The manifold blessings of having at least one publishing nemesis
Said blessings do not include “the motivation of spite” or “the catharsis of petty dislike.”
If you’re an Antonio Salieri Type who doesn’t quite feel alive without a foe, good news: book publishing is an easy place to find those.
Like, so easy you don’t even have to make an effort!
I mean, if you want to be proactive, you can. We have more tempting options on offer than a 1990s mall food court: Bad art friends. Petty malcontents. Scammers. Aggrieved ex-colleagues. Gossipy “secret” Slack channels and group texts. And of course……….Twitter.
If you prefer a more passive approach to nemesis gathering, however, that works even better. Nemeses will come to you! At home! All you have to do is achieve a modicum of visible success in publishing, and voila: they’re gonna line up at your door like it’s Bridgerton and you’re a Diamond of the First Water.
If you’re a woman with a PhD, any nonfiction deal you get will likely be followed in short order by some older male academic nonplussed by your incursion into what he considers “his” subject area. Thenceforth, this man will never, ever stop trying to undermine your work, e.g. by writing editorials in national newspapers or notes to your publisher complaining about how shoddy he’s sure your scholarship must be (given that you’ve never contacted him).
If you reject romantic, platonic, or collaborative professional overtures from a certain kind of fellow writer with Some Boundary-Challenged Cluster B Issues, voila: foe 4 life.
Popular online? Get ready for at least one Parasocial “Friendship” Nemesis.
Know some great literary wit who always seems to have something devastating and snarky to say about everyone in your shared circle? Tee hee: now that you have a book deal, you’re next!
In general, if you spend significant time around a any coworker, peer, writing group friend, etc. who makes you feel notably on edge—like you’re constantly about to “get in trouble” with them—you’re looking at someone who will one day become a publishing-world nemesis, no matter what you do (or don’t). Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but no matter what: that on-edge feeling is the signature vibe of the future nemesis. Inevitable.
You yourself might also *become* a nemesis. Professional jealousy might make you obsessed with why X person got a bigger book deal than you did. Or maybe you’ll be the one who gets the bigger deal, and then you’ll be convinced that X no longer likes you because they’re jealous of YOU. (My fellow agent Kate McKean wrote an excellent post on professional jealousy just this week.)
There are many more examples where these came from.
Oh, and PS - you don’t even have to be a writer to accrue at least a couple of publishing nemeses—even if you don’t want them and in fact, having them actively makes you feel sick!! Get a few beers in me some time and ask me to elaborate. [tragedy mask face]
Here’s the thing I’ve learned, though:
Handled carefully and in the right circumstances, nemeses can be a gift.
Yes, really. But before I tell you why—and how to use your own inevitable publishing nemeses to career advantage—let me tell you what I’m not talking about here.