Recently I was reminded I can be somewhat heartless. No, it’s true. The world I come from is quite different than the one I live in now. In the world I used to inhabit, positive reinforcement was a prelude to the hammer being dropped on your head.
It sounds funny but it’s true. From the earliest times of my life, if someone gave me a compliment, it was immediately followed by something meant to knock the wind out of your sails. The same was true in the Repair Navy. That’s what we called it. Those of us who lived and breathed the job back then.
If your chief said you did a good job, it meant he had something harder so the only thing you wanted to do was run. Compliments were preludes to hell. The same was true of the “five-minute” jobs. Lord help me when anyone told me they had an easy job for me. A job that would take me five minutes. This was often followed by the one giving you the job telling you it was easy as “eating cake.”
It made you want to slap the person telling you this. I often ran from the easy jobs. They invariably blew up in your face. A “five-minute” job ended up taking three days. When I say three days, I mean 72 hours straight. No stopping, no going home, nada, nyet.
As time went on, I found I hated compliments. My normal was getting my ass chewed out daily. What I did on a regular basis was never good enough for anyone. This led me to develop both a thick skin and a confrontational attitude towards my work.
If someone questioned whether my piping was level and square, I would break out the tools and force the one questioning my work to show me. It was a hard environment. One not meant for those with a weak constitution. You learn how to defend yourself and your work. Especially in an environment where your work is everything. Your work speaks for you.
Now I’m in the writing game. Another place where your work speaks for you. And yet, I find it filled with nasty, arrogant people. Something I abhor. I can take criticism easily. What I have trouble with is the source.
I run into a ton of “experts” in this game. People who have proclaimed themselves experts and tell you they know everything about the “biz.” Such crap.
Those same experts passed on the Harry Potter books. Missed out on billions of dollars of revenue.
I am no expert. I find I learn something new every day. Always have. Learn things like it is a fine line that I must walk as both a publisher and editor.
Writers have incredible egos. Most, even the ones who say they don’t, want their book to be a bestseller. Want that reinforcement their work is great. Why not? Sounds good to me. I write. I admit I would love to see my work on the New York Times’s best seller list. Would love to see my author’s work there.
I realize to get on the best seller’s list requires a marketing machine I don’t possess – yet. Bestselling is simply that – bestselling. Not necessarily the best book.
I digress. Let me return to a writer’s ego. As an editor, I often hurt my authors feelings. Rarely is the work they submit to me the one we publish. I must tell them where their work needs, well, work. I am not talking about the grammar side of editing. Of all the forms of editing, grammar is the one most author’s think about when you say editing. Few think their work needs content editing.
It is a fine line to work with someone and be honest. Of course, the honesty is my opinion of what a manuscript may need. I tell everyone I work with all I do is ask questions. I ask whether or not the word works in the sentence. Whether the sentence works in the paragraph. Whether the paragraph works with the others, etc. I ask if something is necessary for the final result. I ask a ton of questions as I work on a manuscript. As I send it back and forth to the author.
The thing is, I refuse to apply the lessons of my past to the present. It is true, I tell it like I see it. This works both ways. I find authors and writers give me better results if I tell them where they have done good as well as the bad. I give them positive reinforcement about their work, idea, treatise, or proposal.
Now, this only works because they know I tell them like it is. So, if I tell them something needs to be changed, they listen. If I tell them something works and they should continue, they listen. I don’t hold back on anything. I let them know without being an asshole. An important distinction.
Isn’t this what we all want? Someone who can be honest enough with us to tell us when something is good or bad and we trust what they say. I don’t like false flattery any more than I like being dismissed because I am not politically correct. I hate arrogance and abhor fake people. Be real with me and I will do you the courtesy of doing the same. Something I find missing in the writing game. I find far too many suck ups and assholes in the game.
In the end, it doesn’t hurt one bit to tell someone when they have done good. It is, in fact, a necessity if you want them to listen to you when you tell them you don’t like something.
Let me add one important note here. Don’t toss out there what you are unwilling to take. I must give my old-world credit. No one lasted in it who couldn’t take as well as they gave. If you couldn’t, or your ego was too fragile, you didn’t last.
Be careful what you say and remember this: it’s easy to be the asshole. It is far harder to be fair and honest.
I’m Ross, Editor-in-Chief at The Pyrateheart Press and I’m out.