What Silence Says

Silence says, “Apathy wins.”

Before I elaborate on that, let me share a comment I received today, the day I released a new story to the usual resounding lack of interest. It went more or less like this: “You’re a published author. That is so incredible. I don’t buy that kind of thing, but it’s not like you need my support.”

This is the kind of remark that hits me like a kick to the solar plexus. It inflicts an instant, desperate, breathless panic. There is no quick snappy retort for it, no ready defense against it. There is no suave way to say, “Whose support do you think I have? I need all the fucking help I can get.” Instead of snarling and snarking, I smile tightly and change the subject.

(And then I remind myself that I am supported by some wonderful, generous people who unfortunately do not share geographic proximity. I have a fan base of 15 readers. Pathetic perhaps, after a year of publication, and not the numbers my outrageous ego believes my writing deserves, but it’s what I have. I cling to a sense of gratitude even while drowning in an ocean of zeroes.)

I am not here to shame the speaker, who was only being honestly apathetic out loud.  I’d like use that experience as an excuse to  talk about the importance of advocacy. And, yeah, I need to rant, because I was frustrated and hurt and infuriated by that reminder of apathy’s lethal power.  I could have responded today. One doesn’t, if one is polite, but the opportunity existed. When people send the same message with silence, there’s no fighting it. Apathy wins. Art loses.

Silence says, “Sure, I know you, but I wouldn’t cross the street to help. You matter less than, well, anything. I cannot be bothered to spend one minute of my precious time on you. Not even to admit how little I care.” Silence destroys more creators than harsh reviews ever will.  Silence is the assassin of creative energy. It smothers ideas in their cribs. Silence whispers, “Why bother?” in the most poisonous of voices.

Independent creators all need help, in oh, so many ways. The delicious irony of it all is that I’m not talking about financial support. Buying things is the last and least important point, not the first and foremost. I periodically have to squelch a nigh-irresistible urge to shun everyone I know who can’t put a checkmark against any action from the following list:

  • offered a compliment/asked a question about the content of my work rather than its existence.
  • voted for positive reviews or voted for my profile page on Amazon or elsewhere.
  • shared a promotional link or shared a link to my blog or my Amazon sales page
  • written a review anywhere (this includes offering to review for a free copy)
  • asked their library to buy a copy of the work or suggested that a retailer to carry it.
  • bought a copy for someone else as a gift
  • bought a copy to own

Guess how many of my surprisingly extensive social circle would have to answer “none of the above, ever?” Yup. That many. My Amazon page has 22 likes, because people can’t be bothered to go online and click a flipping button. Is it any wonder I’m becoming a bitter cynic? Is it any wonder that I am regularly wracked with doubt about the quality of my art? Is it any wonder that I suspect most of the people I know just don’t give a flying fuck whether I exist, or would be happier if I didn’t? (No. It isn’t.)

One major side point: advocating for art isn’t a one-time achievement, any more than an artist only creates a single piece in a lifetime. (Harper Lee and other one-hit wonders aside) Don’t pat yourself on the back if you wrote one review ever, or mentioned your artist friend once. That gets you off the shit list. It doesn’t make you clean. (edit: just in case, let me clarify that I’m using “you” in that second-person universal sense, not a personal one. I am unreasonably lucky that you who support me at all, support me fully. That’s not common in this community of creation. Not in the least.)

Oh, sure, there are other ways for us artists to interpret silent apathy. “People are busy,” is a popular choice, followed by, “I know they’ve been meaning to,” “It’s on their list,” and my personal favorite, “They don’t know how.” Because saying, “Hey, I want to be supportive. How do I do that?” would be cheating? Uh-huh. My bullshit meter just hit maximum too. We’re making your excuses for you. We accept your excuses. They’re still excuses.

Life makes demands on everyone. Art doesn’t happen. It takes time too. If anyone you know creates art, they’re pouring heart and soul and time into it. The least you can do is sacrifice a little time of your own to appreciate their effort, even if the final product is not your kind of thing.

And a postscript:
Advocating for someone without sharing your efforts with the beneficiary is like writing a text and forgetting to hit send. Messages that don’t reach the recipient are as silent as those never written.

My cat approves this message.

How to reject rejection

I’m ranty today because I’ve been thinking about rejection and the submission process, but rejection itself isn’t the object of my displeasure. It’s the catalyst, not the target.

Getting a rejection letter is a simple thing. It’s a polite dismissal from an editor.  It’s the literary equivalent of “No thanks, you’re not my type.” Yes, it stings. When you’re submissive, you have to expect to get spanked. I don’t have to submit material. I choose the spanking, or I tap out. No is always a legitimate response to an unsolicited invitation, whether the venue is a blind date or a slush pile. Expecting every first date to end in marriage would be crazy.

My rantiness is roused by the purveyers of advice who conflate rejection and failure with a bunch of brightsider concepts. They pitch out stinky wads of bullshit that fall into two categories:
1. Every rejection gets you closer to acceptance. The process is all about gaining experience and building character. Toughen up the ol’ ego! Develop a thick skin! Roll with the punches!
2. Rejection is a learning tool. Learn from your mistakes. Improvement will lead to acceptance. Move on, move up! Use what you learn to make your art even better!
Apply a little perspective to them, and that looks pretty abusive.
1. This is the way it’s always been done. Suffer through it the way everyone else did. Pain is nothing more than you deserve. Stop whining. Get over it. Don’t be a baby.
2. If you’re not being accepted, then you’re in the wrong. Reinvent yourself and your work so that people like you better. Rejection is your own fault. Fix it.

The two concepts, as presented, are mutually exclusive on several points (Stand firm. Change. Believe in yourself. Trust the opinions of others) but they are generally presented together as if they made sense that way. I will leave the exercise of untangling them to the reader. This blog isn’t long enough. They also treat rejection and failure as synonyms, which is patently inaccurate when it comes to writing and the submission process.

Here’s my take:
1. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Yes, writers have to be a little insane to succeed. We don’t have to pretend that it’s always a good trait. Pretending that persistence is a sign of professionalism is like putting a tutu on a pig. Encouraging it blindly may be doing the recipient of the advice a huge disservice.
2. No. Just…no. Well, maybe.  There might be flaws in a story that need changing. This is true. It might also be that your story and the publication don’t suit. What’s that old saying about assumptions? Yeah. That one undermines confidence and insults at once. Also, “change to make others happy” is dangerous advice in the first place. Aesop has a fable about it.

Treating writers to this barrage of contradictory platitudes is astonishingly popular. It’s also damned annoying. Some days, I feel like I’m standing in a field full of cattle and being pelted with turds.
I don’t mind rejection nearly as much as I mind having to wash off all the stinky crap that comes flying along in its wake.  That’s all I’m saying. Your mileage may vary.

Aaaaannnnnnnd…that is all. Let the accusations of naiveté and immaturity commence.