Failing Cain: Author Communication Blunders

Once upon a time, I worked in the service industry. I’ve worked as a cashier at a convenience store where I was asked, repeatedly by very nearly every customer: ‘What is the deal with this weather?’, ‘How about those roads out there?’, ‘Is this snow ever going to end?’, ‘What the hell is the deal with these gas prices?’, ‘How much are your cheapest smokes?’

I’ve also worked as a waitress where I had to spout off the specials at every single table. I had to clean up, assist disgruntled customers, fix  mistakes, and otherwise run myself ragged. I also had to do so with a perma-grin on my face and a pleasant disposition.  I would then have to come home to take care of my family and make a valid attempt to not allow my work to interfere with my home life.

I’ve worked as a blackjack dealer at a casino where the job description loosely entailed ‘making the customer enjoy losing their money’. I love to laugh; I love to joke with people, and I love making people smile-even the ones that grate on my nerves with their incessant, repetitive questions that I heard almost every single day. I ask those same questions sometimes and as they say in grade school “There is no such thing as a stupid question. It’s stupid not to ask the questions.”

When I started Writerz Block almost two years ago, I opted to have a price list listed on my website so clients and potential clients could get an idea of what it would cost to have me edit their work. I still get questions pertaining to my pricing despite that price list. Do I care? Not even the slightest. Why? Because I do the same thing when I’m getting services. Take, for instance, other so-called ‘menial’ jobs like working as a customer service rep for internet service. Yes, I could go to the website, purview the specific packages and price guidelines, sure. However, I also like talking to a human. Yes, we live in a self-sufficient world where all our questions can be answered by the power of Google, but our society has succumbed to the ever-present giant that is the internet where we are now expected to speak with automated machines and do-it-yourself information gathering. Sometimes a bit of human interaction and conversation is what we require, someone to explain things to us-even if it’s the most mundane of topics.

Another thing to consider is humanity’s fundamental need to communicate. From small talk to elaborate conversations, sometimes the most subtle, albeit, annoying conversational starters are the ones we are most comfortable with to break the ice with someone we don’t know or admire. Sure, these questions can go without saying but my God, the thrill of getting a response from someone who you admire? That feeling is indescribable.

As an author and professional editor, I am strapped for time. I do make every attempt to be expedient in my responses, even if they’re merely cursory responses. I try to treat everyone I meet with respect and respond as soon as I can. I maintain an open phone line for anyone who is interested in talking to me and I’m available during the day and late afternoon via phone call or 24/7 through text message. Seriously, don’t be shy. My phone number is right on the blog, just don’t mind the screaming children in the background because I work from home. Screaming children may not be professional, but I make sure I’m available to my clients-that is what is important to me. Paranoid about a single line or subject matter in your manuscript? Give me a holler! I want to get to know my clients and my readers personally because you all are people too. Not only that, I love to jaw jack! (Seriously, I could probably talk your ear off if you let me.)

Yesterday, I was notified via a Facebook post that went mind-numbingly viral. Admittedly, I had never heard of Chelsea Cain nor did I plan on reading any of her books even if she hadn’t disrupted the tranquility of my newsfeed. What I saw was astonishing, especially if one considered that this author is one who is ‘signed’.
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584 comments, 393 shares, and 513 likes. *blink, blink* 513 people….liked this brand of unprofessional communication?  However; the string of commentary begs to differ. Among the top comments:

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Chelsea then countered the post later yesterday evening, which received 321 comments:

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“You can tell people they are wrong by a look or an intonation or a gesture just as eloquently as you can in words – and if you tell them they are wrong, do you make them want to agree with you? Never! For you have struck a direct blow at their intelligence, judgment, pride and self-respect. That will make them want to strike back. But it will never make them want to change their minds. You may then hurl at them all the logic of a Plato or an Immanuel Kant, but you will not alter their opinions, for you have hurt their feelings.” Dale Carnegie How To Win Friends And Influence People

Many comments were from authors as well as readers. Others were individuals who only just heard about Chelsea Cain and were curious as to what the fuss was all about, such as myself. Taking upon a more objective standpoint on the situation-on one hand you have an author who is complaining that her fans are asking her similar questions as any other individual working with the public. On the other hand, she made a social faux pas by venting on her fan page instead of her personal page. Negative publicity is better than no publicity, and her disgraceful, unprofessional rant certainly bumped up her page views that’s for sure. Alternatively, she may have lost a hoard of readers.

I maintain three Facebook pages myself: Writerz Block, The Writing of J. V. Stanley, and Chronicles of a Really Bad Day. I also have my personal profile that I’ve maintained since my sophomore year in college a zillion years ago. I have befriended many talented writers and other professionals through that profile, but those individuals realize that my personal page is personal. It is me unfiltered. I have a sense of humor, and I have a tendency to rant every so often. My professional pages are just what they are-professional. I will break out my sense of humor every so often, but my core focus is spreading the word of the authors I love, bragging about the books I get to edit (because I get to read them before the general public does-LUCKY ME). I love educating people and honestly, that’s what I aspire to do: teach creative writing at the university level. I could talk writing for hours, and I love helping people so much; I beam with pride whenever I see one of my author friends succeed and when a friend of mine loves a book by one of my favorite indie authors. I love my life-I love my job.

It is imperative to maintain that separation, though. I cannot stress the importance of that enough. Dale Carnegie is one of my favorite authors and a man who enlightened me on the importance of communication and dealing with people. “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.” This is especially apparent when dealing with authors and readers. Most of the authors that I know are creatures of emotion. I know I am. When intellectuals see someone of prestige behaving in the fashion that Chelsea Cain had, we immediately jump the gun and become extremely offended by it. We conclude that fame and fortune has “…gone to her head”. In this sense, we also have to keep in mind that “The desire for a feeling of importance is one of the chief distinguishing differences between mankind and the animals.” (Carnegie, How to Win Friends And Influence People) As readers, we want to feel important. Without a readership, the author can’t very well sell any books.

I do not condone Cain’s public behavior in the least. I’d  advise her and everyone who reads this post to pick up a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People. Aside from my experiences studying my minor in Communications, I’ve also delved into independent study on interpersonal communication. Believe me, I have learned so much about people and communication and have benefited from it greatly. When I first saw the book in the library, I chuckled to myself thinking about those silly self-help programs and books. I then decided to give it a shot because…well why not? If it can help me prevent arguments and communicate easier, all the better!

I remember at one point I thought I was a brilliant communicator. I mean, I’m a writer; I’m far better at written communication than I am at public speaking.

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What I failed to grasp for many years is the perception of individuals and how I perceived what they perceived-how the tone and choice of words reflected upon others. Sometimes we offend people without realizing we offended them. When people become offended, it’s hard to regain control of the situation because emotions are set to Defcon 1. After Defcon 1, we get to the point where we reach Fencepost status: that no matter what is said, heels are dug in, and the argument becomes fallacious and circular. When both parties are upset, it takes a very brave individual to take a step back and look at the situation objectively, let alone force oneself to apologize for the slight. People in general have a very hard time admitting to wrongdoing, especially when they’re convinced they were right and believed it to be stupid that the other party got offended. So what? Suck it up and apologize. What a lot of people fail to understand is that despite what was said wasn’t intended to be offensive, it was and for that, an apology is warranted. We have become a society of ‘Suck it up and deal with it and if you don’t like it, tough!’ It’s so sad.

A lot of misunderstandings and communications blunders are based on an assumption, which is generally how a lot of people roll. Cain posted something nasty to Facebook and offended a lot of people, so it’s safe to assume that she’s a generally bad person and I don’t want to read her books regardless of her talent or Cain posted something nasty to Facebook and offended a lot of people, on accident, because she was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Perhaps she’s someone like me who doesn’t think she needs a personal assistant of some kind; a Becket to her Rice.

If her statement is correct, that she doesn’t care whether or not her fans like her, then she is committing professional suicide. There are companies out there that pay their lower-end employees at ‘menial’ positions to participate in customer service programs to assist individuals on how to properly communicate with the general public in so that they can better sell the product. Many of these ‘menial’ positions have produced some of the most wonderful customer service experiences I have ever had. McDonalds even has a university to train their employees because the employees reflect upon the business. If the business is faltering due to bad communication skills, chances are the employee will either be retrained or fired. Simple as that. McDonalds wouldn’t dare risk holding onto an employee who gives them a bad name if that employee flat out said ‘I refuse to assist you because assisting you is beneath me’ or something along those lines. We are writers, yes…but we are also running a business either independently or through a publication. Do publishers have a customer service program for their authors? Something tells me no, but perhaps they should. At the very least, they should require authors to read Dale Carnegie.

Selling books is a business. How the public perceives you is a good indicator as to how successful your business is or will be. If you falter in the PR department by showering a public forum your qualms with the marketing aspect of your business, chances are your sales are going to take a nosedive. In the off-chance that you start selling more books, think of yourself as an individual and remember that at one point, you were just a reader wanting to break the ice with your favorite author just to get a response.

I had George Takei like one of my comments before. One of the best days of my life. It was memorable. I had a friend of mine who commented on one of Anne Rice’s posts, and she responded. She gloated and squealed with joy about it for days. When we as readers correspond with authors that we admire, or any celebrity for that matter, it is memorable. We feel important, and that makes us want to continue following them. They have our respect because they have earned it through those tiny gestures. Does Anne Rice have a whole lot of time? I honestly couldn’t say, but she doesn’t respond to everyone, I know that much. The fact that she interacts with her fans, educates them, shares her wealth of knowledge and experience, is what makes it worthwhile being her fan. She not only cares about her craft, she cares about her fans whose devotion and admiration to her work helped her to get to where she is now.

There is so much we could learn from each other if only we took the time, showed compassion, and empathized. Just because we live behind a computer does not give us the right to belittle readers or take them for granted. Thank them, especially for their time and thank them for their questions. If their question is a no-brainer to you, just copy paste a standard answer or don’t answer at all. Have we all learned nothing from elementary school? “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

Images courtesy of a Google search and personal screen shots.

9/4/14 UPDATE:

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Is it me, or did she paraphrase the deleted post?  *smh*  I cannot help but hope that she would consider reading Dale Carnegie or otherwise work on her interpersonal communications skills.  Either that or have an FAQ on Facebook on a post pinned to the top of the page.  It only takes a few moments and would spare readers from the dramatics.

UPDATE 9/8/14

I learned today who initiated that post and I’m still quite floored.  I’m not at liberty to divulge the name or specifics of the incident but I can point out that a single individual should not cause an author to generalize the group.  Also, due to miscommunication, the author failed to mention the actual question pertained as to whether or not her newest book would be a part of a new series-a legitimate question. 

As of now, all posts pertaining to the incident have been deleted and the author has now created an area on her page for FAQ’s.  I am not entirely sure if her bad publicity stunt was merely just that-a publicity stunt.  Her publisher may applaud her behavior due to the possibility of increasing sales but the fact of the matter is that this author’s actions were out of line and unprofessional.  It is my sincere hope that she has learned from this experience and will either forget the issue or perhaps reflect upon it at a later date when fan distaste has waned and sincerely apologize-and mean it. Regardless, an apology is warranted.  Sadly something tells me that is something her fans and the ones who unliked her page will never see.