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 crushing 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?Pin It