Tips for interacting with clients – from an autistic

So I unexpectedly ended up working in a form of customer service at my job, and while I would have dreaded the prospect before, I’m now glad because I’ve had the opportunity to grow immensely in terms of learning how to communicate professionally with clients. I’ve also been a client myself and seen what works and what doesn’t work in terms of communication. So, here is my summary of things I’ve learned for How To Communicate Professionally With Clients, speaking as someone who began with absolutely no knowledge in this area:

  • Always thank the client for whatever they’ve done. The words cost nothing, and thanking people tends to make them feel good.
  • Keep the client updated on what you’re doing. You don’t need a play-by-play, but if a client offers thoughts/suggestions and you don’t reply even just to say “Thanks, I’ll work on it and get back to you as soon as possible,” clients are left wondering whether you saw their message at all, whether you’re silently rejecting their ideas, or (for those with anxiety issues) whether they’ve done something wrong. It’s not a nice feeling.
  • Whenever you are not sure of what the client wants, ask them to clarify. People usually don’t get upset about being asked to explain what they want, and being clear and communicative can save a lot of time, instead of doing something the client completely does not want, which wastes everyone’s time and can lead to frustration.
  • If you can’t do what the client wants, explain why, and end with either alternative options or other ways to move forward. Most people are reasonable when you explain your reasons for not doing something. But if you respond without any clear instructions for next steps, a client may feel like you’re either stonewalling them or you’re implying you don’t want to accommodate them. Which doesn’t feel good for a client who is paying for your services.
  • It’s always nice to end your communications with invitations for further communication from the client. My most-often used sentence when I messaged clients was the ending: “Thank you, and please let us know if you have any further questions or concerns.” It makes you look friendly and open to clients sharing whatever thoughts they have.
  • There’s a difference between truly nasty clients vs. clients who have high standards. Clients who are demanding because they have high standards may be annoying to deal with at times, but they are reasonable. That kind of client just wants the best results possible from the service they’ve paid for, which they honestly have a right to. Antagonizing these kinds of clients is never going to lead to positive results—it’s just going to lead to everyone feeling frustrated.
  • When you’re communicating in a professional context, remember that disagreements are usually not personal. In a way, this is ironic coming from me—I’m extremely sensitive and liable to take many things personally. But honestly, this is true. Dissatisfied clients are typically dissatisfied with your service/product, NOT with you personally. This is even more true in the context of, for example, an artist who works on commission: art is extremely subjective, and a client who doesn’t like your work isn’t saying “You’re a terrible artist” or “I don’t appreciate how much time you put in,” they’re just saying “This isn’t the product that fits my needs.” Taking things personally is the way to make communications turn unpleasant really quickly.
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Thoughts on online professionalism

What prompted me to make this post was a controversy about the firing of two game developers from ArenaNet, who makes the MMORPG Guild Wars 2, which is my favorite MMO of all time (even though, for various reasons, I’ve been on hiatus from it for a while). Unfortunately, in the era of “fake news,” most of the gaming news sites don’t seem to be presenting what happened with any sort of objectivity, so I’ll link to some YouTubers who present what actually happened, including the original tweets in question: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aooZ_jKPLv0https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9q50oy4-UJM

The way news sites have been trying to spin this issue is: “Female game developer stands up against sexist tweets, gets fired.” However, I think the more accurate way to look at it is: “A game developer, on a social media account that identified her as a professional working for the company, while taking about the company’s product, was rude and insulting to a customer who was trying to start a dialogue and got fired for it.”

(In case anyone thinks I have an agenda here, I do urge you to look at the original tweets she responded to—which are quoted in none of the news articles covering this fiasco—and come to your own conclusions.)

So from that standpoint, let’s talk about online professionalism.

The lines between personal and public lives are frequently blurred on social media. But I’ve come to my own conclusions, which I think are the most reasonable way to view professionals/creators behaving on social media:

  1. If you identify yourself as a professional on social media (e.g. a content creator who sells their products, or an employee of a company), then you are always interacting with people on that social media account as a professional. You cannot claim it as a private personal space.
  2. If you need a place to vent, either do it offline or create an anonymous account with no identifying information about you/your job.
  3. If you are interacting with people as a professional, and you behave in a rude way to customers/potential customers, regardless of your reasons for doing so, you have to be prepared for negative consequences to flow from your actions.

I really don’t think it should be surprising to anyone (at least, not in the United States, which has at-will employment) that companies are within their rights to fire an employee who publicly makes comments that may be damaging to the company.

When it comes to independent creators, I hate, hate seeing authors behave like jerks on Twitter because hey, it makes me not want to buy their books anymore. Maybe you might dissuade only a small number of people from buying your product—but that small number could make a big difference in terms of your success and exposure.

It’s also worth mentioning that the ex-ArenaNet writer is a white woman. I find that, as a multiply marginalized person (autistic, asexual, woman of color), I can’t risk calling out microaggressions in a hostile public manner, because chances are, neurotypical white readers/potential readers will hold that against ME.

I’ve lost maybe a handful of Twitter followers for talking about racism in the queer romance writing/reading community in general terms, even though I already hold back from blasting Twitter with my honest thoughts for fear that if I call out white queer authors directly, one of them might try to sabotage my career. So I’ve stayed largely silent, even when it’s caused me a lot of internal turmoil to do so. Maybe, once I have an established supporter base, I’d feel safer talking about these issues (always in a civil way, obviously); right now, though, I don’t.

I guess all of this is a long-winded way of saying: Professionalism on the internet is an important thing, even if you feel it’s an unfair burden sometimes. People can and do associate your comments with the image of you as a professional. And consequences flow from that.

(Addendum: As a multiply marginalized person, I’m well, well aware of microaggressions, but I also absolutely do not tolerate it when other marginalized people use their identities as a derailing tactic in a situation in which it actually has no relevance. All that accomplishes is make it even more difficult for marginalized people to talk about actual discrimination and injustice.)

What time is it? It’s freak-out-over-social-things time!

On one hand, it’s fascinating how much I learn about best ways to communicate with people by observing allistic people’s communication failures (which I might write a post about in the future). On the other hand, it doesn’t really help my sense of anxiety when I’m caught in the middle of a communication mess.

One of the things that is really annoying about being autistic (especially, in my case, when you throw gender and racial stereotyping in the mix) is how you’re trained to view being direct and assertive as a bad thing, but that causes issues when you need to be direct and assertive to get things done. Whenever I communicate in a direct and assertive manner, I feel like people react very poorly to me. But it drives me up the wall, because for professional matters, I just want to get things done. I’m not (generally) offended when I’m being direct; I just want to get things done.

I’ve been having some…not entirely pleasant discussions about the cover for my book, which boggles my mind because I expected a certain kind of professionalism from this process. I mean, maybe I’m overreacting; that’s another issue with being autistic, wherein you’re trained not to trust your own interpretations of how people are feeling or communicating. But I can’t help wondering: Is it that I’m not reacting in the way they expect me to react? Do I sound “not grateful” or not excited enough in my emails? Why is that a requisite emotion I have to express? I am appreciative, but I also want to reach a resolution? Is it not correct to view myself as the client in this situation commissioning an artist with specific requirements? Am I wrong to insist on a cover that aesthetically appeals to me first and foremost?

I kept wondering if my expectations were unreasonable, but when I talked to my sister (who also works as a graphic designer), she said she would’ve handled the communications differently (from the artist’s side).

I don’t know. Allistics are confusing.

Honest editing thoughts

It’s funny how, when you have a dream, sometimes you end up thinking, “If I could just make it to X stage, then everything will be smooth sailing from there.” But then that’s not actually true. Every time you think you make progress, some new roadblock gets in your way until you wonder if you’re even making progress at all.

For me, I always thought, “Once I have a publishing contract, everything will be fine.” I’m not afraid of editing. In fact, I usually love editing—more than drafting, to be honest. I love the feeling that I’m making my manuscript better.

But after my first editing experience, I feel…confused and frustrated, instead.

The majority of the editing I was asked to do for my book involved removing prepositions.

Prepositions are usually there because they’re grammatically necessary and/or idiomatic. “Take” means something different from “take out,” etc. For the most part, they’re not really replaceable.

But even if the word “out” is repeated due to being used in multiple verb phrases—e.g., one sentence has “take out” and the next one has “kick out” and the next paragraph has “make out”—my question was, Is this really a big deal? Is this really something a reader would notice as “bad”? It’s not like the repetition of a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb, which does tend to stick out. No one reads a book and thinks, “This book has the word ‘the’ or ‘and’ too many times,” because those are grammatically necessary words. Aren’t prepositions the same?

The second thing I considered was replacing the entire verb phrases, like “distinguish” instead of “make out” or “remove” instead of “take out.” But, here’s the thing. I chose to use simple verbs not because my vocabulary is limited, but because in my mind, it fit the style and feel of the story. The narrative voice is meant to be simple and highly colloquial, using words that people commonly use in conversation. I also used simple verbs because they felt more physical/visceral and blunt. And this is not a story in which I wanted the language to call attention to itself; I wanted the reader to pay attention to what was happening, how the characters were reacting, and what they were thinking.

I was also asked to remove words like “just” and “even” from the story, as my editor considered them unnecessary. But again, I put those words there in the first place because they fit the highly colloquial narrative voice I was going for.

And, after going through all the instances in which the editor removed those words, I came to the conclusion that “just” and “even” were not, in fact, always unnecessary. Sometimes removing “just” or “even” removed an emphasis in the sentence, making it feel not emphatic enough. Sometimes it also removed the logical connection between two sentences, making it seem like the dialogue or narration was abruptly switching topics. And that was something I absolutely did not want.

The bottom line for me, the question I kept coming back to, was: Why does any of this really matter? So what if the words “just” or “out” made up 0.75% of the total word count in the story? Is that really a big deal? Would a reader actually notice?

Having to go through each and every single sentence where the editor removed a preposition or “just” or “even”, and spend time thinking about whether it sounded better with or without these words when there was no clear answer and both ways were grammatically correct, was extremely time-consuming and draining. And I wasn’t sure how much it would actually enhance the reading experience.

Moreover, the removal of the prepositions (most of which I had to put back in) made me question whether I even knew English grammar at all. And I really, really don’t think the editing process should make a native English speaker, with a graduate degree, whose day job involves writing and editing, question whether they know English anymore.

I’m fine with editing the plot to fill in logical holes. I’m fine with removing sentences or paragraphs if the topics are redundant. I’m fine with improving the flow of sentences. But I hate editing that feels “unnecessary.” I hate editing to change things when there are no clear grammar errors or certain things are done for valid stylistic reasons. I hate playing the synonym game solely for the sake of playing the synonym game. This is fiction; other than maintaining grammatical correctness and clarity, there is no “house style” or anything to adhere to.

And here’s one last thing: I have worked, and still work, as an editor myself. To be fair, I’ve never done editing for the publishing industry; the editing I’ve done is checking for spelling and grammar errors and clarity so as to make documents clean, professional, and persuasive. I know the difference between actual writing/grammar problems versus stylistic differences. There are plenty of times when I see people construct sentences or use words in a way that I wouldn’t have done if I was the writer, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong, so I just leave it alone. Because everyone has a different way of intuitively forming sentences and selecting words. That’s what constitutes a writer’s “voice.”

At this point, I just really want to know whether my experiences are standard for professional editing or not. I don’t like rejecting the majority of edits I get because I don’t want people to think I’m a “diva” writer who can’t handle criticism, but I’m a lifelong reader and editor of my own writing who notices very quickly when writing sounds unnatural or stilted, and I could not do that to my own book.

On friends

One of the things I’ve learned as an autistic person is that other people are not to be relied upon.

Because I’m autistic I have a harder time making friends, but I also have a hard time retaining friends.

I’ve noticed, over and over, that the quality of most of my friendships was just different from other people’s. Other people were invited to things that I wasn’t. Other people cried on their friends’ shoulders while I could only ever rely on calling my family to commiserate.

The message that I’ve received is that even when NTs/allistics seem to like me, it’s only superficial. Because of my fundamental “weirdness” that sets me apart from them, they don’t feel the need to be close, to invite me to things, to be there for me at all. In other words, they don’t genuinely care about me.

This has caused me angst in the past when I felt like I’d invested a lot in a friendship, only to be eventually ghosted or just forgotten about. Now, I cope by refusing to invest in a friendship unless I think the other person cares first.

Yes, it’s made me more closed-off from people, but at least I feel emotionally better.

I once saw another autistic person say something along the lines of, “Friendship is all about reciprocity. You have to do something nice for a friend in order for a friend to do something nice for you in return.” However, this just doesn’t line up with my experiences. I’ve done many nice things for other people, and other people have let the friendship die in return. It makes me think NTs/allistics don’t really care about reciprocity if you’re “too different” from them. Everyone likes free handouts, but they’re not going to return them if they think you’re “too different.”

So I don’t operate based off that assumption anymore, because it just gives me anxiety. For example, on my author Twitter, I only blurb books that I’ve read, enjoyed, and genuinely want to promote. I don’t blurb books only because the author is my friend or someone I want to be my friend. I operate based on the assumption that the author’s not going to blurb my book back, because expecting otherwise would just make me have an anxiety breakdown in the end when, inevitably, my efforts aren’t reciprocated.

This post was brought to you by some recent conversations with my mom (who’s also autistic) about her son-in-law (NT/allistic), in which my mom gave him lots of free stuff at first because she wanted him to become part of the family, but based on his behavior, he doesn’t seem to want to be close with us, and now my mom regrets everything.

We really should talk more about how anti-autistic behaviors in society aren’t just about overt discrimination (although of course there’s tons of that). They’re also about NTs/allistics just not willing to invest anything in us, no matter what we say or do.

The Poison in the Well

Recently, I’ve been struggling with a lack of motivation to write. I think that lack of motivation comes partially from still feeling like I’m in limbo with my first book—and, while I’m still waiting on edits, anxiety over whether I might’ve said something wrong to my editor. Sigh…

The other part of it, though, comes from the fact that I’ve been rapidly losing interest in the genre I primarily read/wrote for the past few years, due to rampant race issues in the queer community. Something like this has happened before—for example, when I lost interest in the Captain America fandom due to a combination of personal disappointment in the fanfiction community plus disagreement with prevailing attitudes about Bucky Barnes. It killed my ability to write any more fanfic. And now, I feel like my interest in continuing to write queer romance/fiction has waned quite a bit.

A lot of my personal angst stems from seeing a somewhat popular white queer romance writer who has persistent race issues in their book continually get uplifted and praised, and yet I feel like I can’t point out the issues in their work on Twitter because I’m terrified of the possibility of retaliation or career sabotage. Do I think they’re the kind of person who would do that? I’m not sure. But even the risk of that happening is too much for me to afford.

I still haven’t figured out how to deal with my feelings since—unfortunately—this author runs in the same circles I do, which means every time I see them promoting their book, I get those negative feelings all over again.

Just to put what I’m dealing with into some context: I finished two books with queer romance over the past few years and was working on a third, but that third has now sputtered and died. Part of it might’ve been inevitably due to the fact that I was writing a contemporary romance, a genre I usually don’t prefer; part of it may have been due to the fact that the story was becoming increasingly autobiographical, which I also generally tend to avoid. But part of it, too, may have been due to my conflicted feelings about this genre as a whole. I started it wanting to rectify the lack of POC representation in queer romance, but my feelings have grown such that that initial motivation has become strangled by a morass of negativity and a feeling of “Why bother? This genre’s race problems are never going to get better. Might as well look elsewhere for stories to tell.”

Sigh.

Maybe, once my anxiety over Book 1 gets resolved, I’ll be in a better position to work on getting my writing mojo back…

Disappointments, continued

(A continuation of my last blog post.)

(If you don’t want to read me rambling self-indulgently, please feel free to skip this post.)

I’ve been trying to understand why I’ve been having such negative feelings about being told there was a two-month delay for my book. Even with all the reasons I listed previously, the disappointment should be something easy to get over.

(Unless part of it is my autistic dislike of changes in schedule, which could also be a factor here.)

It’s hard to explain or even rationalize, but it just feels like…my excitement for the release of my book has just evaporated. It feels like I no longer care about marketing/advertising, because I just want so damn badly to have a book cover and physical copy for myself, and be done with it. I thought I was feeling better about it this morning, but then when I thought, “Now I won’t see the book cover next month, I’ll have to wait another three months,” I felt sad all over again.

To clarify: I still love my book to pieces. At this point, I believe it’s my favorite story I will ever write in my life. It just feels like my ability to care about whether other people will love it has vanished because of the prolonged delay.

A sense of hopelessness has fallen over me, fueled partly by the year of rejection I endured: No one will like this. It’s too “niche.” It won’t find an audience because it’s being published by a small publisher.

These worries aren’t new, but whereas before, they gave me anxiety and the incentive to market/advertise as best as I could…suddenly, I no longer care. Suddenly, I feel like everyone could hate my book, and I don’t care as long as I have a copy for myself.

And this is not a constructive attitude to have, but it is what I’m feeling right now. Because the process has been so long and drawn-out. I never wanted to have my selfish desire to see my book in print outweigh my desire to find an audience (otherwise I just would’ve self-published), and yet that’s what’s happened with this book now.

I love my first novel, but I’ve hated the fact that it’s been in limbo for so long, like a ghost that just can’t find a peaceful rest.

I love my characters, but as much as it hurts to say goodbye…I need to move on.

To other stories, to other markets, and to strive once more to realize my dream of making a living from my books.

I will always love this book of my heart.

But I need to move on.