But even if a bunch of writers got together and actually managed to fit scheming into their day, they still couldn’t ruin your career because no one can ruin anyone else’s career. Just like sometimes there is a really great book that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves or a book that you hate that everyone else loves, a lot of being a professional writer is luck. You find the agent that’s looking for the book like yours. Or you don’t. You find the editor who loves what you love. Or you don’t. You get a great cover. Or not. Your book is picked up by people who love it, who then tell their friends. Or it’s remaindered in piles.
There have been a few posts around the internet recently that talk about the value of being positive — and I do not in any way disagree. Of course someone isn’t going to blurb you if they know you hate their book. Of course an agent is not going to be thrilled if you negatively reviewed a book they represent. But that isn’t the ruination of anyone’s career.
Wholeheartedly agree with this, and the whole post, which you should definitely read (along with the comments). I’ve actually gotten a couple of emails lately from people who were curious if reviewing could ruin their careers. (Not even negative reviewing, just reviewing.) Many, MANY authors also write reviews. So, no*.
I was perhaps coming at it from the other direction, but that’s where no. 4 on my friday five last week was aimed:
Keep working. Behave with integrity. Be a professional, which means taking your work and your actions seriously. (Even before others do.) Something you do or say at some point will prickle someone’s skin the wrong way, but if you’re being thoughtful, professional, and acting with integrity, that’s all you can do. Help other people when you can. Do what feels right and meaningful. Keep learning. The rest will sort itself out. I promise.
Justine also has a great response to Holly’s post.
I think it can be really hard for people at the beginning of their careers (or just starting to interact with the community) to know what's true and what isn't. If they hear 'you'll never publish fiction if you write reviews' and etcetera*, they may take that as gospel. Which is where I think a lot of this YA mafia idea comes from. Hopefully, these posts and the resulting conversations will serve as a general corrective.
Just be generous to a fault. It’s better.
p.s. My mafia name is the Deadly Southern Belle. Belle for short.
*Solid, honest reviewers are good for books. We need them. And I endorse Emily St. John Mandel's views about dealing with bad reviews (the link). Reviewing can also make you a better writer. Doing a billion synopses for my bibliography in grad school was a tremendously helpful exercise in thinking about story shape in a condensed way. See also: John Green on reviewing for Booklist.
**Give advice, sure, but a lot of advice seems to be delivered like the One Truth these days. Everybody's career looks different. We all have to find our own way.
ETA: Another good post at JJ's: "Nobody can ruin your career but you, and the best way to go about it is to stew in bitterness. I mean stew–steeped in a concentrated brew of it’s-not-fair and nobody-understands-my-work and it’s-their-fault-I’m-not-published. I’m not saying you shouldn’t voice your opinions or your feelings because honesty is important; I’m saying you shouldn’t let your feelings cloud your rational mind–for too long anyway. It’s okay to have a blow-up, but try to minimize the fallout. In private, offline, with your friends is best."