Jae vs. Ms. New York Times Bestseller

I attend a writing group where we critique each others’ works. We all submit by email, a maximum of 10 pages and then meet together and discuss what we liked and what we didn’t.

Those of you who have had me beta read for you before, you know I’m particularly honest. Though I admit I try and soften the blow with a preamble before I send off my comments. I feel like we all want to be serious writers though and if you wanted sunshine blown your way you’d take it to your mom or auntie or something so they could tell you how special it is. But we writers, I feel like, owe each other the courtesy of honesty. Helpful honesty, but honesty nonetheless.

I feel like I’ve personally been helped by this honesty and encourage it when I submit my own pieces.

But the thing about being in a writers group is you will often encounter those who came claiming they wanted feedback, but actually wanted a pat on the head instead for how awesome they are.

Needless to say, those types and I are always at odds in the beginning. They want to fight me tooth and nail for their baby. Then one of two things happens. Actually, one of three, but 90% of the time it’s one of two. We’ll get to three in a sec.

1. They hate everyone for not absolutely loving and agreeing that liquid gold comes out of their keyboard and eventually quit the writing group, because who really goes to silly groups anyway? They don’t need others’ opinions because clearly God ordained them to be a writer.

2. They realize that everyone is getting “hammered” with feedback too, but the others tend to accept it more graciously than they did and they simmer down and become one of us. And their writing tends to improve drastically each time we meet.

Usually it’s the second option, but occasionally it’s the first. The thing is, if you really want to be a great writer, your ego is the first thing that needs to go. And the sooner you learn that, the better a writer you will become.

That’s not to say you do everything everyone tells you. But you take time to consider the words your fellow writers gave you after scouring through your piece. Sometimes you will agree, sometimes not, and sometimes you will agree there is an issue but solve it in your own way.

OPTION THREE

This doesn’t happen terribly often, and even when it does, it’s usually not this blown up. But in life, anything is possible. Sometimes you meet Ms. (or Mr.) New York Times Bestseller.

Ms. NYT BS makes it a point that when she (or he, this title knows no gender) is feeling attacked or insecure, to let you know about their credentials promptly to hopefully shut you up.

Do you ever have those moments where someone is telling you something and your brain knows there’s something off about it, but at the time you have to accept it because you have no contrary evidence? So when Ms. NYT BS told me she was as such, my first thought was, “So why are you at a writers group? More in particular why are you at this writers group suddenly? Brand new?”

It’s not that I think any accomplished writer shouldn’t be seeking beta readers. I think all writers of all skill levels should. But it just seemed out of place to me. It felt like she was trying to claim superiority over me. I just wasn’t entirely sure why. And let’s face it, there have been plenty of authors who’ve made the NYT BS list whose skill wasn’t exactly up to par.

Well, not being one who would waste an opportunity, I thought I would ask her about having an agent and what the publishing process was like. I figured as a seasoned vet she might have some good insights.

“How long after you got your agent did it take you to sell your first book?” I asked.

“Three days,” she said quickly, almost interrupting, and then added for good measure, “with just a proposal and rough outline.” I think seeing my brow furrowing, she continued, “Well, it was about my near-death experience.”

Now it was making more sense. I’m not discounting the NDE, but just because something happens to you doesn’t mean you’re the bees knees of writers. In fact, I have often wondered if success so quickly doesn’t ruin your ability to strengthen your writing.

Finding that particular bit of info unhelpful, I moved on to current projectβ€”the one she had brought to group. “So what about this time? Or is it the same agent?”

“It’s my fourth,” she said, again with a strange air of superiority. “But I really just need to have my agent sell this to an editor, then I can write it the way I want.”

Her agent had this idea of doing a prologue info dump, or so Ms. NYT BS claims. But when she mentioned who it was representing her, well, it is a very legit agency. (I would mention it, but you know, names changed to protect etc.)

Anyway, all of our suggestions are somewhat hindered by Important Agent’s caveat. Though I did believe this was a real caveat, as Ms. NYT BS seemed genuinely frustrated by it.

THE TRUTH AS WE KNOW IT

God bless the internet and its vast amounts of information. What did I do after the encounter? I looked Ms. NYT BS up.

Fact #1: She has had a book published, by a reputable book company no less.

Okay, maybe my spidey-sense was tingling for no reason.

Fact # 2: Nowhere with her name nor her book nor even on her personal website could I find the words “New York Times Best Seller.” (UPDATE: I realized that’s not entirely accurate, as she has comments from others calling her a “New York Times” best selling author, just FYI.)

One would think that if one were a NYT BS one would be slapping that title everywhere, far and wide, for all to see.

Fact # 3: On Amazon.com, she has acquired 50 reviews. Her Amazon sales rankings are at best for the hardcover version ~272,000, the mass market paperback ~988,000. You cannot buy anything but used copies.

For those not familiar with Amazon rankings, if your number was say 272,000 that means people prefer 272,000 books before they would read yours. A ranking of say 5,000 would be pretty decent. A ranking of 988,000 is not good at all. And only the ability to buy used copies tells me this hasn’t been in print for some time.

Fact #4: Her book was published circa 1995.

Oh, perhaps this NYT BS book she’s referring to was one of the other projects she’s been working on in the last 20 years.

Fact #5: The project she brought to group is both her most recent project and would be book number two.

So what has she been doing for the last 20 years then? Writers conferences and taking care of the family. But does it not seem a bit pretentious to represent yourself as something you’re not? Let alone even if you were, haven’t been for 20 years?

CONCLUSION

I have no intentions of letting her know I have learned all of this new information about her. We’ve probably all bragged ourselves up a little more than we intended once in a while. Any confrontation of the truth would only come if she decides to swing her false creds around like a club. The thing about our day and age is you can’t really say you’re something if the internet can easily show you aren’t.

I’ll be interested to see if she takes it much further than she has. I may be tempted to ask her about why New York Times Best Seller isn’t on the cover of her book. That would probably be enough to let her know I’m in on her secret.

But the lesson learned here is don’t brag about creds you don’t actually have. And more importantly, don’t brag about creds to make yourself seem superior. There’s a time and a place for bragging about creds, and that’s typically in front of a new agent/editor or in the query letter. I don’t know, maybe I was meant to see this event unfold so that if I ever make it big I remember why I shouldn’t behave similarly.

What do you think? Would you have reacted differently to Ms. NYT BS? Would you confront her about the truth? Have you ever had a similar interaction? Do you have any other insights?

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19 thoughts on “Jae vs. Ms. New York Times Bestseller

  1. I like that you call her Ms. NYT BS because I’m thinking BS stands for something besides Best Seller. I’m glad you’re approaching her with caution. Maybe she gets her kicks at telling people she’s a big shot, but it’s good to stop her before she brings anyone down.

    Happy writing.

  2. I love reading your stories like this. You get it. I do think you did the responsible thing but honestly there is this part of me that wants you to go back and rip her to shreds. I am not proud of that part of me, but it would make me smile. πŸ™‚ (I am a bad bad person, lol).

    • Nah, you’re not a bad person. I just think there will be a better moment for this information to come out. Plus I’m probably the bad person because I like watching and seeing how far people will take it. πŸ˜‰

  3. Well, hello there. I was thinking: Where is Jae?
    It is a truth that I follow more blogs than is humanly possible to keep up with, but I keep up a decent correspondence with some special bloggers. I may have “fallen off” the communication, but it almost seems like we had a “falling out.” Here’s to renewing correspondence!

  4. Honest answer: I’d avoid situations with that person for as long as I could. Even miss writing meetings. Unless they went away or were exposed before I was ready to return. Because, I’m not cool enough to not mention it it like you and my confrontation skills are about as subtle as a stampede. So, I’d avoid.

    If the person did not disappear on their own, and I fortified myself for a return to contact with them, it would be avoidance based. I’d limit interaction to “necessary” and ignore almost anything out of the person’s mouth because this person seriously cannot be trusted.

    • I really have scoured the internet for any proof of this, but all I could find is that she’s briefly mentioned in a NYT article as having a book coming out. Don’t you think her name would show up otherwise on the list somewhere? Or be associated somewhere? Or what I found most highly suspicious of all is that it’s not mentioned by her on her site anywhere. Just a comment from one of workshop attendees. What a mystery…

      But I hear you on avoidance. There are some individuals I most certainly have to do that with. I’m kind of eager to see what comes out of her mouth next. πŸ˜‰

  5. Hehe, Ron Burgandy gif. I may not be the best at taking feedback at times, but I hate it when writers dismiss feedback purely because it doesn’t ‘match’ with their ‘awesome’ personality. As you say, a good author can write a bad book, and feedback is crucial to understand the difference. I literally backed away from my laptop when I read “I really just need to have my agent sell this to an editor, then I can write it the way I want.” Woah, woah. What??

    • Yeah… it caused me to wonder what success her writing career would have garnered had she no real life experiences to write about. It’s funny how dishonesty so naturally makes you skeptical at anything the person has to say. She’s fascinating to me in a sense though. How can a person in this day and age think they can get away with such a misrepresentation? At least it will make writing group more melodramatic. πŸ˜‰

  6. I usually take any of these credentials with a pinch of salt anyway, at least until verified. I’d be polite and still talk, but I wouldn’t pat her on the back. I would probably try and trip her up in her story by asking questions such as “What’s the best review you ever got?” because as a NYT Bestseller surely would have been reviewed by them to make the list?!

    I joined a writing group in August but I can’t really attend their monthly meetings as I live 100km away (I joined because of a friend who is a member and recommended me) but I do go to their readings etc and we exchange and critique stories. One in that group published a book in 2008 and said it was doing really well. Turns out they sold about 50 copies since 2008 and had gone the self-publish/Book on Demand way. Then I saw the book: Weird cover, misleading blurb, half of it is poems, the rest religious ideas and the whole thing (including cover and inside text) is in Comic Sans!! And they want €14.20 for it. I really, really had to bite my lip not to laugh out loud when I saw the font…..

    • I just about had a conniption when I read “Comic Sans.” UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!! Oooh, 50 copies since 2008. They must be rolling in the dough now. If you exclude friends and family they probably have sold a whopping 3 books. Woot! πŸ˜‰

      I agree with you 100%. Anytime anyone tells me they’re “published” I politely ask them for the name of their book and Google it. Usually Amazon is a good indicator of their success. There have been some that have impressed me, that have had an Amazon ranking of 5,000 or better (that’s overall which is really good for self-pub) and sometimes in the top ten of their category. Unfortunately this is quite rare. Usually it’s “I uploaded my project to Amazon after the first draft.”

      I’m sure this happens to you frequently as well, but it seems when people find out you’re a writer they introduce you to all their writer friends some of which are “published.” I did a self-pub book search when I was writing a post about cover design and it certainly wasn’t hard to find awful examples. They say don’t just a book by the cover, but we do. And often it’s very telling of what’s inside.

      But COMIC SANS?!? WHYYYYYYYYYYY? πŸ˜‰

  7. Ah, the joys of writing critique groups. πŸ˜‰

    Also, welcome back to blogging! We took a break for a little while, too, but now we’re back and I’m looking forward to catching up on all the posts I missed. So good to be reading the Scribbles again. πŸ˜‰

  8. Wow. That’s insane! I would be horrible at handling that situation. Either I’d beat her over the head with a book and tell her to get a grip or I’d smile, nod, and wonder what on earth she was on.

  9. Hey Jae – I know I’m months late on commenting on this post, but I just had to. I’ve been out of the blogesphere for a bit. Anyway this is so funny! I would probably have tried to kill her with kindness and give her lots of compliments to get her to talk more about the book but if that didn’t work, I would have definitely googled her too. I kind of feel bad for her. Hope she’s gotten better – more humble since this post. Well, Happy New Year and Happy blogging!! πŸ™‚

    • The story has yet to be resolved. Another group member and I are hoping to have the opportunity to confront her about her supposed NYT status. Of course there will be a post when more has happened. Part of me wonders if she stumbled onto my blog and has been avoiding group ever since. πŸ˜‰

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