Part of the Indie Authors Series
I think all first-time authors reach "the other side" of publishing when their book hits the shelves—and all is not rainbows and roses. The soul-sucking darkness affects all publishing, really. Even if we have backing of a publisher, we don't know what to expect when our book finally hits the market. When we venture out without that backing, we have one less assurance that our work is good. But no matter what path we take to share our work, we can stay sane staring into that soul-sucking darkness!
Don't. Read. Reviews.
For every writer friend I have that loves to read reviews, there are two (or three or four) who hate it. You might be able to let the negative reviews roll off your back, but most writers I know have come to the conclusion that reviews aren't for them. They're for the reviewer, and possibly for other readers. Negative reviews are a public flogging, and you don't have to attend.
On the other side of this coin, positive reviews can be equally crippling. When you see how well received a previous book has been, sometimes it's easy to fear your next project will never measure up. Or you might be tempted to rest on your laurels instead of growing as a writer.
When I started "Goodreads-stalking" and blog-stalking reviewers of my books, I knew it had gone too far. I blocked Goodreads through my browser. This is a little inconvenient sometimes (I may never list my own books again, and I can't look at Goodreads lists, etc.), but there's enough self-doubt in writing without feeding that insecurity with others' real, negative opinions of your work.
Identify (and avoid!) self-doubt triggers
Negative reviews may be a self-doubt trigger for you, or they may not. Perhaps Publisher Weekly announcements make you feel inadequate because that's not you and it may never be. Maybe release days get you down in the dumps. Whatever makes you feel unhappy or inadequate, recognize that. Own it. Maybe you need thicker skin—or maybe you just need to stop cutting yourself.
If you absolutely can't avoid your triggers—like that NYT bestselling author who lives next door to you—at least give your emotions "permission." Own that you feel this way, you're going to feel this way, and don't try to force yourself to feel something you don't. Repressing even negative emotions is no way to keep your sanity!
The feel-good file
My personal favorite (because I made it up). So often, the negative voices come echoing back to us in the still hours of writing. Even if they're the minority, those negative reviews, the self-doubts we already have from our own writing, harsh critiques stick with us so much longer than the positive ones. The detracting voices drown out reason sometimes.
Enter the feel-good file. I keep mine in e-mail, because most of my messages go through there (and ones that don't, like text messages, get forwarded there). Whenever I get really good news, an encouraging email from a writer friend, or awesome reader feedback, I put it in my feel-good file. Then, when I feel like a hack or like nobody loves me, or like my books will linger and perish in obscurity, I go to the feel-good file and I read nice things people have said to me.
Enter contests for the right reason
I think many indie writers turn to contests and awards for the validation we think we might have gotten from having an agent and/or publisher "vouch" for our work. But awards can also turn into just another way to get rejected.
Before you enter a contest, ask yourself why you want to do this. Analyze what you'll be getting out of it. Many times, I've really wanted to enter a contest, but I thought through what the best-case scenario would be. What would it change if I won? I'd be struggling with doubts again in another week or two, and would it substantially help sales and publicity (this will depend heavily on the contest).
Conversely, is a contest worth the cost if you lose? I don't just mean the financial cost of entering; can you handle losing psychologically? Imagine the worst-case scenario. How upset would you be to lose? Anyone might be disappointed for a few days or weeks, but would losing make you despondent? Would it significantly hinder your future writing?
Remember why you write
Publishing and its paraphernalia of reviews, acclaim and money probably isn't the primary reason you spent hundreds of hours crafting your story, or why you began writing in the first place. For most people, it's because the writing process itself brings you joy.
If that has changed, take some time to reevaluate your writing. Are you going about it the wrong way? Putting too much pressure on yourself? Worrying about what other people will think? Think about how your writing process has changed since the days when you first started. How can you recapture the magic?
For me, I've realized that I do write because it makes me happy. When it isn't making me happy, I have to take some time away to realign my thoughts, or sometimes work on something new. I've also found that different parts of the writing process bring different kinds of happiness, so that's something to keep in mind. I've come to love perfecting my writing in editing and revision, but nothing compares to the (good) days of drafting and creating.
Write with the door closed
This is Stephen King's phrase. Once we've published, we know an audience (might) one day read our stories (and I'm pretty sure that's a feeling Stephen King's familiar with). It's hard not to think of how they'll respond to plot points, people and phrases. Sometimes this is a good thing—you're sure they'll love these twists and turns-of-phrase as much as you do.
Sometimes, however, we feel the immense pressure of having to get this right, of trying to impress them—it's crippling. For me, especially with self-publishing, I sometimes worry about first draft material. I've even gotten so mixed up in my production schedule that I've spent days upset at what readers must think of my book because it had such obvious flaws, and how I wished I could change it—when I hadn't published it!
Stephen King recommends closing the figurative door in our heads on this future audience. Tell yourself you're writing for you. One thing I love about indie publishing is the freedom to publish whatever I want—or not. So I really can tell myself during the drafting process, "Let's see how this works out" or "This is only for me." As I mentioned above, I try to remind myself that I write because it's fun, it makes me happy, it brings me joy. I focus on that aspect during the writing process.
Then, as King advises, you rewrite with the door open, getting as much feedback as you need to feel confident that your words will have the effect you want.
Remember why you publish
I think (hope) most of us publish because we've worked hard to perfect our stories to share them with readers, because readers will enjoy them. The financial motivation is definitely a factor—or we'd just give them all away, right?—and I'm not judging anyone who wants to make money off their writing.
However, that might not always be a lot of money. So far, it hasn't been a whole lot for me. It's very, very easy to take this as a sign that we're not very good after all (or at the very least that we're not great marketers).
But are we publishing just to make money and gain approval through awards and copious positive reviews and the NYT bestseller list? There's nothing wrong with that per se, but be honest with yourself. If those are your real, ultimate goals, then self-publishing may not be the right path for you. Period. However, if these goals are stepping stones (or just your wildest dreams) on the your ultimate goal, sharing your story, then it's best to remember that goal, and count each sale as a success.
Take the long view
Remember that very, very, very few people become overnight successes. There are many stories of overnight success, but they usually omit years of work and preparation, not to mention the run up of sales. I've only been publishing for a year, and most people making any kind of sales have been at it much longer. (see figure 14 in Beverley Kendall's self-published author survey analysis). As author Beverley Kendall says:
For most authors, self-publishing success is not going to happen overnight. There are logical reasons this won’t happen. First, it takes time to write books and as we’ve seen above, the more books you have out, the better your earning potential. Secondly, it takes time to get your name out there.Many of my self-publishing friends have given themselves time—two or three years—before they render a "verdict" on self-publishing. I think that's wise.
No matter what course you take to publishing, the emotional side of being published usually comes as a surprise. I know I have lots more to learn (and relearn)—so what have you found to help you stay sane on your publishing path?
Photo credits: "In Darkness" by Dr. Wendy Longo, "Locking door" by Rachel Titiriga
Jordan McCollum is the (indie!) author of the romantic suspense series Spy Another Day which begins with I, Spy. She enjoys teaching writing craft through her writing craft blog at JordanMcCollum.com, as the Education Director of Authors Incognito (an online writers' support group with over four hundred members), and through her book CHARACTER ARCS (with a foreword by Janice Hardy) and CHARACTER SYMPATHY.