The other day I posted a comment on a blog that was seriously misinterpreted. It had the unfortunate timing of showing up right after another comment, so close in fact that I didn’t see the other comment before I posted–but coincidence made it possible to read criticism into my comment, because of its placement. I was mortified when the first commenter wrote back defending herself against this perceived attack, so I tracked her down and sent her an email explaining things. She turned out to be really nice and understanding, and not at all the kind of super-aware, oversensitive type I had been expecting, which got me thinking: what is it that prompts normal, healthy people to be so on guard for perceived attacks from all quarters?
As I read through the other comments on that post, and comments on other posts in the publishing world, it occurred to me that a good half of them, at least, were negative. Either they lashed out at the agent who posted it or they lashed out at other commenters, or they just spewed frustration all over the place because it was an agent’s blog and where else are you going to vent your frustration about the publishing process? This person (and the rest of us too, I expect, to varying degrees) was on guard because we have to be, because there actually is a horde of anonymous faces out there waiting to tear someone down.
So why DO we–and by we I mean writers, agents, editors, anyone in the publishing world–tear each other down? Because while, yes, the bulk of the negativity seems to come from writers at various stages in the process, occasionally editors and agents succumb to the frustration as well–they’re only human, too. In one respect I guess it’s like any corner of the internet: people are mean to each other because they can be, because even if they’re not anonymous, all they’re doing is talking to a screen, and they don’t have to actually see the subject of their ridicule. But sometimes it feels a bit more than that. Jealousy, maybe, frustration, certainly.
So sometimes I feel like wading hip-deep into these discussions and shouting “We’re all on the same team!” Because the thing is, tearing down other writers doesn’t make us look better. (I could talk about how it actually makes us look worse, but that’s a whole different post!)
One writer’s success does not make it harder for another writer to get published–if anything, it’s the opposite. The more people read good books and want to read more good books, the bigger the market for books will be. I’m not really sure where the need to tear others down comes from.
Do you guys have any stories about this sort of thing? Thoughts? I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about it, except maybe to at least declare that I’m not going to be one of those people who gets their jollies by kicking other people around, and hope that maybe others will too.