12 Apr

Don’t punch down

I’ve been noting Hugh Howey as not someone from the priesthood of ‘self publish’ is the only path-ism. He does claim it’s the best way, though he’s not Konrath-y about it, so I tend to point people his way or Amanda Hocking’s way for non-priest/cultish sorts of viewpoints. You can see a typical exchange at Chuck Wendig’s blog here (though even that whole arena is getting a bit one-true-way ish for me).

So I was really disappointed to see this: The Bitch from Worldcon, a host by Hugh Howey. He’s since taken it down, so I can’t quote directly from it, but Harry J. Connolly examines some of it here.

Here’s a hard lesson for many authors to learn, particularly ones who are moving into a new arena of their career. They have power. Power dynamics are important.

There’s a saying online about ‘punching up’ and not down.

It’s a lesson that trips up famous artists all the time, particularly comedians, as in this post at reasonable conversation, a blog, that lays it all out:

Now, what was the problem with these jokes? They were just jokes, right? What made them offensive and why should a comedian who’s supposed to make people a bit uncomfortable if they’re doing comedy right apologize for making somebody feel uncomfortable?

The answer is that in both cases, the comedians were “punching down.”

Punching down is a concept in which you’re assumed to have a measurable level of power and you’re looking for a fight. Now, you can either go after the big guy who might hurt you, or go after the little guy who has absolutely no shot. Either way, you’ve picked a fight, but one fight is remarkably more noble and worthwhile than the other. Going after the big guy, punching up, is an act of nobility. Going after the little guy, punching down, is an act of bullying.

Hugh, who is self-published and has done extraordinarily well at it, ended up in line with some clueless 20 year old who basically pooh-poohed the idea of self-publishing, and Hugh basically waves his credentials around the blog post (millions made, movie deal, a recent award) after having hid them away (he was incognito at the event the incident happened). He used very ill-considered language (calling her a bitch, and using the phrase ‘suck it,’ which left me all 0_o).

As an empathetic author, I can see that Hugh might still have a chip on his shoulder about people not taking him seriously and this fed right into that. And we all hate being slighted. It’s hard to stand around and be belittled.

In his post, Hugh tied in closely (as part of his identity is being Mr. Self Published) back into the lack of respect of self publishing versus traditional, but the truth is, when you run incognito this is always a risk. At a recent convention when I put a table-ful of hundreds of free books together for fans, I was mostly excited to see everyone snap them up. Sadly, I also was standing right next to someone who didn’t know I was the author and looked at one of them and said something along the lines of ‘ew, I wouldn’t even read that for FREE!’

That hurts.

But as Ann Rice, and many authors have found out, attacking random reviewers, or people in a position of less power than yourself, is not the route.

Power is best aimed up. And certainly, don’t punch down. And Hugh, man, you’re in a position of a great deal of power.

Think Spiderman, right?

With power comes responsibility, and it’s the responsibility of power to punch upwards, or at least, very carefully consider how you’re going to use this.

I’m happy to see Hugh has an apology on his website that originally was a first draft, ‘I’m sorry I’ve offended people’ sort of thing, that is now a straight up apology:

I’m sorry. Truly. Not a PR move or an excuse; I feel awful.

I took the blog post down because I hated the idea of offending anyone else.

Initially, in comments, Hugh didn’t seem to think he had anything to apologize for. But he has come to believe a full apology is warranted.

Coming around to that is hard. This is a win. My hope isn’t that Hugh believes some people are out to get him, but actually believes what he wrote.

This is a painful lesson (one that, since I am not as famous or powerful, haven’t had to learn from having been put in a position as fast as he has, I’ve been slowly growing my career and readership for donkey’s ages, so I’m sure he’s pretty genuine about the emotion he describes).

I’m hoping it’s genuine. I really hope to be able to keep linking to him as a reasonable sort who’s doing some very interesting things in the business.