By , on July 5, 2012


I recently tweeted about something funny that happened to me. I was in a pizza place, and yes, I know I’m supposed to be like this big health nut tweeting about hummus and running at the gym, but I just finished my proofreads for Sever and I wanted to celebrate with what is essentially a doughy wheel of cheese. Get off my back.

Anyway, the owner of this pizza place has been a family friend for decades. My parents and I have been going there for dinner since I was a toddler. He hasn’t seen me in a few years, and he asked what I was up to. I told him that I write books. The words still feel strange in my mouth, because writing is one of those job titles that come with a lot of questions. And I don’t even see it as a job; it’s more like I tricked a publisher into paying me to do what I love. And people either think I am dirt broke, or a bajillionaire, and they are shocked that I’m wearing sweatpants from old navy and they assume these Target CZ earrings are the finest of blood diamonds. Or they assume that I took out a loan to pay for these shoes (by the way, Payless).

I suppose my pizza-spinning friend chose the dirt poor assumption, because he gave me a sort of piteous smile and said, “Just keep looking for a real job.” I smiled and told him to take care.

Obviously, I came right home and tweeted about the exchange. A few of my followers were amused, and a couple were angry on my behalf. For the record, I was never angry about it. The truth is, I get things like this a lot. And, as I told someone on twitter, because I’m a writer, people often think they can say whatever they want to me. A very wise and experienced industry pro overheard me talking with my agent about a hilarious/infuriating thing that was said to me at a signing, and this industry pro told me, “No matter how long you’re in this business, people will always find a new way to offend you.” This was coming from someone who has been in publishing since before I was a zygote, so she knows her stuff. And if people were still finding new ways to offend her, I supposed I should just accept that this would be a part of my journey.

Writing may be a whimsical profession, but it has more or less the same ups and downs of any profession. Before Wither, I was a switchboard operator for a small lending company. I was the only person directing calls, 8-4:30, Monday through Friday. Every single person to call the office had to go through me, and, this being a loan office, a lot of people functioned under the delusion that I was personally responsible for their low credit scores or for their account representative being out of the office that day. I was called a lot of things I couldn’t repeat in polite company (and I pride myself on this blog being family friendly, besides). For the first month or so, I took it. I referred to each caller as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and in response to venomous remarks, I apologized, saving my curse words for after I’d hung up.

But eventually it took its toll. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I was raised to be respectful when addressing another person. This isn’t a practice universally acknowledged however. One afternoon, a gentleman called and asked to speak to his account rep. The rep was out of the office that day, and another rep was filling in. I explained this, and he was angry because the rep filling in was a woman. He demanded that I get my fat lazy (redacted) off the chair and go find his rep’s home phone number. And while he was in the middle of a tirade, which I honestly can’t remember, I hung up. Maybe it was a knee jerk reaction, maybe it was anger, or shock, but that’s what I did. A minute later, the gentleman called back. I answered the phone. And, folks, it was like I’d never even hung up. He was still ranting. When he paused for a breath, I told him, “Sir, like it or not, I am the only person who can direct your calls, and I’m not going to put you through to anyone until you learn to speak with some respect.”

He hung up. Didn’t call back. And for all I know, he’s still learning. But I felt better, and that was what mattered. I felt like I had shown this gentleman that I wasn’t just a voice on the phone, but an actual, fully-realized human being. I feel like people forget this, and that’s why they act the way they do. And from that day forward, I was better prepared to handle the more venomous callers. Sometimes they even apologized.

When I left my job to pursue writing full time, silly me, I thought I had seen the last of rude people. Looking back I’m not even sure why I thought this.

Now, to be clear, I am not here to discuss reviews, or blogs, or opinions of any kind. I take absolutely no issue with anyone disliking my work, my person, or my face. I advocate freedom of speech, and if someone wants to tweet about how stilted my prose is, or write a seven-page review detailing why my writing is inferior to the poo of a Montana mountain lion, that is a-okay with me. What’s said about an author is really none of the author’s business.

However, when one is addressing another person directly, respect is kind of standard. Unless I ran over your puppy or insulted your mother, there is no reason to talk to me the way that caller did.

I don’t think the owner of the pizza place meant to be disrespectful. Or at least I choose not to. But what I told that person on twitter is true: since I wrote a book, people really do feel that it’s okay to say whatever they want to my face. Last week during the reveal of my latest book cover, a person tweeted to me publicly, firing off some venom about my cover art, which this person had seen on Goodreads. This person used words like “green THING” among others. In the interest of keeping the peace, I won’t quote it directly, but I assure you it was enough that my jaw about hit the desk. The approach was reminiscent of the mean girls in my high school addressing me about my hair. I was stunned that someone would be so blatantly disrespectful to another person’s face (or, you know, computer screen). Even thinking back on it, words like “flabbergasted” and “befuddled” come to mind. Did I mention that this person’s tweet is how I learned my cover was even up on Goodreads? I don’t mind that this person hated the cover. But no one on this magical green sparkly planet has the right to talk to another human being like that.

But I’m no longer a switchboard operator, and I can’t just hang up. I was struck with inspiration to type out some most unladylike responses before I finally replied that yes, that was the cover, and I loved it, thanks for asking. I don’t think it occurred to this person that I’m as much a human being as they are, and I’m sure they’ll never see this, so I can only quietly hope that this person learns some tact. But nonetheless, I maintain that it’s important for people to show respect to others, regardless of profession. We are all people here.

I hope I’m an approachable person. I’m not on twitter to receive throngs of praise and be fed grapes. I want readers to feel free to say “Eh, this cover, not so much” or “THIS CHAPTER MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH YOU A LITTLE” (assuming it’s done in jest; please don’t actually punch me). I enjoy hearing from readers. If you love something, like something, or hate something, I’d love to hear from you. All I ask is that when you reach out to me directly, I’m shown the same level of respect any one person should show another person. What matters isn’t what is said, but the way in which it is said.

If a few tweets like that one and some pizzeria snark are the price of being able to tell my stories and interact with all of you wonderful readers and followers and fans, then I happily accept. And even if you are rude, I’ll most likely give you a respectful reply, if I do reply at all. That’s what I’d encourage anyone to do. And then I’ll probably stick my tongue out at the screen. Just saying.

34 Comments to “The art of being a human being”

  1. Melissa says:

    Very well said! Every time I get a new job (I like to think I’m moving up the scale of job quality) I always think there will be less rude people, because it’s a better job. Even now, I’m about to be a grad student, and I’m thinking, there will be less rude people than in undergrad! I’m sure I’m mistaken about that… my mom’s been telling me for years that rude people are everywhere. Why can’t everyone just get along?

  2. Kathryn Rose says:

    Someone once told me after I had to deal with an unfortunately unhappy human: “It’s happened before and it’ll happen again” and I think there’s a lot of freedom in just knowing that and living your life anyway. The best we can do is to be kind to each other, but when that’s not returned, all you can really do is just hope they, as you said, learn tact one day.

    Thanks for this great post, Lauren. You’re lots of fun to follow on Twitter (more cat photos, please!) and I always enjoy your blog posts. :)

    Oh, and your book covers? Awesome with a capital A.

  3. Liz says:

    I’m a librarian so I’m familiar with customer service, and I totally agree that you should be respectful to the other person. It sounds like you tried really hard to make sure your customers were actually happy. I come close to losing my patience know someone wants my money without quality service, and I say this with airlines in mind. If you can’t respect my service, time, or money, I will get angry with you quickly. In the blog world, authors disrespecting bloggers has been an issue this past year, so I’d say this discussion is far from retired. Great post!

  4. Julie says:

    Very well said, Lauren. I agree that respecting other people is extremely important. There are a lot of rude people out there, and sometimes I just want to tell them to be quiet if they don’t have anything nice to say.

    Of course, I’m pretty rude at times too.

  5. ComaCalm says:

    So, when I bitch about someone, I LET THEM KNOW. Which you decided not to do. Good thing I saw this post really, or I never would have known you did this.

    The comment was out of shock and I didn’t realise you’d take it so seriously. I’m sorry but after the amazing other covers I was shocked by the weird green background. I’m sorry dude, but it is not pretty.

    So if you wish to bitch me out again, please have the courtesy to email me? Ironically I find this a bit rude.

    • Kim says:

      Case in point. You obviously wouldn’t know what rude is if it came up and slapped you in the face bc that very comment bolsters this post. Lauren was SO right about you, but now we don’t have to just take her word for it- your rudeness shines through quite well all on its own. Thanks for proving her point.

      • Marie says:

        Amen to that! Not that I doubted Lauren but wow, talk about RUDE! This blog post was in no way disrespectful in the first place.

        Someone needs some serious anger management problems. This person is probably one of those people who bitch people out on Amazon/YouTube lol.

        @ComaCalm It’s a cover DUDE, chill out. Publishers control the covers, not the authors.

    • Really? says:

      Doesn’t this really just prove the whole point of the post? There was nothing mean, snarky, or bitchy *at all* about this post. It was thoughtful and insightful and until you outed yourself here… really didn’t focus on you at all. All she did was use your tweet as *one example* of rudeness and you’ve proven her point by this comment. So… you should have taken your own advice and e-mailed her privately instead of leaving a public comment. Gotta give a little to get a little, eh?

  6. Leanne Yang says:

    It’s exactly what I feel like as a teenager. Everyone here assumes we are in gangs or whatever, and we like to ruin everything. They think we’re careless… But I think it’s the thoughts of others that make some teenagers act that way, because they think that they have to live to what others say about them. It sucks sometimes, having other people assume things about teenagers as a whole, they don’t even care about individuals.

  7. Janet Reid says:

    Wait, you think it’s rude Lauren didn’t email you to tell you she’d written a post about something you said that triggered a blog post idea?

    Something about her cover being ugly (something she has no control over, and is a done deal with no way to change it.)


    This reminds me of the fellow who was all a flutter that one of my authors had used his name for her protagonist. He huffed and puffed that he hadn’t provided permission for that.


  8. Meghan says:

    Your blog posts are so insightful (and, of course, well-written)! And I’ve had a few interactions with you on Facebook, and I definitely find you approachable and polite. I love connecting with authors through social networking and seeing them as real people, not just someone out there who happened to write a book I read. So thanks for the times you replied to me. I always find that so cool!

  9. Heather says:

    Great post! Thank you… You are an inspiration. (And I am endlessly entertained by your Facebook posts.) If I’m ever published, I hope I can inspire and interact with my readers/followers in much the same way you do.

    Also, I love all of your covers… I just think they’re the bee’s knees.

  10. Lindsey Webster says:

    Aside from being a writer I’m a psychiatric nurse and I’ll tell you I’ve been called almost every name in the book (a day without being sworn at is rare). Some people think I’m an angel for what I do but most patients hate the nurses. After awhile you get used to the lack of respect. I hate saying its part of the job but I guess it just is.
    As a writer I find I get the same thing — I’m either not successful/or a “real author” and just do it for fun and should focus on more productive real things, or people think I must have money because published books = lots of profit. Not quite. Well I’m working on it being a career (and like you said of something I love) and maybe others in my day to day life will take that seriously eventually.

  11. Kaitlyn says:

    Lauren, I originally loved your books because I thought they were not only well written but unique. After reading both of them I stumbled upon your blog, and reading your thoughts make me like you even more as an author. I love that you are down to earth and that you didn’t change who you are just because you are published.
    p.s. I am now a life long fan and am looking forward to reading more of your novels, that is of course once you write them. ;)

  12. starbryte says:

    Will you do the book release (for book 3) in New Haven again? It was small but so quaint and nice. I felt like such a ninny trying to talk to you. I stood there like “DUH” I did not know if I was allowed to take up much time so I tried to rush what I was saying & it was so awkward but you were (blessedly) nice to me. Hopefully you didn’t laugh when I walked away..lolz..
    Then my husband thought your Mom was the manager of B&N..lolz..Between my awkward social graces and his snaffu I bet u were ready to have us kicked out! lolz!
    Memories of my first ever book signing *sigh*

  13. starbryte says:

    Sometimes its hard to just let it roll off your back. Even ppl who are my friends say stuff and I feel that tell tale prick of tears in my eyes. Am I too sensitive? Maybe, but then again sometimes ppl just need to keep somethings in their heads and not out their mouths. Not everything you think needs to be said out loud.

  14. NaomiRuth says:

    I want to post this blog post everywhere. Especially in retail places. I grew up learning about “common courtesy” and going out into the “real world” it’s been frustrating to be beaten over and over again in the head with the fact the common courtesy isn’t really that common.

    And the other day I had to call a tech desk phone number like five times and each time I went to dial I was so afraid I would have to deal with some snippy annoying person that I would want to punch. But they were all super nice. And they were all respectful.

    So. It can be done. I just wish that more people would understand what you’ve written about here.

    So, thank you for writing this, to hopefully remind some people to let go and be a little respectful and aware of the fact that other people are actually people with lives and thoughts and feelings.

  15. Liza says:

    I did retail for a major upscale retailer years ago and I learned some people actually treat you as if though you were beneath them simply because you work in the jewelry department or a minimum wage job.

    I had customers say within ear’s reach or sometimes to my face that cashiers must be stupid, ignorant, poor, uneducated, etc. Many thought, because you worked as a cashier it was okay to verbally abuse you.

    I absolutely hated retail.

    To this day I cringe around the holidays and try to avoid shopping, because I still remember just how ugly people get during the Christmas shopping season. It’s really appalling.

    On the flip side, I’m a pretty blunt, uses curse words in every other sentence, that puts pirates to shame, kinda gal. It’s a shame, because rudeness gives us direct gals, like me, a bad reputation. I’m never intentionally cruel, but if I’m close to you or have a vested interest in an outcome, I’m going to let you know what I think.

  16. Liza says:

    Sorry I forgot to add, the best lesson I learned from a mentor was the following:

    “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”

    I think you could constructively critique the Sever cover without being hostile about it.

  17. Lauren,
    I’m kind of in love with this blog post… and by ‘kind of’ I mean; courting it profusely with flowers and chocolates until it’s worn down enough and forced to love me back. I shall share this with the masses.

  18. Jenelle says:

    Oh Lauren! I know exactly what you are talking about when it comes to phone etiquette. I have worked in customer service for years, and like the internet, anonymity seems to fuel a person’s rudeness. I learned early on not to take what they say personally. They are just sad little people trying to make themselves bigger in some way.

    I’m glad you don’t take the criticism personally. Just keep doing what you do :)

  19. Jenny says:

    I’ve written several articles about this on my blog but I don’t think enough people have taken them very seriously. It’s interesting to hear it from the other side & so well said. It’s kudos to you that you didn’t feel the need to pinpoint the person who said it & make them a pariah. You demonstrated exactly what you were asking for yourself. Well done.

  20. Eleanor Ford says:

    Since working for a large UK bank on the telephones I always try to be nice to people who work in customer service, I try to imagine that the person is in front of me which really helps, being nice to people makes them want to help you a lot more than if you shout.

    I also had a problem customer once (who was a Reverend, so you’d think he’d be a nice Christian) who shouted at me, refused to give me his security information and upset me so much I had to hang up on him after giving him a warning. Then, out of the thousands of people he could have got through to on the phone all over the UK and India, he got me. Again. And got hung up on. Again. After that I needed a cup of tea (proper Brit).

    One of my co-workers used to chat nicely to customers on the phone while flipping off the computer screen. I really hope people don’t do that to me when I ring customer services!

    Also, I love this blog post! Anything that reminds people that the names they see on screen or voices they hear on the phone are real people with real feelings needs to be appreciated.

  21. Ruby's Reads says:

    [...] Lauren deStefano (whose blog and vlogs I enjoy more than her books) wrote about common courtesy. It’s something I’ve been giving a great deal of thought [...]

  22. Desiree Thompson says:

    I worked at a Western Union money order store years ago. If someone didn’t have an ID or a password from the sender than they could not get their money (obviously). One man tried to get his money without either so I politely told him to call the sender and have him attach a password. The customer called the sender in front of me and ranted for over a half hour about what a rotten c*** I was among other horrible things. As his voice rose it attracted my managers attention but instead of kicking the guy out or even telling him that he couldn’t act that way in the store my manager gave the guy this money (very against the rules and actually a crime) and reprimanded me. As much as this is a reminder to me that I need to treat people with respect no matter how annoyed I am, it also ruined me for customer service. Needless to say I put in my two weeks notice the next day!

  23. Did I mention that I think the covers to your books are awesome? :D One of these days, I hope to get a chance to read them.

    I am also one of those people who tries to be respectful to others, even when they are being rude to me. I’m not always successful, but I try.

    Congrats on your new book. All three are on my very long TBR list. :D

  24. Although a lot of people picked up on the customer service aspect of your post and how we should all exhibit a little (lot) more courtesy towards others, something I picked up on was how you mentioned that people think they can say whatever to you because you’re a writer. Back in college people would say the same condescending comments as your pizzeria’s owner, over my college major (the best was the lady who snobbily asked me if my major was a 4 year degree). Luckily, I was raised not to be a b*tch to rude people, but it’s really made me think of how we act towards others who have careers that we look down upon, or even don’t understand.

    But I ramble… I’m super glad that you’ve managed to maintain such a gracious nature towards comments and don’t respond in ways that will demean your character. Keep stayin classy! :)

  25. I absolutely love this post!! Thank you so much for saying what so many of us CAN’T say (well… to our bosses at least). I work as primarily customer service with a lot of clerical entry, so when people are mad and they call us up, guess who gets to hear it first? Meanwhile, I have to apologize profusely for something I didn’t do. It just really pushes my buttons that people think they’re entitled to be rude and push other people around and especially at work, I can’t do much about it!
    Being a blogger, it’s also extremely frusrating when I get comments about how my OPINIONS are wrong. I’m all for chatting it up, talking about why our takes are different, but I try to treat everyone with respect and I expect the same treatment back. That’s just how I was raised! Even if I do get insulted, I put on my best “this is me being professional” face and try to answer back calmly. Anyway. Long story short, I really appreciate seeing posts like this! I was already a fan of your work and this is one of the reasons I love interacting with authors. We get to see what awesome people they are besides their already awesome writing. Thank you!

  26. Wonderfully written and very true. It always blows my mind how rude people are. You said everything very tactfully and classy (and much better than I could have).

    By the way, I think all your book covers (including the one for SEVER) are gorgeous!

  27. I hear what you’re saying, Lauren; but I don’t completely agree that this has happened because you are a writer. We now live in a time of instant gratification and where anyone (myself included) can be a critic. A lethal combination, I must say. No more yelling at a magazine, newspaper or TV…I can tell you RIGHT NOW what I think of you and EVERYONE can see it AND agree with it! It used to be enough that being anonymous in comments made you bullet proof; you can say whatever the heck you want! No one know who you are! You can be 100% honest, pithy, hateful, whatever! Unfortunately, now it seems that people don’t care if they are anonymous – they’ll never meet you, right? And, you deserve the truth because you asked for it by putting yourself out there! Gotta keep you grounded & not full of yourself, right? Then there are the professional H8ers out there who bomb comments because they are a-holes.

    The good thing: you can delete any truly hateful comments from your blog. What power! And on other sites, you might just not want to read what others write, especially if the site is well-known.

    Mean or unthinking people can ruin your day, I know. I used to work with attorneys. You know who you are and what you are capable of, so wear that like a suit of armor. If it gets through your armor, make sure you have someone you can talk to who always makes you feel better.

  28. [...] who’ve said better. One of my fav’s is Lauren DeStefano. To be honest, this post, ‘The art of being a human being’ is the first thing I’ve ever read by DeStefano. But I’ve got to tell you, it [...]

  29. Loni says:

    Great reply. Respect is absolutely important. If you don’t agree/like something, there’s a way to go about saying it that isn’t… “rude”.

    Also, the Sever cover is lovely.

  30. I love this! My best friend’s dad used to have this tendency to be kind of a jerk to food service workers. You know the type: he’d get frothy whenever a fast food employee would recommend he try whatever new sandwich was on promotion that month (“If I wanted it, I’d order it!”). Then his daughter got a job at Starbucks and came home from work one evening covered in the beverage that an angry customer had thrown at her (seriously), and he learned a valuable lesson: all those fast food workers he’d been yelling at over the years were someone else’s kids. I’m really hoping that guy on the phone learned a similar lesson that day. Excellent post!!

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