Joe and Jane Newbie Vs the CLM

It’s a maxim that the avocation of writing takes a certain amount of intelligence. At least, that’s the theory. Yet sometimes I wonder if writers as a group just aren’t very bright.

Example: a (legit) agent was talking about his recent experience on an online writer’s board. As soon as he identified himself as an agent, he was immediately tromped on as a scam agent trolling for clients. No discussion, no hesitation, no deliberation, no question. Bam. Guilty. Now, granted that this agent is a fairly new one and yes, there are a lot of scam agents out there and it’s wise to be cautious. Yet one would think “cautious” would include doing your bloody homework. One would think so, but apparently to some of my brother and sister writers this is an alien concept. The result of which is that yet one more potentially helpful pro will now avoid new writers’ discussion boards like the proverbial plagues of Egypt, when five minutes on Google, tops, would have prevented the writers in question from making total asses of themselves.

Is this complicated? I don’t see how. And it’s not that unusual, I’m afraid–you see nonsense on this level on a weekly basis. Online posts like this (real, but paraphrased to protect the guilty) “Agent so and so liked the book I sent her and she’s offered to represent me. Has anyone heard of her? Is she legit?”

Facepalm, shortly followed by headdesk.

Can someone explain to me why any allegedly sentient being could spend months or years writing a book but not spend an hour researching agents or publishers? Going the tradpub route is hard enough as it is, and the whole point of getting an agent is to hire a professional to deal with publishers on your behalf. Sure, a big name powerhouse agent would be nice, but at minimum you’re looking for someone skilled, honest, and enthusiastic about your work. Now, granted you don’t know about the third item until you’ve submitted the project to them, but in this day of the internet and substantial writers’ networks, there is simply no excuse for not already knowing the answers to one and two. In fact, it should be the answers to items one and two that determine if you even care about the answer to item three, so far as that particular agent is concerned.

I suppose it’s not worth getting worked up about. Darwin in action yet again. I certainly wouldn’t call it Intelligent Design. It’s a lot closer to a CLM.

My introduction to that particular acronym came from the old Hacker’s Dictonary. Just in case you’re from a tradition that doesn’t have this particular set of letters, I’ll spell it out. CLM=”Career Limiting Move.” In theory it means anything you do that is, shall we say, counter-productive to your current working environment. Yet, to appreciate the glory of a CLM in its fullest sense, you have to understand that it doesn’t simply mean the sort of mistake that anyone could make. We’re not talking about forgetting to change the cover letter to the last market when you send the story on to another market. That’s not good, but it rates little more than an “oops.” A moment’s annoyance for an editor, soon forgotten unless you make a habit of it. Oh, no. To be a true CLM, the action has to be of such staggering stupidity that everyone who so much as hears about it, yeah even unto the complete stranger, feels the urge to stop whatever else they’re doing, track you down, and ask one simple question: “What the HELL were you thinking?” We’re talking about mis-steps on a level with groping the boss’s daughter (or son) at the Annual Christmas Party — in front of said boss.

While, as free-lance writers (most of us), we can’t exactly be fired, but for a true CLM the effect is pretty much the same. Your career takes a hit. Damage is incurred. Likely permanent, completely avoidable damage. You’ll take damage in unavoidable ways as it is. Bad breaks and bad timing, changes to markets and readers’ tastes that are beyond your control. That’s inevitable. The CLM isn’t inevitable, and all it takes to keep it out is a moment’s thought and a little common sense. The alternative is to invite it in, in which case you have no one to blame but yourself when it bites you in the neck.

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4 thoughts on “Joe and Jane Newbie Vs the CLM

  1. Hey, I’ve been avoiding writers’ boards for years because I can’t cope with the stupidity.

    That, and the related fact that they’re almost invariably taken over by clueless wannabes who are much more interested in advertising themselves than in actually communicating with anyone.

  2. Another CLM is to be in conversation with a potential agent whom you are very politely and discreetly considering sending your work to and then be totally unsupportive when a sudden family emergency arises with the agent during your conversation. This equally applies to being callous and thoughtless with any one else out there. “Be hospitable to strangers, for by so doing you may entertain angels unaware.” Stop it with the idiotic, blathering, foul-languaged tweets and text messages, alright already!

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