Prima Donna vs. Patsy: Finding Middle Ground


Too demanding and quick to offense, and an author -- especially one who happens to be female -- is labeled a prima donna. Self-serving, conniving -- and these are only a few of the more printable terms one might hear.(If you're a man, you sort of get a pass on this, being called difficult, reclusive, or at worst anti-social, but it's generally assumed this eccentric behavior is part of your genius and people are almost *thrilled* to tiptoe around you for fear of giving offense.)

But in trying to be "nice," the female author can go too far in the other direction, turning herself into a patsy who always puts her needs, her time, and herself last. She's the one who's always there to volunteer or mentor, who wouldn't think of asking for a speaking fee or balking at late (or missing payments), and who rushes around tying herself up in knots trying not to give offense.

As you might guess, she's not going anywhere in her career. She doesn't have the time, for one thing. And when it comes to crappy covers, low advances, poor positioning on the publisher's list, etc., her editor (who may well love this woman, since she's so darned easy to work with) always knows she'll understand.

Understand and keep her mouth shut like a very good girl.

Fortunately, there is a middle ground. A few years back, Kate White wrote about it in a fun book called Why Good Girls Don't Get Ahead... But Gutsy Girls Do: Nine Secrets Every Working Woman Must Know. If you're really having trouble with wimpiness, I recommend it (as long as you take it with a grain of salt.)

I absolutely believe you can be assertive and reasonable without being unpleasant. My little trick is picturing a confident, successful businessman (the kind others don't mind having drinks with or playing a round of golf with once the tough negotiations are over) and asking myself whether he would feel too shy or worried to bring up whatever's on his mind. (Yeah, I know my subconscious is using a gender-biased stereotype, but hey, it works for me!)

As a woman, I can empathize with the other person's position, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't advocate for my own interests first and foremost. It's not selfish; it's good business, and it creates a healthier self-concept that will (believe it or not) generally attract respect... and leave the door open to form friendships.

Friendships among equals, that is, not master and supplicant.

So how about the rest of you? Do you ever have trouble asserting yourself? Or do you have any tricks to help you?

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