Originally published by Scott E. Pond on LinkedIn on October 5, 2014

Being a creative is challenging, especially when one moves from the realm of hobbyist to semi-professional.

As an unknown and unexposed creative, we have very little experience with the response of strangers to our work. We’re pretty sheltered at that stage. I’m reminded of the shock that the really bad contestants on shows like American Idol exhibit after Simon rips them a new one. Many of them are taken aback and devastated. Often, you hear them say that their family and friends thought they were “wonderful.”

When you move from being a closet creative to the exposure of being semi-professional (or even indie), the game changes. Those who are able to roll with these changes, to grow with the experiences, stand the greatest chance of success. Those who can’t? Well, they are left shaking their heads at the unfairness of it all.

The difference between those who can grow and those who can’t ultimately comes down to the make-up of different people.

As creatives, many of us exhibit a couple common traits. One being that we often see the abilities and creations of non-creatives, the semi-creatives, and even the professional creatives who have the skills and experience that we do (but who may not share our vision) and we say: “I can do it better, quicker, more effectively, etc.” The other quirk is that many of us creatives see our finished works and we have difficulty seeing the flaws and/or shortcomings; it’s the old “trees for the forest” scenario. The third quirk is that most of the input from our viewers in our formative years as a growing creative are coming from either folks we know, folks who know and/or admire what we do (or the fact that we have the courage to do it), or folks who generally want to encourage us or be nice (because we’ve all been taught that if you don’t have something nice to say then it’s better to say nothing). Unfortunately, while these quirks have some positive aspects, they also have a ton of negative as well.

The Multi-Creative… And Other Rare Creatures

For the first, even though we may be creative, most of us are not multi-creatives to any great degree. Most of us are not equally skilled as writers, graphic designers, artists, etc. It’s difficult to do so unless you have the exact perfect mix of chromosomes and experiences early in life.

Are there exceptions? Of course. But they are rare.

Out of all the creatives I personally know, only a handful are able to cross the extreme artistic boundaries.

In my experience as a passable graphic designer and artist, I submit that MOST authors should NEVER create their book covers (make sure you focus on the key words here before jumping down my throat and giving me your exceptions… there are always exceptions). Most just don’t have the eye or experience for it. Most of these master (or aspiring-master) wordsmiths should never release their textual work of art with a visual attempt at a cover they also (with a lot of pride) have created themselves.

Of course, this depends on their intent with publishing and why they are releasing their literary masterpiece. If they are targeting a very close circle of friends, family, and hardcore admirers, then the cover matters less. Friends, family, and fans often are very forgiving… and are often full of blind praise.

However, If they are trying to be considered a professional in either the indie or small/big-press published worlds, then they should seek and use professional design services or at least designers with a positive reputation and recommendations. In my opinion, the cover is as important as the story. The cover can make or break your book or short story collection. Even now in the digital world, the doorway to purchase (and an indication of the quality within) is still the cover. It’s the first thing a prospective reader sees. If you have a poor cover wrapped around a fantastic story, then you are losing out on a portion of readers who won’t give it a second glance or take a chance.

The cover is a powerful thing… and most starting authors treat it like it’s cheap wrapping paper on an expensive gift.

I know every word, every line…

For the second, one of the reasons authors will typically put aside their first draft for a period of time before tackling further revisions (and also why hard-nosed editors and alpha/beta readers honest enough to point out the flaws and portions for rework are so very important) is that creatives are poor judges of their own work (for positive or negative). How can they be? They spend countless hours crafting their work of art, chiseling off the rough corners, delving into the shadows and bringing out beauty where there was nothing. Our creations are our babies, our Mona Lisa, our Gettysburg Address.

How could there be anything wrong with it… I mean, just LOOK at it!

Let’s face it… we suck at self-critique.

Admit it now, people. You all suck at being impartial judges of your creations!

As creatives, we’re either too positive or too negative; often well into the extremes of that continuum. We don’t know moderation and honesty when it comes to self-appraisal. Experienced creators are normally too negative, too critical of their works (unless they become arrogant and develop delusions of self-grandeur).

Inexperienced/newbie creatives on the other hand tend to be too positive and blind to the faults.

Get real people! We creatives NEED input from others. Badly! Now!

Tit for Tat: The Real World Balancing Act

This leads me to the last. As creatives we need BOTH positive and negative input.

First, we need positive input for a single important aspect: it gives us courage and confidence to create more and then let our creations run free in the wild. Without the positive re-enforcement and validation, why do it in the first place? Validation is huge for the creative. We don’t generate art in a vacuum… most of us can’t. We need to know someone, somewhere, understands and likes our art… and by extension appreciates us. We need some validation that it’s not for nothing.

But—and this is a HUGE BUT—it must Must MUST be tempered with reality. The world is a hard, cruel place, driven by need and subconscious survival necessity.

Get with the program people: the world and the people in it are brutally honest to a fault.

IF we want to be viewed as professionals in our creative endeavors, then our works will be sent out to this real world and all of the potential readers/clients out there. THOSE people don’t know you as the creative. THOSE people have no need to be nice. THOSE people have no reason to search for the positive in your works. THOSE people are going to be extremely judgmental based on first impressions… and will either take a chance with your art or will walk away without looking back.

Even though they may not tell you what turned them off when they saw your work, the amount of demand for your work will be a key indication of how good it appears to those people. If they do take a moment to tell you what turned them off, do you really think they are going to sugar coat it for you? Why would they? You’re a stranger to them? You’re just a ghost in the machine for all they know… a non-entity undeserving of human compassion. You are in effect a nobody to them, someone they owe nothing to.

So they don’t need to lie or make you feel better… they can be honest.

Brutally honest.

And you’re not going to like it.

Choices: The Good, The Bad, and The Snarky

We have a choice as creatives. We can continue to think that our stuff is great and suffer with low demand because the nice people won’t tell us what is wrong… and then we can continue to get upset/hurt when the harsh real world craps on our misconceptions.

OR we can take in the negative responses, read them, try to understand where our opponents are coming from so we can make better choices next time, and get more demand for our stuff (which is the true indication of how good we are).

Once we creatives start moving out of our passion being a hobby stage and potential professional stage, we must (MUST!!!) change our approach and grow a thicker skin.

We must (MUST!!!) gain our validation from and cherish those positive comments, especially from strangers.

We must (MUST!!!) put aside out hurt from the negative comments and dig into them to find those nuggets of truth and the opportunities for improving our works next time.

We must (MUST!!!) learn that if more than one person (heck sometimes even if only one person) points out a flaw (or calls our work CRAP), that it’s ok… and then realize we still have improvement opportunities.

We must (MUST!!!) learn from experiences where someone shatters our perception (READ: delusion) that what we create was as awesome as we thought.

We must (MUST!!!) learn to be able to put aside our first response of defending our choices and instead look deep and realize that we may in fact be COMPLETELY WRONG… and that we may actually need some help or at least another opinion.

THAT is the key: we all need some help, every single one of us.

Realize this, embrace it, and learn from it.

Keep this in mind: Even Stephen King (if you are a fan) needs help on writing to get to the finished product. He needs editors. He needs alpha and beta readers. And guess what? He doesn’t create any of his covers. NONE OF THEM. There is something to consider in that… if you really think about it.

These are the lessons that I’ve learned as a creative… and that I continue to discover and refine.

Every single day.