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Thread: Week 36- Self-Worth & The Power of "No"

  1. StevenForbes Guest

    Week 36- Self-Worth & The Power of "No"

    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 it it. It's Tuesday. Love it. I know I do.

    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. Yes, we're getting serious again, and 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 closing the 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, relative newcomers to the big time, 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 begin making 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 its 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 its 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 Group [the web comic]. That's just writing, and that's every week. I'm also lettering Group and writing my blog. Pretty soon, I'll also be lettering My Life, and putting that up as a webcomic. The artist is already hard at work on it. That's secured, as of this writing, of what I'm working on every week.

    Unsecured but diligently working is another webcomic that will be a Zuda submission. I was contacted to see if I was interested in writing it, and I said yes. I just have to write, and the creator will take care of the rest. If it wins or if it doesn't, to will continue from there no matter what. That's unsecured because I'm still waiting to hear back on the plot I sent back to the creator. Besides that, I'm also working on writing another two webcomics. I don't have any artists for these, but I'm actively working on writing them. So far, that's seven different items/aspects that I'm working on. Seven.

    I have, looming on the horizon, the large project that I keep mentioning. This is the project that will more than likely put The Proving Grounds on the shelf for a while, if it comes to pass.

    I have paid editing work that comes in.

    I am seriously debating collecting these series of articles into a book.

    That makes ten. Well, nine, since one project would replace the other. That makes me a busy guy, doesn't it? It's getting harder to keep up, too.

    I'm also on Facebook, and just joined Twitter. 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 really about it for this week. See you back here next week!
    Any specific questions, ask them in this thread, and I'll answer them. If it's something of a more delicate nature, e-mail me. I check my e-mail constantly, and will do my best to get back to you within twenty-four hours, depending on the number of you who decide to flood my inbox. No attachments, please. They'll be deleted without being opened. (I know, I know, but blame the virus-makers.)

  2. JohnLees Guest

    Another great edition of Bolts and Nuts! There's actually some deep stuff here. Both the concept of "there's always writers worse than you and writers better than you" and of "the power of no" are big ideas that have floated around scattershot in my brain before, but here you articulate them into clear and concise points. And I think they stand as two of the most important pieces of philosophy you've offered in these columns.

    The best editions of Bolts & Nuts for me have been the ones where you finish feeling energised, excited, and eager to go write some comics. And this was one of those columns.

  3. tiggerpete Guest


  4. JasonStephens Guest

    Great column! Definitely helps to put people in the right (realistic) mindset for breaking into comics.

  5. StevenForbes Guest

    Glad you liked it!

    Like I said, it doesn't paint me in a pretty light, but it's not about me. If I can help trim any amount of time off of your development, then that's what I'll do.

  6. JohnLees Guest

    Oh, and you should definitely collect all this into a book. It's stuff that's well worth reading. And I'm always happy to see more books ABOUT comics getting published, that's a market I'd like to see expand.

  7. JeffHaas Guest

    I agree with everything you said in this column. I remember aiming for Dark Horse first time out. It took some maturity to realize that one needs to start at the bottom.

  8. tylerjames Guest


    Could you elaborate more on your objections to Ronin Studios? Is it just a quality issue, or does it have to do with the contract they offer creators?

    I'm very weary of small publishers, who want rights to intellectual property, in exchange for publishing and perhaps a percentage after profits, sometime, if there are any. I'm weary of small press IP farms. (Zuda, which for all intents and purposes is an IP farm, is at the very least upfront with their contracts. With them, at least you know what price you are paying to give up your rights and percentages.)

    From what I gather, there is nothing publishing a book through Ronin or a lot of the other very small publishers gets you that you couldn't do yourself. In Ronin's case, they sell their books online through Indyplanet. Anyone can do that.

    Even some of the other, bigger name smaller publishers (oxymoron much?) don't really seem to add a lot of value.

    I like your suggestion of doing some short anthology work to get some published credits to your name. Of course, if the name of the game is to actually get your name out there and get people reading your stuff, I don't know that there are really any small-press anthologies out there that getting into will be a big stepping stone. I'm not an anthology reader, but I've got to think most of the print runs on small press anthologies are tiny, and you'd stand more luck publishing on the web in terms of getting eyeballs.

    Of course, there is something to be said with starting a relationship with a publisher...and anthology work is a good way to do that.

    Anyway, more good stuff to think about here.

  9. StevenForbes Guest

    Sure I can, Tyler.

    It mostly has to do with quality. Quality, and numbers of books sold.

    Before I really started down the editorial road and was just trying to get published anywhere I could, I came across Ronin Studios. Their basic setup was to be a mini-Image, except that there is space within the "studio" to help you hook up with the rest of a creative team.

    So, I went there with an idea for a three issue series about a guy becoming the new Supreme Being (God), and the EiC at the time liked it a lot. So I got in. I was looking for artists, and was totally blown away by the level of crap that was there. The few good artists that were there were already locked up on other projects. I refused to hook up with anything less than a stellar artist, so my project was on a back burner for a while as I worked out the script. Then I said to myself, what am I really doing here? There's nothing of quality here. And because there's little of quality, most books struggle to sell 75 copies per issue.

    Nope, that's not really something I'm willing to align myself with.

    And when I say "lack of quality," I mean that in every aspect of comic creation. Bad ideas linked with bad writing, terrible artwork, coloring and letters, all "edited" by people who do one of two things: they either put their names on the books and are ashamed to do so, or withhold their names from the books out of shame for putting out a woefully sub-par product.

    There are no contracts that I know of. Things may have changed now. But the only thing I think you cannot have in a Ronin book is porn. If there's porn, it will no longer carry the Ronin label.

    Like I said before, the only good thing I can think of about it is that you have the opportunity to have a presence at a convention you can't attend. But if you have three people sitting behind a table, they're going to be pushing their own books before yours. If it's a bigger con, you will be among twenty other books that are trying to get seen. Really, it's a no-win situation.

    But no, they don't want a piece of your property. There is no contract that I know of. In fact, you're going there basically to get the Ronin logo on your book. That's all you're asking for, because you do everything else.

    The best person to ask about this would be Marvin Wynn, our own MWynn, who has a book coming out through them.

    But like I said, I wouldn't put a book out through them. From what I've seen, the worst book that Image has ever put out is still better than the best book Ronin has ever put out. If you're going to be doing it by yourself anyway, you'd be better off following B&N and hiring me to manage your project than you would be in putting a book out through Ronin. At the very least, you wouldn't have to worry about being associated with bad books.

    Yes, that is my snobbery coming through, bright and clear. Make no mistake about that. Yes, you can get a book put out through Ronin Studios, and you can show it around and have it as a writing credit to add to your resume. It's great, and you can be in comics that way. It's not hard to be in comics. Draw one up, go down to Kinko's, make a ton of photocopies, and bam, you're in business. I just think that Ronin is a home for those that don't know any better, who lack talent, or who can't get a deal anyplace else. Why Marvin's there, I have no clue, but rest assured, you can do better by yourself.

    As for other third- or fourth-tier companies, they can add value to your self-worth because you're getting some form of recognition for your skills. That's not vanity publishing, even if you're only paid in comp copies. Someone else believes in your abilities, and that adds tremendous value to your self-worth.

    And yes, anthology work is small and doesn't go for much, but at the same time, it's something that's printed by someone else. It doesn't have to be a large stepping stone, it just has to be there.

    Of course, none of this matters if you're going to self-publish. If you're going to take it all yourself with Asshat Comics, then the only thing you need to worry about is the quality of the book you put out (along with a truckload of other concerns). Putting out quality content is key whatever you do. Put out enough of it for long enough, and you'll eventually break even, if not make some profit.

    Because even though we love the form, none of us are in comics to go broke.

  10. harryd Guest

    I think the main point is that Ronin Studios is small enough that if your going to "publish" through them, your really might as well self-publish. Since their printer seems to be the POD service Ka-Blaam, their store Indyplanet, I'm not really sure what publishing through them offers other than sticking their logo on the front. I dunno, my personal main beef with them was that I pointed out they were doing their artists a disservice by having their own web-site "Store" link go to an under construction page, when it might as well link to their Indyplanet page. I was told a entierly new web-site would be up anytime now... which was probably over 6 months ago (and from what I gather it had been that way for a while before I mentioned it). It would be interesting to hear Marvin's experience doing The Edge through them, if he happens to read these comments.

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