Aren’t We Just Precious?: Writers Who Live in Ivory Towers

August 21, 2008 at 10:21 am 54 comments

There’s nothing more pompous than a writer who is precious about his or her work. If you’ve been around a bit, be it in the publishing world or even in a creative writing class, you’ve no doubt run into such a creature. As the editor of a number of anthologies (Amazon US/UK/Ca), I’ve met up with my fair share of writers with inflated egos and more attitude than talent, but come on – there’s a limit!

The other day I received a rather unpleasant email from an author who told me that he no longer wishes to receive any communication from me. Now this is not someone with whom I’ve been in endless email discourse, but someone who might, if he’s lucky, get an email from me maybe once or twice a year. Apparently I remind him of a world he’d rather not be a part of  – which I assume means the one belonging to a writer who does not have the luxury of toiling away in an Ivory Tower deep in the rugged hinterland, protected from the unpleasantries of the world such as promotion, publicity, administrative tasks, laundry, and pretty much struggling to avoid having one’s mail forwarded to a cardboard box.

Now I’m not going to name this individual, save for the fact that he’s had several books published and, thanks to me, sold several more on my recommendation alone. In his email where he dismisses me from his universe, he emphatically states that he is a writer of “SERIOUS LITERARY FICTION.” Ouch! I guess in effect he’s telling me (and thousands of other writers) that what we do is shit.

I’ve never met this guy, and frankly after this exchange I’ve no desire to. I did get in the last word, however, telling him that he’s a lucky man indeed, if he has the luxury of avoiding all the hard graft the majority of us must undertake in order not to sink into the quicksand with all the other writers out there trying to survive against nearly impossible odds. Perhaps he also has publishers who knock themselves out to promote his books, unlike those of us who find ourselves in the rather unpleasant position of having to become not only our own publicist, but our own motivational speaker.

Those of you who’ve been working at this gig for awhile will know that the success of a book very often has nothing to do with how good it is, but rather how much went into its promotional budget. Get your book plastered all over the walls of the London Underground and sure, you can bet it’ll shift a multitude of copies. Send out a paltry smattering of review copies and it might shift a copy or two. Or it might not, depending on whether the reviewer was suffering from PMS that day. The irony is, the average Stephen King novel gets a huge promotional push, though with his amazing track record he hardly needs the kind of financial outlay that goes into selling his work. Yet the last I heard even Mr. King wasn’t too precious to indulge in a bit of self promotion. Why? Because that’s the way the game is played. I’ll tell you this: I’m thrilled to bits if someone is interested enough in my work to come to a reading or book signing just to see little me. And I’m even more thrilled if they plonk down their hard-earned dollars, pounds, euros, or rubles to actually buy something I’ve written.

Needless to say, I doubt very much that our Mr. Precious in his Ivory Tower will be reading this blog post. Reading a blog is beneath him, as is the filthy cesspool of literature festivals and book signings and author interviews. Should the time ever come when he can no longer meet his mortgage payments, I wonder if he’ll still feel the same way.

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Perhaps the English Cold and Damp Isn’t So Bad After All… This Time Next Year We’ll Be Millionaires!

54 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kathi  |  August 21, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Good post! Those type always annoy me. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in that feeling!
    :)

    Reply
  • 2. Lauran Strait  |  August 21, 2008 at 11:34 am

    Loved reading this. The guy’s a tool… Unfortunately, I’ve met a couple of other people like him.

    Reply
  • 3. Brian J. Shoopman  |  August 21, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I suppose I can step down long enough to post a comment on here but then I simply must be returning to my self-important, self-erected pedestal. ;) lol

    Great blog, Mitzi!

    Personally, I hope that whomever “Mr. Full-of Himself” is-and I pray that it’s not someone whose talents I admire-DOES read your blog and stops taking himself too seriously, at least to the point that he continues ostracizing others.

    As an aspiring professional writer (I just made my first professional submission 3 weeks ago), I’d feared that in contacting and networking with established writers of various levels of fame I might encounter individuals like the one described. Fortunately, I’ve not had any such eye-opening occurrences thus far and everyone, with out exception, has been wonderful and quite helpful, or at the very least, encouraging.

    I know that it’s a game of odds and someone somewhere will ruin that track record, but to date I’ve been most fortunate. It’s just a sad truth of the human condition that there will always be those in various professions and walks of life that are just too egocentric for “us little people”.

    Hopefully, He-of-the-Elevated-Nose will get a karmic kick in the arse and realize that, to paraphrase Neil Gaiman, he “live(s) breathe(s), and defecate(s)” on the same planet as the rest of us schmoes. :)

    Reply
  • 4. Gregory Frost  |  August 21, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    Ah, the Margaret Atwood position: If I write it, it’s important literature. If you write it, it’s just that skiffy piffle. Really, can’t be bothered, and for godsake don’t let me be seen slumming by talking to you. No, no, no.
    gf

    Reply
  • 5. mitziszereto  |  August 21, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks for your comments! Let’s just say that I won’t be plugging any more of his books at my workshops or in my creative writing classes! I might use the ones I own as door-stoppers or, if energy prices continue to rise, kindling. (IF I had a fireplace, that is…)

    Reply
  • 6. Suzanne  |  August 21, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    If one has to announce how “serious” their work is chances are, no one’s taking his work too seriously.

    In the world of art it’s not so much a pompous attitude as a helpless attitude-someone else is supposed to do the marketing work for the ivory tower genius-and for free-all because-” I’m not computer friendly”.

    Well crack open a book dumb ass.

    Reply
  • 7. rebmas03  |  August 21, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    I love the way that technology has helped linked writers, and I love your blog posts. Thanks for this one! Very funny and provocative!

    Reply
  • 8. Michelle  |  August 21, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Wonderful piece, Mitzi. The literary world contains some real beauts!

    Reply
  • 9. Rie Sheridan Rose  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    I’ve met a few of those…wish they would go away and let us REAL writers get to work. ;) Great post, Mitzi.

    Reply
  • 10. Chaz Folkes  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Good post, and to ditto from above, what a tool that fellow is.

    You’re quite right about the marketing budget. I someone can get onto the 2 for the price of 3 table in Waterstones they’re laughing, but if the publisher isn’t prepared to do the promotion, they’re just stuck with it on their own. I see it as part of the deal with writing a book. In music, this is a given. Touring creates sales – bands have to get the art out there so that people can hear it.

    I’m guessing that your angry correspondent believes in the nebulous concept of ars grata artis. I’m also assuming that he is retired and writes books as a hobby? Whatever label people put on their art, there’s no reason to get snooty!

    Keep up the good work…

    Reply
  • 11. Sonja Foust  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Ugh, I cannot believe someone would be that full of himself! Ok, well, I can, but I don’t want to. :)

    Reply
  • 12. Jolie du Pre  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Great post Mitzi!

    My father is a world famous professor at the top university in the world. He has one of the highest positions at the university, has received many awards, has lectured all over the world, has published many books, makes a lot of money, and on and on. If anybody has the right to be a snob, he does. (Even though he isn’t a snob.) My father is also one of the biggest supporters of my erotica. If he doesn’t turn his nose up at my work, why should I give a fuck what other people think?

    Reply
  • 13. Kelly Jameson  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Excellent blog!

    Reply
  • 14. Hayden Parker  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    It makes me very sad to see that people still think of themselves as ‘important’ and frankly better than everyone else. Still if it makes them feel better then so be it. Good luck to you in life Mr Precious !!!

    Great blog as always Mitzi

    Reply
  • 15. Caroline Menzies  |  August 21, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Hi Mitzi
    Good blog.

    Being a Canadian (though born British) I am well aware of the need for self promotion. I’ve seen books that won the Governor General’s award one year appear in the bargain bin the next. It’s very difficult to crack the market here. The minute I decided to go south (U. S.) with my queries and submissions, I sold a story to Ellery Queen mag.

    What the hell is serious literary fiction anyway? We have the CBC literary awards here with the top prize of $6000.00 and let me tell you some of the winning stories are just, well, blah! And have you seen some of the poetry that’s out there? I long ago decided to write for myself and fuck the trends. Hell, I’ll set the trends myself.

    So I’m sick of these pompous morons who believe they are right up there with God. Who really likes the shit they write anyway. Writing should be entertaining. That’s my only rule.

    P.S. I work with visual artists and let me tell you they come in all kinds, too. Some of the best of the best are lovely people, while others act like they’re doing you a favour even talking to you. I don’t subscribe to that. Everyone deserves the same courtesy.

    Reply
  • 16. Ben Myers  |  August 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    That Salman Rushdie. He’s so rude these days….

    Reply
  • 17. mitziszereto  |  August 21, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    LOL! Nope, it wasn’t him. But good guess anyway, Ben!

    Reply
  • 18. Gary Earl Ross  |  August 21, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Mitzi, I love you! You’re absolutely right about the haughtiness of some in the Ivory Tower. As a denizen of said tower (though the non-traditional students I teach place me closer to the dungeon than the penthouse), I can say that it’s no better on the inside for those of us who write erotica, mysteries, science fiction, horror, and other kinds of fiction deemed “non-literary.” With undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, I have my whole professional life attempted to straddle the gap between “literary” and everything else. For my efforts I’ve often heard from publishers “not literary enough and not popular enough” but I’ve had enough publications and recognition to convince me of the sanity of my vision. I have tried to remain true to my eclectic sense of good writing. At this point I write only what I damn well please. Having done laundry for five children, now grown, this is one professor who thinks you’re terrific and looks forward to working with you again. All the best!

    Reply
  • 19. Erin  |  August 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    This is a SERIOUS LITERARY blog comment.

    *doody*

    *boobies*

    Reply
  • 20. susie hawes  |  August 21, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    :D that was fun.

    Reply
  • 21. Andrewo  |  August 21, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    How utterly silly of him. But really, shouldn’t someone point out that all good writing is genre based and that as far as I know, LITERARY is not a genre. In fact, don’t get me wrong here but LITERARY is a stick we make to beat people with. Let’s face it, there’s no such thing, up the genres!

    Reply
  • 22. mitziszereto  |  August 21, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    He’s still up there in his Ivory Tower – he wouldn’t know about such things.

    Reply
  • 23. Jane Johnson  |  August 21, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Great blog, Mitzi! Dying to know who that author was. And as one of those who uncomfortably straddle both the writing and the publishing of fiction, I say hurrah for you and your sane and determined understanding of the stupid, illogical and distressing vagaries of the book world. Everyone has to do their bit to make their books work, and luck is a massive factor in the equation alongside sheer hard graft. Whoever that writer is (and I’ve known a few of them in my time) does not deserve whatever success he’s had. I never get involved in discussions usually, due to sheer lack of time, but just had to say good on you, and good luck.

    Reply
  • 24. Sam Dunn  |  August 21, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Bravo to you, Mitzi. Personally I want to take writers like this guy out and smack them across the head. These are the kind of people who confuse pretentious, boring tripe with literature. Writers I love write for for the lady on the bus–the person who needs it, who looks to books as a means of experience, education, enlightenment, entertainment. My life was save and changed as much by reading the likes of Agatha Christie and Judith Krantz as a teenage girl as by Joyce, Borges and the like as I became “sophisticated.” The more I think about this type of guy the more irked I get…

    Reply
  • 25. mitziszereto  |  August 21, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I guess this means you aren’t “precious”! :-D

    Reply
  • 26. Michael  |  August 21, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    Very well said! I’m certain that when I’m published (or trying to get so) I will make sure I’m always promoting myself, getting out there and not forgetting the little people. It’s not easy, and I vote we knock down the fourth wall of his ivory tower with some of plot device.

    Reply
  • 27. Dave Bryant  |  August 21, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Very well said indeed.

    This reminds me of a poet whose work I actually quite admire who looks down on other poets who “have dayjobs”. “It is a poet’s duty to solely be a poet”, he said rather pompously once, which is an admirable attitude if you have a decent safety net and the ability to back it up, but quite frankly I’d be in enormous trouble if I’d attempted to emulate his living style. As it stands, I think the fact that I hold down a demanding dayjob and still manage to get work published and more work created is actually an achievement, not something to sneer at.

    Life is hard for writers, but it happens to be an irritating fact that a lot of the pompous (and sometimes successful) ones are from wealthy backgrounds, and have absolutely no notion of how difficult doing this can be for the rest of us.

    Reply
  • 28. Terrence Paquet  |  August 21, 2008 at 5:10 pm

    Hi Mitzi,
    I want a name! A number! A book title! You are toying with us! Who is this madman??? Off with his pompous head! Confiscate his feather pen! Oh, by the way, great post.

    Terrence Paquet
    Humble author of My penis & other short pieces

    http://snipurl.com/34vz0

    Reply
  • 29. Darlene  |  August 21, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    Greetings from across the pond!
    You have hit the proverbial nail on the head about promotional budgets, especially when they go to those books that really don’t need the help. I think it’s to justify the large advance. They just keep pouring money into the same place.
    As for Mr. “I’m Too Good and Special and Serious,” they exist in both male and female form and occasionally are well-known authors. I think there’s a breeding program for them.
    That was a great blog post, Mitzi.

    Reply
  • 30. Carmelo Valone  |  August 21, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    I know the type….they never have a typo too.
    To me writing is about the results not the ego, and for that matter the ‘results’ can be edited…..I’m surely not perfect. I do actually think my imperfections as writer do help in my style…..anyways….I will shut my pie hole.

    Cheers-

    CV

    Reply
  • 31. F.Jeanette Cheezum  |  August 21, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    It seems we all come in contact with people like this from time to time. I think you do a great job presenting these articles to us.
    Let’s ignore the toads of the world. They’re never happy and love to try to tear anyone with talent down instead of trying to learn from them.

    Reply
  • 32. mitziszereto  |  August 21, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    Thanks, I’m really glad people seem to be interested in what I’m writing about and enjoying it – even if that enjoyment might include going after Mr Precious with a baseball bat!

    Reply
  • 33. Stuart Burrell  |  August 21, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Great blog Mitzi

    Reply
  • 34. Scott  |  August 21, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    My observation is that most writers who self identify their work as “serious literary fiction” usually can’t write. They defend their indecipherable sentences as “art” that others are too stupid to understand. Or they eschew plot as something too pedestrian, making their books unreadable.

    I’m not denying that publishers refer to a market called “literary fiction.” But when an author says his or her work is in this category, it’s all too often the delusional fantasy of someone who simply won’t buckle down and do the hard work it takes to craft a book that people can actually read.

    You’re better off without that jerk on your mailing list!

    Reply
  • 35. Edward Fox  |  August 22, 2008 at 12:21 am

    A. Doctor writes: Inflation of the ego is one of the occupational hazards of the writing game, as black lung disease is to coal miners. I know one or two writers who are so severely afflicted by this condition that they probably qualify for disabled parking spaces outside their homes.

    What’s ironic about this is that there is no other industry — the publishing industry — that is more effective at crushing egos into powder. The resulting product can be used by the thrifty to make a nutritious soup.

    Reply
  • 36. Kate  |  August 22, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Came over here from facebook…I’m going to link you to my blog.

    This is very timely for me. Just today I realized that the my university where I teach, when I tell people I have a novel coming out in October, they say “Who’s your publisher?”

    If I tell general readers, they say, “What’s your novel about?”

    I’d much rather focus on telling a good story to someone who wants to know what it’s about.

    Reply
  • 37. Adele Geraghty  |  August 22, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Ahhhh! This blog couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I’ve been struggling with this sort of thing for some time now, with a literary friend. For the most part, this person is a saint; cordial, giving and good company (and with several novels to credit). But let it be known that my work has been published somewhere and the subject is changed immediately. Not even congratulations. This person’s work is the only work, worth conversing about. But the best was when I was gently snubbed from becoming a member of this person’s writer’s group, as it was; ‘For serious, published authors’. I rest my case. I must say, it does my heart good to know I’m in good company with you, luv. I think your work is fabulous! These are sorry people, really. Imagine how dreadful the profession would be if we were all like that? Not to mention, BORING. Keep smiling. I do.

    Reply
  • 38. mitziszereto  |  August 22, 2008 at 10:04 am

    LOL! That sounds exactly like someone I know! I could do an entire blog on him, but I’d better not just in case he might read it!

    Reply
  • 39. Diane  |  August 22, 2008 at 10:38 am

    To that writer of “serious literary fiction” — You, sir, are a wally.

    Reply
  • 40. maxdunbar  |  August 22, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Excellent post. It’s this that makes the terms ‘writer’ and ‘pretentious’ synonymous in the eyes of the general population. I’ve met a few people like this, but oddly enough they tend to be unpublished rather than estbalished writers. The successful novelists I’ve met have been friendly and self-deprecating.

    Reply
  • 41. maxdunbar  |  August 22, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    ‘Estbalished’. Unbelievable.

    Reply
  • 42. mitziszereto  |  August 22, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I’ll blame it on your being at the pub when you wrote your comment! :-D

    Reply
  • [...] a slideshow of “ugly” supermodels, which is food for thought. (And for stories.) And Mitzi Szereto talks about “precious” writers. Since we all know how I start frothing at the mouth when I talk about it, just read Ms. Szereto, [...]

    Reply
  • 44. Thomas Roche  |  August 23, 2008 at 12:55 am

    I’m confused — what was the guy objecting to, exactly? That you write some fiction that is non-ivory-tower (“genre” I guess), that you write it for money (rather than… whatever so-called literary writers are supposed to write for) or that you promote your work?

    Reply
  • 45. mitziszereto  |  August 23, 2008 at 1:17 am

    That’s a good question. I suppose genre fiction is way beneath the fellow – though isn’t everything technically a genre – including SERIOUS LITERARY FICTION? As for promoting one’s work, apparently this is evil activity that, had it been done 200 years ago, would have resulted in public execution by stoning. :-(

    Reply
  • 46. Nick  |  August 23, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Great blog, great post, Mitzi. I guess we’ve all met a few writers like that in our time.

    Your post reminded me of another unattractive quality in some writers, which is professional jealousy. I’ve done a blog post on that topic myself, linking to yours, of course. If you click on my name above, it should take you directly to it.

    Reply
  • 47. mitziszereto  |  August 23, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Yeah, I could do an entire book on that topic. It isn’t restricted to just writers either, unfortunately. I suppose we can say it’s human nature, but if that IS the case, it’s very sad.

    Reply
  • 48. Jo  |  August 23, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    lol, how true. I recently wrote in my notebook during a writing workshop I was on, ‘The bigger the ego, the smaller the talent’ . I thought I can use this person as a character to write about – he annoyed me that much. Its quite unbelievable.

    Reply
  • 49. svh  |  August 23, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Funny Rushdie joke but for the record, I was lucky enough to meet and speak with him — right place, right time — and he was not at all precious or condescending. He was very kind, funny and down-to-earth, This was one of his first publicized appearanes post-fatwa and he made a point of not going about with a lot of security, and of visiting schools for poor kids during his stay.

    Anyway, great post Mitzi.

    Reply
  • 50. mitziszereto  |  August 23, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Thanks. And seriously, hand over heart, it wasn’t Rushdie in my post!!

    Reply
  • 51. Madeline Moore  |  August 25, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    I have nothing inherently against a person who has the luck to be born with a silver spoon in his/her mouth. It’s what you DO with that luck that makes you a person of character.

    That said, I’ve noticed that people ‘from money’ are not, perhaps cannot, be on the same wavelength as those of us who must make it or bust strictly on our own. They have always had, and always will have, a plump satin cushion to land on.

    I love a woman who was born and raised to and by people with money. We stopped being friends for twelve years, then tried again, and once again, the friendship has had to be shelved. Why? Because she does not approve of what I write. Her intention is to leave the world a better place by writing something important before she dies. Gack.

    When we were young she criticized me for writing scripts for Independent Television, and for the National Film Board of Canada – because I didn’t get to choose my topic. She referred to my work as ‘typing.’ This time around, she disapproves of me for writing erotica. She called my first book misogynist, tawdry and unrealistic.

    She had the gall to announce that ‘I am now entirely self-sufficient.’ She never has been and never will be. The biggest problem people from money have, and they do suffer, is the indignity of asking mommy and daddy for a few thousand, just five to ten, to tide them over until they can make it on their own. That adds up, over the years… and let’s face it, they only have to make it ‘on their own’ until their parents die and they inherit the big bucks.

    I keep looking for her work of great importance, but it never materializes. Perhaps it never will. Perhaps she can’t do it because she comes from money – in which case I pity her more than I envy her.

    I sink or swim on my own merit, and I crank out a lot of words, every year, and I’m grateful, more grateful than I can convey, that my words are purchased, and I make my way in this world as a writer.

    Reply
  • 52. Emily Bryan  |  August 25, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    I don’t know what to say about this writer’s attitude. If a reader is kind enough to take the time to let me know he/she enjoyed my book, I always respond to their email. If an aspiring writer has a question, I try to answer or at least direct them to the several pages of content on my website specifically for other writers.

    Reading is a conversation between an author and the reader. It’s pretty one-sided if we never do any of the listening.

    Reply
  • 53. Margaret Tanner  |  August 26, 2008 at 11:35 am

    I enjoyed your article too, and it is so true. I have come across quite a few “precious” writers in my time as well. I think you are well rid of this bloke.
    He sounds like the people who ask you to critique their manuscripts and unless you rave about every page being fabulous, absolutely perfect, they get offended.
    Regards
    Margaret Tanner

    Reply
  • 54. princessdominique  |  September 2, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Let’s exchange links!

    Reply

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What I Get Up To

I write, I blog, I Mitzi TV, I network, I breathe, I get my name in the press... I'm a true Renaissance lass! My books include IN SLEEPING BEAUTY'S BED: EROTIC FAIRY TALES; GETTING EVEN: REVENGE STORIES (crime); THE NEW BLACK LACE BOOK OF WOMEN'S SEXUAL FANTASIES (non-fiction/survey); DYING FOR IT: TALES OF SEX AND DEATH (multi-genre); THE WORLD’S BEST SEX WRITING 2005 (non-fiction/criticism); WICKED: SEXY TALES OF LEGENDARY LOVERS; the EROTIC TRAVEL TALES anthology series; the M. S. Valentine erotic novels; and a slew of titles available on Amazon Kindle. Find me on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Tumblr, Plurk, Social Median, and wherever else I might decide to turn up!

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