Thanks for the ideas everyone! Here's the post many of you requested...
Here's a sample of responses I've heard from some editors over the years when I've raised practical business concerns regarding comic book publishing:
"No, we don't know exactly what books you'll be doing, but we're (insert name of big publisher) Comics, so sign exclusive with us and not (insert name of competing publisher who has titles ready for you)!"
"This is a (insert name of big writer) book! I know he's late, but just think of how many people would love to be in your shoes!"
"The page rate isn't good, but at least you'll be getting to work with (name of big superhero whom you're supposed to be a fan of)!"
"We won't fly you out or put you into a hotel, but you should come so you can sign at the booth for us! Who doesn't love signing autographs?"
What do these statements have in common? They're emotional arguments made to sidestep your legitimate professional concerns--and they only work if you're in "awe" of comics. Being a comic creator is fun because you get to pick up your proverbial toys again. But there's a danger in being too in "awe" of the medium where you might end up wearing blinders, increasing your chances of being affected by bad business practices.
For example, a publisher is offering you a title, but the page rate stinks. When you ask about getting your normal rate, the publisher politely reminds you that it's a Teen Titans book, hoping to play off your emotional love for Cyborg to allow him to ignore the normal business practice: maintaining your page rate.
Emotional arguments don't have any real use in the business world--the world where it's all about the bottom line and what's written down on contracts. Imagine that you're buying a car, but you want only want to pay 50% of the sticker price. The salesman asks why you think you should get that price, and you explain that your mother just died, hoping that the salesman (who likely has a mother of his own) will empathize and agree to let you have the car for less. In other words, you're asking him to ignore normal business practices because of the emotional charge of your predicament. And while he might empathize with you, there's no way he'd allow you to take advantage like that.
I ran into an emotional argument with myself over Batman once. I'm a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series. My love of Batman is fueled by my emotional attachment to him as a kid. Last year I was offered a 6 page fill-in on a Batman story--there were delays and they needed someone quick. The emotional argument in my head was this: I love Batman, how cool would it be to do a Batman story in my current style? But I turned it down because the professional argument was stronger: it's better for me to wait on a bigger Batman project, not one that's just a fill-in, but one that really showcases my art. No one looks good on a fill-in (I also had PRJ in the works and other reasons for turning it down).
You could argue (as my friends did) that another professional argument is this: doing the fill-in could get you onto other Batman gigs! And you're right--that's a good argument. But whichever decision you make, we can agree that the stronger argument is usually made professionally, not emotionally.
The runaway "awe" factor in comics is something professionals do to themselves, I feel. We're all in love with the medium, and we're all thrilled to be making a living. And the shakier it gets out there, the more thankful we are to get any job offer, I know. But the more we allow ourselves to think as "fans" and not "professionals," the easier it is for editors can play off our "awe".
To be clear, there a lot of great editors who don't work this way. They treat you as a professional and take the industry seriously. The writers, artists, and editors whom I consider most trustworthy and helpful are the ones whom are very low on the "awe" factor. And when you see them at conventions, they're not usually big on meet-and-greets or at crowded bars where back-slapping runs rampant.
What are some other ways being in "awe" might hurt you? Maybe a huge writer wants to do a book with you, and you're so thrilled to be teamed up with him, you shy away from asking for a bigger cut of the profits. Or maybe you're a writer who's head-over-heals for Superman, and now that you're calling some of the shots, you're too afraid to take any real chances with the character.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not suggesting you not be excited about getting work. You've just got a call that you'll be taking over X-Men? Good for you--hit the pub with your friends and go get hammered. But as soon as your hangover clears up, time to act like a pro and do your best to separate yourself from the little kid inside. Yes, you'll dip into being a little kid again, but hopefully not at those moments when an editor asks you to keep working even though your last paycheck is a week late.
Watch out for emotional arguments! And not just in comics but everywhere--especially in entertainment based jobs where being in "awe" can be a detriment.
Listening to: Beethoven piano sonatas
Reading: Attack of the Theocrats
Watching: Science Channel