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Craft Techniques and Processes Discussion of the techniques and processes we use to write, create art, take photos, etc.

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Old Jul 12 2009, 04:59 PM   #1
D. M. Domini
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Ambition vs. Modesty

So, while re-reading John Scalzi's blog post on The Big 3, it occurred to me that as a writer, there's very much a balance you have to maintain between ambition and modesty.

Scalzi's point is that if a publisher doesn't move with the times, then they're missing out on getting submissions from some authors.

The most-expressed counter-argument I've seen is that The Big Three make the rules, and the little non-Scalzi authors can't afford to shut out markets like Big Name Scalzi can.

Mr. Scalzi's counter to that is he didn't bother with places that didn't accept electronic even before he became famous.

#

Without getting directly into that debate (if you read the blog posts and the comments everything is pretty much covered from every angle), it made me think of the way authors have to have a balance of ambition and modesty.

The ambition starts with thinking you're good enough to publish a book...the whole, "Psh, I can write better than that crap I just read!" mentality. Or, if not that, the "I write because the books I want to read haven't been written yet" has its own helping of both ego (so only you can fill a niche?) and ambition (you'll be creating an entirely new niche you bleeding-edge author, you!).

When the ambition (and ego) gets out of control, you get scary things like writers throwing a fit because their Deathless Prose wasn't snapped up by the first publisher or agent they submitted to, or you get Big Name Authors throwing Public Fits (on Amazon, or on their blog, or whatever) because of a bad review ("Well I'VE sold MILLIONS...what have YOU sold, critic?"). Or you get authors who alienate their readerbase because they want to "grow and move on". You probably also get writers who do stupid stuff and act like jerks to their editors/agents/people who are in the publishing process behind the scenes.

People aren't stupid; they become embarrassed themselves by seeing these scenes being made. So then the modesty comes into play (whether natural or learned). You do your research, try to be a decent person, and you learn to Not Be That Author by following all the rules strictly. You do everything to a T because you haven't sold millions yet, and that's the way to get your insignificant little foot in the door.

When modesty gets out of control, you end up with writers who don't buck rules that should be bucked, who are self-effacing to their own long-term detriment for short-term gains. In the Scalzi blog post, it seems to me that some of the protests against his stance are by people who are 100% against anything that might decrease their chances of being published. In effect, they are modest to the point of not trusting their writing skills enough that they could get their story published somewhere other than "the big three", and that is why they print out hard copies and mail them off. To me, this is as distasteful as the un-earned and blatant melodrama, and the unrealistically high ambitions and over-egotistic carrying on you sometimes see.

So, it seems to me an author (or any entertainer, really) would benefit best by balancing the two, and going overboard in neither.

I suppose this isn't a ground-breaking observation, and it likely applies to all aspects of life. But I brought it up because I think the over-modesty is a flaw that's not mentioned often in the writing world. And that worries me, because it enables behavior from Publishing Houses and the industry at a whole that should be changed. I'm seeing the Publishing Industry make the same mistakes the movie and music industries they did...years, no less, after the movie and music industries already MADE those mistakes.

Stand up for yourself. Don't be a jerk. It's not all about you...and yet, you have the power. Use it wisely, but don't forget to use it.
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