Monday, July 10, 2017

INDUSTRY: The "Douchebag Lift"

You learn a lot of weird things being Famous Except Not.

Because let's make something clear. I'm not famous. I'm famous enough. I've had my name on some book covers (that weren't even published by me!), I've gotten some fan mail, I've gotten some hate mail, and I have made a nonzero amount of money from ad revenue on this blog. I am not important enough to have an autobiography deal or be on television, but I'm important enough for strangers to start fights with me re: knowing absolutely nothing about anime/Doctor Who/ whatever it is they're feeling defensive about today.

I am, as Oni Hartstein warned me, the World's Poorest Socialite. I can put on very nicely and act as though I'm a big deal, but at the end of the day I avail myself of Wawa freebies and have reason for concern if an invoice isn't followed up on.

And I'm gonna tell you something no one trying to get into the creative/entertainment industries wants to hear: it took me a long time to get here.

Now, some of you are probably absolute geniuses at your work. I've probably got some teen or twentysomething readers who could blow the top clean off anything they do and is gonna fast track it to the top on talent and work ethic before they're thirty. You guys are awesome. Stick to it, have faith in yourselves, keep working hard and don't stop flapping your arms just cuz you're in the air.

Me, though... less awesome track. I spent ten years at a news website. That was after hit-or-miss employment at a deli, bank, and local newspaper. Even when I went freelance, I started out (as long-time readers remember) doing hard and fast QC on entire seasons of Hetalia. This whole "actual writing for money" thing is relatively new.

I might be inspiring for someone in a "stick to it" kind of way, I guess. I had to write a lot of personality quizzes before a publisher ever cut me a check for a piece of fiction. That's still not my primary source of income, although I'm fortunate to be writing for sites I like very much in the meantime. Nonetheless, I work. A lot. I throw manuscripts at walls and watch them slide down, get some frankly rude rejection letters, and just keep going.

That was another thing Oni told me as I was getting started -- "you'll get there," she said. "But you'll get there honestly. It'll take longer, but it'll stay longer, too."

That a thing I need stapled to my forehead because, frankly, it's hard to climb the stairs every day as you're watching people just take the Douchebag Lift to the top.

(No offense to Mr. Chris Barrie, whom I consider a fantastic comedian, but he was the only non-politician I turned up in a GIS for "smarmy.")

For better or for worse, connections make the world go 'round in this industry. I was told this quite frankly by several friends in the industry. It can feel really damn unfair, plugging away at something to no avail while someone else rockets up. And sometimes when you do get the connection and see what a difference it makes, it can almost make you feel resentful. That's one thing I've battled with lately: to many people it looks like I came out of nowhere, but I've been working away on the down-low for ages.

But the Douchebag Lift.

In a recent conversation, I used the metaphor. There are people -- I know them, you know them, everyone knows at least one -- who seems to just Get Places with minimal work, minimal talent, and a hand full of names to drop. You can plug away for weeks and months and years, earn your way up the ladder, and... there they are. Because they know a guy.

I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a major part of what I've been struggling with lately, because those people exist. And they're even more visible as you climb the ladder, because they want you to become one of the names they can drop. I have people in my life who put a great deal of effort into (what they consider) maintaining a decent-enough relationship with me that they can pull my name out of a hat as needed.

They can't. But that's not the point.

There's a temptation sometimes, when you see someone being one of the Unethical Slytherins, to scrap the work and the decency and the sweat and just play along. They're doing fine, after all. Maybe it'll work for you, too. And then you can get some sleep at night and not develop chronic carpal tunnel.

A friend of mine I've been working with for many years passed along a piece of advice I've been trying to keep in mind at these times: "You can only sleep your way to the middle." (Where "sleep" is a metaphor for, well, whatever you choose to do that goes counter to good business practice.) It's hard to keep in mind. But considering I'm only in the middle anyway -- and that's if I'm being quite generous -- I suppose it makes sense that there are familiar faces that keep popping up.

The end point being, working hard and honing your talents and being good and kind and ethical is extremely depressing because it doesn't always yield results. It just doesn't. It can eventually, but not every day. There are absolutely days, months, years when you will work your ass off and be the kindest person and you will get nowhere. Those days are depressing.

Made even more depressing by the people who hop and skip and jump past you with lies and impressive names. But they'll only get so far. There will come a time when they'll run out of names. Or their talent won't be enough to make up for their personality. Or they'll rest on some very low-priority laurels because, hell, it gets them enough attention to keep them satisfied.

I started this post with the intent of warning against people like this -- and guarding yourself against becoming them. What I intend does not always end up being what I write. Here I am at the end, telling you that it's hard and feels unrewarding and it's annoying and painful to get where you want while others trip the system for attention. But honestly, if you read my drivel and aren't drive off, then you're at least somewhat on board with the idea of doing right by people. Since I won't shut up about how I wish that happened more.

Success is a scary road with unfulfilling pit stops where you have to keep seeing the same nasty faces. But once the road gets rougher and the incline gets steeper, those people -- I believe, I'm not far enough yet to know, but I believe -- begin to drop back. Stay at the truck stops telling the stories that get them whatever it is they want.

I'm telling you all this to reassure myself it's true. But I certainly hope so.