B&N Week 61: Grow A Thick Skin

| February 21, 2012 | 4 Comments

Straight talk only on Tuesdays.

Yes, okay, I’m in a Freddy Krueger state of mind. I need to watch Nightmare on Elm St 3: Dream Warriors again. Yes, all the movies are bad after the second one, but you have to admit that Freddy was funny.

Anyway, it’s Tuesday, and that means it’s time for Bolts & Nuts! This week, I’m going to talk about growing a thicker skin. You’re going to need it, let me tell you.

What does growing a thick skin mean? It means not letting things get to you. It means not going off on tirades when things don’t go your way. It means never letting them see you sweat.

Let’s say you’re an artist, and you hand your portfolio over to an editor that you’ve been standing in line for hours to see, in hopes of getting a job. You hand it over, and the editor tells you that you need to work on anatomy, perspective, and storytelling, and that you shouldn’t ink yourself because you’re destroying your pencils.

You, however, are Graeme McFreelancer, and instead of taking the advice, saying thank you, and walking away, you get all butt-hurt, and throw a little tantrum, making sure your name is remembered in a bad way, and ensuring you won’t get a job anytime soon.

Or, you’re writer Kletus Jerkovitch, and you manage to get a first issue of Pen-Man into the hands of an editor, who promises to read it and get back to you. The editor does, and tells you that you need to work on characterization, dialogue, storyarc, pacing, and making sure the story makes sense.

Instead of saying thank you and working harder at getting better, Kletus gets butt-hurt and sandy as well, also being remembered for the wrong things.

Don’t do this. Don’t do it. Learn to say thank you, and even if you aren’t, at least sound sincere when you say it, and then leave it be. Don’t take to the internet in any capacity to show just how raw your butt is. Don’t. It will only succeed in making you look bad, and then you won’t get the work you’re looking for.

You need to get a thick skin.

A couple of years ago, I was on Digital Webbing. The Writer’s Showcase was dead, so I thought I’d liven it up some with a couple of pitches I had sent to my editor. I was unable to sell the pitches, not because they weren’t good, but because the editor was having a hard time placing books in the trade book market. One was a romance, and another was something in the horror vein.

The posters at DW ripped the pitches to shreds. Part of it was misunderstanding the market that the pitches were for, but most of it was in retaliation against me for being mean to writers who posted their scripts.

Know what I did? I said thank you. I attempted to explain, but they weren’t hearing it. They wanted what they wanted, and that was that. Did I get upset? Sure did. Did I let them see me sweat? Sure didn’t. I said thank you for your thoughts and your criticisms, and I kept it moving. I didn’t try to defend, I didn’t try to retaliate. I kept it moving.

This is the information age, folks. The internet age. Once you put something online, it’s there forever. You can try to delete it, but more than likely there’s an archive of it somewhere. Once you put it online, you’re stuck with it. Forever.

Here’s what’s going on, folks. You’re in a competition, whether you know it or not. You’re in a competition with everyone else who wants to break into comics, as well as those who are already in and are making them. If you’re trying to get work at Marvel or DC, then you have to be a cut above the rest, and even then, you have to elbow your way in. I personally know a guy who has a check from Marvel for a short story he wrote. He made it to The Show. And you know what? No one’s calling him back to continue making comics fro them. Instead of getting pissed off and taking to social media and airing out the fact that he can’t break the barrier again, he’s out there getting his hustle on. Butt-hurt and sandy? Not where the public can see it.

Why is it a competition for those jobs? Because the jobs are extremely finite. Literally, Marvel and DC could employ twenty writers between them, and have both of their universes covered. That’s ten apiece. Obviously they hire more than that, but they don’t need to if they don’t want to. Ten apiece. And what are the odds of you making it into that extremely rarified air? [Artists, you’re a little different. Gone are the days when an artist could handle two books a month. Most can barely handle one. The reason for that is because the art is more complex to create. That takes time. Most of today’s artists can barely hold a monthly schedule. That’s why some titles have a rotating team of artists that work on storyarcs.]

So, if you’re in competition for the jobs, what makes you think an editor is going to hire you if you’re thin skinned? You may be talented, but when the first internet poster blasts you for incorrect characterization, or what they think is bad storytelling, you’ll fly off the handle, responding from a very unstable, emotional place, instead of waiting and thinking it through.

If you’re on someone’s radar, they’re going to be checking you out: your blog, whatever social media you’re on [Twitter, Facebook], and possibly even the forums you frequent. Editors want to get a sense of who you are and what you’re like. If you’re thin skinned and blasting everyone who’s trying to be helpful, then you’re going to be slow in your development. Being thin skinned is a headache editors don’t need. They have too many other things on their plate to deal with you and your attitude.

Grow a thicker skin. Learn to say thank you, be sincere with it, and keep it moving. I know it hurts, and I know you think you’re just as good as anyone on the shelves now, and better than some. You may even be right about it. It doesn’t give you the right to go anywhere people will listen and talk about how wrong someone is for not recognizing your genius. Remember, you went there with your hat in your hand, looking for a job. They have the ability to give you the job, or to give it to someone else. If they see you’re easily hurt, then you’re more than likely not going to get the job.

Grow a thick skin.

Homework? None. Enjoy the break. See you in seven.

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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 (4)

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  1. John Lees says:

    I recall the Digital Webbing incident in question. It was pretty frustrating to read, as actual feedback was sacrificed in favor of, “Let’s take that editor down a peg or two.” And even the most dignified, “Thank you for your comments, what I was trying to do here was…” response from you simply merited obviously pre-rehearsed, “HAHAHA SO YOU DON’T LIKE IT WHEN SOMEONE TEARS YOUR SCRIPTS APART MR TOUGH LOVE!” repliies. Then that one guy kept on bringing up those scripts and how you “flew off the handle” at them being critiquued for like a year afterwards. But the truth of the matter is you handled criticism – even when it was unfair – very well.

    And I think that’s a good point in this column. Yes, you have to learn to accept fair criticism from editors, don’t fight it or get pissy, try to learn to just say thank you and try to apply their notes. But there’s also the fact that, the more you name grows, and the more comic readers become aware of your work, the more people are just going to hate everything you do regardless. In one of his CBR columns, Jason Aaron said something like, “You know you’ve made it when you find a stranger who irrationally hates you.” And I think what sets apart the professional from the amateur is whether you can learn to ignore that bashing, or get mired in a message board flame-war defending yourself (which, regardless of how justified you are, is always going to make you look bad).

  2. Conner MacDonald says:

    I read a fight between Dan Slot and some “fans” on a message board. They played the whole “Oh come on are we not aloud to have our opinions!?” card. Really though Slott wasn’t upset about their negative opinions, it was what their negative opinions were based off of (a theory one poster had which every one seemed to adopt as fact). I felt bad for him, but really he should know to ignore it.

    In that thread alone there was endless praise to Slott, but he focused his attention on the two guys being jerks.

  3. Jules Rivera says:

    I remember there was this illustrator who did a cover for one of DC’s flagship titles. Green Arrow, as I recall. I don’t remember the guy’s name though. Anyway, a fan had written him a rather courteous email pointing out a technical error the artist had made in rendering Green Arrow’s archery stance (a thing in comics that is frequently borked up). The artist shot back with an especially nasty response involving an f-bomb or two, and the result was a brief internet kerfuffle. On the artist’s behalf, it was highly unprofessional behavior, and I doubt he got much work doing covers for DC after that.

    Lesson learned: If you get unsolicited negative feedback about your work, do not respond with an emotional, kneejerk response. Stop. Take a walk around the block. Take a deep breath. Take a bubble bath. Then, you put your retail customer service face on and kindly thank the respondent for their input as milquetoast as you can manage. Or don’t even respond at all. When you represent yourself (and especially a big company like DC) you cannot afford to lose your cool.

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