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[process] Faking sincerity - Lakeshore
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-12-27 06:34
Subject: [process] Faking sincerity
Security: Public
Location:Nuevo Rancho Lake
Mood:thoughtful
Music:lasirenadolce making breakfast
Tags:process, publishing, writing
Interesting comment thread about the writer who created a fake publicist. pnh is especially trenchant, as he so often is. It happens that I don't fully agree with him. ETA: I misread him, and we are pretty much in the same place on this. My apologies to pnh.

Here's my take, since I didn't explain it earlier.

First, to me this is like lying on your resume. Not a wholesale breach of ethics on a par with plagiarism, but I still find that sort of thing significantly troublesome. Remember that my day job career has largely been in marketing. I'm extremely familiar with the fine art of spin, and all the different ways the truth stretcher can be applied to the inconvenient facts at hand. I suppose it's easy for me to say that the "whatever it takes to get published" rubric has limits (I am, after all, published), but even when I had not a single credit to my name, it would never have occurred to me to do this. And I like to think I'm a fairly creative marketer here in the literary world. It feels very wrong to me.

Second, the message to aspiring writers also strikes me as very wrong. It's basically: screw the process, if you're good and clever enough, you can jump around it. Disapproving of this message is a tricky line, because that statement is true, if you are good and clever enough. But very, very few of us are, including almost everyone who believes themselves that good and clever. The majority, probably the vast majority, of published work did follow some form of the usual process, myself definitely included. But stories like this feed the "magic bullet/secret handshake" myth to which so many aspiring writers cling.

I'm one of those people who says that in the end, it's all about the work. This guy's work was good enough to get him a major deal with Simon and Schuster. That's validation. But the message he seems to think of as creatively disruptive strikes me as potentially destructive to the hopes of innumerable writers trying to break in.

Or maybe I'm just a fuddy duddy who doesn't get it.
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lordofallfools
User: lordofallfools
Date: 2007-12-27 15:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
It's basically: screw the process, if you're good and clever enough, you can jump around it.

I'm reminded of a line in Robert Frost's 'The Lone Striker.' Speaking of the mill out of which the Lone Striker is locked, the narrator makes the comment that the mill 'was not holy;/That is to say, it was not a church...'

For me, it's the same thing here. The process isn't a set of rules that have to be followed; it's just how most people get published. It's how the publishing industry is comfortable, and authors are mainly expected to jump in line, queue up, and proceed.

:shrug:

As a technical writer, I've got respect for process; also a healthy understanding of the need to sometimes break them.

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-12-27 15:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yah. I'm somewhat surprised how many people don't share my viewpoint here. That suggests to me that I may not be reading this correctly. Ghu knows I've spent plenty of my time being an iconoclast of one sort or another.

As I continue to mull on this, it's not the process rupture that bothers me. I can respect good hacking. That's where innovation comes from. It's the lying that bothers me. Like I said, maybe I'm wrong.
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User: joycemocha
Date: 2007-12-27 16:08 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If you're a fuddy-duddy, then I'm one as well.

I find this fakery to be appalling. There's creative marketing, and then there's lying. Sometimes the line is pretty damned thin, but this fakery has definitely crossed the line, in my book.

And even the magic folks who managed to short-circuit the process still did so through the traditional avenues--I'm thinking of Jean Auel meeting Jean Naggar at a Willamette Writers conference, and taking off from there. But getting struck by lightning like Auel did (and has she ever finished that damned series? I gave up on it about book three) was supported by strong, in-depth research and knowledge of the world she created. I've heard Auel speak, and while I'm not a fan of hers past the first book (Neanderthal soap opera/porn is not my style), it's unquestionable that she has done the work to support her knowledge of the world she created.

The work will pay off--somehow, somewhere.

As for me, I'd sooner put everything up on the Web with a Creative Commons license than lie about my creds or vanity publish, if I don't get an editor or agent fascinated by what I write.
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REudaly
User: reudaly
Date: 2007-12-27 16:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
No, I agree with you. The destructive part of the message to me is that this guy is a one-off. Like the 1:1,000,000 shot that a self-pub is S&S worthy... it's going to encourage the crapsters to try their hand at badly lying about their "publicist" and screw the people who might've had a shot.

The marketing/promotions part of me sees "the value" of pretending to be someone else in order to promote the work -- we've all got our "convention modes" in order to come out of our writer shells. Some people are better than others. "The Fake till you Make It" thing.

In a lot of ways I have to refer to myself in the 3rd person to make me a "product", but I've never invented a whole other person to do the deed.

I've also tried to circumvent the process in my youth -- only to have it blow up in my face (fortunately not in a career-damaging manner) but had I listened to pros like you back then, I probably would've been further along in my career.
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squirrel_monkey
User: squirrel_monkey
Date: 2007-12-29 03:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
But people have been doing it for years! We hear about this guy because he succeeded. Plus, self-pubbers have been living for years on legends of self-publisher Twain, Poe and Paolini. I don't see how that would change, except for a short-lived spike in fake publicists.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2007-12-27 16:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think I'd be more offended by this if he hadn't already had the self-published book out, which takes some effort regardless. If all he did was put a fake publicist name on his press release, for an existing book that he'd already begun to get the word out on, I don't know that I care one way or the other. You hear a hundred stories a year of how an author gets an advantage. Sometimes it's because you know someone who knows someone. Sometimes it's because you game the system in some other way, but two things always apply: (1) everyone is seeking an advantage and the playing field has never been, is not, and never will be fair or even and (2) in every case, there's still someone reading on the other end who either thinks the work is good or bad and makes a decision accordingly.

What I don't think this guy should be doing is strutting around talking about it like it's an automatically daring and brave thing to do. It wasn't. It was just a way to get leverage, like everything else on the PR side.

JeffV
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K Tempest Bradford: drawn together - Anime Foxxy Pissed
User: ktempest
Date: 2007-12-27 16:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:drawn together - Anime Foxxy Pissed
i think you are being a bit of a fuddy duddy, though I don't necessarily disagree with you about the dishonesty bit. However, i think it's disingenuous of you to hold yourself up as an example of someone who got a novel published via the "usual process" because, in the eyes of the aspiring writers you're so concerned about, your career arc could be construed as secret handshake stuff.

I remember when you first got your agent I said something to you like, "Of course you have an agent, you're Jay Lake!" and you said, "Yeah, but I had to be Jay Lake for a long time before that happened." And this is true.

You made a conscious decision to become "Jay Lake", to raise your profile by not only writing a lot of stories, but by co-founding a small press and becoming a name as an editor as well, by going to cons and being a presence, getting yourself noticed as a person and personality as well as a writer, by promoting yourself. So when it came time for you to write and shop around a novel, the fact that it was Jay Lake looking for an agent and a publisher had a lot to do with your success in getting one.

In essence, you'd already done all the secret handshake stuff in that you knew plenty of other writers, publishers, editors, and agents. I don't know if you sent a query to Jen Jackson or if you were introduced personally, but even if it was the former, you don't think that your name being on that query didn't pique her interest as much as the actual novel(s)? Of course not, because that's exactly what you set out to do.

(It would have made no difference how popular you were had she thought your novel crap, obviously. Then again, plenty of untalented people have agents and are published. Another blow against those trying to beat back the specter of secret handshakes.)

Not everyone can be a Jay Lake. Most aspiring writers don't have that huge groundswell of recognition behind their name when they send off that query letter. Should they? I can't answer that. But I'm not sure it's even possible for most writers.

This is what writers who don't Get It think of when they get into that secret handshake state of mind. That you have to know people in order to get published. And your history does very, very little to dispel that thinking.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-12-27 16:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, sure, not everybody can "be Jay Lake." But everything I did, I did out in the open, playing by the rules. I just followed the paths that were available to me. There was never a secret handshake for me, just an enormous amount of hard work wrapped in a single-minded dedication to task. You yourself described it.
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2007-12-27 16:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think the problem here is not only the lying, but that this incident poisons the well. Now that the word is out that one writer succeeded by pretending to be his own publicist, many other people will try the same technique. The publishers will recognize that this is happening and begin distrusting letters from publicists (or "publicists") even more than they already do. Thus, this one incident both destroys the effectiveness of the technique and makes it harder for legitimate players.

Kate's reading a book right now called The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. This book has some interesting things to say about how to achieve your dream, but the author strikes us as a real asshole. For example, he decided that he wanted to win a national kickboxing championship (never having kickboxed before). He did it by dehydrating himself down to a lower weight class for the weigh-in, then rehydrating up to his normal weight for the actual contest; he then won each of his matches by pushing his opponents out of the ring (exploiting a loophole in the rules: anyone who steps out of the ring is disqualified) rather than by actually kickboxing them. So he won the title, but pissed off a lot of legitimate kickboxers and probably got the rules changed in his wake to prevent the same stunt from being repeated.
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Mister Eclectic
User: howeird
Date: 2007-12-27 17:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Molehill --> Mountain
All he did was put an alias on his handout flyer. In the long-honored tradition of George Sands, Lewis Carroll, Marilyn Monroe, Alan Alda and Kilgore Trout, he used a psuedonym. It's not lying, it's not cheating, and it's not even outside the box.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-12-27 17:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Talking about myself in the third person under another byline just isn't something I can see myself doing, not in the business world. Within the fiction world, absolutely. I could see some highly entertaining literary uses for this. But as hoax-for-profit, beyond my comfort zone even if it is inside the box.
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Nick Mamatas
User: nihilistic_kid
Date: 2007-12-27 19:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Not a fuddy-duddy, as this is hardly even a new technique (though in the past people generally pretended to be their own agents), but wrongheaded nevertheless, probably due to the in-group dynamic of SF in particular.

However, in publishing I know people who have gotten book deals due to headshots and a single good line in the query letter, because he wrote a series of silly op-ed pieces in an Alaskan newspaper as a teen and cranky letters to magazines, because the editor had some sort of mental event — and had to entirely rewrite the novel (oh wait, that was IN SF), and because the market was so hungry for some sort of product that entirely semi-literate work was being acquired and copyeditors paid triple time to turn it into readable English.

The king-of-the-shitheapism of SF (i.e., climb the ladder from fan to pro) isn't necessarily Thee Process. Publishers surely don't care as long as the books make profits, which is why all sorts of crap gets published in fiction and nonsense as non-fiction.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-12-27 23:50 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
"The king-of-the-shitheapism of SF (i.e., climb the ladder from fan to pro) isn't necessarily Thee Process."

Quite right. A lot of the advice from Wise Old Veterans Of SF tends, without coming out and saying so, to convey the impression that there's something inherently wonderful about The System, or even that there's a system, as opposed to the contingent and accidental ways that water runs downhill in this watershed during this particular time.

As a side issue, it's also worth noting that a lot of fandom explicitly repudiates the notion, beloved of many pros, that there's a "ladder" to be "climbed" from "fan to pro." In fact fandom's survival as a worthwhile subculture is largely rooted in its being primarily populated by people with far too much sense to want to be professional writers.
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andrewwheeler
User: andrewwheeler
Date: 2007-12-27 21:02 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm a bit befuddled by the people slagging on this writer. Maybe I'm missing something, but, as far as I can see, the sum total of his "lying" were the two words "Alan Chase" at the bottom of a press release.

According to the linked article, he didn't send his work to an agent or to a publisher; S&S approached him after a reading. So complaining that he didn't "do the work" of targeting dozens of agents is beside the point -- he wasn't trying to get an agent in the first place. (And, as far as we can tell from the article, he doesn't have one now.)

He wrote the book, he published it himself, he publicized it himself. He was smart enough to know that signing the author's name to a press release is the kiss of death. I've seen plenty of authors use their spouses (or just their spouses' names) on press releases, or have them sent by their employers -- all to avoid the stigma of sending out one's own press release.

The release still had to be compelling; it still had to grab interest. Signing "Alan Chase" just kept it from being thrown away immediately; nothing more. Press releases are a dime a dozen; just writing one doesn't get anyone anywhere. Reading between the lines of the story, he set up at least one "event" that impressed this nameless person from S&S to call him. This is a guy doing everything right.

Self-publishing really only works for insanely energetic self-promoters (preferably with a mission) -- this guy fits that profile perfectly, and that's one major reason why he's a success. He's the kind of guy who makes himself a success. If his example makes a dozen other young writers put their energy into publishing and publicizing their own books instead of trying to get them placed with major houses, I don't see how that's a bad thing.

Big Publishing does have certain major advantages, but it's not the only business in town. And a writer who has a message, or is otherwise trying to do something more than just tell good (fictional) stories, might just do better as a self-publisher than by spending the next two years going hat-in-hand to a succession of agents. It's a bad, bad option for most people, yes, but, for those real Type A writers, it can work.

So I can't see him as a horrible example. Would-be writers who are smart and reasonable will know their own capacities; they'll be able to figure out if this model would work for them at all. And the ones who are neither smart nor reasonable will never succeed, no matter which model they use.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-12-27 21:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And I'm all for clever marketing. I'm all for clever process hacks. I just read this article as celebrating the guy's success through inventing a fake publicist. Like I said, maybe I'm a fuddy duddy, but there's a core element of lying here which disturbs me.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-12-27 23:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Um, Jay, what part of what I wrote did you disagree with?

From here it looks like you're saying the same things, only in a slightly different order. As you say, the statement "screw the process, if you're good and clever enough, you can jump around it" is, in fact, true. It's troublesome, and lots of people will derive the wrong advice from it, but taken literally, it's true. Which is more or less what I was saying as well.

I find I kind of resent being used as a straw man when as far as I can tell we aren't even having an argument.
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Patrick Nielsen Hayden
User: pnh
Date: 2007-12-27 23:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I particularly dislike the implication, made in your post and reinforced in your subsequent comments, that the difference between us is that you're put off by the guy lying. It seems to me I said very clearly that I don't like being lied to, either. In essence, you're saying, "Patrick said some stuff, but I disagree, because I don't like lying." This makes me soggy and hard to light.
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