Friday, February 10, 2006

Talking 'Bout Your Reputation

Let's talk about reputations.

Writers have three.

The first, and most important, is your reputation with your fans.

The majority of this depends on the writer's books. Well-written, well-liked books will earn you a good reputation among your fanbase. And fans talk.

A writer's public persona, when meeting fans, is also important. Treating fans well can go a long way to helping a writer's career. Treating them badly can cause serious harm.

Some of your most important fans are booksellers and librarians. These are uber-fans. Give them uber-thanks.

The second reputation a writer must uphold is within the publishing business. What do agents and editors think of you? Honest, loyal, trustworthy, never complains and always makes deadlines? Or a whiney, hard to work with, conceited, spoiled brat?

The amount of time you survive in this business has to do with how many books you sell, but it also has to do with how well you get along with your key contacts in the industry. Being a jerk can come back to haunt you. I've seen this happen to friends of mine.

Finally, you'll have a reputation among you peers. This is the reputation that you have the least amount of control over.

Luckily, this is also the group that you don't need to worry about impressing.

Don't get me wrong---it's important to have some good contacts in this business among your peers. Being able to talk shop, let your hair down, and help each other with marketing, publicity, editing, etc., is a wonderful thing.

But you will have peers who don't like you. Always. And they'll talk behind your back. Or blog behind your back. Or both. Or worse.


Part of it is human nature. People talk about each other. Especially people in the same profession. No one is universally liked. If you think you are, you're wrong.

Jealousy or envy may come into play. You're getting more money. Better reviews. More press. More awards. More publicity. More exposure. Maybe you're a better writer, and they resent that. Or maybe you're a crummy writer, and they resent your success even more.

Sometimes personalities just clash. Oil and water won't mix, no matter how hard oil tries.

Hearsay abounds. Stories get twisted around. It's easy, while at the convention bar, to take a cheap shot at someone who isn't there, especially when everyone else is doing it.

Writers, for all their creativity, can be a pretty bitter bunch.

Should you worry about this? The back-biting? The name calling? The rumor mongering?


It isn't your job to impress your peers, because they aren't the ones buying your books. Your job is to impress your fans and your publisher.

The bigger a writer gets, the more people who will hate him. Look at all of the criticism Dan Brown, James Patterson, and Patricia Cornwell get. Some writers actually get angry when you mention one of these names to them. Get a room full of writers together, mention "Patterson" and "Art" in the same sentence, and watch the sparks fly.

Kind of makes you wonder, doesn't it? Maybe being hated isn't so bad...

Do I talk about other writers? Sure. But not in public.

Well, not really.

I've made some cheap shots about Cornwell's last few books, and I'm vocal about my hatred of Hannibal by Thomas Harris, but other than that, I keep my criticisms close to my chest. And there's a reason for this.

What Peter says about Paul often says more about Peter than it does about Paul.

Or, to put it in simpler terms: If you spend a lot of time spouting shit, people are going to realize you're an asshole.

So the next time you're Googling your name, and you come across some nasty comments, be proud. You've pissed some people off! Congratulations! You're on your way!

As Oscar Wilde said, "The only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you."

Now get out there and please some fans.


John Rickards said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
John Rickards said...

It's true about having a dig at the Pattersons and Cornwells of this world - when you're talking about someone that can console themselves by injecting liquified thousand-dollar bills into their tear ducts on a regular basis, they're probably not worried.

I think the trick is not to say anything about someone behind their back, as it were, that you wouldn't also say to their face, preferrably without malice (unless you really don't like them, I guess). That, I think, carries over to people you talk with - fans, publishers and peers. If people know you as a stand-up guy, that reputation can carry you a good way.

Anonymous said...

I think you can make a pretty valid argument that Patterson and Cornwell simply aren't writing good books anymore. You don't have to be bitter to say that. And, in the case of Patterson, he really doesn't write his own books anymore.

High sales don't necessarily equal contempt. Michael Connelly is a #1 bestseller and he is a highly respected figure in the industry. JK Rowling is pretty well respected also.

Sandra Ruttan said...

JA, I agree about your sense of priorities.

There will be reviewers who love, reviewers who hate. But your fans will be the ones who follow you loyally, if you earn their credit.

And there is a big difference between critical acclaim and commercial success.

Now, I'd like to have a reasonable degree of both, personally. I don't want every single reviewer hating me, everyone in the industry thinking I'm a hack, but surviving because a zillion fans love me.

Though I'll take it if that's how it pans out.

And how you treat people is golden. I have often bought a book because I thought the author was intelligent or they made a good impression on me when I met them.

And on a few occasions, I haven't bought the book after meeting them or seeing them in person.

So particularly when it comes to new readers, the way you manage yourself is important, I think.

And of course, you do want to be seen as a stand-up person.

Which is why I don't just swear about you behind your back JA, but also to your face. (grin - joking!)

JA Konrath said...

"Which is why I don't just swear about you behind your back JA, but also to your face. (grin - joking!)"

This blog entry wasn't about me personally (a friend of mine had some nasty things said about her) but this is a good point.

I don't say anything that I wouldn't say to the person's face.

I think having people disagree with me is part of the fun of this blog. Heated discussions are a good thing. And even if they become insulting, the people have the guts to voice their opinions to my face, and sign their names to them (mostly.)

JA Konrath said...

"BTW, Joe, should I put a beard on this JAK voodoo doll or not? What do you think?"

I've got a beard now, so yeah.

Also, make sure that doll is husky!

Jeri said...

"I don't want every single reviewer hating me, everyone in the industry thinking I'm a hack, but surviving because a zillion fans love me."

Hey, as they say, 50 million Elvis fans can't be wrong.

Kelly (Lynn) Parra said...

Good advice, Joe. The tip about peers is sometimes hard to remember when you're a newbie like me.

It's sort of like high school at times, the members of the cool click aren't always going to like you. But you have to suck it up and focus on what's important--your writing career and rep. =)

Unknown said...

Did you hear about Konrath? That guy is such a . . . Oops. I thought this was Patricia Cornwell's blog. So sorry.

Anonymous said...


I find it very interesting that you posted this when someone else (a self-proclaimed Christian romance writer) posted a nasty blog post condeming a big chunk of romance readers and writers. I suppose some people think it's OK to offend those who are not likely to read what they write.

JA Konrath said...

My advice to Brenda: When you're in a hole, STOP DIGGING!

WannabeMe said...

I'm confused. You say be nice to everyone...but then to be proud of pissing people off.

Maybe I should get off my drugs, but how can I be nice and piss someone off at the same time?

JA Konrath said...

"I'm confused. You say be nice to everyone...but then to be proud of pissing people off."

You should try to be nice to everyone.

But you'll piss people off anyway.

I like to think of myself as outspoken, but basically generous and helpful. Certainly this blog isn't spiteful, mean-spirited, or used to take cheap shots. I don't insult others. I don't name names. I don't put people down.

I don't even use this blog for much self-promotion. (that said, click on the new FOUR PACK OF JACK link on the sidebar)

This blog is about publishing, how it works, and how to succeed. I offer my advice, and my experience.

But I'm far from universally beloved.

Should I be second-guessing everything I say, wondering where I went wrong?

Or should I take some pride in the fact that I'm becoming well-known enough for people to dislike me?

Karen Scott said...

"My advice to Brenda: When you're in a hole, STOP DIGGING!"

I doubt very much that Brenda gives a crap about the size of the hole she dug. After all, she ends up in that same hole, at least once a month with some of her comments.

What I don't get is why she doesn't just open her contests to everybody, but only choose readers in the US to 'win' the contests. Who the hell would know?

It would have also saved her a lot of aggro.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Damn JA, I'm jealous! How did Jim get a voodoo doll and I'm still waiting for mine?

Dang it all.

If you speak of who I think you speak of re: a friend having bad things said about her, then you should have read my blog that week. As well as my tirade elsewhere.

I completely agree about people standing behind what they say. I think you know, our differences aside, that I respect your opinion. And I respect it even more when you're right! (said with a smile)

But I plan to fuck with you occasionally, just to keep you on edge. (wink)

Anonymous said...

It's inevitable that anyone who becomes a public or semi-public figure will be disliked by some number of people. I think the important thing is why you're disliked. If you're disliked because you're successful, that's one thing. If you're disliked because you're an asshole, that's another. The good news is, I've met very few assholes in the mystery community.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

What's that say, "No press is bad press!" Love the new color to the template!

Mindy Tarquini said...

I stand behind what I say. And if what I say is mean, I stand in front of it so you can't see it around my hips.

Unknown said...

You might want to adjust the size of your "Four Pack of Jack" ad--it's so huge it pushes the rest of your sidebar clear to the bottom of the page.

JA Konrath said...

PJ--what's your internet browser and screen resolutoin set at so I can view it on my screen?

And does anyone else have that same problem?

HawkOwl said...

Hey, nice purple.

JA Konrath said...

Hmm. I had the jpg in % rather than pixels, which some browswers don't apprently like (they adjusted the jpg to page percentage rather than cell percentage.)

Aren't you all glad to know that?

Millenia Black said...

Come on, Karen. Brenda's a "Christian". That would be dishonest....and moreover, she's got a reputation to protect. ;-)

I agree with JohnR. Don't sully your reputation with any hint of hypocrisy. If you're known as a hypocrite, you're sunk all the way around. No respectville.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Never came through that big for me...

But I use Safari.

Anonymous said...


This is a great post, and it's so true. What goes around comes around....except it's also true that when something bad happens ten times more people are told about it than when something good happens.

For example, at the first big writers conference I went to, there was a huge booksigning event, and one of my friends was really excited to get her book signed and meet the author (she loved her books, and was sure she'd love her too). Now, maybe this author was just having a bad day, but she couldn't have been grumpier or so clearly wishing she was anywhere but there. She was borderline rude to my friend.

Since then, she hasn't bought another of her books, and has told everyone she knows, and she is really active in the writing community. Several people she mentioned it to, said they'd had a similar impression of the author, and at different conferences.

So, maybe this author just shouldn't do signings. She is doing more harm than good! Or if she does, all she has to do is fake it, and smile.

On the flip side, at a recent conference, I was so wowed by the keynote speaker, Lisa Kleypas, that I stopped by her book and bought one of her books. She writes historicals, and I don't normally read them, but wanted to support her. And as she signed the book, she went out of her way to ask if I was also a writer, and to encourage me.

I liked the book so much that I missed my subway stop, and bought the next book in the series the following day.

And I've told everyone I know about this.

Being nice and encouraging to everyone, especially new writers really pays off.

:) Pam

Anonymous said...

oops, typo in that last post, should have read, I stopped by her 'booth', where she was doing a signing.


WannabeMe said...

Dang, why is everyone giving their blogs a facelift?

Like the purply, though, cute...

JA Konrath said...

"Never came through that big for me..."

That's what my wife says. :(

Stacey Cochran said...

I have read at least one blog responding nastily to something I've actually written in this blog, Joe.

You learn in this business to ignore the noise.

My problem is I actually want to reach out to people like that in a kind, warm-hearted way.

That's probably a bad idea, though.

I mean, if somebody's talking about how "stupid" you are and they've never even met you, you're probably not going to convince them by saying something nice to them by sending them a random e-mail.

Something like that always ends up getting twisted and mis-represented.

Which leads me back to my original point: in this business you learn to ignore the noise.

Incidentally, I had my first pro bookstore event this weekend. 15 people came, I sold five books, and we talked for about an hour and a half.

Read the details at

Anonymous said...


Has anyone in here heard of the Snow Flake technique for structuring novels?

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Oh gee, I'm such a freaking wimp. I want to be nice to everyone, and I want everyone to like me. I know they won't, but I'm the sort of person who'll get upset knowing someone doesn't like me (must develop tougher hide). OTOH, I have said bad things about Dan Brown on my blog. I figured he doesn't read it and wouldn't care anyway. Now I feel bad for saying I couldn't read his prose.

Met Jayne Ann Krentz today at a booksigning. She's a classy lady. Not only was she wonderfully nice and giving of her time, she invited the local RWA chapter out to coffee afterward. She talked to us for an hour and a half, and this is above the hour she spent talking at the booksigning. She won fans today for sure. :)

Jeri said...

This post illustrates why it's so important to maintain friendships outside of "the biz." Nurture the relationships you have with people who like you for who you are, not what you do. Don't ignore your non-writing friends when the "cool kids" start paying attention to you.

JA Konrath said...

Congrats, Stacey. Sounds like a great event.

Great point, Jeri.

Stacey Cochran said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stacey Cochran said...

In other good news, my wife accepted the assistant WPA position at NC State.

We're gonna be moving from Arizona to Raleigh sometime this summer (likely around July).

I'm gonna have to learn all about bookstores in NC, SC, VA, GA, and Tennessee, but as North Carolina is my home state, it's a challenge I welcome.

I'm just stoked that I'm moving home.


Rob Gregory Browne said...

Stacey's comment about reading a nasty comment in a blog got me thinking about an article I read.

Seems a psychological study was done that said that an overwhelming majority of us misintepret the tone of the email we receive about 50% of the time.

I would assume that the tone of blogs and other written communication is misinterpreted as well.

This has nothing to do with Stacey or the blog entry mentioned, but it did get me to thinking about how we sometimes overreact to what we read.

In places like this, especially.

Just food for thought. I have time to ponder this nonsense because my website/blog is down as I transfer to a new server. Ugh.

JA Konrath said...

"Seems a psychological study was done that said that an overwhelming majority of us misintepret the tone of the email we receive about 50% of the time."

So I'm a stupid, fat ass hack, huh Rob? Is that what you're saying?

Screw you!

Brett Battles said...

I completely disagree with Robert, and support everything he says.

(Rob, I was wondering why your blog was I know.)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"So I'm a stupid, fat ass hack, huh Rob? Is that what you're saying?"

But in a good way, Joe. A good way.

Sandra Ruttan said...

'"Never came through that big for me..."

That's what my wife says.'

Poor, poor woman...

JA Konrath said...

Hey, I'd take a burb. Sounds kinky.

Allison Brennan said...

Good advice, Joe. Especially about fans and working in the industry. (regarding other author's books . . . I go by the "if you don't have something nice to say" analogy.)

And I totally agree with Rob. Sarcasm especially is hard to convey in an email or blog. I'd be very sensitive to that if I was a naturally sarcastic person. I riddle my emails with happy faces and LOL comments because I want people to know I'm joking even if I think it's obvious, they might not.

Anonymous said...

I hate to see backbiting and general hatred toward collegues in any field. It's always there, but still, it surprises me everytime I hear of it. As though I expect adults to have moved beyond jr. high. Oh well, stick with the positive crowd, that's what I say.