On the learning tool that is genre gossip

So I'm working on my novel when an email pops up from a writer I know. Said writer is in fits because his publisher has yet again pushed back the release date of his first novel. Naturally I sympathized. I also suggested the writer raise this issue in public. Maybe airing this delay will cause the publisher to stop jerking my friend around.

My friend was horrified at the suggestion. "I could be blacklisted," he says. "You know how it is."

Unfortunately, I do.

What my friend means is that word spreads easily in the genre world. There are things we discuss publicly and things we whisper in secluded conversations. And may the literary gods help the writer who mixes up their public and private comments.

Among the items we're not supposed to discuss in public: Juicy details about which publishers and editors rip off authors. Spicy tales of affairs and betrayals between writers who maintain a public facade that all is well. Inside details about the financial well-being of magazines which sit on our stories for years. All of this is kept private--until the gossip snowballs into a force which can't be ignored. Likewise, a few brave writers may finally mention the issue in public after deciding the risks to their career are offset by the need for others to know.

The funny thing is that the need to gossip is one of the basic drives of humanity precisely because gossip is both the most inaccurate AND most accurate of information sources. Only a fool totally trusts gossip. Only a fool totally ignores it.

At a convention last year, I listened to a famous science fiction author discuss working with genre editors. He mentioned one editor who'd been forced out of a high-profile position by that editor's publisher. I was shocked to learn the details on why this had happened and told the author he ought to write about this so others knew how poorly the editor had been treated. The author looked at me with a waning smile as if I was a newbie who didn't understand the publishing and genre worlds. And at that moment maybe I was acting like one.

Often this genre gossip needs to be publicly aired, such as when it deals with publishers who take advantage of writers. Such wrongs only take place when there is a wall of silence around the publisher's actions. By way of example, I mention the recent revelations about Night Shade Books. Personally, I love Night Shade Books. In my opinion they are one of the best genre presses around. So imagine my surprise to discover they have generated a good deal of bad will among the authors they publish. While there are always two sides to every story--and I hope Night Shade straightens this out soon--the interesting fact is how many of the writers involved discussed this issue among themselves before it became public.

In short, it can pay for writers to listen to genre gossip.

My point is that to succeed as a genre writer you need access to more than simply the public information. Go to conventions and talk to writers and editors. Listen to the conversations. Read the posts in closed discussion groups. You'll learn more genre gossip than you ever knew existed. A lot of it will be crap. But some of it might help you succeed as a writer.