Size matters, especially in the publishing and/or self-publishing industry. Of course I mean the size of the author’s ego. Pride is what you get when the ego doesn’t know what it’s doing, and mistakes arrogance for self-confidence. The fact is, an ego can be a great source of strength. The difference between an ego that works properly and one that will mess you up lies in how well you know yourself.
I’ve been analyzing myself ever since I was self-aware. That’s one thing that you cannot begin too early in life. In my case, most of the adults around me were retirement age and up, so I needed to gain a lot of understanding as fast as possible. Fortunately, I think every Twombly is born with a keen ability to size up people and situations very quickly. It didn’t take long to figure out how to impress the adults. Children can learn a lot with little effort when properly motivated.
If you pay attention, it becomes easier and easier to discover what motivates other people, not to mention yourself. A healthy ego can tie into this, and relate to people in ways that leave them with a positive impression. Really, the only people you should want to leave with a negative impression are those you don’t wish to associate with. As sad as it is, there are human beings on this planet whom you do not want to spend time with. Nasty, disruptive, mean, dishonest, and creepy, to name a few of those particular characters. Why spend time with people who behave in ways you’re better off not emulating? Behavior does rub off. That’s one reason people associate with others who have similar interests.
An author needs a big ego just to deal with the publishing industry. It takes time, effort, and yes, money, to become a best selling author. Don’t kid yourself–if you’re only getting eight percent of your book’s selling price, you’re paying (through your publisher) part of the rest of that towards marketing and publicity. The only question is whether you’re getting value for that cost, which you should judge by how many copies sell.
One question should be answered before you even pick up a pen or open a file to write: WHY? Why are you writing, why do you want to get published, why go to all the work and frustration? You need to know, because if you have the right answer it will keep you going through ‘writer’s block,’ writer’s cramp, and over the long haul. An ego with the right motivation will answer, “Because I love to write.” Any other answer means you’re not cut out to be an author. Now, how did that last sentence make you feel? It’s true, some people (I’d say many people, judging by the statistics for book sales) write for the wrong reasons. “I have a deadline!” is not good enough. “It’s going to make me rich!” is laughable. “I want to be remembered for generations to come!” could mean you just need to have kids…and treat them well. “They want me to write my memoirs…” So what? Obviously that’s for their profit, not yours, especially if you haven’t even been considering it.
It can be daunting to encounter the prejudice self-published authors face. My ego is bolstered by the fact that I have no doubt I’d have gotten into print eventually if I’d gone with a traditional publishing house. It just would have taken far longer than I was willing to wait. I’m not someone who got tired of the pink slips and turned to an alternative as, well, an alternative. Supported self-publishing was my choice, not my desperation. One of the first blogs I read about self-publishing was a rant on ‘how dare you call yourself an author, you should only call yourself a writer if you self-publish!’ I like to think she was probably one of those ‘authors’ who sold less than a hundred copies of her book.
It helps strengthen my ego when someone tells me how much they’ve enjoyed my novel, Been Blued. Yesterday, I received a comment from someone looking at my web site, saying how much they enjoyed it…from what I could tell. Apparently this reader was in Quebec, so half his comment was in French. My second language is Spanish; I’ll print out the comment and have a friend translate it for me. She might even help me draft a response. At this point, I’m not too busy to respond to my readers.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s really nothing wrong with having a big ego, and the writing industry practically requires it. You just need to avoid overinflating it. I used to hate personality tests, mostly because they had questions that required answers falling within their formula. My personality didn’t fit any of those formulas. Finally, one of my employers had a real personality assessment for its managers, and I was impressed with both its format and its results. They did peg me down, something I was starting to think wasn’t possible. Their most memorable comment was that I tended to overestimate my own abilities, but was able to find solutions that defied others as a result. When you don’t know you cannot do something, it’s amazing what you find you can do. For a while I used the slogan, ‘Where there’s a Phyl, there’s a way.’ Then they decided to try to work me and the other managers to death. At that point, I thought, ‘no way, no Phyl.’ I don’t work for that company any more, and avoid slavedriven organizations in general. Here’s a free tip: when your company suddenly decides to work you to death, go work somewhere else. At that point, your position is already in danger, whether you realize it or not.
Ego/Id, I could never keep the two of them straight. I used to joke that I’d gotten rid of the ego and was now running strictly on id. Actually, I suspect the two of them are in cahoots. Healthy doses of inspiration and intuition should be combined with a smart ego. When these things are working together, you should be a bit like Bart Simpson…who are you, again?
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly