about divorcing content from delivery?

    Laura at #77:

    Talking about Olsen’s dickish delivery, she says it’s beside the point.

    Which is, again, beside the point. The point being, surely, the content of Olsen’s article, which is that professional writers have good reasons for not reading the work of aspiring writers.

    His delivery is not beside the point. It’s part of why he got the response he did.

    What is being said is this: the extent to which would be writers flip out is orthogonal to the actual content OR delivery of messages they receive from working writers or publishers or editors or agents.

    First of all, is there a reason would-be writers are different than normal human beings? Cause normal human beings respond differently to “What part of ‘no’ do you fucking not understand?” versus “thanks but I must decline”.

    Second of all, regardless of how would-be writers resond, Olsen was still a dick. On the internet. And got a completely predictable response.

    Maybe if he’d been nice, some would be writers would still be dicks. But he was a dick.

  78. JJS@72 – What winds up on-screen rarely looks anything like the script that was bought in the first place, unless the director is also the writer. For TV, that’s almost never the case.

    The simple fact is that a screenwriter has little impact on the final product beyond the initial ideas. After the producers and director get a hold of the script, they tear it apart and give these things they call “notes”, which screenwriters usually call “Another fucking stupid idea.” – not to the producer’s face, obviously. The writer becomes more of a “hired gun” than a developer of ideas at one point, but even after the script is finalized the producers can make changes during the filming that can undercut the meaning of certain scenes or dialog, or even the entire film.

    I know you were being snarky, but it’s not entirely fair to blame a writer for a bad movie.

  79. David: You’re working very hard to put yourself on the side with the anti-Semites. Why?

    wow. that’s a cheap shot and really dumb logic.

    To quote Laura@55: In any case, the people posting their vicious, obscene, and occasionally anti-Semitic rants … I think what one mostly sees on the comments page of Olsen’s article are what one sees everywhere: people who say they want to be writers who aren’t ever going to BE writers.

    No, what we’re seeing here is that Olsen was a dick. Some responses were more dickish than Olsen. But Olsen was still a dick. And being a dick on the internet generates the exact sort of response that Olsen got.

    Had Olsen NOT been a dick, he would have gotten far fewer dickish responses.

    Therefore, the replies he got was indicative of nothing about wanna-be writers so much as it was about Olsen being a dick.

    Now, if you want to stand on your head and twist yourself in a knot and tell me I’m defending anti-semites, then by all means twist yourself in a knot.

    But Olsen was still a dick.

  80. wow. that’s a cheap shot and really dumb logic.

    Actually, it’s not. And you’re avoiding the question.

  81. From David Gerrod’s linked article: take an axe to his laptop, follow him home, burn down his house, and salt the ground.

    Yeah, that’s cool. It’s an attempt at humor that actually succeeds. If Olsen was attempting humor, he missed the mark and landed squarely in asshole territory.

    I’m not entirely convinced Olsen was trying humor, his description of his emotional reaction matches the narative of the rest of the article. He sounds genuinely pissed off.

    But maybe he was trying to be funny and failed fucking miserably.

    If he was trying to be funny but failed, he should apologize since his article landed entirely different than intended. Here is a recent example of humor gone horribly, horribly wrong, and the writer apologizing profusely for it afterwards.

    If he was genuinely pissed off and meant to piss off his readers, well then no apology is needed because he succeeded.

  82. David: Are you trying to Godwin the conversation?

    If I was trying to Godwin the conversation, I’d use the H***** word. I’m trying to figure out why GregLondon is so adamant about relieving the anti-Semites of responsibility for their words. Whatever Olsen said–dick or not–the commenters had control over what they wrote (even more so if they were wannabe writers), and what they wrote was appalling.

  83. Steve@94, ssshhh, David doesn’t realize that I’m really a clone of Hitler and… OH DAMN YOU, GODWIN.

    David@93, actually, we’re not Godwinned just yet, so it’s OK. Trying to godwin a thread via humor doesn’t count. So, by all means, please compare me to Hitler. Or whatever nonsense you were trying to imply.

    Apparently, once someone invokes an antisemite remark towards Olsen, Olsen’s behaviour is entirely above criticism on any other level. The antisemite must dominate all conversation about the entire conversation.

    me: Did you now Olsen used “fuck” 14 times?


    That appears to be your “logic”, correct?

    Please answer the question, no avoiding now….

  84. GregLondon, I love reading your smackdown of righties on other Scalzi posts, but I have to take Olson’s (and Laura’s) sides here. If I had a synopsis that sucked, and Josh Olson was gracious enough to read it, and tell me that it sucked, I would THANK him (as I’ve thanked others) for giving me the chance to improve it before it goes out to an agent or producer–e.g. someone who has the power to help my career. Any spec monkey worth his salt would’ve gotten down on his knees and thanked Olson for *ensuring that said spec monkey didn’t screw up or set back his career.*

    Instead, the guy trash-talked Olson after he’d put in a lot of time trying to help the guy. I’d be angry, too. That idiot, whoever he is, just made the rest of us look bad. I’m someone who doesn’t yet make my living full-time through writing (been lucky enough to pull in low four figures on one project), but I treat the craft with seriousness and respect others who do.

    And while commenters are allowed to say “Fuck you, Olson,” right back, Josh didn’t attack anyone’s religion or sexual orientation. Derogatory statements about religion or sexual orientation can be classified as hate speech. So, no, Olson didn’t have that portion of the comments coming.

  85. Steve Burnap, “Do you really think that someone growing up in rural Minnesota”

    Minnesota has actual cities there. And obviously nobody have ever heard of Steven Brust, Emma Bull and Will Shetterly (to name some modern examples).

    Or from fairly rural Ohio, besides Scalzi we have Tobias Buckell, Geoffery Landis, Mary Turzillo, Cat Valente (lived here for a time), Charles Findlay, Rachael Carson and S. Andrew Swann (those just off the top of my head, you’ve probably heard of, and they’re also mostly genre authors – I know more who aren’t SF/F including Les Roberts).

    I live in pretty rural Ohio (in a village of less than 2000). I’ve met for short periods of time PNH, Jim Frenkel, Charlie Brown (RIP), and a few others, not to mention all the authors I’ve met, including Scalzi. Now, I’ll admit that I am more blessed than some others; I have a decent day job and I can play the extrovert. However, I’ve also made a commitment to writing which includes the time and the money. Talent is highly over rated, skill and hard work are more important.

  86. David: Whatever Olsen said–dick or not–the commenters had control over what they wrote (even more so if they were wannabe writers), and what they wrote was appalling.

    What Olsen wrote is not in question as to whether it was dickish or not. He was.

    That’s my point.

    And I can assert that point about Olsen being a dick, regardless of whether the responding thread was devoid of antisemites or filled with antisemites from top to bottom.

    Olsen’s behaviour occurred before the comments came, not in response to the comments. So, Olsen’s behaviour can be judged independent of the comments. And Olsen was a dick.

    If you want to avoid rendering judgement on Olsen because someone on the thread responded to his behaviour with antisemitic remarks, that’s your choice. But don’t tell me the entire conversation has to be about teh antisemitic remarks and we must all withold judgement on Olsen’s behaviour because of those remarks. Olsen was a dick.

  87. First: rereading Olsen’s rant, it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t going for humor: At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situation, please read on.

    That’s not funny. There’s no possible interpretation to read that as funny. (well, except as an insult comic). It’s pretty clear that he’s really calling the person a dick.

    GregMachlin@98: Instead, the guy trash-talked Olson after he’d put in a lot of time trying to help the guy.

    All Olsen tells us about that is this:

    his response was a terse “Thanks for your opinion.” And, the inevitable fallout–a week later a mutual friend asked me, “What’s this dick move I hear you pulled on Whatsisname?”

    It might be the guy trash-talked Olsen. But it might be that the guy simply told the mutual friend what Olsen’s criticism was.

    Thing is, we don’t know what Olsen actually said. We know what he said about his criticism:

    I advised him that if all he was interested in was this story, he should find a writer and work with him; or, if he really wanted to be a writer, start at the beginning and take some classes, and start studying seriously.

    Yeah, see, that’s not critiquing the work. That’s critiquing the writer.

    It’s basic writer workshop rules: critique the work, not the writer. Present all criticism in the form of “this didn’t work for me because I (blah)”.

    Olsen went after the writer. He was either being a dick or being clueless. It’s basic writer-workshop rules and it sounds like he completely pooched them.

    Given that yet another read through his article it looks like he wasn’t tryign to be funny and his whole “I’m not the dick here, YOU are” attitude is clueless as to how it would land, I’m going to go with Olsen’s critique was really dickish towards the guy.

    And his article reads like a thinly veiled attack on the writer and his girlfriend. If he’s so clueless that his article will land as “dickish”, I wouldn’t be surprised if he described the details of the writer and his girlfriend in enough detail that they’d know he’s talking about them.

    From Olsen’s rant: So now this guy and his girlfriend think I’m an asshole, and the truth of the matter is, the story really ended the moment he handed me the goddamn synopsis. Because if I’d just said “No” then and there, they’d still think I’m an asshole.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not generally true for all writers. I think you can say “no” to a request for a reading and walk away without the other person thinking your an asshole. But I am getting the distinct impression that Olsen might not have the capacity or diplomacy or whatever to say “no” without pissing people off.

    That idiot, whoever he is, just made the rest of us look bad.

    Olsen made Olsen look bad.

    Olson didn’t have that portion of the comments coming.

    No. And I never said that.

    But he was a dick on the internet and I’m not sure what sort of response he was expecting to get.

  88. GregLondon:

    “it’s pretty clear that he wasn’t going for humor”

    Well, no. I thought it was pretty amusing myself. It’s not meant to be a humor piece, but it has a certain amount of wryness and exasperation to it which I found funny, and which I expect was intentional.

    GregLondon, you really do need to accept the fact that different people will read this article in different ways. To you it’s the height of dickishness, to others it’s common sense, with just a bit of exasperated exaggeration thrown in.

    Also, and I think this is being overlooked in the conversation here, the piece is (to me, anyway) very clearly written to be contentious, probably for the very obvious reason that it will stand out and be commented on, i.e., he’s writing for effect. That Olsen’s exasperation in this article means he’ll be an asshole to people in real life when confronted with this situation is not a good assumption.

  89. GregLondon, you’re taking every comment in that essay personally, which is why you’re not finding it funny.

    Personally, I think my lack of success in the writing world is less related to my location in Vermont and more related to the fact I just started submitting again after not doing much of anything for the last decade. But that’s logic.

  90. Laura: This is in the eye of the beholder, not an objective standard.

    Olsen: At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situation, please read on.

    Translation: if you think Olsen is a dick, walk away. You’re being childish, but just walk away. If, on the other hand, you’re willing to “grow as a human being”, then I will explain to you why you are a dick.

    That’s not an adult conversation. That’s “I’m not a poopyhead, you are.” That’s namecalling delivered at a childish “nuh uh” level.

    the story really ended the moment he handed me the goddamn synopsis. Because if I’d just said “No” then and there, they’d still think I’m an asshole.

    Think about this. Olsen says that anytime he says “no”, the writer thinks he’s an ass. How many writers have that experience? I think Scalzi may get a request now and then and he might direct them to his “Why I won’t read your manuscript” thread. It starts off:

    1. I’m really flattered that you would think of asking me to critique your work and would trust me to give you valuable feedback. Thank you.

    2. No.

    That’s graciousness. It’s diplomacy. It acknowledges the fact that the other person looks up to Scalzi and wants his opinion. Scalzi then thanks the person for thinking that highly of him. Then he says no.

    If Olsen is really so incapable of saying “no” without the other person always thinking he is an asshole, it might be because Olsen doesn’t just say “no”. He starts getting mad at the person and blamign them for asking him.

    Then there is the little snippet Olsen reveals about his critique about the synopsys: I advised him that if all he was interested in was this story, he should find a writer and work with him; or, if he really wanted to be a writer, start at the beginning and take some classes, and start studying seriously.

    as I mentioned before, this is moronic and violates basic critiquing rules. The guy may have said “be honest” but that doesn’t mean “ignore the work and attack me as a writer”

    Three excerpts from his rant. All of them violate basic rules for non-dickish behaviour.

    You can believe he isn’t being a dick, but I don’t think you can point at anything specific in teh article that shows he’s being diplomatic or gracious.

    All you’ve done in his defense is say you agree with his “content” that “professional writers have good reasons for not reading the work of aspiring writers” and ignored his delivery.

    JohnScalzi@103: he’s writing for effect

    If he really did critique the writer and not the work, then he was really a dick. The only non-dick alternative would be that he gave a good critique of the work itself, and then changed that part in the story to make himself look like a dick “for effect”. Which I highly doubt.

    The “for effect” he was going for would be that the OTHER guy, the writer who asked for the critique was being a dick. What he described about his critique was that he attacked teh writer, not the work, which is dickish and pretty amature for a professional writer to do. Basic writer-workshop rules and all that.

    It doesn’t make sense that he would change that part of the narative “for effect”, because it wasn’t the effect he was going for. So I’m assuming it was a semi-accurate description of how he critiqued the guy.

    So, he was a dick.

    And if he was a dick on that, I’m not too surprised that he is really a dick when it comes to saying “no” and always pissing the other person off.

    On the other hand, if he is writing “for effect”, then it goes back to the Andrew Dice Clay rule. Act like the Diceman, get the Diceman’s audience. And hecklers. And people pissed off at your “dickish” act.

  91. @GregLondon, if your comments are solely about Olsen being a dick (“Olsen’s behaviour occurred before the comments came, not in response to the comments. So, Olsen’s behaviour can be judged independent of the comments. And Olsen was a dick.”) then you should stop connecting that dickishness to the commenters as a way of excusing them, aka:

    “Had Olsen NOT been a dick, he would have gotten far fewer dickish responses.

    Therefore, the replies he got was indicative of nothing about wanna-be writers so much as it was about Olsen being a dick”

  92. “Had Olsen NOT been a dick, he would have gotten far fewer dickish responses.””

    Right! Absolutely true! Because people on the internet are always so rational and courteous. And aspiring writers are always so rational and courteous when they feel their self-definitions as “writers” being threatened by a professional writer’s exasperated article about the impositions of aspiring writers…

    Oh. Wait a minute.

    Spotting possible flaw in theory…


  93. JS: Yeah, sorry. Your orignal post where it sounded like some people were blaming others for their situation brought it out.

    Thread specific, I am amazed at all the passion over this subject. I never would have thought there was so much potential for disagreement over asking a pro’s opinion. But, I guess the points made in Gerrold’s article explain the risks to the pro in helping.

  94. Steve Buchheit@99: Yes, I am very well aware that Minnesota has cities. I lived in Eveleth for five years. That is why I said specified *rural* Minnesota.

  95. Causality is not moral justification. You think GregLondon is using it in this way, but it’s pretty clear to me that he’s not.

    Or maybe you’ve read his blog and seen all that hideous antisemitism that he has displayed, somewhere? *

    * ( note: actual blog does not contain real anti-semitism )

  96. Somewhat off topic I’m afraid.

    Is the aspiring writer who spends his/her time rereading the part that -has- managed to become written, not in order to improve it but because they’re convinced it is unimprovable and must be savored, simply novel gazing?

  97. I am speaking with the perspective of someone who lives in Singapore and have not had the opportunity to experience such situations in Ohio, New York or Los Angeles.

    There are many writers out there in Southeast Asia who do not have the chance to make a name or attain prestige status where they are. Add that to that fact that they are sf/f writers, these writers often face rejection from traditional publishers, simply because sf/f is not viable or profitable. So, genres like poetry, memoirs and self-help books are more popular.

    If the chance of getting published or being read is all due to proximity, one could argue that Southeast Asian writers should migrate to the States and make a name for themselves there. Yet, I beg to defer here. I just feel that there is not enough exposure to sf/f as a genre in Southeast Asia and not enough critical mass to justify it. There are sf/f readers but they are the silent majority (?).

    I know there is the Philippines Science Fiction Sampler, many kudos to the efforts of Charles Tan. Yet Southeast Asian sf/f is still at a nascent stage and traditional publishers haven’t caught on yet. With the Internet, I think many Southeast Asian writers are given a new opportunity to present their craft to the world.

  98. J. Chng, I did a doubletake reading your comment that poetry is more popular than sf/f there! Poetry is at the very bottom of the “commercial viability” heap in the US. So you guys have clearly got a very different market over there. Interesting! I’m glad you posted that. Food for thought.


  99. J.Ching @ 119

    Your comment reminds me of the collections of Russian work in the 60s and 70s which had mine-able gems quite frequently in them.

  100. David: if your comments are solely about Olsen being a dick … not in response to the comments

    Dude. Seriously. Just call me a fucking nazi so we can call Godwin already. Olsen was a dick. You won’t admit that because ZOMG! ANTISEMITE! But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t.

    So, call me a Nazi, or drop your stupid defense of Olsen because you decided that antisemitism grants him immunity from being called a dick. It’s irrelevant. Not that irrelevance seems to stop you much.

    Luke@114 figured it out without any help. Causation (Olsen being a dick caused some commenters to be dicks) does not equal moral justification (olsen being a dick justifies antisemitism)

    But you, you keep playing dumb. Come on, don’t avoid the question Greg. Why are you defending the antisemite? Why Greg? Why do you hate Judaism so much? Why?

    Fuck. If you weren’t so goddamn set on demanding Olsen be immune from being called a fucking dick because someone else made some antisemite remark to him, maybe you would have figured that out. But you’re to busy worried about ZOMG! ANTISEMITE! Leave Britney Alone! I mean Olsen! Whatever.

    Olsen was a dick. Deal with it.

    Olsen was a dick on the internet. He got exactly what any normal sane person would expect. He got a bunch of dicks commenting on his thread.

    Scalzi thinks Olsen was commenting “for effect”, which means Olsen was being a dick on purpose. But if true, he still got the response any sane person would expect.

    Laura@111: Because people on the internet are always so rational and courteous.

    this is turning into horsepuckey. No one in their right mind would say that Olsen’s article was polite, diplomatic, or gracious. No one sane. Are you saying Olsen was polite?

    The only choices are he was writing “for effect” as John said, or he was completely fucking tone deaf and didn’t realize he was goign to get the response he got.

    Which was he, Laura?

    Which was he, David?

    Come on, don’t avoid the question.

    Dick on purpose (to be mean) or dick for effect or dick by accident.

    Laura, you said earlier you dont’ think he was a dick. You wanna stand by that? If so,could you expound on that a little bit? Was he being funny and all the haters just failed to get how hilarious he was?

    David? I know you’re hypnotized by ZOMG! ANTISEMITE! but maybe if you avert you gaze from the dance of the cobra… David? Over here. Maybe you could take a moment to say how Olsen’s post occured to you. Intended to be funny? Sincere but tone deaf?

    Both Laura and David, are you both asserting that all the combative and insulting posts on Olsen’s thread are completely unrelated to Olsen’s method of delivery? His style? not his “content”, the moral of his story that wanna-be writers suck or whatever, but his attitude?

    Are you both insisting that every single angry response he got is completely unrelated to Olsen’s choice of words?


    I just want to make sure that I actually understand where you both stand. I know there’s been a lot of distractions with ZOMG! ANTISEMITE and all that, but if you could answer those questions maybe I could get a better understanding of where you’re coming from.

  101. @Laura and Nargel,

    Yep, poetry is quite popular and a lot of the folks I know who are making a name for themselves in the Singapore writing scene are poets. Definitely a different market – people like poetry. I think they find it more palatable than sf/f.

  102. This is the point where I wander in, remind everyone to take deep breaths and try not to fleck spittle on their fellow commenters, and then wander back out again.

  103. There’s something of a tradition of characters who are dicks, but in an entertaining way: Ignatius Reilly of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES springs immediately to mind. In mystery fiction we have characters like Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot, who are insufferable, but brilliant. In TV, we have ENTOURAGE’s Ari Gold, or SCRUBS’ Dr. Cox. They’re smart people who go off on the dumb or lazy people they see around them. Let’s face it, if you’re a smart person you’ve been in situations where you would have liked to have done that.

    It was clear to me from the get-go that that’s what Olsen was shooting for, and I think he did a decent job at it. YMMV, but I’m a little bemused by the people who seem to have taken his essay way too seriously.

  104. Hmm… so I finally actually read the linked article. And you know what? Olsen wasn’t a dick. Not at all. Not even slightly.

    Yeah he used the word fuck. A lot. But he obviously did it as a linguistic gimmick. Doesn’t really work for me, but if the word fuck really annoys you then I’d say the Village Voice isn’t a publication you should read.

    The rest of the piece was a pretty well thought-out examination of why even a short, 2 page synopsis turns out to be a lot of work if you’re honestly critiquing it and it needs work (as this apparently did), followed by the point that people who ask this kind of a favor are usually just asking for validation rather than honest criticism. Giving validation is fine if they’re actually good, but when they’re not? Well, this is another place where Olsen proves he’s not a dick:

    So. I read the thing. And it hurt, man. It really hurt. I was dying to find something positive to say, and there was nothing. And the truth is, saying something positive about this thing would be the nastiest, meanest and most dishonest thing I could do. Because here’s the thing: not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you’re not a writer.

    You know what? If he was a dick, he’d have just said either “Yeah, nice work” and tossed off a couple of minor edits or he’d have said “You’re fucking hopeless, why are you wasting your time?” What he did was this:

    My first draft was ridiculous. I started with specific notes, and after a while, found I’d written three pages on the first two paragraphs. That wasn’t the right approach. So I tossed it, and by the time I was done, I’d come up with something that was relatively brief, to the point, and considerate as hell. The main point I made was that he’d fallen prey to a fallacy that nails a lot of first timers.

    So, sorry GregLondon, but I think you’re making a mountain out of the rather obvious gimmick of using the work fuck a lot in the first few paragraphs to set a mood. He comes across as a guy who took a lot of time to try to do a real critique and, when he gave it, got crapped on by the guy who said he wanted real feedback. Was his style Scalzi’s? Nope. But then they are different people…

  105. Havn’t read the article – not a writer myself. Just can;t sleep and find this thread LESS contentious than what’s otherwise going on in my head tonight (youth soccer of all things – don’t ask). I’ve gotta say, Rick, that your was easily the most clear, cogent, and considerate post up here. (I may also be stuck in alliterative mode lately) As our host has been known to say “Good on you.”

  106. OK, went and read it. Chuckled twice, wasn’t offended, but was struck by this – given his apparent automatic tendencies to assume the negative, he might want to talk to a professional about the significant possibility that he is depressed.

    Of course, he should do that during office hours :)

  107. Steve Burnap #52:

    (Wow, thread went boom in just a few hours…)

    I made a clarification in a successive comment that I currently live where I work.

    I do know fellows who work for the big guys (Microsoft, Google, Amazon, IBM, and possibly the research labs count), and yes, there is actually a rotating triangle that involves Microsoft/Google/Amazon software developers. But recruiting to fill enormous headcount means they pull “cold” quite often (and have a rather torturous interview loop to make up for that, although even strong internal recommendations go through the loop).

    My situation is fairly usual for a large and mean software company.

  108. A friend of mine (whose name I’m not relaying, since this was conveyed in a private forum) has just written that he -particularly- enjoyed Olson’s article because, only this week, he refused to read a stranger’s work. The stranger left vicious comments on my friend’s blog, more than once (and on more than one day) declaring my friend a talentless, arrogant asshole.

    Then the stranger went on Facebook, relayed to his chums there that my friend wouldn’t read his work, and the friends also all declared my friend a talentless, arrogant asshole, and went on at length about how bad they think his work is, and made lewd suggestions about how he gets contracts, etc.

    Boy-oh-boy, are there are a lot of vicious crazies out there.

  109. See, here’s what I don’t understand about dumbass strangers like the ones who attacked Laura’s friend:

    They assume that writers get all their work through connections. Therefore, if you insult that writer, all of his or her connections are going to hear about your insulting, too, and since all writers’ success is based on Who You Know, they’ve just completely destroyed their own chances of ever getting published. So really, WTF?

    Steve Burnap @113: and again, who cares where you live or how rural it is? If you’re writing for TV and movies, then you need to live in LA. Everybody else, it doesn’t matter much; you don’t get ‘discovered’ because you rubbed elbows with Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Le Cirque. Your writing community is far more likely to be online than it is to be the New York Literary Community.

    Oh, I suppose that in the pre-Internet age, you could argue that big-city denizens have more access to writers’ workshops and conventions and so on, but it’s still a bad argument (even in the sticks, they do have them some SF cons), but these days? Nah.

  110. Mythago, yes, if one were acting at all rationally on the mistaken assumption that making a first sale is all about Who You Know, then one wouldn’t go around publicly attacking an established writer whose connections might well hear about it.

    Then again, if one were capable of rational behavior, probably one wouldn’t go around attacking strangers on the internet, period. Let alone strangers from whom one asked a big favor only hours or days earlier.


  111. Thanks, John.
    You just pulled me out of another bout of depression. I’m not bi-polar, not even a pessimist by nature. Sometimes I just like to feel depressed. Tossing my arse down a gravity well-like depression only makes me stronger. Thankfully they always spit me out somewhere upstream.
    My third novel was just rejected from the War of the Words contest with Tor UK. It wasn’t as if I was expecting to make the short list, though. I really had no expectations at all. I realized going in that there were hundreds if not thousands of talented sf writers submitting their debut novels. And, besides, it was Tor. I imagine that seven of the ten to make the short list were hard sf novels, in the same vein as Charles Stross and John C. Wright. I was out of my element. Heck, I don’t even remember the table of elements anymore. What the heck am I doing writing sf anyway? I’m an English Literature major from Queen’s University. I should be writing “speculative” fiction. I suppose I should have found happiness in the blogosphere years ago, like so many other aspiring writers.
    I’m back on track again. I’ll self-publish my two NEW novels through Lulu . . . and do a one-time hundred print run for the both of them, then watch them drop to the bottom of Amazon ratings. If you didn’t know that there was a bottom at Amazon, check out my debut novel. The bottom of the “publishing world” currently stands at 7,000,000th. The fact that there are six 6,999,999 better-selling books than mine is . . . well, I’m indifferent about it, really. My two new books will keep the first two books company soon enough.
    It takes two points to plot a course. Who knows, maybe I needed four points to plot a best-selling fifth.
    PS I know a few Lulu writers who buy their own books on Amazon just to boost their rankings. I just can’t be bothered . . . “vanity of vanities!”

    S. Pile

  112. Olsen was a dick. You won’t admit that because ZOMG! ANTISEMITE! But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t.

    So, call me a Nazi, or drop your stupid defense of Olsen because you decided that antisemitism grants him immunity from being called a dick.

    See, here’s the issue: I haven’t said Olsen wasn’t a dick. I’m simply pointing out that, whatever Olsen said, anti-Semitic remarks are not a reasonable response. In fact, my actual position is something along the lines of “Olsen wrote provocatively in a way that was guaranteed some heated responses; that doesn’t justify the form of the responses he actually got.”

    You seem terribly and personally attached to the idea that because Olsen was a dick, he brought the comments in their current form on himself. That puts you in the position of repeatedly defending anti-Semites and I continue to wonder if you’re comfortable there?

  113. Man, I take a day off the internet to finish a draft (which I did Saturday, go fucking me) and things get crazy-cray over here.

    A friend of mine who’s been a writer/director for more than a decade offered this film industry-specific perspective:

    “This is an industry built on mentorship and relationships that enable you to get ahead. He didn’t get paid to write without support from other people and, I would guess, even support from strangers.”

    As an editor-by-day, I do find it onerous to be asked to work for free. But I also believe in giving back, which is why I don’t say ‘no’ all the time, either.

  114. Laura@132: A friend of mine Boy-oh-boy, are there are a lot of vicious crazies out there.

    Question: from a purely logical argument point of view, what is the general understanding of what anecdotal evidence proves?

    Now that we have David Gerrod’s reponse, we can compare two “I will not read your manuscript” posts, both by professional authors, both on Village Voice.

    Hm, thus far, I count 1 post that attacks Gerrod. There are a few posts that attack Olsen for being a dick. And then the rest are “I’d never impose a pro by asking him to read my work” kind of responses.

    Olsen’s post has been up for a few days. So, to get a true statistical comparison, one would have to wait the same amount of time to see if the same level of shit storm arises on Gerrod’s post as Olsen’s.

    But here is the thing for all you Defenders of Olsen:

    You wanna bet on it?

    I’ll do a group bet. Me versus Laura, David, and whoever else thinks that Olsen’s approach doesn’t matter. If true, then Gerrod’s post should be filled with a like manner of asshole posts attacking Gerrod. If I’m right, then Gerrod’s comment thread will have a noticably different set of responses.

    So, here’s the wager. The current last comment on Olsen’s thread right now is this one. It was posted Sunday, Sep. 13 2009 @ 9:20AM. Olsen posted his rant on Wednesday, Sep. 9 2009 @ 10:00PM. That’s three and a half days. So, after Gerrod’s post has been up for three and a half days, we’ll take a look at his comments. (Gerrod posted the thread on Friday, Sep. 11 2009 @ 1:03PM. So, that makes it roughly Sep 15 2009, around 1 AM, if I’m doing the math right)

    If Gerrod has roughly the same number of asshole comments as Olsen, then you win. If Gerrod has statistically fewer asshole comments than Olsen, then I win.

    Oh, and asshole comments on Gerrod’s thread that only insult Olsen count against Olsen, not Gerrod.

    I’m hurting a bit for money right now, but I want to make winning/losing to be meaningful rather than just a pittance, so I’ll wager $100. If you win, I’ll send it to whatever tax exempt charity you want.

    If I win, you guys (whoever agrees to the bet) will pool your money and send $100 to Amnesty International which works to end torture in the world. (that’s $100 total, not apiece)

    Are there any takers?

    Who knows, I may very well be wrong. But I’m at least willing to bet $100 that I’m right. And I’m pretty sure this whole “It doesn’t matter how Olsen would have said it, he still would have been swamped with assholes” is a very illogical defense of Olsen because those defenders identify with Olsen, like Olsen, know Olsen, or whatever. But it results in a statement about human behaviour that I’m willing to wager money is completely disconnected from reality.

    If I’m wrong, then it doesnt’ matter that Gerrod says “I wont read your manuscript” in a completely humorous way. It won’t matter that Gerrod’s style is not directed to “you” but aimed at “them”. It won’t matter that Gerrod never uses the word “Fuck” directly at the reader. It won’t matter that Gerrod didn’t swear at all. None of those differences will matter. And if that’s really the case, I expect Gerrod’s thread to be swamped with asshole comments even though Gerrod was a whole lot more diplomatic about it and actually funny about it. If his thread isn’t swamped,then this whole “Doesn’t matter how you say it, people are assholes” thing is shown to be wrong.

    Any takers?

    I say Olsen was a dick on the internet and got the response any newb could have predicted. Scalzi says he was a dick “for effect”, in which case, I think Olsen still got the exact response that any newb could have predicted.

    Those saying that Olsen’s dickishness (or style or approach or whatever) had absolutely no effect on the level and kinds of responses he got, well, you may be defending Olsen because he’s a friend of yours or you identify with him as a writer, or you feel bad for him because of all the nasty things that have been said to him. And I’m perfectly fine with that. If you want to defend Olsen because he’s a friend, then that’s a noble thing to do. I’ve been known to mount a fierce defense of my friends from time to time.

    But if that’s the case, then defend him without turning it into some sweeping assertion about human behaviour that’s just not truthful.

  115. #116, re novel-gazing, yes. And I speak as one who’s done it.

    I don’t know about the screenplay world, but for novels and short stories you can go to a writer’s workshop where (for a smallish flat fee) a pro WILL read your work and give detailed feedback. Also some other aspiring writers will read your work, and you will read theirs, and you will all critique each other.

    They aren’t perfect. It’s hard to be critical enough* when (a) you are looking the other student in the face and (b) your MS is up for comment next. But they’re not that hard to find, and they’re a lot more realistic approach to the problem than grabbing a near-stranger and demanding a substantial chunk of their working time.

    critical enough: the standard an editor and above all a reader of published work will apply. I.e. “Will this work by a total stranger not only be fun to read but so MUCH fun that I’m happy I paid money to read it?” As in the Making Light article we all know and love.

  116. JJS@72: The thing to remember is that there are many, many more points of failure in a film or TV show than in published prose. A novel may have 4 or 5 hands touch it: author, agent, editor, copyeditor and possibly the author’s first reader or crit group.

    A film or TV show has hundreds of hands on it, and by the time it’s apparent it’s all going horribly pear shaped there may be too much (perceived) money invested in it to back out.

    Also, Olsen’s bete noir would have done better to get himself a writing group. If he’s in LA you can’t throw a rock with hitting one (hell, I’m in two).

    Many are a mix of semi-pros and aspirants and the best offer what newbies need most – support AND honest feedback. Then it’s the writer’s job to take what works for them and leave the rest.

  117. GregLondon:

    Oh, for goodness sake. The responses from Gerrold’s piece are not likely to be the same as the responses from Olsen’s piece for all sorts of reasons, not just the ones you seem to be wishing to control for. Your bet won’t prove a damn thing.

    This argument you folks are having is now Officially Very Silly, and I think it needs to stop, because it’s not actually doing anything at this point except indicating that people are occasionally willing to argue far past the point of futility. So, please, drop it and move on.

    And yes, GregLondon, I’m looking directly at you. Which is not to say that others involved do not risk me looking directly at them, either. This was a group effort.

  118. Those saying that Olsen’s dickishness (or style or approach or whatever) had absolutely no effect on the level and kinds of responses he got, well, you may be defending Olsen because he’s a friend of yours or you identify with him as a writer, or you feel bad for him because of all the nasty things that have been said to him.

    You’re really a thoroughly unpleasant chap, aren’t you?

    Look, I’ll explain my point one more time: the commenters in Olsen’s thread may well have been justified in being annoyed by his tone. That said, they were *not* justified in using anti-Semitic language to vent that annoyance. You seem to me to be defending not only people’s right to vent, but people’s right to vent in the particular anti-Semitic ways that they did. Are you?

    Since it’s irrelevant to that position what comments David Gerrold gets, no bet.

  119. Angelle @138, of course it’s important to give back, but I’m thinking Olson probably did not get mentorship from people by saying “Here, you’re a friend of the woman I’m sleeping with, can you take unpaid time to look at something so that I can get mad at you if you fail to proclaim it a staggering work of genius?”

  120. Given that the comment was responsing to a post about reading *scripts*, it seems reasonable that the commenter was thinking specifically of script writing, in which case being in L.A. or one of the places where shows and movies actually get made probably is a big advantage.

  121. That doesn’t seem a reasonable assumption to me. The commenter very specifically wrote “their niche of the professional writing industry,” which if he meant only “screenwriting” by it, seems a rather longer way of saying things than writing “screenwriting.” Personally, I think it’s reasonable to assume he meant to be expansive. Which as it turns out makes him incorrect, but even so.

  122. Steve Burnap @ various. Put me down as agreeing one hundred percent with Laura Resnick on perseverance as the number one factor in a writing career. My 1st novel sold was my 4th written and it sold after I’d my 7th and that’s typical.

    Also, I have to agree with everyone who’s argued that the geography=destiny thing is bullshit. I didn’t start seriously selling short stories until I moved from urban MN to rural WI and I didn’t start selling novels until after selling a heap of short stories. And, you know what, my personal location had zero to do with either my not selling earlier or selling well now. This is because the vast majority of my interactions with agents, editors, and publishers have been managed the way that is most common in this industry, which is via mail, or more recently, the internet.

  123. I agree that “geographic advantage” is a highly overrated concept, particularly in this Internet age, where most editors, I expect, use email. A New York editor can communicate with equal ease and speed with an author living in Manhattan, KS as (s)he can with one living in Manhattan, NYC.

    And I suspect that most NY editors will reject your work just as quickly if you submit poorly written crap, even if if they can see your apartment building from their office window.

  124. Here’s a counterpoint to the discussion, a column on TechCrunch which references the original Olson posting. The telling quote is this:

    “The person isn’t really asking Olson to read his script. What he was really asking for is access to the Hollywood power structure. A way in to a very closed off world.”

    He then goes on to say that the situation is similar for founders of startup companies, looking for a way into the Silicon Valley power structure, to find investors and so forth.

    Does he have a point? Both worlds can be very insular, difficult for someone to break into them from the “outside.”

  125. @ Steve Burnap #36

    … in particular coming from someone who didn’t have to do the hard “shopping around the manuscript” bit himself.

    FYI, shopping a manuscript is the easy part.

  126. “Does he have a point? Both worlds can be very insular, difficult for someone to break into them from the ‘outside.'”

    Yes, he has a point. Hollywood is very closed because it needs a high filter because it’s putting out a small amount of product that requires enormous amounts of people and millions of dollars to actually turn into something. Likewise, software start-ups, which may need fewer people, but otherwise, it’s about the same. The pay-offs of success are enormous, and so are highly desirable and sought-after.

    But fiction publishing is entirely different. Fiction publishing doesn’t need a high filter (by filter, I mean procedures of access, not assessments of quality,) and puts out a lot of product. It puts out far less product than is offered to it, but because the product is generated and developed by one person, and does not require millions of dollars to produce and market it, or crews of hundreds, it does not have to have a contacts closed shop mentality, and can throw the doors open to considering product from anyone, even if it doesn’t buy most of it.

    Further, fiction publishing does not have any money. There are no options in publishing, where someone gives you money on the possibility that they might make it into a movie or the possibility that you might be able to produce a software program, but hey, if it doesn’t happen, keep the money. They don’t buy novels as a favor to some big name person because they can’t afford it. There are only two reasons they buy fiction: 1) they think the novel will sell; and 2) you are a celebrity whose fans might buy the novel. The number of books that are put into category 2 are exceedingly small, cost them a lot since you have to pay celebrities more, and often flop. But for the rest of fiction, in category 1, it doesn’t matter where you live, who you are, whether you have a degree in fiction writing, etc., or who you know, only what you are actually offering. Which for the most part they will pay you peanuts for up front, but sales may make you more.

    But it’s very hard to get this through people’s heads. (And Hollywood’s ridiculous portrayal of book publishing and novelists doesn’t help.) So they want the published author to magically get them into publishing, shepherd them through. They don’t always understand that a reading doesn’t guarantee a sale. But getting a reading is a door that is hard to get through — though nowhere near as hard as it is with Hollywood — and it’s true that authors can sometimes get another writer a reading. But if authors attempted to read stuff and broker readings and encourage agents and editors to take stuff, they’d be literary agents (and entitled to 15% of your earnings.) Most published authors are juggling two careers already — their writing and their day jobs. They can’t do it, nor do they want to swamp their agent or editor with loads of ms. from acquaintances, most of which even if it’s perfectly good, the agent or editor is still not going to want.

    So it’s difficult, because there is a tradition of mentoring, particularly in SFF, and Scalzi’s Big Idea feature, where he helps other authors publicize their books, is part of that. But there are so many people who want to write books and particularly novels that it’s very limited what authors can feasibly do. Or probably screenwriters either, because there are many, many hoops involved with scripts that any writer has to go through beyond contacts.

    So given the choice between being writers, and being agent brokers, most of them are going to choose being writers. And in fiction, since you can get readings in other ways, badgering authors for help is counter-productive. Advice, sure, and accept help if they offer it. But while making an ass of yourself in Hollywood may sometimes work, it doesn’t play too well in fiction publishing.

  127. Blame is not a conserved quantity. It’s quite possible for bad things to be the fault of anywhere from no one to many people.

    From the clueless writer to the response, to the rumoring, to the blogging about the rumoring, and the ensuing comments, bad things have happened. People bear full responsibility for what they themselves did, and to varying extents, partial responsibility for what followed.

    I think when Olsen is blaming the writer, his main (partly unspoken) beef is that the guy isn’t taking responsibility for the grief he caused himself. That doesn’t mean Olsen didn’t grief him, but that the guy did grief himself, and didn’t accept that he walked into it.

    This applies to other aspects of the situation as well… but as JS has said, that’s done.

  128. Hooray! I shall sit back and await the fame and fortune that is my due, as an aspiring* writer living in Los Angeles.

    As an aspiring writer living in Los Angeles, I shall join my brethren and sistren in their daily duties, which–as far as I can tell–consist of hanging out at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and gazing forlornly at one’s stubbornly silent cell phone. In this respect it’s hard to tell them apart from aspiring actors. Maybe there’s a handshake.

    *That’s “aspiring” as in “aspiring to writing something someday, if I can ever get my crap together, which seems rather unlikely inasmuch as I’ve lost NaNoWriMo six years running”.

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