There are two professional sleights that seem to go along with being a writer the same way massive indifference seems to accompany deliverymen: The first is how everyone seems to think we should be so thrilled to see our work in print that we will forego monetary compensation or accept a pittance in return. The second is that we are a disposable lot, easily dismissed when conditions are not convenient. This post deals with the second point.
Nobody seems to think writing is work until they have to write something. Nowhere was this made more evident than when a “friend” who had long dismissed my writing as a waste of time suddenly needed me to help him write a research paper. I did more than help, however, and the paper wound up placing in a statewide contest, thereby upping the level of expectation for his future papers. Then and only then did he confess that he thought I was full of it until he realized he might have to stand before an audience and act as if he wrote what was, I must admit, one hell of a paper on the moral implications of human cloning.
More recently, I received one of those professional sleights that make any writer want to hurl his or her laptop or PC across the room. I was recommended
as an alumni for a certain college to possibly have a book signing/reading as part of the alumni speakers series. The woman in charge jumped at the idea, claiming she’d wanted to do something like that for quite some time, and requested that I give her a call. She just wanted to make sure there was no cost associated with the appearance.
“No cost.” It bothered me a little that she seemed ignorant of the way book signings worked as no one charges for the chance to sell copies of their novel, but the opportunity was a good one.
After a couple weeks of failed attempts to get her on the phone, I decided to send an email, to which she replied within twenty-four hours. She apologized for not having returned my calls due to several obligations occurring at once and wrote the following:
“I would like to have you come out some time in March first or second week for a reading and signing. Thinking around 6p- on a Monday. Just note that in the past these have been sparingly attended. Hopefully we will garner more interest by billing it as an “Alumni” speaker/reading series. Its something I have been wanting to do for a while.
Do you have any other colleagues that are...Alum that I can throw in for Fall to start doing more of these?”
Note the passive final sentence of the message. From this email, I gathered that this event was a go and wrote:
“The second week of March would be perfect. It would give my publisher time to ensure I have a fair amount of copies available and for the event to be publicized. Trust me, I'm aware of the sparsely attended book signing thing no worries LOL I will check and see if I know any other...alum interested in speaking and get back to you.”
A week passed before I received another email. I’d begun wondering if I needed to contact her since I still hadn’t received a confirmed date. Just as I was planning to do so, she sent another email”
Any word yet from other...colleagues? I would really like to do this event only if I can get more than one person that is an alum reading…”
Now I was confused. Had she not previously written that she was all for the idea? If one re-reads her previous email, her request for other “alums” is a rather passive one regarding possibly adding them to whatever series she was planning, not a requirement for me to be able to speak. I replied (with edits):
From the email you sent prior to this one, I got the impression that my date was pretty much all set. I know you stated that you were looking to create a series of readings/speaking engagements but is that to say mine is contingent upon the recruiting of other alumni? The odds of locating someone I know personally who not only graduated from (that college) but is also a published fiction author are low. However, the best bet might be to contact the creative writing professors
I figured my reading would be similar to the one I attended at the (other) campus a few years ago where a British author of a book regarding the Roswell crash spoke in the auditorium to a small group.
I thought the reading would be a mutually beneficial arrangement as I am not only an alumni and a former employee but I am also multi-racial, which covers not only an association with the school but diversity as well. It seemed a great idea not only on my end but also as positive publicity for the college.
I would love to still speak (there) so I do hope we will still have the opportunity to work together. My publisher and I have already started making preparations for the event so please advise.
Looking forward to hearing from you~
Apparently my lack of willingness to do her job for her resulted in a rather scathing reply:
“As I explained in the previous email, I would really like to do this, but would rather do it as an alumni collection or series. You said you would see if you know any other...alums and get back to me. That was the last I heard. After thinking more about it, I have already booked my events for the 09-10 calendar year (we do this one year in advance starting in March) so sliding your reading in would have to fit within my outcomes/goals in Student Life events that we were lacking. As it is, I am sliding this into an already hectic schedule as well- I booked entirely too many things for the year, and I am going on maternity leave in April. So to justify doing this event, I really am going to have to do it in a way that makes sense for Student Life’s goals where we have “event holes”, which an alum series would do. If I do this as a non-alumni series of events, I would have to get a full time English faculty to back it at my campus to go the creative writing route. Do you have a professor who would endorse you (i.e. bring his class) that is at AH campus? I can’t justify doing events to my dean unless I know I will have attendance/faculty support.”
What the bloody hell was she talking about? Not only did she not explain in the previous email that she would “rather” do this as an alumni series (she said she hoped to garner more interest by billing it as such) but the idea that this was riding on whether or not I served in a non-paid recruitment role to seek out other “alums” to complete her little pet project! Then she somehow laid it on my shoulders to obtain an instructor’s endorsement. That would’ve been perfectly acceptable had she not already agreed to do the reading. Apparently, it’s also my responsibility to ensure there is attendance at my own signing! This was far too many professional ass-kicks to stomach and I nearly wrote a rather hostile reply telling her to go to hell and stop trying to organize things she didn’t understand. Instead, I took the high road after some consultation and simply wrote:
“Unfortunately, having never attended (your) campus, I don’t have the connections there that I would at, say, the (other) campus. It was very good corresponding with you and I wish you all the best with the upcoming birth of your child.
For once, the writer disposed of the idiot rather than the other way around.