Can You Top This

OK, what I wanted to say was that one of the most depressing things about self-publishing POD is that a lot of people (who aren't connected to publishing or bookselling) don't know the difference between those books and the books published by Random House. Not too long ago I was at a party and my friend introduced me as a published author. (not Random House, but a mid-sized royalty-paying publisher.) The response was, "Oh, my cousin is saving up so he can be published, too."

That scream of anguish you hear? That's every writer who read that comment.

It reminds me of a story: I was out in the hinterlands at some sort of festive event. I was wearing a VERY expensive, one of a kind top that I was just pleased as punch to have scored in a sample sale for pennies on the dollar (and I still had to swear off gin for a month to foot the bill).

Anyway, there I was seated next to some neighbors of the guest of honor, or childhood friends or something like that. We chatted. The wife said "oh I just love your top". I said "thank you, I'm so excited to have a place to wear it". She said "I have one like that..I got mine at Kmart. Is that where you got yours?".

Well, my face must have reflected what I felt: the desire to show her the receipt and tell her to get her eyes examined, and the need to maintain decorum at this fancy shindig.

Fortunately her husband saw my face and jumped in with "honey, I don't think that's where she got that." and gracefully changed the subject.


Only some months later did I realize that she'd said that on purpose to make me feel bad. It was clear I didn't live in where ever we were, and pretty clear I didn't shop for my clothes at Kmart. (I have other things from Kmart so don't go getting all huffy about me being a snob).

So, if someone says "yes my cousin is saving up to be published too" the only answer is "that's just great." cause they're either totally clue free and thus do not intend to hurt your feelings, or mean as a snake in which case graciousness is the best revenge.

I never wore the top again.


Bunneh said...

I'm convinced there is a very special, very hot, and very thorny place in hell for people who pull stunts like that. (Not talking about the clueless folks, obviously.) The complete and utter lack of class just boggles the mind.

The publishing story does remind me of an encounter with cluelessness (rather than mean-spiritedness) I had a few years back. My fiance's brother, made a point of asking me once (I don't remember why) about "some summer class" I took "at that one school."


It was a six-week seminar at Trinity College, Oxford.

I love the big lug like, well, like a brother. But... yeah. We kind of come from different... galaxies -- his has a lot of gyms and GNC stores.

Ira Rosofsky said...

I'm shocked that the quintessence of snarkiness took several months to recognize the dig. That must have been before you went over to the snark side.

As for everyone can be a writer. Yes you can. But I don't think the average person realizes how high the bar to find an agent and get published.

kaolin fire said...

Every time someone says they've "done a few websites"...


Ira Rosofsky said...

Oh, I just realized the woman was envious of Miss Snark's style, grace, and fashion taste. (How's that for sucking up?)

Bernita said...

Then there are those casual strangers who tell you they have a HUGE library (all four shelves) or their daughter/niece/cousin has a degree (in hairdressing, from a private tech institute.) My favourite is the Mensa Club crowd, which, and I hope I don't offend anyone with this, is to me the intellectual equivalent of a vanity press.

litagent said...

I'm as touchy as anyone, but I think that you need to give people the benefit of the doubt, particularly if you don't know them and they have no reason to be snarky. The poor woman probably did buy something at Kmart that she thought was similar (more likely at Target, though, since they've gone "designer"). She wouldn't know a sample sale if she fell over one. And she doesn't need to. It's the hinterlands. She found something that she liked at Kmart and that worked for her. Maybe it made her feel sophisticated to think she had an item similar to a Big City Snark.

I feel a little differently about the POD issue. Yes, the gracious thing to say under those circumstances is "that's great", but I think that it's important that we educate people about the differences between traditional mainstream publishing and the other options. As Miss Snark has shown, there are, absolutely, times when POD (the self-publishing kind, not the technology) is perfectly suitable -- the family history, family cookbook, collection of poetry to be given out as Christmas gifts to your friends (well, maybe not) -- as long as the author understand that this isn't really "being published".

Kitty said...

"Sample sale" means Miss Snark wears a to-die-for size.

ilona said...

PTA-sponsored library drive for the local school. I'm participating because I signed up and it involves books. In a twenty-minute break between rushes of googley-eyes kids, all volunteers are sitting around talking. The PTA director tells this long story about a woman who started a small company publishing books authored by kids.

Someone says, "Oh she is like one of those what do you call them publishers?"

I open my big mouth and say, "POD."

Someone asks me, "What is that?"

I briefly run through definitions of POD and traditional publishing, explain vanity press money vs regular publisher money. The whole thing takes about 2 minutes. Apparently I spoke too long. Or perhaps PTA director has someone who had the misfortune to deal with one of those publishing operations, because she opens her mouth and says, "Isn't that just amazing? You speak English so well."

It's quite brilliant because it accomplishes two things: 1) it knocks me off my train of thought because I have to stop and acknowledge the compliment. 2)it establishes the fact that she is in position to judge my ability to speak.

Needless to say, she used this to great effect throughout the day.

Kitty said...

The witch was being rude and you were too kind. If I had had the presence of mind, I would have smiled for 2 seconds and then continued with what I was saying.

Miss Snark said...

Witch: "You speak English so well."
Snark: "Thank you, so do you."


Witch: "You speak English so well"
Snark "Thank you. Would you like the name of my diction coach?"


Witch: "You speak English so well"
Snark: "How very gracious of you to point that out"

Kitty said...

The non-verbal acknowledgment was the Ann Landers way.

Bonnie, Of the Multitude of Snarklings said...

"Sample sale" means Miss Snark wears a to-die-for size.

Kitty, that was my thought, too. The K-Mart lady wasn't being snooty about Miss Snark's top, she was being snooty because Miss Snark is probably the size of a quarter.

Shalanna Collins said...

I vote for the woman who said that about your top just being clueless. My cousin would actually SAY something like that, meaning it as friendly. KMart pulled all its stores out of Texas a couple of years ago, so no worries here in Dallas--you could have said, "Oh, no, I got it right here in town at Neiman Marcus."

WEAR IT AGAIN. That was just one of those women things. I can't stand most women just because of stunts like this . . . even when they're just being stupid. I've met so many mean ones who feel the need to point out how fat, homely, etc., I am compared to them. As if I didn't know, y'know.

As far as publishing, though, I'd just smile and say, "The money should flow *toward* the writer--as James D. Macdonald says. Do dentists pay to work on your teeth?" *grin* Unless, of course, the brother is saving up to publish his collection of family stories to give out at Christmas, or his poetry. There are legit reasons to publish your own work--although now the prices have gone through the roof. Xlibris started out charging NOTHING, and then charged $99 for a couple of years!

Bernita--the Mensa Club crowd? Sounds like a really new fashion label for nerds *grin*--"Hey, look, Mensa Club just got out the new T-shirt that says 'I'll bet you can't say that in Latin,' in Latin!" (GRIN) But if you're talking about people who just join Mensa, well, the reason I joined was that I hoped I'd find a higher level of discourse and people who didn't believe everything the government says . . . but most of them (us) are fairly dysfunctional in some other way, and so I have only managed to hook up with about five other compatible Ms so far as Close Personal Friends, out of hundreds. I can't speak for other chapters, but North Texas Mensa doesn't see itself as being an elitist group . . . we know we are socially dysfunctional to some extent and we're just looking for kindred spirits. (A lot of people *have* found kindred spirits there, but *I* felt a little daunted, although I did end up on the board of directors and we're going to try to get wider participation from ALL the members, not just the ones who are now showing up *grin*) It's kind of like people joining a club for those of Irish heritage or a math club or a book club or an agent's blog reading list--we joined in an effort to find others who wanted to talk about the stuff we like to talk about. You're right, though, that sometimes people join just to go around saying they're members--and I suspect they're the ones whose scores juuuuust got 'em in (GRIN). They ought to come to a few meetings. We have a very active gifted children/teens group, and it's really helping out the gifted and talented bunch who felt kind of left out in school and who get to do lots of fun things with our crowd.
(I'm not offended, just making a few observations.)

Shalanna Collins said...

Hey--the next time some dolt accosts you to tell you he/she is a Mensan, ask to see his/her membership card! *cackle* Ten to one there is no such item, since that person is only blowin' wind and is not really a member. They ought to be willing to give you a peek. It should have that weirdo "M"/globe logo. I *suppose* some people wouldn't carry it in their wallets, but hey, wouldn't that be the point if they only joined because of silliness, not to participate? Fire back next time. It's probably not an M. Typically, we would tend to mention group events when they're open to the public and/or we think the person we're talking to should come and join. (Or when we're defending our honor (grin))
On the other hand, the group definitely has its share of twits, and possibly way more than our share, so if they DO have a card, admire it and get away fast. *grin*

I also re-thought the issue of challenging people about POD/vanity presses. What the hell. Let 'em think whatever they want. What's it to us? *We* know that it's tough to get published. But they're just blowin' smoke. They know that there's a difference between being at Random House and at Random POD House. They don't care about the details or what the industry thinks. It's just parlor talk, most of the time. That's why someone might interrupt you and make an issue of your accent or whatever. (In which case I would retort, "You speak well, too!" And just go on as before. That was a snipe and she ought to have been called on it EVERY TIME she mentioned that.)

I mean, it's not that big a deal. Publishing a novel doesn't put us into some kind of exalted class. Neither does being in Mensa or the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It's just a part of who we are, and the coffeehouse barista is just as good a person (if perhaps not as snarky). So why not just let it slide. . . .

(Eep--my snarkmeter is falling dangerously low! Must get caffeine.)

occasional_anonymous said...

Wear the damn top. Why should she win?

Feisty said...

I think that jealousy is a very nasty thing. Women will say things to cut you down just because you're wearing a nice top or something that is obviously not out of their closet.

I have a MIL who stares me up and down every time she sees me to see if I've somehow blossomed into someone who looks just like her! I gag. And isn't that what the whole woman jealousy gig is about? How dare you look better than some chick in the boonies. You have a lot of nerve. Let me smash you with my platform shoes.

Wear the top, Miss Snark. Wear it high and proud. Strut it all over NYC. Shake your bootie when you pass the underlings of style. You bought the danged thing, you have the right to wear it. And if you have a body the size of a quarter, I salute you because you obviously deserve to have that damned top.

Let the K-Mart crowd drool.


Jillian said...

Truly, Miss Snark, you don't give yourself enough credit for your story-telling skills. They are supreme! I could almost "see" you while I was reading just now. And I could feel your angst.

Here is something to think about:

Vanity presses and unskilled writers aside, there is a new "philosophy," if you will, rising up out of the dust of the old publishing regime. Namely, rather than viewing getting published as some sort of honor/privilege/reward for those who actually "break in" to the scene via a good agent and an editor who decides he likes the story, the "new breed" of author views publishing a book as developing a product -- a product he has worked hard on and perfected; a product he believes in. He then uses whatever means he chooses to get the book into print, and markets the book like any other arisan markets his wares -- charcoal portrait-scribblers on the boardwalk; angora sweater-knitters on ebay; gourmet chocolatiers on the streets of Paris.

So, it boils down to viewing a book as "the culmination of having been accepted by the publishing establishment and having therefore been officially 'published;'" or, viewing a book as "the culmination of having worked hard to produce a good product (re: book) that will ultimately be devoured or rejected by the reading public."

Nobody who knits angora sweaters or makes divine chocolates (shipping worldwide, of course) has to be stamped with the same kind of approval that writers do (songwriters as well as authors) -- they work hard at their craft and then they sell it. They don't have to wait for somebody to tell them, "OK, your product is good enough now. We'll put it on the shelves for you." They put their product on the shelves themselves. And the savvy marketers and dedicated salespeople are very successful at selling their labor of love.

That,I believe, is the basic difference in philosophy between the established publishing system and the "new breed" of writers who want to view their work -- and publish their work -- differently.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Kmart? Never heard about that label.


Unknown said...

I, to my ever lasting shame, was a MENSA member for about five minutes. A drop dead girl I met at UCLA mentioned she and a couple of her sorority sisters had just joined. The next day... I took the test.

I then went to my first meeting and... uh, well... beides there being no sorority sisters, it looked like an audition for a third rate touring show of RAINMAN.

I later found out that attending one MENSA meeting was a hazing ritual at that sorority.

Unknown said...

The K-mart comment was actually a snub to herself since she admitted buying a top from there. Twit.

Shalanna Collins said...

Nice to hear that our Los Angeles-area chapter is full of hotties good-looking enough to be in a play, even in a touring company! But that's what I'd expect out there in L. A. By the way . . . "mensa" is Latin for "table," so it's not an acronym and doesn't need to be in all caps.

I'm surprised you didn't notice that the membership period is one year, so you were actually a member for one year, not just five minutes. Did you enjoy the meeting other than not seeing these sorority gals? Sometimes the speakers aren't as interesting as we'd like. But I'd think they were, on the whole, more interesting than people who send other people to a meeting of some kind as a part of hazing. I think hazing is the act of someone who is unworthy of hanging around with in the first place.

At least Mensa doesn't haze, so if you decide to renew your membership, you won't have to go to a meeting of any sorority. . . .

Unknown said...

We are talking... 1969... for my brief fling with MENSA and my hormones were pretty much running my life at that age.

My dim memory is of a small, almost all male group of early adapters to Asperger's syndrome whose main goal in life was to meet girls. So my experience likely has little or nothing to do with the present MENSA experience.

Unknown said...

And sorry about the caps for Mensa (particularly after three years of Latin) - but for some reason I tend to CAPITALIZE proper names when I blog.

Shalanna Collins said...

I suppose you can be forgiven. All rise. *grin*

And I hope Miss Snark wears that top again.

Kelly said...

Wear the top! Wear the top!

Haven't read the other comments, but there are 24 of them, so I figure I'm the 25th Snarkling to say that.

The lesson you learned from that experience is *not* to let that groovy top gather dust in your closet. The lesson is that you probably should have saved it for some swanky NYC holiday party, rather than wearing it in the hinterlands where it attracted too much envy.

Nadia said...

Miss Snark -- you should've said: K-Mart? What's that?


Sponge Girl said...

"Isn't that just amazing? You speak English so well."

Ilona, please tell me you're Finnish. Because that would validate all my preconceived notions of innate North European linguistic ability - and our knack at attracting patronising anglophonic morons.