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The Psychology of the Put-Down, or Why Being a Self-Published Writer is a Bit Like Being a Bouncer

As an interesting aside to the continuing debate about hostile reviewers, thriller writer James Sheridan finds similarities between his dual roles as a self-published author and a door operative, commonly known as a bouncer.

Self-published author J R SheridanFreshers week is upon us at my local town’s university. As a door supervisor I start a week-long stretch of late nights working the door at the local nightclub. Lots of young new students away from their parents will be making lifelong friendships and probably drinking too much.

Sadly the psychology of a certain type of local youth is that the students are parasites on their town, and so they will be abusive and nasty. The university is a big employer in the area and generates thousands of jobs that spread to all areas of the local infrastructure, but the locals will not see it like that. If a local yob threatens a student, it is because they are trying to impose their worldview by putting the student down to make him feel inferior.

Not every put down leads to violence, so I wanted to look at the psychology behind the personality of the put-down by the aggressor and the stealing of energy from the victim.

On the door I receive a lot of threats when I refuse entry into the nightclub. I take the grief, don’t bite back and smile sweetly. The outcome is that the night is calmer inside the venue, and I’ve done a good job.

Relating to Editors

Cover image of Splinter by J R SheridanAs a new writer I am enjoying the journey of writing and converting my thoughts into a readable story. After publishing my first novel Splinter eight weeks ago, I am waiting for my follow-up novella Dragon to go through the editing process.

I am hoping that the editor will not be too harsh with me, but I know that whatever he comes back with will be constructive and worthwhile. For Splinter I submitted 95,000 words for editing and the final book that I published is 75,000 words. Through the process of reworking, rewriting and pruning of tangents, I learnt a huge amount and the finished book is better for his input.

I respected that input not just because I was paying for it, but because he wasn’t trying to put me down.

Coping with Critics

This week a more literary person than me has tried to put me down. Not about the content of my book, or the story, or my characterisation. They tried to put me down because I forged ahead without validation from an agent or publisher. They say that my book should not have been published. I find this view protectionist and out of date.

As far as I know there are no keys to the secret treasure of literary success, and in this digital age then the agents and publishers are no longer the gatekeepers to the promised land. So what is the motivation behind the protectionism? What is the psychology behind the put-downs? An image comes into my mind of the real Wizard of Oz hiding behind his booming voice and the green curtain.

These are exciting times for all authors, and by the time the blood has dried on the bar-room floor, good writers will still find readers, bad writers will not.

For the next week on the nightclub door I will have people who I won’t let into the club, and they will try to put me down. Locals will threaten me violence, and students will tell me their father is a lawyer. I will smile sweetly.

If a reader doesn’t like my book and gives me a bad review based on their thoughts, then I will be sad. But if somebody who has not even read my book tries to put me down because I have self-published, then I will smile sweetly and carry on writing Book 2, Book 3, Book 4.

 

 

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27 Responses to The Psychology of the Put-Down, or Why Being a Self-Published Writer is a Bit Like Being a Bouncer

  1. Avalon weston October 1, 2013 at 10:28 pm #

    Absolutely how I feel. Now we can get our books out there, to the readers without gatekeepers. It is the readers who count. The only challenge now is to work out how to attract their attention.

  2. Dana October 1, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    I liked reading that James, I like your take and I really hope you have a success with your writing – and remain able to smile sweetly at the gatekeepers. Your words made me think of that old adage,

    be nice to people you meet on their way up, you might meet them again on your way down.

    Thanks for sharing, good luck.

  3. Vanessa Coleman October 1, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    I am self-publishing my autobiography ‘An Accidental Madam’ which should be out as an e-book by the end of October. I employed a proof-reader and copy editor after which I decided to create my own publishing company. I wanted complete control.

    Writing is subjective – who are these people that decide whether your book gets published or not? Remember when J.K. Rowling wrote under a pseudonym and lots of publishers turned her book down?

    I am on a journey – I wrote my book to put the record straight and along the way I’ve got hooked on writing!

    • David James October 2, 2013 at 10:07 am #

      Absolutely, Vanessa, and good luck with the book. Apart from sheer snobbery – of the ‘I’m His Highness’ dog at Kew. Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?’ type – I can’t see any reason for the ‘put down’ habitually accorded to self-publishers. But one meets it – expressed but more usually implied – at every turn. I sent out to most of my email contacts the request for support for the Petition and one responded, saying he preferred ‘the editorial process’ of commercial publishers. I guess he, having ‘made it big time’ wanted to give the big put-down to these little leaguers (like TS Eliot, Virginia Woolf and all those self-publishers who are household names.

  4. Theo Rogers October 1, 2013 at 11:26 pm #

    I honestly feel this kind of reviewer is best ignored. If they are really saying you should not have been published BECAUSE you are an indie, their “review” speaks for itself.

    • James Sheridan October 2, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Theo, I agree best ignored but also marked down for future reference. I didn’t bite back. I haven’t put up a link to the blog post because I think they wanted a reaction and haven’t had one. But it has given me good mileage and has been a spur to concentrate on just writing to finish book 2. Sometimes a spur is good to focus the mind. Cheers J

  5. James Fontana October 2, 2013 at 12:57 am #

    Well put, James. ‘What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.’ It seems to me that indie writers have their own ‘glass ceiling’ that needs shattering. This validation test is artificial to begin with. Just look at the remainder tables in bookstores.

    • James Sheridan October 2, 2013 at 11:48 am #

      Thanks James, love the quote. My local supermarket has racks of books all selling for £3 or less. Books by well known writers but the business strategy is to push them out cheap. There has to be a different more sustainable model going forward for all writers, hence my comment in the post about blood drying on the floor.

      I also like the “Glass ceiling” idea. Will try and push through into blue sky, come and join me and see what is there. Cheers J

  6. Shawn Peter October 2, 2013 at 3:45 am #

    Thank You Mr Sheridan for sharing with us your wisdom and experience. Well said.

    I share your enthusiasm on outdated protectionists. A dime a dozen.

    On the brighter side of things – the Sun always shines. Looking forward to your books.

  7. Carol Cooper October 2, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Well done, James. Your hostile reviewer lashed out. You don’t. Respect!

  8. Warren Shuman October 2, 2013 at 9:22 am #

    I agree that writing your novel can be a difficult psychological experience. Self doubts, questions, comparing our writings to those of top authors,,, and more. Just be yourself. Rumor has it (You may have heard this before) that Hemingway upon being asked by an interviewer “How do you begin to write your stories? He replied Hemingwayishly: “I sit and stare at the blank paper until beads of blood appear on my forehead.” I love it.

    Outline, structure, and plotting your story idea will save you a lot of stress. Wheher you are an author of novels or a screenwriter I recommend two books that have been invaluable for me. John Truby’s “Anatomy of Story” and Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat”. I have to grab the reader’s interest with the cover, and then with the first several pages. Otherwise you’re dead in the water. Then make sure your story delivers on your premise. Believe in yourself.

  9. David James October 2, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    Nice to hear about the bouncer novelist! That in itself is a story that needs telling. I read a few years back a book called ‘Bouncers: Their Lives in Their Own Words,’ a self-published and very worthy insight into the profession! In fact, I used it when I wrote my novel about the girl boxer, ‘Punching Judy.’ I’m sure many others would be interested in your story – and your fiction too.

    • James Sheridan October 2, 2013 at 11:33 am #

      Hi David, Thanks for that. I’ve had a blast with bouncing at 18-22 and found myself going back on the doors at 40 after buying a hotel/pub and dealing with so much trouble that I got badged when I came out. I have had some great fun but I can’t do night after night of late hours anymore. I live in a lovely part of Wales but there aren’t many jobs and working the pubs and clubs gives me time to write and to stay local. I’ve done my time chasing up and down motorways. Plus great inspiration for storylines.

      I have been in the local papers and have had a few weird comments, such as “but your a bouncer you can’t write,”

      My book Splinter is about an ex-serviceman coming back to the rural area and part of his redemption is going back on the doors. Friends I work with who have read the book are “surprised” how good it is and I am shocked how many have said to me that they haven’t read a book since school, sad isn’t it. By the nature of the story there are adult themes but nobody too shocked yet. Cheers J
      PS – send PM and I will send a link to a security website that might interest you. .

  10. James Sheridan October 2, 2013 at 11:13 am #

    Hi Folks, thanks for the kind words. The bizarre put down was from a literary guru (creative writing MA) following the first writing group meeting that I ever went to. I showed a paperback copy of my book and was asked sensible questions by nice people about Self Publishing. The next morning a blog appeared on Twitter putting down Self Publishers. I wrote a strong reply but stopped myself from sending it. I am not a natural blogger so I used the energy I put into the reply to write a blog post, which I classed as a positive result.

    The ‘putter down’ was not a threat to my writing career or my book. They hadn’t even read the book so it was a critique of my path to publication and not my work. I would hesitate going back to the writing group but then I did meet some nice people.

    It made me wonder why so many literary types go out of their way to smash self publishing. If they were so successful then they would have more confidence in their own career choices and wouldn’t have the time or energy to put us down as we would be insignificant.

    I’m happy with my writing journey so far, I am being as professional as I can be. I know it is a slow burner and I am halfway through writing book 2 and have a novella out the end of this month to boost my digital footprint. Its great fun and who knows where it will lead. Cheers J

    • Susan Yanguas October 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

      Amen to your statement “If they were so successful then they would have more confidence in their own career choices and wouldn’t have the time or energy to put us down…”

      You are an inspiration. You must be made of strong stuff to withstand the assaults of being a bouncer AND a self-published writer!

      Best of luck to you in your writing career. I’m sure you will go far.

    • Ann Victoria Roberts October 8, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      And it’s not just ‘first-time writers’ who are going into self-publishing. What about all those previously published authors – like me – who found themselves out on a limb after 4 or 5 books? Now we’re self-publishing too. So you’re in good company, James!
      Enjoyed reading your post – and your explanation of why you’re ‘bouncing’. Sounds like a darn good good you’re doing – and excellent ‘copy’ for a writer. Lots of success to you.

  11. Derbhile Graham October 2, 2013 at 11:24 am #

    No decent editor will put you down, James. They’ll be thorough and rigorous, but they’ll respect your work.

    • James Sheridan October 2, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Hi Derbhile,

      The editing process was all part of being professional in my new ‘career’. It took a while to find a good editor and I am happy with the results. I learnt so much with the report and even just going through the process. I did feel respected and because I was paying my own money I felt satisfied that I was being given a valuable service.

      I’m from Liverpool, live in North Wales (plus my wife’s a Dub) and chose a North West editor who understood my “voice”. It would be an interesting (and headwrecking) exercise to give my first manuscript to another editor, say somebody from London and compare the results.

      I have a novella going through editing now and I am still nervous as hell. Have I learnt anything from Book 1?

      Slainte J

  12. Alison Morton October 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Neatly put, James. I, too, wonder if people who say to your face that your book is a great read but in the next breath say they are firmly ‘against self-publishing’ are altogether secure in their own career.

    Often people who are most vocal have only just scrapped into membership of the group they are so stoutly defending.

    Good luck to you.

  13. Simon J Hailey October 3, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Hi JR.

    Well said. I have responded politely to critics, and been slated for it.
    I now apply, ‘smile and wave’ to anyone who targets me.

    Added your book to my wish list on amazon, as can’t find you on goodreads.

    Wish you success with your first book of many.

  14. R E Kemp October 3, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Hi James, I think this is a really good article and you should submit it to a magazine. I thought it was like one of those first person account articles you get in a Sunday newspaper magazine. Good luck with your second book. Rebecca

  15. Michael Scott October 3, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    Ha-ha! The “validation by publisher or editor” argument is so mindless that it amuses me. To mind mind it says the critic is something of a moron. Essentially what they are saying is they no idea something is ‘good’ unless a *higher* authority first validates it – a marketer’s dream . . . Sunny Delight is really healthy . . . honestly!

    I have some small sympathy for that type of reader. Commercial publishing is very narrow in what it will publish. Much like the McDonalds’ philosophy it sticks to a few regular plots and styles it knows the public will eat. If a writer adheres to the required commercial formula, and is rejected then I can see the validation argument. Having said that, “Independent” writers are often independent through genre. Independent manuscripts are necessarily rejected because of quality issues. In modern publishing “Romeo and Juliet” or “Jack the Ripper” type plots are unacceptable. The boy not getting the girl or a serial killer not being caught is unthinkable. The public would be traumatised and the American public would sue the publishers for billions!

    In assessing a book from an editing POV is fairly simple: the editor’s job is ensure the writer effectively communicated his thoughts via text.

    The commercial view of a book is unrelated to issues of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – the question is simply ‘will the public like it’.

    King James missed a trick. The Bible would have sold so much better if the writer had given Jesus a dog.

  16. N.E.David October 3, 2013 at 9:22 pm #

    The acid test is not whether a book is self-published or not – it’s whether it’s a good book or not. Who decides? In days gone by it used to be ‘the gatekeepers’ and the ‘bad’ books were theoretically left in the slush pile. Today, the slush pile is being published online along with some ‘good’ books. The fact that a book is self-published doesn’t make it a better book (or a worse one). The result of this is that an awful lot of ‘bad’ books are being published online and we’re left to sort them out for ourselves. Frankly, I haven’t got the time to read them all. At least when we had gatekeepers there was some guidance, whether we liked it or not.

  17. Venkatesh Iyer October 8, 2013 at 7:37 am #

    Does smiling sweetly suffice all the time or does the wolf have to manifest itself every now and then?

  18. Francine Howarth October 8, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Go for it, James. A top lit agent said quite recently, if you have a load of shit reviews the chances are your novel is a “cracker”, and by that he meant other authors and publishers are green with envy and will try and bring it down, hence fellow authors will only review it under a secret pseudonym and trash it! When you publish is when you discover true friends: the general public who rarely if ever post a review. They just purchase and enjoy: or not if they lack the intellect to read the blurb and samples offered by Amazon et al!

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