One of the go-to observations about authors is that we’re not team players. Ask an editor/publicist about trying to organise authors for an event and the phrase “like herding cats” is liable to be used. When I tell most people that I work on my own all day in a shed, they ask things like “How do you cope?” and “Isn’t it terribly lonely?”, whereas authors tend to reply, “Oh, you lucky cow.” Authors say plangent and meaningful things like, “Writing is one of the most solitary activities in the world.” We are the isolated figure in a garret, alone but for the cast of characters in our heads.
It’s all very glamorous-sounding in a ‘drinking yourself to death on absinthe’ kind of way. It is, however, a pile of crap.
Unless an author does her own covers and her own editing and no marketing and never communicates with readers, she has a team. Here’s a rundown of the people with whom I collaborate:
The agent who sets up and manages deals, holds my hand, looks at proposals and helps plan my career
The editor to whom I send the synopsis
The publisher’s team who sign off on the deal
The contracts person with whom I dicker over terms
The covers team who turn my cover art brief into something plausible and saleable
The designer who takes that brief and makes it lovely, and who listens to me when I raise objections and makes changes
The beta readers who look at my drafts and help me get the thing into shape for the editor
The development editor, who works on the story and characters, raising problems and identifying issues
The line editor, going through the MS to pick up my inconsistencies, my echoes, my infelicities, my clumsy phrasing and overused habits and poor stylistic choices and unintended implications and dangling threads
The copy editor, hitting the million tiny errors inexplicably still in there, oh my God I suck
The proofreader, saving all our necks at the last pass
The marketing team who put together promo materials, get the book into offers and magazines, send review copies
The rights team, who push the foreign and audio rights
The finance team who make sure all the copies I sell are properly accounted and my royalties promptly paid
The book bloggers and magazines who make space for me
The reviewers who read the ARCs and write and share reviews
The readers who choose to join my Facebook group or follow my blog or send me emails, who support and encourage me because they like my books. They owe me nothing, but when they choose to help and support me, they’re my team and I love them for it.
The fellow authors who hold my hand, talk me down when times are bad and rejoice with me over successes. Who understand, as only people ploughing the same furrow do.
And there are other and greater teams, of which all authors are part. For me there is Team Queer Romance, pushing the equality of everybody’s love story. Team Romance, the people who work separately and together to promote the genre we love. Team Author, the other people who get what you’re doing and understand what it means, why it’s the best job in the world and why it sucks.
That’s a lot of people to let down when you screw up.
When Laura Harner plagiarised m/f romances to make them into m/m romances, she didn’t just commit a theft of intellectual property from Becky McGraw and Opal Carew. She let down her teams: the readers who supported her by buying her stolen books; the m/m romance community of readers and authors that had created a market for them, the LGBT+ community whose lives she travestied by switching pronouns to make a story “gay”; the bloggers and conference organisers and cowriters who worked with her; the whole romance community who stand up for each other against the contempt of lazy journalists and litsnobs to whom she’s handed us on a plate as a target of idle mockery; the romance writers who put their heart and souls into their work; and the whole author community because for those who live by words, stealing them is an unforgivable treachery.
At least Harner self pubbed. I was the editor of a plagiarising author once, and I promise you, the sense of rage and betrayal inside the publishing house was tangible when we found out. I’m still angry. Publishing may be a business but the vast majority of publishing staff care deeply about books, and don’t like being treated with contempt any more than anyone else.
Authors aren’t isolated figures, and our choices don’t take place in isolation. We have responsibilities. We have responsibilities to the publishing team who works with us to make the books better, make them pretty, make them sell. We have responsibilities to the people who invest their time in reading and maybe reviewing, their money in purchasing. We have responsibilities to the people we depict in our books, the humans who see themselves in our stories (or don’t), the lessons our stories teach. We have responsibilities to other authors: not to make each other’s paths harder than they need to be, not to bring the genre or the profession into disrepute, not to shove each other down in the effort to get ahead ourselves.
Authors are part of a huge complicated web of relationships, just like every other human in the world. It may not feel like that alone in the metaphorical shed. But if I plagiarise, treat others disrespectfully in my writing, or otherwise mess up, through commission or omission, I am letting more people down than just myself. And I forget that at my peril.