How To Not Convince Someone

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 16.884% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“Hey, sweetie,” I said to Gini, “Did you hear that Michael Stackpole thinks all professionally-published writers are ‘house slaves’?”
“Maybe a guy who made his name writing Star Wars and Battletech books isn’t the best judge of that,” she replied.
That said, yes, Michael Stackpole called the non-self-published writers “house slaves” in a blog post, and then doubled down in a long essay that explained that no, “slavery” is not merely the trafficking of human chattel, but also the never-ending contracts of indentured servants.  Publishers may not want to steal your body, but they do wish to steal your entire future output.  As such, he is entirely correct, or so the essay goes.
The problem is, it’s a shitty essay.  Not because Stackpole doesn’t have some valid points buried among his overstatement – he does – but because “slavery” is a hot-button comparison that’s going to alienate more than illuminate.
There are certain words that just shut down people’s minds when you start making comparisons, because the actions you’re drawing a parallel between are incredibly hurtful things.  Rape, pedophilia, being called the N-word – there’s a whole zone of actions where if you write an argument that says, “Keeping your NetFlix account is just like an abused wife staying with her husband!” you’re going to thumb a button where a lot of people who have directly experienced the fallout from those actions goes, “So when did NetFlix physically throw you down the stairs?”
You’re yanking on some of their deepest hurts to make a point.  And these people do not go, “Oh, you’re right, NetFlix charging me an extra ten bucks a month is a lot like the husband who broke my daughter’s cheek and then knocked me unconscious so I wouldn’t take her to the emergency room,” but rather roar, “How dare you trivialize my pain by making such a comparison?”
Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have legitimate points about commonalities.  There probably are some psychological similarities between people who keep justifying their love’s behaviors, and going back based on the idea that their continued support will change them.  But by making a comparison that reaches so deep into people’s personal injury, you haul up years of buried pain and anger… And that makes them angry at you, no matter how logically correct you may be.  You’re not arguing to a stadium of Vulcans.
As a writer, Stackpole has to understand the power of words.  He knows on some level that making the comparison to slavery is going to drag up a lot of personal hatred from those people who are still suffering from the fallout of slavery in America (and yes, it’s still an ongoing wound even if nobody’s currently in chains).  He knows this is going to piss a lot of people off.
Still he says it.  Which is, in itself, a statement of his core values: Fuck your pain.  What’s important is that you know I’m right.  He even admits that he wrote it “to shock and draw attention.”
In other words, Hey, you know all of those buried aches you have?  I’m gonna tapdance on them to show you how utterly awesome self-publishing is.
It’s a bad essay because for every person it draws attention to – and note that I did link to it – it alienates nine more, having people walk away going, “Christ, if self-published authors are this insensitive and strident, why the fuck do I want to deal with them?”  The impression I come away with reading Stackpole is that he’s a smart man with a couple of relevant points buried among the muck, but his main goal is to show you how goddamned smart he is.
(Side note: Wow, the contracts he’s whining about are ones that most competent agents I know would renegotiate stat.  It’s like, dude, if you sign the first thing people put in front of you without reading it carefully, you deserve your troubles.  I’ve only published short stories thus far, and I’ve sent back contracts because I didn’t get the audio rights back after X months.)
Maybe it’s a good essay.  Maybe having so many people reading your blog is better than making a non-incendiary post that few link to.  But it strikes me like punching a stranger in the face, and then saying, “While I’ve got your attention, may I discuss the joys of self-publishing?”  I think overall, some will be swayed, but most will come away with that icky taste in their mouth where Stackpole is now the face of self-publishing, and that face is smirking, cocky, and dismissive.
As for the rest of you: if you’d like to actually convince people instead of stirring up the hornet’s nest, don’t go there.  Yeah, there may be some legitimate points to be made.  People won’t hear it.  And if your goal is to actually convince people, try something else.
If your goal is to be a compassionate human being, stand back.

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