B&N Week 53: Self Worth & The Power of “No.”

| December 27, 2011 | 5 Comments

I love Tuesdays. You do realize that, don’t you? There’s just something about Tuesday that just makes the day seem, I dunno, better. You’re having a good time, right? So am I. Why? Because it’s Tuesday. You know I’m right. Just flow with it.

This week, we’re going to talk about your self-worth. I’m talking about what you think you’re worth, and what your actual worth is. I’m talking about things that will directly affect you and your chances of being published anytime soon. This will also affect where you get published, how often, and how you could be perceived. I’m going to talk about No and its power over you, not to mention the power you can have while wielding it.

Sounds fun, right? Let’s get started!

I don’t like making too many references about myself, either positive or negative. Most of the time, when people talk about themselves, it’s generally in a positive light. It turns into a commercial about themselves and their accomplishments, because really, who doesn’t want to be seen in a positive light? So, like I said, I don’t like making too many of them. I don’t want this to be the Steven Show, because in all honesty, it’s not about me. It’s about how I can help you, but in this case, I’m going to depart a bit and talk about myself a lot. Not all of its going to be purty.

I have a pretty good sense of my self-worth. In all actuality, it may be overinflated. More than likely. I say this because of my attitude when I was just getting into writing comics. My attitude was horrible. (I’m not seeing that.) [Sarcasm…] (No, really. I’m not seeing it.) Fine. Examples.

When I was starting out, I was almost obsessively protective of all of my ideas. I would have artists I was trying to work with sign non-disclosure agreement before I’d give them anything resembling something meaty to hook into and get them excited about. This was the very late 90s, early 00s, and the speculation bubble was bursting; but at the same time, there were literally tons of places that were springing up, doing their best to be the next Image. I bounced from place to place, trying to find somewhere that I felt was good enough to have me. (Wow.) Yep, my ego was rampant. I went from place to place, evaluating other writers’ stories [without being asked], and found a lot of dreck. I was out of control.

I’m embarrassed of how I acted back then. I wouldn’t change it, because it helped to mold who I am today, but I still don’t have to like it. My ego and sense of self-worth was very high, and I made it extremely hard on myself to actually find a place to be published. I was Marvel material, and I was going to storm those halls no matter what!

I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want you to be how I was. I probably added somewhere around five years to my development because of my attitude. Don’t do that.

No matter what your self-worth, when you’re first starting out, there is no place that is too little for your talent. With Marvel’s closed doors on open submissions, and with DC’s doors basically closed as well, I want you to understand that you need to start somewhere smaller before you start reaching for those heights.

A writing credit is a writing credit, and what you need to do is build on them. I know that it is very hard to get that first break. That may be part of the reason you come back week after week. But once you get that first break, you need to follow it up with another writing credit.

Part of it is a Catch-22. A lot of times, companies don’t want to hire you without a track record, but in order to get a track record, you have to be hired. Not a fun position to be in, is it? In a lot of places, you’re not really going to be able to get your foot in the door without anything but your best idea…and that idea better be a short one. You’re not going to be able to tell the epic of an ongoing Pen-Man comic over at Asshat Comics. It’s just not going to happen. Your best idea has to be a short story, and it has to hit hard. How short? Probably a five pager. More than likely, no more than eleven.

Where are you going to get that writing credit? The simple answer is anywhere you can. The not so simple answer is a little different. I’m going to show my snobbery again.

Here’s the situation. You’ve gotten a lot of rejection notices. You’ve submitted to Dark Horse, Image, and any other place that will look at your stuff. You have some art for the submission, but you’ve got no traction. So you go down the list, lower and lower, until you finally find a place that will take your story, basically sight unseen. I’ll name that company in a bit.

The name of the game is not just to be published, but to have someone else say that you’re worthy of being published. For the control freaks among us, that might be doing something as crazy as self-publishing. For others, it’s cracking the Image nut. I’m going to tell you to forget Image and Dark Horse for now. Just put them out of your mind. Your self-worth may tell you that you’re just as good, if not better, than what’s being published there, but their view of your worth is different.

Rein in your ego and look at anthologies. All you need to do is get published in a single anthology, and you’re a published writer. Let someone else take care of the headache of editorial. Write your story, get your [very small] check or [much more realistically] compensation copies, and continue to march. Follow that up with either another story someplace else, or the same anthology. It doesn’t matter.

Do you know what getting published by someone who’s not you feels like? It’s like getting asked to the prom by a cute girl/guy. No, not the king or queen of the school, but definitely not ugly. It’s like getting a promotion that’s truly deserved, because it’s in honest recognition of all your hard work. Depending on the company and how big the project is [and how long you’ve been nurturing it], holding that first published issue can be akin to holding your firstborn child.

Getting someone else to publish your story does wonders for your self-worth. It tells you that, yes, you are worthy of someone else publishing you. It makes Pen-Man not a vanity project. [Just to be clear, a vanity project is one that you publish yourself. Yes, for all intents and purposes, even though it is a very tough nut to crack, Image is vanity publishing.] Your worth has been validated by someone else, so much so that they’re willing to foot the bill for your story idea. That validation is a wonderful feeling.

Now, when it comes to ego and self-worth, there are always going to be two classes of writers: those that you are better than, and those that are better than you. This realization can make for something of a Jekyll and Hyde mentality. The ones you’re better than [who are just wretchedly bad] can bring out the Hyde, and the ones who are better than you can bring out the humble Jekyll.

Beating up on wretchedly bad writers can be something of a pastime for people. Poor spelling, grammar, storytelling skills, what have you—it can be fun to tear these people down. They’re not up to your level, and they suffer from illusions that they’re just as good if not better than what can be found on the shelves. That’ll bring out the Hyde in people in the blink of an eye. Tearing them down makes you feel better about yourself, because you know that they’re going to be a LOT longer in getting published than you are.

Then there are writers like Matt Fraction and Johnathan Hickman, who seemingly came out of nowhere, and who just write rings all around you seemingly with ease. They’re where you want to be, and you want to pick their brains on how they did it. [I can tell you: talent and perseverance.] Love them or hate them, they’re in a place where they can make a living from their writing. And where are you? Listening to me. See what I’m saying, where I’m going with this?

You’re always going to be in the middle of these two types of writers. Always. Fraction is better than me, but worse than Ellis. Ellis is better than Fraction, but worse than Moore. Don’t ask me who’s better than Moore, but he may feel he’s worse than some. And who knows, it may even be true. But like I said, you’re always going to be in the middle of two types of writers. Hold your self-worth accordingly.

Just like all creators aren’t made the same, the same holds true for companies. Your mileage may vary, but there is a company, however, that I’m not that fond of, and basically, you could do just as much for yourself as they can. That company is Ronin Studios, and really, I don’t think it will help your self-worth.

(Not impressed much with them?) Not in the least. I’ve seen some of the writers they take, and really, except for possible convention presence, I don’t believe they are worth the trouble. When it comes to writers they take, the artists, the stories, I think you would be better off getting your books done by yourself. (Wow. Snobbish much?) I said this wouldn’t be flattering to me. I hold a higher opinion of myself than to have a book done through Ronin. (Sounds like sour grapes.) How can you have sour grapes when they’ll take just about anyone and any story? (Where’s your full disclosure?) Yes, I had a limited series I was going to try and do through them. However, when I got in and looked around, I saw that it wasn’t for me. Again, this was my younger days, so I was something of a bigger ass than I am now. But go do your own research. Talk to people who have gotten books done through them. Make up your own mind.

While you’re doing that, I want you to realize why it’s so hard to get something of quality done. This has nothing to do with money. This has to deal with the power of a single word. No.

When we’re talking about you as a creator, taking something to a publisher in hopes of getting a deal, you have to understand what the power of the word no really means. To bring up Lee Nordling’s series of articles on pitching, part of it is not knowing what part of the sandbox to play in. If you’re a quality creator trying to pitch a book about zombie microwave ovens to a nonfiction Christian publishing house, it’s not going to go over well. Their no really means we’re not interested, but that can be hard to figure out if all they sent was a form letter rejection.

There are other times when no means you’re not there yet. You may have a decent idea, but you’re not advanced enough in your abilities to tell it as yet. You want your story about Pen-Man to be nuanced and delicate, and to have meaning on multiple levels and be a revolutionary piece of storytelling, and it comes across as nuanced as an episode of 7th Heaven. (Burn!)

In and of itself, no is a powerful, powerful word. Depending on how it’s wielded, it can either spur you on or dash your dreams. Let’s look at the nut everyone wants to crack: Marvel/DC Comics. Everyone wants to get in there and make it big. However, no matter what their policies say, their practices are a tacit no. That’s mainly for writers. That does a lot for your self-worth, doesn’t it?

Even though it seems personal, I don’t want you to take it that way. It’s not worth the heartache and hassle, because, honestly, it’s not personal. Understand that, and you’re really on your way while keeping your own self-worth intact.

Eventually, there will come a time when the shoe’s on the other foot. When you will have the power to say no. I’m going to tell you right now, use it wisely.

I’ve intimated at how busy I am, but let’s look at it a little more closely. These are the things I’m working on every week: Bolts & Nuts, The Proving Grounds, and another column that will debut next year. That’s just writing, and that’s every week. I’m also writing Runners, and looking to do some interesting things with the ComixTribe digital comics, which will involve more writing. There’s also the paid editing that I do, as well as a short story I’m working on for another ComixTribe project that has yet to be announced.

I will also be formatting B&N into a book.

That’s eight things that are on my plate, and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll be adding to it when some other things happen. I have a graphic novel that I want to do, as well as head up a few anthologies. That makes me a busy guy, doesn’t it? It’s getting harder to keep up, too.

I’m also on Facebook, and Twitter [@stevedforbes]. Those take some time to read and follow. [If I’m not following you, please don’t take it personally. There are some people that I feel I have to follow, and others are friends/colleagues/contacts. That makes for a lot of reading, and if I followed you all, that’s all I’d be doing. This is part of the power of no. ] Add in family life, and things can get extremely crazy.

Then there’s e-mail.

So, with all of that going on, it gets more interesting when other things come along and want my attention. Then I have to value myself against what the requester wants of me. Paid writing/editing? No problem. Free work? That depends on what the work is, how time intensive, and my interest. It also depends on if the person is asking a favor or not, and how close they are to me.

I’m coming into the power of no, because other things are taking off for me.

No has to be used judiciously. When you reach the place where your paid time equals your free time, and you start to get more and more paid time, you’re going to have to learn not just how to say no, but how to say it without feeling bad about it, too. That may take some doing. However, being able to say it also does something for your self-worth. Being in a position to say no makes you a more valued commodity. This is a truthful no, not a fake one that you’re passing on because you’re waiting on something better to come along. Passing on something to try to falsely inflate your self-worth isn’t going to help you in the long run. Trust me on this. It all comes out in the wash eventually.

This is not to say to take whatever comes along whenever it comes. Be judicious in what you do and do not take on. But when you’re first starting out, you don’t have much in the power of no as you do when you get more established.

And that’s all I have for this week. No homework. This is my Christmas present to you.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (5)

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  1. Cesar Feliciano says:

    Beast article Steve. Well thought out and insightful. It’s a shame how much part we give up because we don’t appeciate the strength of the no.

  2. Hey Steve,

    Good article.

    One question.

    Why would submitting to Image be classified as a vanity project?

    I always thought a vanity project was something that was only good in the writers eyes, the writer pushing forward with the story perhaps self publishing despite evidence that it may not be popular?

    According to your own definition vanity publishing :

    “a vanity project is one that you publish yourself.”

    But with image, they publish this under their company name, although there is a fee to pay, perhaps this is the important factor I’ve overlooked?

    Also the option of self publishing a comic is always open, major deciding factor is money. Whereas with Image, its never a definite yes, even if you offered lots of money..?


    • Hey, Seb!

      Great question! Let’s see if I can answer it adequately.

      Image, despite their ability to say “no,” is still self publishing. Here’s what you get for the Image “i”: you get in Previews, you get some store orders.

      However, just because you got into Previews doesn’t mean that they’re going to market the book for you. Just because you got in doesn’t mean they’re going to push the book for you. You still have a LOT of work to do yourself. Think of the Image “i” as a stamp of quality on your self-published book. You still have a ton of headaches before you, even with the stamp. Pricing, format, availability, marketing, advertising, and more. All of these are still your headaches to handle. Image isn’t doing any of this for you.

      Your project just has a little more luster with the “i” on it. But, technically speaking, you’re still self-publishing. You’re still doing a vanity project.

      Hope that helps.

      Thanks again for the question! Let ‘er rip if you have more!

  3. Very good article! Thanks for being so open and honest about your own thought process when starting out.

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