Thursday, March 7, 2013
Be So Good They Can't Ignore You (and Americas Next Top Model)
I've had this quote at the back of my mind for a while and it's recently become useful in some interesting context.
So, maybe I was watching America's Next Top Model, and maybe I'm about to impart from the Book of Tyra Banks...don't judge me :) Anyway, on the show there were only like five girls left in the running and their assignment was "go-sees," which is apparently where a model "goes and sees" designers and other fashion-y type people and they see if they want to hire her. So, its obviously important for models to do well on these go-sees because its, ya know, how they get work.
What happened was that at the end judging part Tyra was talking about how each of the girls had something that the designer and fashion-world people could use as an excuse for not hiring her. One girl was 25 which is *gasp* positively ancient in model years, one girl was too quirky, one girl was 5'7'' which means that in the fashion world she's basically a midget, a couple of the girls were black, which, emotion and rightness and whatever aside, statistically still is a huge disadvantage in the modeling world.
Tyra pointed out that there are hugely successful models with each and every one of these "negative strikes." (Tyra herself, obviously.) That anyone with these "flaws" can go into a interview or go-see and just be so good that they are left with no excuse. You have not given them a reason to ignore you.
I think that's the same battle we're fighting in the publishing industry. There is just so much out there and people are looking for every excuse to mentally put us aside and find something better. They don't have time to let us prove ourselves. We're all the same way. If you're reading a sample on your kindle and the story or writing just isn't sparking, we're gonna delete and it not think about it again. Even more than that, when I'm in a bookstore and I pick up a random book and I don't like the first line, that's the end right there. If we're going to make people pay attention to us we have to grab them by the throat from the very beginning and not let go.
And I think we do that by playing to our strengths. I will never be as good a plotter as Stephen King. I will never be as transcendentally poetic as Wallace Stegner or have the same delightful humor splashing through my work as Charles Dickens. Nobody will. But King and Stegner and Dickens don't write like me or any of us, either, and they've all gotten many horrific reviews. (Some delightful person on Amazon says, and I quote, "Stephen King should find somthing new to do like not writting books.") Don't misunderstand me: these three are genius and if I can write half as well as them at their worst than I will feel okay calling myself a good writer. But I also think that part of their genius is that they played to their strengths and did what THEY did so well. So well that despite any bad reviews, despite prejudice at the publishers, whatever, they could not be ignored.
This is not to say that we should not take criticism into account. We all have room to improve, and should be trying to. Yes some critics just don't get it and what they say is bollocks (thank you Amazon), but often it is wise and productive and can cover our literary blind-spots. We need it. But in addition to improving on our weaknesses, I submit that what will help us most is blaring our strengths so brightly that we cannot be ignored, that the weaknesses don't matter.
In short, listen to Steve Martin and Tyra Banks. Be so good they can't ignore you.