Truth telling: Fear of success as an author

Last week at work, I was yelled at by a business I’d included in a newspaper article assignment. The woman on the other line called me out for not contacting them for proper information, which was true. Her voice continued to raise as she pointed her finger at everything I did wrong, and I didn’t fight her because everything she said was true. I’d written an entertaining article that ended up going gangbusters, much to my surprise, and this business was left to clean up the PR nightmare I’d unintentionally created for them by not verifying information. I felt genuinely bad, and I tried to apologize, promising a retraction. But then she hit me where it hurt.

“I see you’re a writer,” she told me. “I see you write things about how to be a writer. It would take nothing to put your name out there as someone who spreads bad information.” She let me know that if their company suffered from this article in any way, I was going down with them.

I was officially triggered. Every single fear I’ve ever had came crashing down on me, things I’ve felt all along, but now were staring me in the face. I’m not good enough. I don’t know what I’m doing. Who do I think I am? How dare I even believe I can keep playing this make-believe game of being a writer, both at work and in my personal life? I’m not educated enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m a total and complete hack.

This triggered barrage of fears at work has seeped into my work as an author. I’m not supposed to talk about this. Who says? I don’t know. I just know that most authors keep things light and friendly, presenting their books in these neat little packages as if they didn’t spend months or years before that bleeding at their keyboard and contemplating ending it all out of self-doubt. My favorite indie authors who are making a killing at this game are funny, personable, and confident. Not me, though. I’m a complete disaster. I’m a mess. I doubt myself constantly. The worst time of my life is always book launch time, because I’ve already predicted its failure before the book is even released.

But truthfully, it’s also a relief when the book doesn’t sell. It means there’s less of a chance for someone to discover the flaws I’ve included between the pages. I’m afraid any research I’ve done hasn’t been enough. Readers will discover I don’t know how to sail a boat, grow a garden, live on a pot farm, or watch a good friend die. I’ll get something wrong, and a reader will call me on it, and the book will be destroyed.

Making it in this writing game is all I want, and it scares me the most. It would be amazing to reach the point where I can live off the proceeds from my books. But what happens if someone smears my name, either by something I’ve done, or something I haven’t done? You’ve all seen the internet mobs that come flying with their pitchforks over someone who’s done something terrible. It would take nothing for a false rumor to be spread that way and ruin someone’s life. If I had a platform, it would be too easy for someone I’d rubbed raw to smear my name and ruin my career. This woman that called me on the article could potentially ruin me by letting everyone know that I have no idea what I’m talking about, that I love to spread fake news.

This woman isn’t even my biggest fear. It’s the readers. When I’m writing a book, I am free, for the most part, of any doubts I have. It’s just me and the characters, and we’re having a great time during the weeks I write their story. But as soon as the book is ready to publish, all my fears take over. The door opens, and I invite people in to read all the things that have been private for months. I’m left vulnerable as people I don’t know pick up my story and witness what I’ve created. Worse, people I know pick up the story. I feel judged, exposed, emotional, afraid. The days after a book release, I usually hide, unable to muster a social media post or say anything about the book because I’m so spent and nursing a nasty book launch hangover.

Then there’s the marketing part. I tell people I know how to write, but I don’t know how to market. That’s a partial lie. I know things I can do that will help drum up interest, but I don’t do them because of my fear of rejection. If I tell people about the book, they will ask what it’s about, and as I tell them, I can hear a little voice telling me they’re not interested, they’re just being polite, no one reads anymore, and so on. I worry more that I will gather their interest, and then, once they read the book, they’ll be left disappointed because I failed to live up to my hype.

And, of course, there’s that one fear I spoke of a few paragraphs ago—if I gather a lot of interest, there’s more potential for someone to realize I’m a hack. I’ve published 9 books so far. I should be so much better at this game. Instead, I’m worse—and my self-doubt is my biggest reason why.

I was listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday podcast with India.Arie, who spoke about leaving the music industry for a time because she felt like she was losing herself to the commercial side and not keeping true to her own beliefs. Her obstacle was her feeling of inadequacy. When she was nominated for 7 Grammys, she was so overwhelmed she couldn’t handle it. When she didn’t win a single one, she was caught somewhere between feelings of failure and a sense of relief. I totally get her on this one. Then she told Oprah a realization she’d had just a few weeks earlier in a moment of self-doubt.

“What if Oprah decided she was too fat for TV?”

Whoa. Let’s chew on that for a second. Oprah wasn’t always OPRAH. She was once a radio station newscaster who found her calling in the talk show arena because she knew how to tell a story. But what if she had decided she couldn’t be seen in the public eye because she wasn’t thin enough, smart enough, or likable enough?

What if Steph Curry decided he wasn’t good enough at basketball?

What if Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (my obsession) felt like his life was too messy to create music?

What if Stephen King had successfully thrown away his manuscript for Carrie?

What if Jesus, Gandhi, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha, or the Dalai Lama decided they didn’t know what they were talking about, and kept quiet because they were afraid someone would strongly disagree with them?

Earlier this year, I tattooed my favorite Bible verse on my arm: Be not afraid or discouraged. The Lord your God is with you. Joshua 1:9. Fear has been my driving force for so many years. It’s been my God. My focus this year has been on faith, and part of that journey is to let go of fear. Here we are in November, and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. In many ways, I feel more afraid than ever. I wish for thick skin, and it’s ridiculously thin. I pretend I have callouses because I work at a newspaper and deal with ridicule on a daily basis. But I don’t have callouses, I have scars that keep reopening.

Not one person in this world is flawless. I’m just me, trying to figure out the world and where I fit in the story. I don’t have all the answers; I can’t even pretend that I do. But I do know that I can only own the things I can control. I can’t control how many people read my book, though I can do things to push it in their direction. I can’t control what people think about my book. But I can control what I write, and stay true to my beliefs as I write it. For that, I need to be clear on those beliefs. What’s my ultimate message? Each story incorporates something I’m grappling with in the time that I’m writing it. What have I learned from the story? What do I hope the reader will learn?

Finally, what’s my definition of success? I thought success was selling enough books so that I can be a full-time writer. However, this definition doesn’t make me happy. It feels shallow, and its broad definition makes the goal out of reach. But you know what makes me feel like I’ve fulfilled my purpose? When someone reaches out to me to say they found themselves in my story, that they felt less alone when they read it, that it reached a deep emotion inside they hadn’t even known was there. My definition of success is when a reader connects with the story I’ve told them, and I’ve changed them because of it.

That’s a definition I can live for.

There will always be critics in this world. I’m not done fearing them, but I’m trying to move away from that. The best I can do, the best any of us can do, is to remember we are all souls having a human experience. We are all connected in one way or another, even with our worst critics. What can we take from each experience? What should we leave behind. Most important, which voices in this world build us up and encourage us to be the best we can be? Those are the voices to focus on.

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For indie authors’ eyes only

Hey everyone! This blog post is for other indie authors. So if you’ve come across this post because you love reading books and are looking for an author to follow, go ahead and click to one of my past blog entries, and come back for another blog entry. But this one? It won’t interest you. So thank you for visiting, and I’ll chat with you next time. 🙂

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Are they gone? Is it just us?

Okay guys, time to get authentic. This indie author thing? It’s hard. It’s crazy making hard. I mean, who here knows what they’re doing? I mean, really knows what they’re doing?

No hands?

Let’s be authentic here, okay? I’m gearing up to publish my 4th fiction novel, Come Here, Cupcake. It still has edits galore that I need to go through, and the cover hasn’t been finalized yet. It’s the first book in a series, and I haven’t even started writing the second book. My publishing date was supposed to be in the first week of August, and that has come and gone. Now I’m looking at a later date, possibly October, but maybe as late as December.

Here’s what I’m supposed to be doing in the time from now until the book publishes – MARKETING IT.

In the spirit of marketing, I abandoned my personal Instagram with my name on it. It still exists, but it seemed so cluttered with random photos that have no theme whatsoever. I then created a new Instagram page and called it Truly_Cupcake (which you can see in the right rail), since the main character in Come Here, Cupcake is named Morgan Truly. The idea was to post quotes from the book, delicious desserts, anything that would attract people who might want to read books like mine. However, if you look at the page, what do you see?

A cluttered mess with random photos.

Argh! You can’t even tell I’m an author on there! Instead, there’s a bunch of photos of my dog, the stuff I like to shove in my face, my family, and a few inspirational quotes. Stuff pertaining to my books? Just a few. Stuff that has nothing to do with writing or my books? More than 3/4 of it.

Then there’s my Author Facebook page. I’m so afraid of spamming my followers with “buy my book” posts, that I don’t even mention my books hardly at all. And the few times I DO mention my books, everyone scatters like the wind, and all I hear are crickets. This leaves me with the dilemma of WHAT to post. So I’ll go more than a week without posting anything at all.

And Twitter? Ha! I can’t even wrap my head around Twitter. I’m followed by a bunch of people who don’t pay attention to me. And I’m following a bunch of people who only know how to post “Buy My BOOK” at least a hundred times a day.

Then there’s my mailing list. Probably 2% of the people on there read what I send out. The rest just ignore it. I haven’t sent a newsletter out since January. It might be time to retire the mailing list…

Then we come to this blog. You guys, I have stuff to write. But I keep second guessing WHAT I should be writing about in this blog as an author, WHEN I should be writing about my book, and I worry about whether anyone even reads blogs anymore.

Plus there’s the time thing.

Yeah. Time. I have none of it. I work a FT job to make a living since my books do not pay the bills. Then I started a side business of editing and formatting other people’s books (which I seriously, surprisingly LOVE to do) that’s helping to fund my book costs (since, again, my books do not make any money), and I try to fit in time for my family and for exercise since I do a lot of sitting. Time for my own books? I barely have time for rest!

Thing is, I love writing. And I love creating stories for people to read. I live for this, and I’d die for this. The day my books start paying the bills and I can quit my day job is the day that I will be living my dream. There’s a definite journey to get there, too. There are things I should be doing, like getting out of my shell and putting myself out there, connecting more with people, spending money on advertising, promising changed lives in exchange for my mere words…. And I have yet to figure out exactly what those “things” are.

And then I wonder…. Is it worth it? I know, I know. I’m not fishing here. But I’m spending thousands of dollars and an inordinate amount of time to make my dream become a reality. And I know there are so many mysterious things I should be doing better than I am already doing to make this dream of mine happen faster than the crawl it’s going at now…

Anyone feeling as insane as I do?

How to engage on Twitter as an author

I joined Twitter on May 1, 2009. I then proceeded to Tweet a little here and there, talking to an invisible audience who never really seemed to respond back. I eventually lost interest, and just stopped Tweeting altogether.

Fast forward to now, with a published book under my belt. In efforts to get my book out there to the public, I had to make use of the social media avenues I was familiar with. My Twitter was resurrected, and I became a Tweeting machine.

Except I didn’t really understand Twitter and was using it totally wrong.

You can tell who the newbies are on Twitter. They are the ones who overtweet the same link over and over again. They private message strangers to check out such and such link. They’re all about me, me, me.

“They” perfectly describe ME.

I made a ton of mistakes on Twitter in my first months of promoting my book. I am probably still making a ton of mistakes. But I’m also soaking up what I should be doing on Twitter, based on those I love following or who draw me in. By their example, I am shifting my “newbie” way of Tweeting, and trying to be a responsible Twitterer.

These are the kinds of Twitterers I follow and am trying to mimic in my Twittering experience:

Those who pay attention to others on Twitter. When I am retweeted, favorited, or receive comments from others on Twitter, I am more apt to pay more attention to what they are doing, and reciprocate their kindness. I’ll also tend to keep seeking these Twitterers out to see what they’re up to, because I actually care. As well, I am interested in other Twitterers who are holding conversations with others on Twitter. It draws me in to either follow the conversation, and sometimes even join in. Those who engage on Twitter are interesting.

Those who tweet words of inspiration. Amidst the jumble of links and promotions, inspirational words stand out like a waving flag. They’re a breath of fresh air amidst all the “spam”. Kudos if there isn’t even a link or hashtag involved. It’s like they’re just Tweeting for the joy of sharing their insight – and that’s all. No sell, no promo, just inspiration. And I will likely RT them and share with my followers.

Those who are funny. I am, admittedly, not the wittiest on Twitter. But there are plenty who are, and who are talented enough to make me laugh in 140 characters or less. If I find one of these, RT!

Those who share words or link to posts on advice. When I’m perusing Twitter, it’s my tendency to seek out things that will help ME. That’s what most readers will do – look for something that will help them get further, be better, find inspiration, etc. Authors have a tendency to just tweet and retweet links to their own stuff. BORING. But those that write about how to solve the mysteries of writing or publishing or using social media, those are the links I’m going to click on.

I’ve also learned what NOT to do, correcting my own mistakes when I see certain Twitter behaviors directed at me. For example:

Don’t #1 – The private message link. I don’t know this person. I don’t know what their book is about. I’ve only just started following them. And yet, they are sending me a link to check out such and such. Why? As soon as I started receiving a barrage of these from new followers, I became keenly aware of how much I detested these and chose to NOT click on those links.

Don’t #2 – Repeating the same Tweets over and over again. It’s like they’re yelling at their followers. Didn’t I see that Tweet earlier today? Go to their profile, and, oh yes, there it is repeated five times. If someone is cool on Twitter, I’m going to go to their page and see what else they have to say. If they’re just posting the same thing over and over, I’m going to get bored and move on.

Don’t #3 – Those who just seem in it for themselves. These people are likely not on Twitter at all, but tweeting from a source like Hootsuite or linked to their Facebook and are feeding out Tweets. There’s nothing wrong with using these different avenues to get the words out. But by staying away from the Twitter feed, they’re also denying themselves the opportunity to develop relationships. You can have thousands of followers and still not have your Tweets read, because no one cares what you have to say. People have to care about YOU to care about what you have to share. Make friends on Twitter.

Don’t #4 – Those who autofollow me, then send me an automated message. Hate these! And I’ve been guilty of this! It’s tacky, and it makes me feel like I’ve just followed a robot.

And as one of my favorite Twitterers recently tweeted:

Bottom line: Be HUMAN on Twitter. Don’t treat your followers like dummies. Understand that your followers are (mostly) humans themselves, and appreciate interaction. Share your stuff, but share other stuff too. This is what I’m learning, and I hope you do, too.

xoxo

Crissi Langwell is the debut author of A Symphony of Cicadas. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a Twitter account? What are your tweeting pet peeves?

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