The anti social contract

I understand when people who are already established in a profession refuse to help others get a foothold in that profession. I get all the reasons. They don't owe anybody anything. They made it on their own, so should other people. They only have a finite amount of time, they can't read everything that people would like them to, they can't offer individualized feedback, they have their own li...ves and their own livings to make.

I even get that, hey, everyone is struggling these days and why should someone who is already established in a desirable line of work help someone else who might someday be competing with them? That's not one that I've heard any veteran author offer me for why he or she won't help me, but I'm sure it's something that occurs to at least some of them, and hey, of all the reasons, that's the one I can have the most respect for. If you're having a hard time getting paying work in a business you wan to stay in, why would you help someone else come up and grab some of the little work you're getting? I get that. I do.

As to the others: If you genuinely feel you don't owe anybody else anything, hey, that's great. And if you genuinely made it on your own, without any mentoring from someone more successful than you are, without specific feedback and/or tips, without someone inside the industry opening a door or a window for you to help you out of that slush pile, then, hey, you're right. You don't owe anyone else shit. You worked and you submitted and eventually someone recognized your talent and you have reaped the reward for it.

All of which means, you got enormously lucky. You won that one in a million sweepstakes; somebody who actually had the power to say 'yes' instead of 'no' actually read your unsolicited work, under an unknown byline, and said 'hey, this is good shit'. And you deserve your success... but please understand, you got lucky. Because that didn't happen a whole lot even back in the day... and I'm not convinced it EVER happens anymore. EVER.

I study the marketplace and any time one of my favorite authors gives an interview advising how they got their first big break, here's what I notice: they weren't in the slush pile. No, they weren't. They may have written a ton of unsolicited shit and submitted as an unknown for years... but whatever it was that they first sold, if they sold it in the last twenty or thirty years, wherever that breakthrough came from, it came because they'd managed to make a contact inside the industry. Somebody told them "Okay, here's how you get this in front of the right guy" or "Okay, I'll make a phone call" or "Yeah, this is good, but you'll never get noticed in the pile... let me walk this upstairs and put it on someone's desk".

So if you got in on your own, without an agent (which are now impossible to get without an established track record of publication, which is an interesting Catch-22) or a friend inside the publisher's office or a mentor reaching out on your behalf or giving you vital inside information (like, for example, "The guy who is writing and editing POWER MAN/IRON FIST and DAREDEVIL just got told he has to stop writing one of them, he's going to keep DAREDEVIL, so he needs a new writer for POWER MAN/IRON FIST right NOW", which is a real world example of inside info that launched the career of one of comics most successful and widely revered writers) or some other kind of help from someone already on the inside... fantastic.

You're absolutely right... you don't owe anyone anything.

But at least admit... you got astonishingly lucky. And maybe stop and reflect on how frustrating it is for those of us who can't seem to win the lottery the same way... or, maybe... the industry has changed since you managed to bootstrap your way into it. (Like, for just one of many things, it is now impossible to get an agent to represent you until you have been published.)

Now, if you got in because someone helped you, then you have no right to say, you don't owe anyone anything. You of all people should understand the value of that helping hand. And if you have no time to help a brotha or sista out, then at least take a moment to reflect on what your life would be like if the person who you your first break from had felt THEY had no time for you.

You might be sitting across the aisle from me at the call center, feeling awfully aggravated when every veteran author on Facebook keeps telling you, over and over again, I don't have time, I don't owe anyone anything, I made it on my own, hey, just keep trying!

When you know perfectly well that, if only they could find the time, if only they would make the effort, if only you could get them to read that story, to make that phone call, to give you that invaluable bit of info, to walk that manuscript upstairs and put it on the right desk, to even put a lousy positive blurb on your Amazon page and in their Facebook feed... they would transform your entire existence.

What's most aggravating of all? The world hasn't really changed that much. You've always needed help to get in. Mary Steenburgen's editor character in THE HELP, a movie that is set in the early 60s, advises Emma Stone's author character that if she can't get a finished manuscript in by the end of the year, then it will go in "the pile... and you don't want to be in the pile". One of my favorite authors got her first break because a friend of hers who worked for a publisher told her that her STAR TREK novel was too good to be a STAR TREK novel and she should rewrite it as an original story... and pointed her to somebody else she knew at another publisher. Had SHARDS OF HONOR gone into the slush pile by a then unknown Lois McMaster Bujold, it would probably still be sitting there, and she might be working in a canning plant somewhere. And the world would not have Miles Vorkosigan, which would be an immeasurable loss.

But, fortunately, her friend was not too busy to help her. Just like my one time college buddy's friend who worked as Marvel's Direct Sales editor was not too busy to advise him that Denny O'Neil suddenly had an urgent need for a POWER MAN/IRON FIST writer.

This is how the industry works. Maybe it hasn't always worked that way, but it certainly has for much if not all of my life. You're not going to break in out of the slush pile. 'Just keep trying' isn't going to work. You need someone to help you.

It's a pity that everyone is too busy, and no one owes anyone anything.

Now, any established author that I am FB friends with, who takes the time to read this all the way through, is going to be mortally offended by this. Because they DON'T owe me anything, and how dare I insinuate otherwise? Who the hell am I to judge them?

My response to that is, if you're an established author and you're reading this on Facebook, I'm somebody who buys your writing and enjoys your work. That's who I am. And you certainly don't mind me judging you when my judgment is "I think I'll give this guy some cash."

Plus, why the hell do you care what I think about you anyway? I'm just some whiney jerk you don't even know.

And you don't owe me anything.

So don't worry about it.

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