On the Subject of Skin Thickness

I was the subject of some discussion last week in the comments of the site File 770, specifically on the matter of whether my occasional snarking on Twitter at the sad, attention-seeking dudes who regularly try to cut me down online is proof that I have “thin skin” regarding criticism, etc. And while I like anyone am an imperfect observer of my own psychology, I do actually live with me, and have some idea of what actually goes on in my head. So I thought I would take a stab at an answer to this question, as of February 12, 2022.

Which is: I don’t think I’m particularly thin-skinned? Bear in mind I am a person who enjoys vicious one-star reviews of my work, and who also (rather famously) grades hate mail on the effort given to it, and will send it back with a request for revisions if I don’t think it shows sufficient creativity. Less flashily, I do frequently remind people that a) I and my work are not for everyone, b) people are perfectly within their rights to not like or even actively dislike me and/or my work, and c) while by and large I believe in letting people alone when they express their opinion about me, positively or negatively, on the occasions I do engage or comment, no one else should take that as their cue to pile on. “Never be an asshole on my behalf” is my motto.

Most people, I think, are happy to oblige me, and for the few who would still persist in being an asshole on my behalf, well, that’s (one reason) why I usually screencap and anonymize comments, or paraphrase and subtweet. None of which, I would suggest, is the sign of a particularly thin-skinned person.

That said, I sure do screencap/subtweet a lot of people being nasty about me, to mock or snark on them, which is certainly indicative of… something. If not thin-skinnedness, then what?

Mostly, I’m just fascinated that they care, and that they take time to create their fantasy version of me, you know, the bubble universe Scalzi who is an abject, emasculated failure propped up by a conspiracy of publishers for reasons. Bear in mind that for some of these dudes, it’s not even (merely) personal, i.e., they don’t like me. It’s an actual (terrible) business model for them; they think there’s some financial or business advantage in publicly hating on me, a way to community build, as it were. And maybe there is! Although I expect that the audience for that is, how to say this, both exclusive and not especially well-moneyed. But when you’re slogging along at the margins and desperate for attention, I guess you’ll try anything.

I’m not going to get too upset that the He-Man Scalzi Haters Club (No Girls Allowed) exists, since fundamentally it’s not actually even about me. I do, however, reserve the right to laugh at it in public when it amuses me to do so. And I do reserve the right to have an interest in the fantasy versions of me that exist, positive or negative (or anywhere in between) and to comment about them, or on commentary about me in general (hello!). That’s not thin-skinnedness, I think. That’s merely ego, and possibly a little bit of childish glee that fantasy versions of me walk the world at all, and a certain level of entitlement that allows me to believe that when the subject of discussion is me (fictional version or otherwise), I’m allowed to comment about it on my own venues.

“But how do you keep finding these fantasy versions of yourself, Scalzi?” Well, sometimes people point them out to me; I’m sort of famously online a lot and people seem to think I need to be told when someone is talking about me. This is not necessarily true, but that doesn’t stop people. Other times, I find them because I regularly ego search on my name in order to find reviews or interesting bits of commentary about my work, and also because I’m the sort of person who will occasionally ego search just to find out what people are saying about me. I gave it up for Lent one year. It didn’t take.

I will occasionally link to professional reviews of work that I find this way, but don’t tend to link to/retweet/highlight the nice things people say about me on their individual accounts, since that feels a little braggy, especially if they didn’t “@” me about it if they’re social media (I may drop a like, which I think feels more appropriate). But I do screencap or subtweet the negative stuff when the mood hits me, because snarking on it is fun. That being the case, I acknowledge someone might look at that and see thin-skinnedness where I just see an opportunity to amuse myself.

Which is fine! I don’t think I’m thin-skinned but if you want to think I am, it’s not especially a bother to me if you do. You may even be right, because again, I am an imperfect observer of myself. But on the inside of me, you know, I feel pretty good about myself, my work, and my accomplishments, and have a reasonable bead on them all, both for myself and in the context of my genre and profession. I’m occasionally snarky and petty, possibly a bit pugnacious, and I certainly have an ego, and can ramble on about myself rather a bit (hello again!). One thing I don’t think I am is insecure, however, and insecurity to my mind is a primary motivator of thin-skinnedness.

(Plus there’s the fact that even if I am insecure — and ultimately, I might be! — the vector of my insecurity is rather more likely going to be pointed upward, and not at the algae-scrapers who currently potshot at me online. I mean, let me be blunt, these dudes don’t rate the effort. This frustrates and annoys them, which, of course, I find delightful. To be additionally blunt, they can fire away at me all they want, because it doesn’t amount to much; in the real world my books sell fine and I do perfectly fine for myself. If training their ire at me keeps them from bothering others, so much the better.)

So, there you have it, me looking at me, and the current thickness of my hide.

— JS

39 Comments on “On the Subject of Skin Thickness”

  1. As an aside to the piece, I’ll also note that dudes going out of their way to suggest I’m a failure and a fraud especially amuses me because a) either it’s false, and I’m doing perfectly well, and have been for a decade and a half, and am likely (given my contract) to continue doing to for almost another decade beyond this moment, and who but the most ridiculous is going to see a quarter century of consistent publication as failure, or b) I am a massively successful con artist who has managed to gull not just Tor but Audible and dozens of overseas publishers into giving me enormous piles of money, which they are obliged to continue to do for years to come, which is in its way even more awesome.

    Either way, I’ve been around for a while, and will continue to be around for a while, so, yeah, hi.

  2. I remember one time I was in a bad mood and criticized something about your work on twitter, not intending or expecting you, or anyone else for that matter, to read it. You took the time to reply and say, “It’s not for everyone.” and I was both humiliated, and delighted that you actually responded. It was neither snarky, nor thin-skinned in the least.

    Thank you.

    I don’t enjoy everything you write, but I buy it and read it all, and will continue to do so.

  3. “I do screencap or subtweet the negative stuff when the mood hits me, because snarking on it is fun.”

    Well, yeah. Somebody offers you a perfect straight line, you’re not gonna pay it off?

  4. Haters are going to hate, a bit of a coincidence that I stumbled on a YouTube link with your name in the title. Turns out it was clickbate by one of these hater’s posting some of your Twitter comments and putting on their own (some what bizarre) spin on it.
    Funnily enough one of your supposed negatives is that your “not a very fast writer” I looked at this person’s own book list and sampled a preview. Yep, guess he has a big case of success envy because I wouldn’t pay money for any of his content.

    Bottom line John, I’ve brought your work because I enjoy reading it. Some of your work doesn’t appeal to me but it does appeal to many others and that’s great.

  5. I dunno man… People call you thin-skinned on the internet, so you type up about a page of text explaining how you’re not…

    Though I read you loud and clear about everything you actually say in that page, I’m a big fan of yours, and habe nothing in common with the boys yelling at you on the internet…

    If I WANTED to piss you off on the internet later, I’d probably focus on the thin-skinned/has an ego thing too! Certainly seems to get under your skin more than the usual cuck, beta, librul, not-actually-one-of-the-only-SF-authors-succesful-enough-to-get-rich-from-this-shit angles they often choose!

    Which is probably because they’re coser to something that could be true. People are taking facts that come from the tiny sliver of reality you still share, and using THOSE against you!

    Instead of things you know to be blatantly untrue, or would full well admit are true but do not consider insults to begin with.

    I dunno, might be something to think about.

  6. Good day!
    I like Ivor’s comment “Turns out it was clickbate by one of these hater’s…”
    Got me thinking, did he intend to write clickable as reference to m…..bate which led to a truth that hateful people often do get off on attempting to bring others down to try to make themselves feel better… What do you think?

  7. Here is my issue with the shots fired; they never include the reasons that these publishers would continually hand you cash despite your irrelevance & non-existent sales. To me, this is the heart of the matter, easily the most important/interesting part- how you screw over publishers around the globe for fun & profit. Without it, the beefing (and its plausibility) suffers. Kindly make an effort here, haters.

  8. Giel M:

    Meh. Me taking about me isn’t me being triggered, though, especially on a personal site whose entire reason for being is me typing out my thoughts on any topic, including me. Especially since the discussion about me being thin-skinned wasn’t started by one of my dedicated haters, but rather some other person in a comment thread.

    Basically, not 100 percent behind your police work, here.

  9. “Scalzi’s Thin-Skinned Burrito” would be an adequate name for a sub-par bar band.

  10. That said, I sure do screencap/subtweet a lot of people being nasty about me, to mock or snark on them, which is certainly indicative of… something. If not thin-skinnedness, then what?

    With the obvious caveat that I am looking at this from the outside, to me it simply seems a function of a highly interactive approach to Twitter/social media. You like to engage directly with people; you get in many (mostly friendly) one-on-one conversations; you @ lots of people, and so on. The tendency to snark at detractors is the same thing.

  11. I suspect that the skin behind which you might hide–sorry, that pun is low-hanging fruit–might be neither much thicker nor much thinner than that which, burritolike, wraps the rest of us.

    Note, however, that in terms of species survival, most of the thick-skinned species (e.g., pachyderms like elephants and rhinos) are far more threatened than the thin-skinned humans presently infesting the planet…so perhaps there are advantages to being thin-skinned. If nothing else, it led us to develop technologies (clothing, fire, etc.) which may ultimately result in our extinguishing first all the other species on Earth, then finally our own…

  12. As an imperfect observer of Scalzi and his work, I find that this post does -not- strike me as self-delusional. FWIW.

  13. I would be shocked if someone of your stature, who maintains a website like this,could be thin skinned. If you were thin skinned you’d have STFU, shut down Whatever, then ducked your head and kept on writing.

    I mean, jeez, happy puppies or whatever they called themselves. Yet you still include Larry’s books in your ARC piles. Which, IMHO, says a hell of a lot about what kind of person you are. The kind that if you came to a book signing in my neck of the woods I’d try to distract your scheduler enough to let me buy you dinner. Even if it was just a hot dog from the homeless street vendor closest to the front entrance.

    Sorry about Zeus, I’ve lost a lot of cats in my 63 rotations around the Sun and these things never gets easier.

  14. I don’t really understand the belief that noticing and caring about people talking about you automatically means “thin skinned.” I don’t think anyone would call someone thin skinned for having a reaction to someone, say, getting right up in their face and screaming obscenities. There’s got to be some gradient if it’s to mean anything at all.

    I mean, I have young kids so it’s a rare day I don’t hear some moderate-to-extreme nonsense accusation. Assuming it’s not so rude/extreme as to demand some sort of correction, I still usually react in some way. But laughing or saying “you don’t feel that way, you’re just upset/trying to get a reaction” doesn’t mean it “got to me” somehow. It just means I’m not an inert pile of rubble.

  15. The vector of my insecurity points upward may be your best most awesome quote and I intend to use it wholeheartedly.

  16. Meh.

    If you notice and react to it in some sort of reasoned, calm and rational way, you’re thin-skinned.

    If you notice and react to it in some sort of emotional, aggressive way, you’re histrionic.

    If you notice it and whine about it, you’re… well, I’m sure they have some sort of trendy but misogynistic word for that.

    If you don’t notice it at all, you’re either clueless and technophobic (which would, no doubt in their minds be a besetting sin in an SF writer), or you’re too fragile to deal with criticism.

    Why, it’s almost as though it has nothing to do with you at all….

  17. I have to second what Giel M said. He’s much more subtle than I am, something I have never been accused of being. So my apologies in advance.

    Thou doth protest too much. The subject was not worth that much ink.

    But as you have pointed out, this is your circus, and your monkeys.

  18. I’m on File 770 regularly and in all honesty I feel like the guy who called you thin-skinned was either one of the haters himself or else in their circles.

  19. I don’t think you’re thin-skinned in the slightest.
    I wonder if there isn’t a vestige of an unhealthy response behavior that many of us have learned, that unwillingness to let our attackers have the last word. It gives you an opportunity to be publicly clever, which of course brings with it the risk of being perceived as indulging in the failure mode of clever.

    It speaks volumes about your overall character, though, that you aren’t encouraging your social media followers to not pile on when you respond.

  20. David Haijicek:

    If I only wrote about things worth “that much ink” in someone’s else’s opinion, this site would be somewhat more bare.

    And you are correct you don’t get a vote, so.

  21. I find most of your comments pretty entertaining, and the occasional excursions into publishing and being a working author quite interesting. If they stem from any particular thickness of skin I’m all in favor of it.

  22. Ivor: That “not a very fast writer” comment must have been before the second “Interdependency” book…

  23. “…an abject, emasculated failure propped up by a conspiracy of publishers for reasons.”

    Leaving aside that “a conspiracy of publishers” would have to improve in its sophistication to be either a kindergarten cookie-time clique or the Keystone Kops, it’s worth remembering that neither the T-100 nor Ellen Ripley had male gonads. One suspects that the He-Man Scalzi Haters Club (No Girls Allowed) would completely shrivel up at “Your clothes — give them to me” or “Get away from her you b*tch.”

  24. It’s always a bit weird when we get a drive-by Scalzi-Hater on File770. They can’t possibly imagine they’ll persuade anyone or be talking to a like-minded audience, so I have no idea what they’re trying to achieve. Performative Scalzi-Hating for the Alt Right Points?

  25. Trey:

    Pugnacious (adj.): resembling a type of small to medium size dog that appears to have (successfully) chased parked cars.

  26. It seems fairly simple to me. If the subject of someone’s hateful post is YOU, YOU are allowed to give any sort of response you wish. They don’t – and we don’t – get to decide if it makes you thin-skinned or not. And frankly, I rather enjoy your take-downs. Some people just deserve to be shown how it’s done.

  27. Calling someone “thin-skinned” for responding to an insulting post about them is … just weird. It reminds me of certain AITA posts — the ones where a wife says something reasonable to a verbally abusive husband, and the husband responds by screaming at her that she is having a “tantrum” and calling her “childish,” “thin-skinned,” or whatever ridiculous insult leaps into his head. (Yes, I know the gender roles can be reversed, but I’m trying to de-clunkify the sentence.)

    I would reserve “thin-skinned” for authors who do things like sending their flying monkeys after book reviewers who posted a negative review. Or the ones who gang up on reviewers, fans, other authors, etc.

  28. There are certainly a lot of motivations for poking at you.
    Prodding the bear.
    Attention seeking.
    Gunslinger challenge.

    As you said. You do you.
    Unless you realize that you’ve truly screwed up you need not apologize to anybody for anything.
    In the meantime, I’ll keep reading.

  29. 1) I think they target you because you are a straight white male, BUT you aren’t an a**h*le. They live in a bubble where straight white males are excused from being decent people. “Boys will be boys” taken to the extreme (which of course reveals what a stupid saying it is in any case). Your decency hurts their self-image and punctures their excuses. There should be a word for a painful kind of “inspiring.” You are “inspiring” in that you show that straight white males can be better. It hurts them because they are not.

    2) I don’t think it is thin skinned to respond to attacks, especially the way you do it. Normally, using a person’s innocent comments as grist for the public-humiliation mill would be cruel and should be avoided. But when someone volunteers by trying to seize a megaphone to shout out their ill-considered vitriol, well, now . . .

    I picked up “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded” mostly on the promise made by the title. There’s something cathartic and satisfying about seeing bad people get their comeuppance. Like a YouTube video of a purse-snatcher getting beat up by the old lady who wouldn’t let go. Or a heckler at a comedy show getting just plain ruined by the expert on the stage.

    Keep humiliating the trolls. It serves as a lesson to others, even if the troll just retreats back under their bridge.

  30. I don’t remember when I stumble in your Twitter. I think it was around when you cross dressed for some charity event. In those days watching you snark on man babies was the primary draw for me.

    You do so less these days for reasons That are understandable. I do remember you saying at the time that all the fire you drew from these guys was time they spent going after you and not your female friends and colleagues in sci-fi. That’s allowed me to continue to enjoy the snark when I probably should have grown out of the dopamine rush of watching other people get dunked on.

    I’ve also loved that you’ve always been clear that this is how you react and skipped the “this is how YOU should handle it/feel about it” that so many dudes feel about it. I assume I don’t get a vote any more that the folks who don’t like the snark do, but it does bring me some joy.

  31. Always nice when thin-skinned haters offer successful and decent folks rent free spaces in their pinheads.

    Please get a better class of hater, John; these are beginning to fall apart.

  32. As for the motivation of haters, a famous and hated long term web essayist, Paul Graham, in his essay “Haters” finally reached an answer: Haters are just fanboys with the (algebraic) sign reversed.

    To me this makes as much practical sense as any other theory.

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