The Business Rusch: Unexpected Gold in Self Help Books

The Business Rusch: Unexpected Gold in Self Help Books

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading on women, money, and power, for a project that I’m working on.  Most of these self-help books, written by women for women, contend that women are socialized differently. We’re raised so that we’re afraid to stand up for ourselves, afraid to ask for something we need, afraid to acknowledge our own worth.  We are consensus builders, so we are unwilling to raise our hands.  Yet we’re the ones who step in when a job needs to be done, and will often do that job without compensation, because—

Ah, hell.  I don’t know why. These books are really written in some kind of foreign language. Or maybe I’m not a real woman. (Do not go there, internet trolls.)

What I’ve realized as I read this stuff is that most of these descriptions do not apply to me. I stand up for myself. I hate asking for something I need, but I’ll do it rather than go without. I’ve always loved to raise my hand.  I let other people do—or not do—their own jobs, and I rarely work without compensation, whether that compensation is financial, emotional, or intellectual.

I am, according to all of these self-help books, a man.

(Hey, internet trolls! I already said don’t go there. So stop it.)

Yet these books are valuable because they do describe behaviors that I see over and over again. Only the books ascribe it to something inaccurate, like gender, when really the behaviors are motivated by a complex group of things, not all of which are the same for the same people.

Although the cause of those things is the same: It comes back to socialization.

For some reason, I rejected all that passive socializing my mother tried to shove down my throat about being female.  She wanted me to be coy. That’s not a word anyone would ever use for me.  She wanted me to be indirect. I  prefer direct. She wanted me to manipulate others to my point of view.  I prefer logic, reason, and the occasional raised voice.  She wanted me to build communities with my diplomacy. I figure if people don’t like me, they can leave.

Does this mean I didn’t get properly socialized? I don’t think so. I can still fall back on my Midwestern politeness to get me through any tough situation. But mostly, I have a strong sense of self, a belief in honesty as the best policy, and a real preference for blunt truth-telling.  This makes me unsuited for politics, most corporate jobs, and any place in which “You’ve got to be kidding,” is an unacceptable response to a command.

As I read these books, however, I realize that I have watched a lot of people—male and female—act in the ways described inside. Many of these folks come from solidly blue collar backgrounds, good salt-of-the-earth types, who do something extra and don’t want it noticed or figure it was just part of the job.

Two weeks ago, Dean and I had a flat tire on our way to Reno. (We actually had two flat tires about an hour apart, but that story belongs in another piece.) We stopped at a service station in a small Oregon town.  The attendant there removed our tire, looked at it, and declared it unsalvageable. (Boy was that an understatement.)

He did not have the proper tire, so we called ahead to the next little town, more than an hour away, to the Les Schwab franchise there to see if they had the tire. They did, but they were closing in forty minutes. We were sixty miles away and our rear tire was one of those little donut things approved for no more than forty miles per hour.  Okay, former algebra students, do the math: Your tire will implode if you drive it more than forty miles per hour. The next town is sixty miles away. How long will it take you to reach the next town, if you want your tire to remain on the car?

The Les Schwab guy said he’d wait for us.  Big city girl me, I had my doubts. But when we pulled in, he was there, service bay ready, and the proper replacement tire leaning against a wall.

He did a tremendous job and got us out of there in less than a half an hour.  The tire guy expected nothing more than a thank you.  Hell, he might not have even expected that. But Dean has a trick in these circumstances, one I’ve seen him use a dozen times.

He pulled out his wallet, found a twenty, and as he took the bill out, he said, “Let me buy you dinner.” The tire guy, like every other person I’ve ever seen Dean do this with, was flustered, and said no.  So Dean added, “Look, you saved our trip. It’s the least we can do.”

The tire guy took the twenty. It was not a tip. It was not a bribe. It was a thank-you, the only way we could give it to him.

The first tire guy didn’t want payment either for pulling off that tire and inspecting it, but we paid him anyway—only that time, Dean gave him enough for a “cold beer.” (Apparently, my husband knows how to judge his audience; or maybe it was just the time of day involved.)

These guys didn’t know us at all, and yet they were willing to do some extra work for strangers who crossed their path. I got the sense from these guys that it’s a way of life for them, going the extra mile without asking for an extra dime.

For years, we had maintenance guy who used to go above and beyond every single week, and who got insulted if we even noticed that he had done extra work. We’re still benefiting from all he did, even though he passed away years ago.  He was one of those guys who would bristle at being called female, yet the trait that he exhibited—doing a  job without compensation because the job needed to be done—was something that these self-help books called a gender-based behavior.

These behaviors might have their roots in class, in ethics, in income level, in gender, in religious upbringing, in culture, in personality type or in all of the above. My own non-scientific theory is this: that these behaviors are based on socialization combined with a value that the culture in which the person belongs to places on that socialization.

Let’s be clear here: I’m not saying that people should be mean. In similar emergency situations in which my expertise is valuable, I’ve been known to give my services away. That’s what people do for each other.

It’s okay to behave  like this once in a while, but it can’t be a way of life. An employee can’t continually give things away to a customer and expect to keep his job. (And believe me, that first tire guy gave his time away, time I’m sure the service station owner wouldn’t have been pleased about.  I have no idea if the second guy charged his employer for the overtime. I hope he did, but doubt that he even considered it.)

Yet as I was reading these books, I wasn’t thinking about women or Les Schwab employees or our former maintenance guy. I was thinking about writers. You could easily take the word “women” out of these books and replace it with the word “writers.” (Of course, if you did so, you’d have a self-help book with a much smaller target audience.)

What exactly am I talking about here? Let’s pull some bullet points from these books to show you what I mean.  (I will replace the word “women” with “writers” to make my point.)

•Writers undervalue themselves

•Nice writers don’t get rich (this works better in its original form: Nice girls don’t get rich.  The whole nice girls concept became a book for one smart writer).

•Writers are uninformed about money

•Writers want to be hands-off with money

•Writers are afraid of what other people will think of them

•Writers strive for survival, not wealth

•Writers don’t have financial goals

•Writers don’t know their worth

•Writers don’t play to win

•Writers listen to naysayers

•Writers manage egos not wealth

•Writers trust the wrong people

•Writers give away their time

•Writers fail to negotiate

•Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich

•Writers suffer from learned helplessness

•Writers lack a sense of entitlement

•Writers fear calling attention to themselves

•Writers rarely speak up for themselves

•Writers rarely defend themselves

•Writers expect to be ignored

•Writers give up too easily

•Writers expect to be screwed as a cost of doing business

•Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power

•Writers let emotions get the better of them

•Prince Charming will never ride to the rescue. (In a woman’s world, apparently, Prince Charming is a husband; in a writer’s world, Prince Charming is an agent.)

•Inheriting wealth is not an investment strategy (or in writing world, counting on a bestseller is not an investment strategy).

•Learn to say no.

•Risk is not a synonym for loss

•There are no secrets

•Learning takes time and dedication

I could go on and on and on. These books abound, and their relevance to writers should be clear from the list above.

As you can probably tell, I’m going to mine that list for some pieces in the next few weeks.

But I’m doing this series now for a reason.

Publishing is changing. There are a few writers who have always known that writing is a business and have acted accordingly. In the past, we’ve been outliers, people who often get criticized for being difficult or demanding or hard to work with.  Mostly, though, our counterparts in publishing have shrugged and tried to accommodate us, because the publishers realize they have no business without the goodwill of writers.

I’ve been one of the outliers, probably because it’s not an unusual position for me. It’s been more difficult for me to be a woman who is outspoken than it has been being a writer who asks for fair compensation for her work.

But  most writers have never done that, and have often been told (usually  by agents) that such things are impossible.  This is why so many writers had shorter careers. The average length of a writer’s career was about ten years.  And then the writer tired or had trouble getting a book deal or decided to teach or just plain gave up. (I can list dozens of writers whom I know personally who had ten-year careers.)

Now, however, the paradigm has shifted dramatically, and writers who understand business are standing up for their rights. These writers are making news by asking the right questions of publishers: What can you do for me?

Barry Eisler made news when he decided to self publish his next John Rain novel. When Amazon swooped in and took over the deal, it wasn’t because Eisler had lost faith in self-publishing, it was because Amazon could answer the question to Eisler’s satisfaction.

John Locke asked the same question and got a great answer from his new publisher.  Recently, I asked one of my editors the same question. We’re currently in negotiation about what’s best for us as well as the readers of the series he’s publishing.

Right now, we’re still outliers, but we shouldn’t be. All writers should be asking that question because it’s part of the whole financial picture that I’m painting above.

Writers have an obvious opportunity to take control of their careers right now. We’ve always had that opportunity, but now the path is obvious.  Too many writers—like the women these financial books are directed at—are afraid to take control. Writers are afraid they’ll be blacklisted or “disliked” or unable to work in this town again.

Here’s the thing, though. What town? New York (London, Paris, Munich) is no longer the only place writers can go to get published on a national level. Now writers can do it themselves.

The question is: should they?

And that’s a question each writer must answer for herself. But first she needs to look at that list and see if it describes her. If it does, then she needs to do some serious work on changing how she approaches her career.

The fact that you’ve just read a list does not enable you to change your behavior. We’ll look at each item separately in the coming weeks. If you can’t wait, I suggest you look at my Freelancer’s Survival Guide, which has chapters that cover some of these topics.  The Guide is available for free on this website or you can download it as an e-book (as a whole or in sections) or buy the entire damn doorstop in paper.

But the Guide won’t answer all of your questions. If it did, I wouldn’t be embarking on this new series.  I got inspired reading these self help books. And while not everything from these women and money books are applicable (not all writers have to worry about “the mommy track”), some things really are.  I’ll mine what I can, and see what I can come up with.

So stick around, and if you have anything to add to the list, let me know.

Speaking of valuing your time and asking for what you need, I have included a donate button. I make my living at fiction and am writing these nonfiction blog posts on the side. If you find today’s blog of value, please leave a tip in the jar on the way out. Thanks! And thanks for the ideas, comments, and e-mails. I appreciate them as well.


“The Business Rusch: Unexpected Gold in Self Help Books” copyright 2011 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

 

 

 

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59 Comments

  1. Man, those self-help books are sexist! I like the “•Writers don’t get rich because they don’t envision themselves rich” one, though. I’ve ALWAYS envisioned myself rich, even when I was wandering the streets of downtown Seattle looking for work. (I got better.) It works!

    Also, I want to endorse the Freelancer’s Survival Guide. (I was tired of page-loads, so I picked up the eBook.) Solid.

    Reply
    • LOL, David. Yep. They are. But they sell (and clearly I have a few). I always found that dreaming about becoming rich helped me plan for the days when I did have money. And my definition of rich kept changing. (I guess we always look farther up the ladder.)

      Thanks for the FSG endorsement.

      Reply
  2. Excellent post, as always. This got me to thinking about some of the anonymous agent and editor blogs out there, and how they occasionally put up poorly written query letters and other writerly gaffs for no other discernible reason than to provide amusement. Over time, I think that sends a very negative message to writers: that we’re all stupid, that we don’t know the business, and that everyone is secretly making fun of us behind our backs.

    I volunteer as a slushpile reader at a semi-pro sf&f magazine (Leading Edge) where we have a policy of sending a minimum of two detailed critiques to everyone who submits to us. While the majority of submissions have some pretty huge problems, whenever I find a good one I thank the author for letting me read it, even if I don’t end up recommending it to the editor. The editors whom I really admire (Lou Anders, Moshe Feder, etc) all seem to take this kind of a gracious attitude when interacting with new writers, and I appreciate them very much for it.

    Reply
    • Good points, Joe. The writers did put out an effort. We used forms at F&SF (had to: the submissions were overwhelming), but I quickly moved a writer from form to personal when I noticed that the writer was trying hard to break in. Then I could offer personal comments and encouragement. I always felt–and still do–that the encouragement is the most important part.

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  3. Oh my goodness, when I read your modified list that replaced the word “women” with “writers,” all I could do was shake my head because it fit so closely. I don’t know why things are this way, but I do believe that naming a problem is half the battle. Thanks so much for pointing out this mental pattern to writers.

    And if I may, I’d suggest tossing Dr. Martha Beck’s “The Four Day Win” onto the self-help pile. It’s pitched as a weight loss book, but over 2/3 of it is about the impact of destructive socialization patterns on eating disorders (i.e. some people use food instead of alcohol to deal with self-hatred and pain), and also explores various cognitive therapy techniques that are used to help people to break out of self-destructive life patterns.

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    • Thanks for the recommendation, Lisa (LM). Naming things always brings about a realization, but acting on that realization takes effort and understanding. So it’s just the start. I’ll look up the book. I’ve heard of Beck and heard that she’s good.

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  4. “I figure if people don’t like me, they can leave.”

    Ahhh, this is why I like you so much. I feel the same way; I just always put it down to being a tomboy. (Who says I can’t climb trees in a dress? This is why I always wear shorts under skirts.)

    This should be a fun series. Can’t wait to read more!

    Reply
    • Mercy, where were you when I was a kid? I never thought of shorts. My mother would have had a fit. (I spent summers in my favorite tree–reading, and taunting the boys who couldn’t climb as high.) LOL

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  5. I loved this whole post but at “This makes me unsuited for politics, most corporate jobs, and any place in which “You’ve got to be kidding,” is an unacceptable response to a command” I just howled with laughter as that was SUCH a great line!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Deborah. Sad, but true. LOL.

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    • Francis, thanks for the link to Sarah’s post. I’ve been thinking something similar. Just didn’t know how to approach it. Glad Sarah has started the topic.

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  6. For some reason, I rejected all that passive socializing my mother tried to shove down my throat about being female. She wanted me to be coy. That’s not a word anyone would ever use for me. She wanted me to be indirect. I prefer direct. She wanted me to manipulate others to my point of view. I prefer logic, reason, and the occasional raised voice. She wanted me to build communities with my diplomacy. I figure if people don’t like me, they can leave.

    OMG, this is me, this is ME! I’ve always been blunt and have only tapered off (slightly) because I realized I was rubbing some people the wrong way. (I’m still blunt about a lot of things, though.)

    As for diplomacy, I never used to have ANY. But I’ve been married to a guy whose middle name is Diplomacy (actually it’s Paul, but I digress). And while I’ve picked up on that, I still have a long way to go. Don’t know if I’ll ever get to his level of that, and I’m not so sure I want to, lol. :-)

    And I couldn’t resist…

    What town? New York (London, Paris, Munich)

    …everybody talk about ::um:: Pop Music! (M was the name of the one-hit wonder, I think.)

    Yes, I was a tomboy when I was young; climbing trees was a specialty of mine. :-)

    Great, great post. Enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait for the rest of the series.

    Reply
    • Yeah, Nancy, diplomacy. I sure do understand it. I can do it for a while. And then…I get impatient, and that’s the end of that. I’m pleased to see so many other tree-climbers here. :-) Thanks.

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  7. I am from the midwest where going the extra mile is just what you do. But you guard yourself against parasites. (I had a friend from the South who never seemed to figure out how she kept losing friends by over-indulging in accepting generosity. She thought asking favors was just a social thing, and people were accepting because they wanted to hang out, and didn’t realize that in the frozen north, helping people is an obligation, and you don’t ask for help unless you actually need it.)

    Here’s the thing:

    When the airliner cabin loses pressure, you put the mask on yourself first, before helping others.

    THAT is the first rule of public service. That’s why the special tactics team of our local P.D. wears a cap with the symbol ” 1* ” on it. It’s a reminder that you only have one asterisk (i.e. one ass to risk).

    Once when I was a student in London, a slick professional beggar girl (dressed to the nines in full “Victorian waif” costume) talked us into giving her all our spare change. We figured hey, she deserved it for the performance. But on the way home, we ran into a real homeless guy and we had nothing to give him. Unthinking generosity only hurts the people who most need your help.

    There is nothing wrong with living the generosity lifestyle. (Imho, there’s nothing wrong with despising the whole Abundance movement, too.) But if you’re just thoughtlessly giving away everything so people will like you and take care of you, you’re being just as selfish as anybody else.

    Remember to put your mask on first. Remember that you only have one asterisk.

    Camille

    Reply
    • Camille, excellent comment. I love that airliner comment. Perfect. And also good–how sometimes unthinking generosity ends up being harmful. Much to ponder here.

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  8. I figured out a while ago that I’m unsuited for any other day job than the one I have because “You’ve got to be kidding me” is something I’ve been known to say from time to time. And the politics thing? My high school government teacher told me I’d be great in politics. Back then I’m sure she meant it as a compliment. Today? Not so much.

    Boy, though, did I recognize a lot of behaviors on that list, especially a lot of the “make do” items, like “I don’t need to be rich, I can make do with what I have.” I’m not sure if that comes from a blue-collar background that taught me to crave security, having values taught to me by my mother who in turn was taught by her mother who lived through the Great Depression, or just a reaction to the current economic turmoil. Whatever the root cause, I’m looking forward to what you do with that list in this series.

    Reply
    • Annie R., thanks for mentioning the Depression. That opened some memories for me (no, I’m not that old) that I can use here. And yes, I was told to go into politics too. That would have been…entertaining…

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  9. Mark Williams said I had to come over and read this. It speaks perfectly to what I’ve just gone through. I had that call from the agent of my dreams. She just wanted a few “little changes” before she’d offer representation.

    The changes turned out to be cutting the first third, eliminating all sub plots, humor and clever words, most of the characters, changing the ending–and turning it from a sophisticated mystery to a category romance. Sort of a reverse Donald Maass edit. (The breakdown novel vs. the breakout novel)

    I actually considered this for a few hours–while my blood pressure rose and I felt as if my head were going to explode. I’ve been agented before and published before, but I’d never been asked to mutilate a book like that. I called a multi-published author friend who said “oh that’s just what edits are like. You have to prove you can take them graciously.”

    Prove I can take it? Like a gang initiation? Or an S/M cult? Watch my baby murdered before my eyes and not shed a tear?

    But you’re right. those are the rules. Writers do not say no. They take whatever gets shoveled on them and say “thank you sir.”

    But not this writer. I’m going to self pub.

    I am Writer; hear me roar!

    Reply
    • Anne A., you can also submit your books without an agent if you still want to go the traditional route. See my husband’s series on the myths of publishing. It includes that one. You don’t need an agent at all. Particularly one who wants to mutilate your work: http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=860.

      Self-pubbing is a good response too. I love how we have all these options open to us now!

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  10. In my world, we have many words for women like you: FemDom, Domme, Ma’am. ;)

    Like you, I stand up for myself. I ask for what I need. I raise my hand. And I rarely work without compensation.

    Fortunately, my mother didn’t try to shove passive socializing about being female down my throat.

    But the rest of the vanilla world has never accepted me (and so many others) because we’re assertive, don’t take BS, and insist on being treated fairly.

    You’re so right about writers, especially writers of erotica. I am constantly horrified at the submission guideline/contracts I see paying $25 for all rights in perpetuity in all forms. Yet those anthologies are published often filled with well-known, well-respected names.

    Brava, Kris, for a well-thought out analysis. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

    Reply
    • L.G., I’ve seen some erotica contracts. Wow, are they awful. A few are excellent, but some…head-shaking. But erotica contracts are that way only because no one has taken them on. Romance contracts used to be like that, and mystery contracts, and on and on. And writers put up with it. You’re lucky you missed the passive socializing. Most of my fights with my mother were about my “unladylike” behavior. Thanks for the comment.

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  11. Kris, not disagreeing with any of your excellent points, but the difference between your Les Schwab guy and my blue-collar father and uncles is that they would have done as much or more for you — but wouldn’t have taken Dean’s money for it. They would in fact have been offended by his offering it. That was just normal, unremarkable behavior for previous generations. Sic transit gloria mundi.

    Reply
    • Ah, K.W., you’ve never seen Dean in action. I’ve seen him pay guys from that generation for their work. Where do you think he learned this trick? He makes it not a tip at all. He makes it…a shared honor. As if they had tipped the beer together. (But the guys–and Dean–know that they’d hate drinking together because they wouldn’t get along, so this is the next best thing.) The difference with those guys? Sometimes Dean would find out what kind of beer they liked and just bring it to the shop or whatever as a thank-you. That was acceptable. Sure do miss those guys, though. Am reading about them now, in some WWII histories. Amazing folk.

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  12. Wow, I see so much of myself in this list – undervaluing myself, being afraid of what others will think of me (and my writing) and calling attention to myself. On the other hand in my life outside of writing, I’m not afraid to call bullshit when I see it, to stand up for myself or to negotiate. Odd that it affects my creative life so heavily.
    So that’s why Indie Publishing, which I just began in July, has been so liberating. I’m forcing myself to confront all those things in my writing. To stand up and say that what I write is good enough, and to tell all my friends and relatives and acquaintances where to find my work (which is particularly scary) and to write what I want and get it out there. It’s actually much easier than getting rejections and being told my stuff isn’t marketable!
    It must be the baby step program (to use the self help lingo) for working your way into a new mindset.
    I so look forward to this series! Thank you for doing it!

    Reply
    • Indie publishing is liberating, isn’t it, Linda? I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on these mindsets, and I think there are real reasons for them. So we’ll see if I can articulate it properly. Thanks for the comment.

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  13. According to those self-help books (and pretty much every “men are like this, women are like that” book) I always turn out to be a man, too.

    I did get the “be passive, be diplomatic, never complain” socialisation from my Mom (who is of the same ethnic/regional background and probably a similar age to your Mom), but it didn’t take hold. Besides, I have a father who is smart about money and business and luckily I got that from him.

    As for your tire guy, waiting around for you may well have given his or his employer’s business a boost, because with customer service like that, you’d probably patronize that particular tire vendor again. Whereas I’m not too tempted to ever go back to the car dealer who told me that their mobility guarantee doesn’t apply to the tire that went flat after only two months, because I was still able to drive the car to the dealer after all, even though I saved them the trouble of sending someone to pick up the car.

    On a related note, the group of customers professional translators dislike most are charities and non-profits, because they generally pay late and badly. Apparently, many charities are so used to people volunteering their work and time that they have problems comprehending that some of the people they hire have to earn a living.

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    • Good points all, Cora. I used to work for a non-profit, and I always felt guilty when I got my paycheck–even though I was putting in 80 hour weeks. It’s a different mindset. And you’re right about the word-of-mouth. Dean said this week that he could now do a Les Schwab commercial. (For those of you not in the West, the commercials are all about some customer who got rescued during off-hours by a Les Schwab guy.)

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  14. The self-help book I recommend to anyone who asks (and some do) is Larry Winget’s “It’s Called Work for a Reason! (Your Success is Your Own Damn Fault.)” One of the first things that inspired me about this book is it’s about 40,000 words and originally sold for $26 (I got a remainder for $3). It’s a basic primer on work ethic aimed at folks in what one traditionally thinks of as business, but it’s more relevant to the writer (once the writer figures out writing is work) because writers have much more control over what they do than middle managers. I know, I’ve been both. Adding Winget’s work ethic to your already potent brew of business sense and survival skills should render a compound which, properly applied, carry a self-publishing writer anywhere she (or he, in my case) wants to go.

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    • Thanks for the rec, Kevin. I’ll check the book out. I love the title.

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  15. Kris,

    This stuff is fascinating. I think K.W. Jeter is bang on in saying that your tyre guy’s generosity was simply normal behavior for previous generations. But I also think Cora has a point that the guy’s generosity may be good for his employer’s business. I’d go further: it may be good for him. If you think promotion off the shop floor is a good thing, that is. Because if that garage has an opening for a manager, the guy who regularly goes the extra mile is likely to get it.

    This prediction is based on the Gervais Principle (as in Ricky Gervais of The Office — Google it!) which states that sociopathic bosses (i.e. most of them) knowingly promote overperforming losers into middle management, where their natural generosity can be twisted into an emotional commitment to the organization.

    The Gervais Principle finds extra proof in the Japanese corporate world. At my day job I am surrounded by people socialized to give, give, give until it hurts. That’s a Japanese cultural virtue. And the most giving of all get promoted to middle management, where they then develop an irrational sense of responsibility for the fate of the company and work themselves to death, like samurai dying for their daimyo.

    Using this metaphor to extend your original point, Kris, a lot of writers out there look like samurai to me. And that’s not a good thing. Because what does it really mean to be a samurai? Not lone wolf heroics — that’s a fantasy. It means being an Organization Man to the bone, giving until it hurts just for the honor of being associated with your daimyo (New York publisher) and ultimately committing harakiri when your daimyo falls.

    Meanwhile, the barefoot spear-carriers (you and I) scurry off to fight another day!

    There’s no place for honor in this business, or pride, is there? I do think however that there is a place for generosity. You’re proving it with these marvellously helpful blog posts. Thank you again for doing this.

    Reply
    • Felicity (FR), I love the samurai metaphor because it’s filled with the same myths as writing. Lovely stuff. And the Gervais Principle, quite cynical that. Which doesn’t surprise me which, I suppose, makes me even more cynical. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  16. @ Annie Reed,

    I totally get where you’re coming from. 10 years ago, I was on my way to a career in academia, teaching theology in college. Then for various reasons, I decided to leave those dreams behind. I rejected a top-notch offer from a great Ph.D. program and, instead, became an at-home dad. That’s what I do now, and I write in my free time … which, since school days are upon us, is more than I had during the summer. My wife works, of course, as do both my sisters (neither whom are married), and when the three get together and talk about work, I stare at them in utter disbelief. What the hell … it’s like junior high all over again, the cliques, the gossiping, the politicking. And then there’s the micromanagement and all the other crap that goes with having a boss. And as I listen to them, I am SO glad I don’t have to put up with all that BS. There’s no way I could do it.

    @ Kris —

    So looking forward to the new series. I’m always on the lookout for good motivational books, mostly because I don’t have any writing friends and have to motivate myself. And as I said before, thanks so much for taking the time to write these posts. They are a big, big help.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jeff, PG, and DG.

      Reply
  17. Terrific essay, Kris. It will save the careers of a lot of writers if they pay attention to it.

    I have a post about it going up this morning.

    Reply
  18. Good article,and now more than ever for women or men, as a writer, you must think and act like a business person.

    Reply
  19. Kris,

    Your anecdote about the tire repairmen made me ponder the Greeks among whom I live. Greeks can be stubborn, bullheaded, recalcitrant, and sexist to the extreme – but they also have a wonderfully profound sense of courtesy and generosity. I recently took a trip to the States so was able to make the comparison once again. Americans keep schedules; Greeks sometimes do if it suits their purposes. But (in the case of auto repairpeople since that was your story) some friends might drop over and they keep the shop open and hang around BSing and drinking and smoking together, and if you happened to come by and need help with your car the repairperson would be glad to oblige, not accept any payment, and offer you a beer and a place in the conversation besides. Many a time I have gone into a shop, asked for advice, the repair has been made, and compensation was refused. The key is the personal touch – if you attempt a chat (even in my shamefully broken Greek) then you are more than a customer. You are a new friend, and are treated as such. Sometimes with friends we do things by barter rather than cash – for example, for many years my wife has taught English to our hairdresser, an old high school friend of hers, and she has given free haircuts to the whole tribe of us. There’s no way she’d accept payment. It’s a cultural and lifestyle difference that has nothing to do with gender or age but everything to do with a magnanimous attitude that is passed on generation to generation.

    As far as the helpless writer syndrome I don’t know what to say. But as I understand what we are talking about here is the business of writing and not the writing itself. Now with indie publishing though we can do our own business and write whatever we want besides. Who could ask for more than that? I’m waiting for some gutsy writers to realize they can burst out of the mold and really go wild, break all the rules and then spread it all over the self-publishing channels. I’m thinking of Henry Miller, as I just started reading a biography of his Paris years. Your readers might have extremely diverse opinions of his literary worth, but one thing he did back then was break – no, shatter – the molds, and do something new and extreme. Let’s see some mold-shattering.

    Reply
    • John, a lot of barter goes on in this country as well, mostly among the folks without much money. I think barter might be the way to go with some writers/artists on book covers, etc. But you are right: it is cultural.

      And yes, we’re talking about the business of writing, but the business influences the creative side. Why haven’t we seen a Henry Miller lately? He doesn’t fit into traditional publishing models. Maybe if he put a boy wizard in his work….

      Reply
  20. FRSavage’s samurai/daimyo comparison is pretty apt here. The corrupt daimyo is encountered so often as to be a stock character in samurai movies. Hard-working, self-sacrificing samurai are *always* finding out they just got screwed by their daimyo. Of course, that’s used as a plot point to illustrate the tragic nobility of those samurai sticking to their personal code of honor, but in the modern world, tragic nobility doesn’t buy many groceries.

    Reply
  21. Kris — Dean’s a charming guy, but he still wouldn’t have gotten far with my uncles. My teamster father would have just refused the money and/or the beer; his longshoreman brother John would’ve flattened Dean, then gone down to his regular waterfront bar in San Pedro and bragged to his buddies about it. Sweetest guy in the world, though, as long as you didn’t offend him.

    Of course, that reflected the environment that the American working man lived in back then. For good or ill, it was a much more Christianized world, on a day-to-day basis, and it was a rough-hewn brand of Christianity in which the parable of the good Samaritan was equally as important as the Sermon on the Mount. To take nothing for helping a stranger was a point of honor with those stiff-necked bastards; any reward would come in the next world.

    Reply
    • Okay, KW, you didn’t say they were teamsters. Dean would not have tried this in the Midwest with the longshoremen I knew, because I wouldn’t have let him. Those guys had a Code. I thought your guys were out west, the older guys I’ve run into here, who have a different code. I’ve seen Dean with the Midwestern labor union guys. He shuts up and lets them do what they think is right. :-) Nice analogy on the samurai movies, btw. :-)

      Reply
  22. Hey, I resemble that behavior. I guess I’m not a real woman either. Neither was my mom nor her mom. LOL. Blamed it on being raised by guys. Thanks, Kris. [Oh, and the list stuff is good, too, though I'm more fond of the tire guys... home country prejudice, I suppose. =g= Thanks.]

    Reply
    • Thanks, Barb & Asrai. It’s nice finding all of these kindred spirits.

      Reply
  23. That’s what I love about all the options available to writer’s right now. Author’s are realizing they do have options and they do have power. It’s not that they are gaining power, author’s always had power they just didn’t use it, because it felt like the publisher’s had more power.

    Reply
  24. Uh, Kris, San Pedro *is* “out west.” Union guys back then were pretty much the same in California as anywhere else. I used to talk with some of my dad’s old teamster buddies in Los Angeles, and they were a tough bunch. I remember one guy telling me how he’d swung a tie-down chain through a strike-breaker’s windshield; when I said something like, “Jeez, you could’ve killed the guy,” all my dad’s buddy said was, “Didn’t care if I did; he was taking food out of my children’s mouths.” That’s why I tend to fall off my chair laughing when I hear people talking about organizations such as SFWA being like a “union.” They have no idea.

    Reply
    • Missed the San Pedro reference, KW. I meant NW. Haven’t met that level of union guy in my 26 years here. :-) And yeah on SFWA as a union. LOL.

      Reply
  25. Getting back to the self-help book talking point, Kris, a useful analysis could probably be done through the lens of Eric Berne’s sadly neglected transactional analysis model — all that GAMES PEOPLE PLAY and I’M OKAY, YOU’RE OKAY stuff which is derided as “touchy feely” now, but which were in fact much tougher and grimmer than is realized by most people who haven’t actually read the books. (Name dropping time: I discussed this with Phil Dick many years ago and he agreed with me that, properly considered, there’s a terrifying dark core to Berne’s books, underneath the therapeutic wrappings; to wit, that people are capable of creating their own realities in such a way as to destroy themselves. But that’s another discussion.) By the Berneian analysis, it’s not so much that the relationship between the publisher and the writer is abusive and/or exploitative, but that the “abused” party (in this case, the writer) somehow gets something out of it. Once people figure out what that is, they can decide whether they actually want it or not.

    Reply
    • That’s part of psychological theory, KW, about abuse and other difficult situations (like co-dependency). You have to address the good as well as the bad, which is tough in those circumstances. You know, I have a copy of those books around here somewhere….

      Reply
  26. Kris,

    When I mentioned Henry Miller I wasn’t referring to traditional publishing but indie. My point was that if writers can write whatever they want and then put it out there themselves, why don’t we see more wild, edgy work?

    Reply
    • We will see more edgy work, John. We’re in the early days yet.

      Reply
  27. IMO, Kris, you and I are fortunate to have been part of the generation that was exposed to the first great wave of pop psychology books. There was some solid stuff there, which was of far greater value than the doctrinaire victim mentality stuff that supplanted it. Camille Paglia, for one, got savagely attacked by the politically correct for supposedly “blaming the victim,” when she had merely pointed out that many people remain in abusive relationships for reasons of their own. When it comes to writers, I’m sure you’ve observed more of this than I have (because you actually care so much about other people, whereas I could give a toss). But even I’m seeing comments from writers that remind me of my sister’s quarter-century-long relationship with that sonuvabitch who used to be my brother-in-law: “But I know he really loves me,” ad nauseum.

    Reply
  28. Kris and KW–

    During my time in grad school for my abortive psych masters (and the long hours of clinical time I put in) I started noticing that, without exception, the victim in abusive relationships gets something out of it or believes they’re getting something out of it. That perceived benefit is thing that makes abusive relationships destructive–straight victimization due to powerlessness (such as a mugging, or Genghis Khan riding through your town) is easier to get over than is a protracted, slightly mutually-beneficial setup that’s laced with cruelty and psychological and social disincentives to change if/when something goes south.

    Abusive people are very good at giving *just enough* for their vassals to stick around waiting for the next treat in the variable reinforcement schedule. And, like a slot machine junkie, they stick–breaking out means they have to face their own culpability. If they just stick to “I’m a victim” they will almost always go back either to the same abusive partner or to one that’s a carbon copy, because they know how to work that dynamic.

    Depressing stuff, but it was great for learning to draw complicated characters, let me tell you!

    Tobias Buckell did a blog post recently about variable-schedule reinforcement in the life of writers that nailed a lot of this. Totally worth a read. I think he’s really on to something. FWIW, here’s the link: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2011/08/25/writers-and-pellets/

    Can’t wait to see the next installment in this series! :-)
    -Dan

    Reply
    • Thanks, Dan. Exactly on the abuse stuff. It’s quite sad. I watched in action a lot with the forensic psychologist, because he was dealing with broken people who had to go to court for a variety of reasons. Sad, sad situations, and tough to get out of. Thanks too for the Tobias Buckell piece. He’s right on. It’s good.

      Reply
  29. Great idea for a new series, Kris, and it couldn’t be more timely (or apt).

    It’s amazing what you can condition a human being to take, from abuse to learned helplessness and beyond. On the one hand it’s fascinating from a writer’s POV, and horrifying from the humanistic POV. Then again, a lot of things are like that…

    Reply
  30. “•Writers refuse to learn when and where they have power”

    This intrigues me. Writers always have the power of withholding the work. Short of that ultimate power resides a wide and variable continuum, depending on the power/needs of the other party/parties. Especially looking forward to reading your exploration of this.

    I’ve always suspected that more self-help books are aimed at women because women will ~buy~ self-help books more than men will … and maybe that’s another element of the socialization?

    The book that was an eye-opener for me is WOMEN DON’T ASK: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (though it makes the point that not asking it’s not strictly male/female divide.) It’s co-written by a Carnegie Mellon professor and has the stats to back up the statements. I’ve considered myself assertive — this book showed me that I had/have blindspots.

    — Patricia

    Reply
  31. Great piece, Kris, thanks much. I won’t add up how many of those traits i can cop to having seen in myself at different points in time…

    Speaking of abusive relationships and reasons for staying in them, one of the touchstones that i was made aware of while trying to help a family member in an abusive relationship is the idea that what the abused partner gets out of it is the hope of being able to “fix” the abusive partner. Even those abused partners who are capable of understanding that they’re being abused will sometimes stick with it for the false sense of empowerment that comes with being able to say “I’m capable of fixing this relationship if i only stick with it.” I wonder how many authors still honestly supporting the old status quo are doing so because they see themselves as the white-knight writer whose work will revolutionize the publishing industry, and what it would take to get them to focus on revolutionizing their own work and creative lives with the tools that the changes in publishing are laying out for them?

    Reply
    • Good questions, Scott. Worth thinking about.

      Reply
  32. Well, then. I feel like I just got whacked with the wake-up stick. I have read, edited (and even written) some of these books and rolled my eyes at them. I don’t do these things — as a woman. But as a writer? Oh, yeah. I might just be the damn poster child. Funny what changing one word does for perception. Me, myself and I have some ‘splaining to do with one another. Thanks for the post!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome, Cindie.

      Reply

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