Thursday, February 21, 2013

Lessons Learned the Hard Way: Terri Bruce

All professions have a learning curve and writing is no exception. Yet in writing more than other professions, you're on your own. It's a solitary job after all, which means important aspects of the task sometimes get missed. These posts will be a chance for writers to mentor other writers through their confessions of lessons they learned. Lessons that might have been as painful as a pencil poke in the eye.

You all know how it is to write. Many of us have suffered through the querying stage. But what happens after... Thank goodness Terri Bruce is here to share a dose of reality. Prepare yourself. This is an eye-opening post.

We’re Going to Have to Work on Your People Skills Edition 

The beginning of one’s writing career, the “aspiring author” stage is about honing writing craft, about learning the technical skills that go into building a story—plot, pacing, obscure grammar rules, that sort of thing. There’s also a whole lot of learning about the publishing business—query letters, agents, advances, that sort of thing. The great thing is that there’s a TON of advice out there for people at this stage. You can’t throw a rock in the blogosphere or self-help section of the bookstore without hitting someone giving advice on how to write and get published.

So, then, you get published. Hooray! ::party party party:: And then…nothing. 

The world goes sort of quiet about what comes next. It’s kind of the same with baby books—lots of books about pregnancy, not so many on dealing with colicky infants. Turns out there is a reason for this: the people who are going through this stage are too damn tired and too damn strapped for time to write down any advice, and by the time they’ve passed through to the next, they’ve forgotten what it was like because it was all a blur.

You’re not just farbot, you’re magra-farbot!
This might be why so many debut/early career authors act like paranoid delusionals—it’s the fatigue and stress talking. I’ve seen authors have meltdowns over three-star reviews (“OMG! They’ve ruined my perfect 4-star rating on Amazon! My authorial career is O-VER!”). I’ve seen authors (and publicists and agents) have “I’m gonna cut the bitch” style meltdowns over 1 or 2 star reviews that were very fair and balanced, with legitimate criticisms. I’ve seen authors have meltdowns because a blogger would not accept their book for review. I’ve seen authors have meltdowns when a blogger was late posting the author’s guest appearance to his blog. I’ve seen authors create “sock puppet” accounts and post fake reviews of their own books and vote down the good reviews of other authors. I’ve seen authors have public meltdowns (and accuse publishers of theft) because they know, with deadly certainty, they sold two copies of their book during the last quarter but didn’t get any royalties. Damn it, they want their $2!!!

Quite a lot of the time I feel like channeling Chuck Wendig and shouting, “just chill the fuck out!” On the other hand, there might be a good reason authors at this stage of their careers get so stressed out.

Sure, they’re cute now, but in a second they’re gonna get mean and they’re gonna get ugly somehow, and there’s going to be a million more of them 
You know that scene in Galaxy Quest where Justin Long’s character, Brandon, comes up to Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen’s character) at the convention and starts pestering him with what he (Brandon) perceives as an inconsistency in the show? It’s a squirm-inducing scene because on the one hand, we realize Brandon is trying so desperately hard to impress his hero, but on the other hand, he’s going about it all wrong and having the opposite effect by being a dick, trying to show that he’s smarter than everyone else. Well…those people exist. I just had my first run-in with one at a convention, and it was not fun. To compound the situation, what my “Brandon” was pointing out was not, in fact, incorrect. However, both he and a fellow author sharing the table with me both cut me off mid-explanation, talking right over me and emphatically declaring I was in the wrong—which, of course, made me really, really angry. Like, Tim Allen going off on Brandon angry, which, of course, is not a thing an author wants to do.

This isn’t the worst of it. I’ve had other authors (even those at the same press as me) enter contests against me (after they knew I had already entered), and then plug their book/entry at the top of their voice to the community we both belong to (such as the publishers’ readers’ list), thereby sucking up all the votes in the shared pool for themselves. In one instance, this was a monthly contest and the author in question entered EVERY SINGLE MONTH, even after she won one month, thereby ensuring none of her fellow publishing house authors could have a shot at the limelight. I’ve had unpublished/aspiring writers snub me after I got my publishing deal (presumably out of jealousy), and I’ve seen respected members of the writing community sneer down their noses at other authors’ routes to publication in a high-school level mentality of “my publisher is cooler than your publisher.” I’ve seen authors harass and stalk bloggers/reviewers and I’ve seen bloggers/reviewers harass and stalk authors—including publishing personal information such as home address and the location of the other party’s children’s schools, and ordering their followers into a crusade to destroy the other party. I’ve seen authors hounded out of the public arena—some have had to shut down their twitter or facebook accounts, or even their blogs, in order to deal with the flood of vitriol. When I recently shared that I had sat next to a well-known author at a convention, ten people shrieked that he had no right to be there, he should be home writing, damn him! How dare he spend even one day away from the computer! I’ve seen authors give up writing altogether because the negativity—from their fans!—got to be too much.

So many days I feel like a caterpillar gazing out across an eight-lane mega-highway I have to cross and thinking to myself, “How am I ever going to survive this?”

So, what’s the lesson learned here? Being published is terrifying.

You think putting your work out there for public consumption is the scary part? Excuse me while I laugh—long and loud and with just a touch of hysteria. The reviews are only the tip of the iceberg. I don’t mean to frighten you, soft, squishy newbie writer, but if open and honest criticism by a crit partner or beta reader reduces you to tears, you aren’t ready to be published. As much as I loathed querying, and would rather stab out my eyes with a spoon than go through that process again (a vain wish, I know), it does serve a useful purpose: it builds resistance. It builds strength and endurance and fortitude in the face of criticism, self-doubt, and negativity. It teaches you to revel in and relish the small victories and to take the long view of things. Things that are large setbacks in the short-term are revealed to be mere bumps in the road in the long-term.

So far there hasn’t been a lot of “hard way” for me around this lesson because I was accidentally smart. In the five months between the time I signed my contract and my book hit the shelves, I lurked about the internet, getting a feel for things. I read book blogs and learned what kinds of things book bloggers care about—what they were reading, what they liked and didn’t like in books, what they liked and didn’t like in author behavior, how they liked to be approached with review and tour requests. I dipped my toe into Twitter and figured out how to have conversations with strangers—and how to turn the other cheek or keep my mouth shut when provoked. I watched authors implode on the internet and I watched other authors successfully navigate situations that could have gone south. I learned just how deep a footprint we leave on the internet, even when we think we don’t. I’ve seen bloggers recreate tweets and facebook posts from cached images and screen captures—even after the posts were deleted—and I’ve seen bloggers reveal fraud by tracing I.P. addresses and conducting sophisticated analysis of text to link blog posts, reviews, and even blog comments to one individual.

Through all this, I’ve learned patience and tolerance. I’ve also learned that the long-tail of the internet values honesty and genuineness above all else—don’t interfere with people’s right to their own opinion or free speech. Don’t try to cheat or fool people. If you make a mistake, own up to it immediately. Apologize. Be humble—after all, you’re the one that screwed up. Be a real person—it’s okay to just chat with people, without trying to get something from them (a review, a spot on their blog, a sale). Be grateful—say thank you. Give more than you take. Don’t use people. Don’t get big-headed. Share the limelight—let other people have a turn. Don’t sneer at others or look down at them. Don’t be defensive—it’s always a deflection of what you’re actually feeling and it just pisses people off. If you’re embarrassed, say you’re embarrassed; if you’re disappointed, say you’re disappointed; if you feel like an idiot, say you feel like an idiot. Learn to let shit go. Relax. Keep in mind that disliking your work is not the same as disliking you personally. Learn to value the people who understand this. Ignore the people who don’t. And remember: you got into this business because you have something to say, something to share. It doesn’t matter if people recognize the importance of what you have to say—their recognition (or not) doesn’t change its value.

About the Author
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember and won her first writing award when she was twelve. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats. Her second novel, Thereafter (Afterlife #2), will be released June 1, 2013.

Contact Details
Twitter:                   @_TerriBruce


  1. This is a wonderful post, Terri. Thank you for sharing what you've learned from your experience.

  2. Great post, Terri. Truer words have never been spoken.

  3. Thanks guys! This was a hard post to write and I wasn't sure I wanted to be all that "out there" and exposed, talking about some of the pitfalls, but I wish there had been advice/information out there for me when I reached this stage, so I figured someone has to start the conversation :-) And by no means do I mean to imply that my experience has been horrible. Just the opposite - somehow I have avoided all the "drama llama" as one well-known book blogger calls it (love that term!) and, instead, have made tons of new friends and supporters out in cyberspace - authors, book bloggers, readers, etc. I've met so many wonderful and incredible people and have been overwhelmed by people's kindness and support. But I try to tread very carefully, and when I have a bad day, I try to remember it's just one bad day out of many good days and try to let whatever it is go.

  4. Great post Terri! Thank you for sharing the good, the bad, & the ugly.

    My knees are knocking & now I'm going to stay up all night thinking up a good pen name (lmao).

    Still freaking out that people really try to find out an author's address. That is beyond creepy!

    Best wishes for continued success with THEREAFTER! I'm cheering you on. :)

    1. If I recall, it was an author finding out a blogger's address. Either way, it's creep-tastic.