Won't you be my neighbor? (A few simple rules from Mrs. Rodgers)

When Gary and I moved into this house with our two little kids, we were lucky enough to be two doors down from the nicest neighbors on the planet: George and Toni, a kindly all-American couple in their post-childrearing years. George has the knowledge and wherewithal to fix anything and has always been ridiculously generous with his time and good humor. Toni is one of those good souls who's all about caring for others, and she's plugged into the grapevine like Anderson Cooper. She knows all and shares info without judgment or gossipiness.

Last year a nice young couple with two adorable kids moved in next door. I told Gary, "We got George and Toni; these people got us."

"They were robbed," said Gary. "We suck."

Alas, it's true. Our yard is often a jungle. Loud parties happen when our kids are home. If someone needs to borrow a tool, they're SOL in our jumbled garage -- worse if they need a cup of sugar from our Mother Hubbard cupboard. I genuinely like the young couple, but I'm terrible about reaching out. I'm an office hermit. The art of the kaffeeklatsch eludes me.

I'm a lousy neighbor in subdivision world, but I try hard to be like George and Toni in my publishing life. Kind, welcoming, helpful, and informative.

A lot of the same dynamics apply. The publishing neighborhood is a mix of people from disparate backgrounds with varying motives and ambitions, but ultimately, each of us is just trying to make a home. The deed restrictions are unwritten, and it takes a while to become familiar with the folkways and mores. So for those who are considering taking up residence in our little community, I'll be so bold as to offer a few simple rules (all of which I've bent and/or broken with semi-disastrous consequences.)

Be pleasant.
Not as easy as it sounds, given the intense personalities, burning yearnings, meteoric rises, and spectacular crashes pervasive (if not inherent) in this line of work. Emotions run high. And that's a good thing. It means we care. But there's really no good purpose to be served by authors trashing, flaming, backbiting, or otherwise mean-mouthing each other. There's room for everyone. And if you're agent hunting, you're not going to score points with blog rants that make you sound less than fun to work with.

Don't stink up the place.
The traditional publishing process is brutal, but in the past it effectively weeded out the half-hearted by holding an author's feet to the fire and forcing us through a rigorous process that (for the most part) rendered cleaner, stronger manuscripts. Sadly, it also weeded out a lot of worthy, talented writers who just didn't have the stomach for it. We now have technology that handily circumvents all that soul-killing rejection and criticism. It also circumvents the whole weeding out thing and opens the door for a flood of -- sorry, but it's true -- yak shit. I'm not saying all self-pubbed books are crap (or that all traditionally pubbed books are good); I'm just saying self-pubbed authors are charged with holding their own feet to their own fire, and that takes a lot of self-discipline. Writing a book without an editor is like applying lipstick without a mirror. Think before you pub.

Keep your yard well-groomed.
It's important for authors to remember that we are spirits in a material world. This is a business, and we have to conduct ourselves like professionals if we hope to be included in the corporate process -- and the corporate income. A lot of networking goes on at lunch and parties in this biz, and the atmosphere is often so congenial and casual, newbies forget they're at work. Artsy is great. Drunk, not s'much. Communication through email is another minefield. Even the little back and forth stuff should be kept clean, and any major rant that needs to happen should be vetted by a trusted third party prior to clicking "send."

Have garage sales only when absolutely necessary.
Fiction is a flamingo rodeo without rules when it comes to money, but nonfiction work -- technical writing, ghostwriting, script-doctoring, proposals, etc -- has value in the marketplace, and giving your work away for no or lowball money makes it harder for all of us to get paid. If you get a gig by undercutting another writer's fee, you haven't done yourself any favor; you've devalued your own work. I routinely get asked to do things "on spec" (which really means "for nothing") because it would be "good exposure." That's just bull. Why would you want to advertise yourself as someone who works for free? If you want to get hired more often, sharpen your skills instead of lowering your price. The only reason to cut rate is for love -- and I mean LOVE -- of the project. (Just remember that for that to be worthwhile, the project has to love you back.)

Fences should be hip high and in good repair.
I've always felt the 6-ft privacy fences in my neighborhood foster an isolating, unfriendly vibe. Picket fences half that height would be adequate to keep the dogs in their own yards, while allowing polite conversation or at least a friendly wave. In the publishing industry, we're seeing the deconstruction of the brick walls (real and imagined) that used to separate agents and editors from writers. I think it's healthy for emerging writers to be better informed and less intimidated, but I've spotted too much information about people on Twitter more than once. Socializing (and social media) are not without professional consequences.

Instead of calling the cops, join the party.
This business is not fair. Never has been, never will be. There's no use complaining or trying to fight that. All you can do is dive in and enjoy all the unruly people, high stakes, ridiculous reversals, fraught encounters, and unabashed passion that make this an amazingly great place in which to live.

Comments

Best post I've read anywhere all week. Thanks for sharing some eminently sensible guidelines.

And you and Gary do *not* suck. But I still laughed.
Allison Brennan said…
Thanks Colleen for posting this link, this is fabulous advice. Thanks Mrs. Rodgers!!!
Keena Kincaid said…
Great post and even better advice. Thanks for taking the time to share with us.
Christie Craig said…
Joni,

Great, great post!!!

And so true. Thanks for sharing.

CC
Joni Rodgers said…
Thanks for stopping by, gals.

Christie, when this subject is touched upon in Q&A, I mention you as an example of how a savvy writer conducts herself. Your persistence, professionalism and good neighborliness have impressed me since the day we met.
HollyJacobs said…
Joni,

That was a wonderful!

Holly

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