Wake up, Polly Parrot.


On Professional Courtesy
by Brian Plante

Writers are a generally outspoken bunch and usually have little trouble expressing opinions on every conceivable topic, except when it comes to certain aspects of writing. Oh, they'll give you all sorts of advice on writing technique, and expound profusely on many diverse subjects on forums such as SFF.Net, Dueling Modems, Night Shade, TTA, the Rumor Mill, Asimov's and Analog. In a few places, some writers may tell you a lot more than you really want to know, but they often fall silent in criticizing other writers, editors and magazines.

I don't think that writers are too polite to knock their peers. Many of them can be very contentious on plenty of other subjects, but when it comes to their own, they put on kid gloves. Is it a show of solidarity, professional courtesy, or unwillingness to break some code of silence? Maybe, but I think a lot of it may be simple brown-nosing.

Most writers in the middle and lower echelons can't offend other writers, and especially not editors. In the case of editors, well, writers work for the editors, and rely on them to buy their work. You don't badmouth your boss in public if you want to keep your job, and a writer ought not to criticize an editor and his magazine on a public forum where the editor might see it. Most editors have more good work than they have room in their magazines to publish, so it's probably not a good idea to piss off an editor with any griping, no matter how valid, and still expect the editor to buy your stuff.

As for criticising other writers, you never know who's going to edit the next invitation-only anthology, so everyone is a potential boss. And writers vote for awards, so it's not a good idea for a writer to make too many enemies in the field.

Some examples: When Kristine Kathryn Rusch was the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and active on the forums (Genie and later SFF.Net, I think), I never saw a discouraging word about her or her magazine. As a co-owner of Pulphouse Publishing, KKR was a powerful person in the SF field, and had many followers and admirers online. When she stepped down from F&SF and folded Pulphouse to concentrate on her writing, she dropped out of the online community and I started seeing some criticism. A few folks said they didn't like the way the magazine had been going downhill lately. I remember folks criticizing KKR for a preponderance of stories dealing with abused women and children protagonists. Funny, but I never heard any of those things before she quit.

Fast forward a bunch of years to Gardner Dozois' recent stepping down from the helm of Asimov's. As editor of that magazine and the Year's Best SF series and other anthologies, he was (and still is) one of the power players of the SF field. It's wasn't too often that I saw other writers say anything about Dozois or Asimov's that wasn't positively glowing. Only when he announced his decision to step down did the knives come out. As with KKR, I saw a few remarks that Asimov's had lost the sense of wonder that had drawn people to SF in the first place. Another writer intimated that Dozois was responsible for the entire SF field's decline over the years, by stressing more literary values that made the work less accessible to the masses. God knows what sort of criticism Dozois would have gotten if he had left the field altogether -- he remains the editor of the Year's Best SF series, and is still not a person to piss off if you hope for a spot in his anthologies.

It kind of makes me gag when I see other writers (usually beginners) seriously sucking up to editors in their newsgroups. When Warren Lapine (owner of DNA publications and editor of Absolute Magnitude) recently announced that he was launching a new magazine dedicated to the rock group KISS, his sycophants suddenly became KISS fans. Ditto, when he launched an earlier magazine for cat owners. I didn't see one jazz fan or dog fancier step up and voice displeasure.

OK, call me cynical. One of the reasons I don't post more often in the forums or write reviews of other writers' work is because I, too, don't want to offend people who I might have to depend on for sales. Rather than shower folks with false praise, I usually just hold my tongue. I don't love everything I read or have the same tastes as every editor I submit work to, but I don't make enemies. I'm lurking all the time in the forums, but don't expect me to come out of hiding to tell anyone what a great job they're doing. Just because a magazine isn't my favorite doesn't mean I wouldn't like to sell them something.

Copyright © 2004 Brian Plante Count= 5208

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