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March 22, 2016

Egos in Publishing: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Big close up of a head with text: Egos in Publishing

Everyone has an ego, a sense of how they fit into the world. Given that definition, egos aren’t automatically bad. Yes, some people have overly developed egos, but others suffer from crippling self-doubt because their egos insist on a negative sense of self.

Obviously, since everyone has an ego, that means everyone in publishing has an ego as well. From the greenest newbie writer to the multi-published NYT bestseller, from the agent and editor of traditional publishing to the freelance cover artist and editor of self-publishing—egos lie within us and around us.

Sometimes egos are healthy and helpful for getting things done. Other times…not so much.

When Egos Are Good…

Writers often struggle to balance self-doubt and over-confidence. Do our words suck? Or are they the best thing ever? *smile*

We must have some sense of self-importance, or we’ll never find the confidence to share our work—or to even think that anyone would care what we have to say. Yet at the same time, we must accept that our work can be improved.

A healthy ego can help us with that balance. A healthy ego can give us enough of a sense of pride in our work that we try our best, without letting perfectionism or self-doubt delay us indefinitely.

As beta readers or critique partners, we need to have enough of an ego to think we can help or that our suggestions might be valid, but we also recognize that the author is the expert of their story. As artists, we have to believe that others will find value in our work.

Agents, editors, or other professionals in the industry have healthy egos if they recognize the subjective nature of writing and publishing. Just because something doesn’t work for them doesn’t mean that’s the end-all-be-all statement on how everyone else would react. They’d also know their suggestions aren’t automatically the best match for what the author wants for their work.

When Egos Are Bad…

We all can probably think of examples for this category. Too many people we encounter in our lives have an over-sized sense of their own importance.

Among authors, we find the newbies who think their first-draft crap magically doesn’t stink, or that the “rules” of what makes writing good don’t apply to them. We also find the experienced, multi-published author who’s now “too important” to be edited, so their quality declines with time.

For those wearing beta reader or critique partner hats, we find writers who think their every command (they don’t really give suggestions) of what to change is gold. Or sometimes, they’ll try to rewrite the story the way they’d write it.

I’ve heard at least one story about an agent telling a writer to give up writing…because they didn’t like the story. I know of an editor who reneged on a contract when she belatedly decided she disagreed with the worldview portrayed in a story and the author refused to rewrite the whole story to fit the editor’s new perspective on life.

We’ve also seen those who give advice—such as in writing workshops or classes—think their way of drafting or editing is the right way, sometimes the only way, even though there’s no such thing as “one right way” to write.

When Egos Are Ugly…

Then we have the situations where said person is full enough of themselves as to be delusional.

Some authors try to demand an audience. Or they’ll purposely hurt others to succeed. Or they think a less-than-glowing review of their story is a personal attack (and they respond with true personal attacks).

An author on Facebook shared how one of her beta readers on a historical romance set in the 1800s—as stated on page one—spelled out a whole plot twist for the hero to threaten to call the cops and refuse to help the heroine. (Perhaps they wanted the story to be an alternate history/steampunk sci-fi thriller with dark noir undertones—where telephones had already been invented and chivalry was dead? *shakes head*)

One self-published author worried because her editor—her freelance editor that she’s paying for—told her to just “accept” all the rewritten changes. Said editor then got upset when the author questioned some of the changes, to the point that threats were made that if the author didn’t accept all of them, she wasn’t “allowed” to use any of them.

Just recently, a cover artist vented publicly when a self-published client asked for more cover options to choose from. Her attitude wasn’t “*grumble grumble* Okay, but it will cost you”—which would be a reasonable response to a client asking for more than the usual work. Rather her attitude (and that of the other author-clients commenting on the post) was “But my work is perfection already—how stupid are you that you can’t see that?”

The Special Case of Egos in Self-Publishing

In self-publishing, an author’s ego might be bigger. On the traditional publishing path, writers just need to believe in themselves enough to send a query letter. After that, if things go well, publication might happen without them needing to again find courage (at least until later).

However, self-publishing authors must have enough of an ego to pay money to let their words be read. They must literally put their money where their mouth is when believing their work has value.

That bigger ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the self-published author has to be completely responsible for how their vision for their work comes together. The freelancers they hire—editors or cover artists—might be bigger experts in what sells or how to appeal to a certain audience, but they’re just the hired help.

That editor’s rewrites might have been perfect, and that cover artist’s designs might have been stunning…for what they thought their clients wanted or for what’s typical in the market. And maybe their clients didn’t do a good job of explaining what they wanted. But that doesn’t mean the authors were wrong to want something else, especially not to the point of being bullied about their choices.

The self-published author might have different ideas about the impression they want to give—one that’s different from the typical approach. They might have a specific brand they’re trying to establish, which goes against the tide. Or they might be happy appealing only to a niche of a genre’s audience and not want to compromise that vision by sticking with the tried-and-true clichés.

It’s not an editor’s or cover artist’s place to say the self-published author is wrong for wanting something different for their work. Sure, they can think the author is ignorant, but there’s no excuse for bullying them—in public no less. (And there’s even less excuse for their author-clients egging them on. *sheesh*)

No author wants to feel cornered into accepting something that doesn’t work for their vision. While traditionally published authors don’t always have a choice, self-published authors do.

So yes, this is a bit of a rant. I hate seeing authors bullied or threatened or cowed into anything having to do with their story or their brand. That goes double (or triple) for self-published authors, when they’re the ones putting up the money.

My point is that an ego is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it be downright necessary or helpful. It’s okay to not be crippled by self-doubt. Really. *smile*

Especially for self-published authors, taking responsibility for our work often means that we have to stand up for what we want over and over. There’s no opportunity to work up the courage once and then be done. We might have to fight for our vision every step of the way.

We might screw up or make dumb decisions, but we’re the ones taking on the financial risk, so the choice is ours. Recognizing that power and responsibility requires an ego, so it’s okay to have one. Even if that means we sometimes disagree with the experts. *smile*

Have you ever thought of an ego being a good thing to have? Do you struggle with finding a healthy balance? Do you have other examples of good, bad, or ugly egos? Do you disagree with any of my examples or with my point that egos can be good and helpful?

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What do you think?

22 Comments on "Egos in Publishing: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly"

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Davonne Burns

Thank you for this. I’ve been dealing with the issue of getting talked over by straight authors regarding queer experiences. It is beyond frustrating, especially when it comes to writing romance. It’s the ugly part of ego showing, and on the part of people who claim to be allies and to celebrate queers.

The ‘gay for you’ debate that’s been happening on Facebook and across the web … it’s incredibly frustrating as a queer person to see so many people defend something that gays, lesbians and pretty much every other queer person out there, sees as offensive. I’ve decided to step away from the debate, because I don’t feel there is one. Either you are an ally and realize the trope is offensive or your ego has got the best of you.

But, I’m checking my own ego and moving on.

Leticia

A couple of times I’ve met beta-reading partners that were extremely toxic, I wonder where some people find so much hate. I felt self-doubt for months after these experiences because they weren’t constructive at all but downright vicious. Thankfully other experiences with beta-readers and readers feedback were completely different, and finally convinced me that the problem wasn’t my writing, but this couple of haters. On the other side of the issue, I also met writers who couldn’t accept any criticism, they only wanted praise.

Lara Gallin
Lara Gallin

I’ve just retweeted an article I read this morning written by a traditionally published author who ripped into those who self publish. One of her criticisms is that by self-publishing, you aren’t eligible for any of the big awards (which are apparently essential for literary fiction). I’m sure awards and critical acclaim are wonderful things, but I find it quite sad that someone considers the status of accolades more important than thousands (or if you’re lucky, millions) of readers enjoying what you’ve created. If offered the choice between the two, I would always pick the latter.

I’m not sure whether it is ego with this particular author or just plain snobbery. She writes literary fiction, which she equates to opera and she compares genre fiction to chart music as though it’s just entertainment rather than an art form in itself. Whichever it is, she clearly considers herself above self-published genre writers.

Hope you’re doing well this week 🙂

Carradee

Everything in moderation. Too weak self-awareness, and you get gullibility and codependency. Too strong self-awareness, and you get NPD and other types of toxics.

Hope you’re doing better! 🙂

Sue Coletta

I don’t disagree. But I wouldn’t necessarily classify the beneficial ego as “ego.” Rather, you need to have confidence in your work. Same holds true for authors published by a small press. We might not agree with the editor’s suggestion 100% of the time. If we can focus on the story itself and not take things personally, then confidence (aka good ego) can go a long way to nurture the editor/author relationship.

Glynis Jolly

I’ve heard it said that artists, which includes writers (of course), are a sensitive lot. Supposably we feel more than people who are pursuing other passions. Along the lines of this assumption, it’s acceptable for us to expect everyone to put on their best faces, for us no matter how they are feeling, themselves. They must not show an inkling of how someone recently has cut them to pieces because, after all, we’re such a sensitive lot and no one faces more of the hideous in life than we do.

Jami, I know that you are trying to teach writers how to handle their situations in life. Dealing with editors, publishers, and other writers is grueling at times. Being aware of this does help in dealing with them. In my forever round-about way, I’m trying to say that we, as writers should get a grip on reality and realize that there are millions, probably billions of people who face these same egos.

Christina Hawthorne

Whoa, great post. Big can of worms, too. Giant worms. Lots of fangs. 😀 I’ve run into a select number of wonderful egos. You come to mind, which is why I keep coming back. Another was when I hired Memphis McKay to design my website. Laird was everything she advertised, and then some. There are many others. Unfortunately, the inflated egos who anger when their genius isn’t recognized abound. I’ve become leery of beta readers for that reason. You describe the worst cases above, though the person who thought I was too stupid to realize their critique was 100% generic was the worst, and then demanded praise in return. For someone who struggles with self-esteem, having people you’re trying to trust abuse that trust stings.

Ella
Ella

When people make comments on my MS that show they completely misunderstood what I was going for in an area, I comment back to explain what it was supposed to be because that’s the only way I’ll understand how they misunderstood it in order to rephrase it so it isn’t misunderstood the next time (did that make sense? Home sick today). I think sometimes that comes off as me being defensive of my brilliant words, however. :-p Ah well.

Finding an editor who is right for you is hard. I have literally – LITERALLY* – lost count of how many I have used in the last two years, ranging from critiques to a full edit. I now have two versions which have the same middle but very different beginnings and slightly different climaxes, and they are both with yet another editor who is critting both so maybe I can stop being so confused about what to use. HAHAHAHAHA…

The sequels I’ve written were much easier. Why is the first book so HARD???

*I should go back and add it all up, but I’m afraid to add up the money portion. If I make back that cost, it will be a miracle. Ironically, the first edit was the most expensive and the least helpful, since she told me to cut the main idea of my series…

Kassandra Lamb

I’m going to resist the urge to do my own rant here. Suffice it to say that I’ve encountered the bad egos a couple of times (like my first editor’s response to my questioning why she was suggesting a certain change: “Because when you’ve been cooking as long as I have, you know what makes the soup better and what doesn’t.” Clever turn of phrase; not helpful information.)

But even with my psychology background, I don’t get the ugly egos. Why do some people feel the need to tear others down to build themselves up? First, it doesn’t work. You just look petty and insecure (except maybe to your few friends/followers who are cut from the same cloth). And it’s such a waste of energy. If you spent that energy making yourself and your work better, you wouldn’t need to put others down.

And don’t get me started on the snobbery of some trad-published authors. Seriously, I’m laughing all the way to the bank with my 60-70% royalty checks. 😀

Anne R. Allen

I think often the people with the malfunctioning egos are telling us about their own issues, and we need to realize what they say has nothing to do with us. I remember the beta reader who said a scene in my first novel was “totally unrealistic” when a character ate half a chocolate cake when her sister went AWOL from her own wedding. “Nobody would ever EAT when they’re upset!!!” she said, in a weird, long rant.

Obviously, I didn’t have faith in any of her opinions. I exited her life ASAP. But I found out later that her daughter had recently died of anorexia. Kind of explained things. Didn’t make her any better at beta reading though.

Tahlia Newland

This is why I always say to my editing clients, ‘Accept or reject my edits as you see fit, because it’s your book. These are just my suggestions.’ I do always tell them why I suggest something though.
I see my role as an editor as someone who helps an author realise their vision – not mine.

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[…] Egos in Publishing: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly by Jami Gold. Some good points to think about. […]

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[…] her no-nonsense attitude about the craft of writing. Approximately a month ago, she wrote about the ego of the writer. Unquestionably, I was already mindful of how the ego could help or hinder in the work. Still, see […]

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