Divo/Diva?

Theoretically, the words “diva” or “divo” are Italian for the most prominent singers, either female or male. Among professional classical singers, usually when those terms are applied to a singer, they’re meant in a much less complimentary way, a form of shorthand for a self-important pain in the ass, who makes life difficult for colleagues, conductors, accompanists, or anyone else who does not worship at the diva’s/divo’s feet.

While such divas or divos may be even outstanding and highly acclaimed, few end up having long or lasting careers. One of the very basic reasons for this is that, compared to the number of extremely talented professional singers, the number of top-flight and high-paying opera houses is very limited, and the number of good roles suited to even the best singers in each voice type is also limited.

There’s also a misconception that divos and divas only exist in the world of music, but I’ve certainly run across them in other fields, particularly in politics, but also in education, and even among F&SF writers. No… I won’t name names, because that’s not the point of what else I’m going to say. The point is simple. If you’re enough of a pain in the ass, no matter how talented you are, sooner or later, you’re going to be replaced. If you have enormous talent and ability, it will occur later, but it will happen. This is true whether you’re a writer, an artist, or an editor.

And if you’re a beginning author, you won’t even get to the point of being recognized as a divo or diva. I know. I’ve seen it happen on more than a few occasions, where an author insists he knows more than an editor and that the editor doesn’t know how to market his book or doesn’t understand his genius… or something else. In most cases that I’ve seen, those writers never really went anywhere. [And by the way, from what I’ve seen, in writing, there are more divos than divas.]

I’m not saying that editors are always right. They’re not. But almost always, a seasoned editor is far more likely to be right than a beginning author. The seasoned editors got there by having a better track record than other editors, and if you don’t think editing is a competitive business, talk to a few editors.

All that doesn’t mean an author can’t ask why, especially if the asking is done politely. And it doesn’t mean an author can’t suggest. But unless you’re already at the top of the bestseller lists, you’d best not demand. And even being at the top of the list isn’t proof against divo-self-destruction of career. I’ve seen that happen, too.

Just like singers, we authors are kept in business and kept writing by having enough people buy our books that the royalties pay the bills for us and for our publishers – and the same is still true if you self-publish. Most editors handle a number of authors. They tend to resent authors who take up a great deal of their time unless those authors produce incredibly good sales numbers, and they still resent those authors, which means, if you’re one of those, when the sales numbers drop, that editor isn’t going to be quite so solicitous. And if you’re not one of those authors, and are barely making the sales cut, when someone else comes along who’s much easier to work with, your books will go on the back burner, and that’s if you’re lucky.

I suppose the point I’m hammering is simply: Be the best you can be, but never be a divo/diva.

2 thoughts on “Divo/Diva?”

  1. darcherd says:

    Actually, I’ve seen numerous cases where SciFi/Fantasy authors’ work suffered precisely because they got so big and successful that they could ignore editorial suggestions, with the result that their books became bloated, rambling and less enthralling. Like LEM, I won’t name names.

  2. invah says:

    I have, unfortunately, worked with people who expect to be catered to, who expect vast amounts of emotional labor exerted for their benefit, who are functionally narcissists; and these coercive relationships are essentially black holes devoid of reciprocity.

    This dynamic is entitlement-driven, and they regard this as their due.

    Even more unfortunately is that this particular field both attracts and enables these individuals. It is a truly toxic dynamic.

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