Monday, April 15, 2013

Do You Kiss Your Mother With That Mouth?

So, this Internet kerfuffle happened.

The gist is this:  Hugh Howey, author of Wool, went to a convention, was treated poorly by someone in publishing while there.  When he returned, he wrote a post recounting his experience, calling her a bitch several times.  I'll link to the post and you can read it for yourself.

A lot of people got really pissed off about the post because they felt like his use of the b-word was demeaning to the woman in his story and to all women in general.  Howey, claims that his post was meant to be a joke; tongue firmly planted in cheek.  I'm not interested in talking about what he might or might not have meant, or what his intentions really were.  He's taken the post down, apologized, and enough people have talked about it. If you want to find some of those posts, Google away.

I do feel he missed a wonderful opportunity to move the conversation forward with regards to the legitimacy of self-publishing and its place in the publishing world, but the moment he veered into petty name-calling (whether it was a joke or not) his argument lost all credibility.

No, I think the biggest lesson we should all take from this is that we have to watch what we say.

Lots of people have pointed out that his use of the word wasn't a big deal.  And while I think it was in poor taste, it certainly isn't the worst thing I've read.  However, people took offense.  They told other people.  And the thing went viral.  Howey has certainly lost book sales over this.  And, whether he believes he was wrong or not, he recognized that the post had the potential to hurt his sales, as evidenced by the fact that he took down the post and apologized.

We're writers, people.  Words are our business.  When we write things, whether in a story or for a blog or a Tweet, we have to pay attention to the words we use and how they might be perceived by others.  Because it doesn't matter what we meant.  Once the Internet gets ahold of our words, meaning becomes irrelevant.  Perceived meaning is all that matters.  And, as writers, we're expected to understand the power of words more than other people. We get less slack for being careless with our words.

The Internet is forever.  The things you say can haunt you forever.  A good rule of thumb is never to say anything you wouldn't say to your mother.  If she wouldn't approve, if she would wash your mouth out with soap for saying it, it's probably better left unsaid.

I've had some discussions about this, and the thing I keep hearing is that it isn't fair. People should be able to write what they want.  Others shouldn't be so sensitive.  But that's the thing.  Life isn't fair.  This is the world we live in.  You can write what you want, but you have to be willing to accept the consequences.  Look at Orson Scott Card.  I hate his views on homosexuality, but they're out there, and he stands behind them.  As a consequence, he lost his Superman writing gig.  He's lost a lot of readers.

And I'm not a sensitive person, but I found the post tasteless and snide.  I've got a lot of books I want to read, more than I could ever read in a lifetime.  Wool was on that list.  Now it's not.  I'm sure he's a nice person, he even lives in my hometown.  But when I look at his book now, I don't care to give him my money.

At the end of the day, people will forget about this little blip by the end of the week.  They may have forgotten about it already.  But what we shouldn't forget is that we need to mind our words.  We need to be careful of what we say and how we say it.  Once they're out there, you can't take them back.

Also, I think this XKCD comic is brilliant.


  1. Oh man, this sucks. Personally, I think the nameless ex-magazine intern did far more evil by making false promises to the new Canadian writers in his story than Hugh did with his name calling, but that doesn't make it okay.

    Even as a joke, that kind of thing just isn't cool.

    I will also email you.

    1. Yeah, that's the part that really gets me. The person he was speaking about was rude, and Howey had a really cool opportunity to make a statement about the growing divide between traditional publishing and self-publishing. It was a golden opportunity to really say something and add to the conversation about this stuff. But he blew it by resorting to name calling and pettiness. Which is such a shame. A really wasted moment.

    2. Definitely an opportunity missed.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.