Back to Basics, part III: Maintaining Self-Confidence


Hi, all!  [Waves]  I am back from the family spring-break trip, feeling refreshed and happy to be home, if a bit overwhelmed with all that is waiting for me on my desk.  (Perhaps I should glance back through my post from last week on organizing time…)  We had a great trip — celebrated my birthday by hiking down into the Grand Canyon, spent a memorable afternoon scrambling over slickrock formations in Zion National Park, and saw an incredible performance by Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas.  Thanks to all who commented on my post last week (and thanks to Edmund for fielding a couple of questions on my behalf).  I’m sorry I wasn’t able to respond.  If any of you have additional questions from last week’s post, please feel free to include them in this week’s comments.

I wanted to continue my “Back to Basics” series with something that is not always easy to discuss, but that lurks behind the efforts of nearly every writer:  self-doubt.  I don’t want this post to devolve into some New Age touchy-feely, warm-and-fuzzy, Deanna-Troi-get-the-hell-out-of-my-head therapy session.  But I also don’t think it’s realistic or helpful to take the drill-sergeant “shut-up-and-get-over-it” approach.  Maintaining one’s confidence in the face of rejections, creative setbacks, dry spells, poor responses from editors and beta readers, and all the other crap that comes our way is breathtakingly difficult.  It’s also essential.  Self-doubt is real, and it can be debilitating.  The rest of the “basics” don’t mean a thing if we can’t even bring ourselves to sit down at the keyboard.

Let’s start with the not-so-obvious.  Writing — indeed, any artistic expression — is an act of self-confidence.  Some might even call it an act of arrogance, and I mean this in the most positive way possible.  By writing a story, we are basically saying “Hey!  Listen to me!  I’ve got a story to tell!  You WANT to hear this!  You NEED to hear this!  It’s that good!”  How ironic then, that the process itself can be so utterly humbling, and that the business is often crushingly brutal on one’s self-esteem.  So, how are we to reconcile this expression of “Listen to Me!” with those feelings of “God, I suck!” and “Oh, look — this agent who I don’t know from Adam has sent back my manuscript and seems to agree that I really, really suck”?

I find it helpful to break down the creative process into three broad components:  conception, execution, and negotiation.  Most of us tend to start the conception stage with a lot of confidence, only to see that confidence erode slowly during the execution stage, and then with greater speed during the negotiation stage.  That’s why separating the three stages from one another can be so valuable.  We start a story or book with an idea that has captured our imagination, that has made us sit bolt upright in bed in the middle of the night (or blurt out “Holy crap, that’s brilliant!” in the middle of a parent-teacher conference, which, I can tell you, is a little embarrassing….).  It’s that idea, that moment, that leads to everything else — the work, the craziness, the queries and subsequent rejections.  Which means, essentially, that you have two choices:  you can ignore the idea, or you embrace it completely and believe in it.  I’m not going to argue the relative merits of these two paths, because if you’re like me (and you KNOW you are — I mean, you’re reading this, right?) it’s not really a choice at all.  Logic and reason ceased long, long ago to be factors in any of this.  You’re a writer.  You’re going to embrace the idea.  You’re going to write the thing.  And good for you.  But that means you have to believe.  You have to trust the idea.

Because as we move into execution, stuff is going to start to go wrong.  You’re going to run into narrative dead ends.  You’re going to have characters who do things they’re not supposed to (not in the good “Oh!-She’s-surprising-me!” sort of way, but rather in the bad “Oh-no!-What-the-hell-is-she-doing-now?” sort of way).  You’re going to have days when nothing flows, and every word is a struggle.  I know you’re going to, because I have days like these all the time.  So do Faith and Misty and Ed and Stuart and A.J. and all the other professional writers who contribute to this site.  It is part of the process.  You can’t prevent it.  I have days in the middle of book (around the 60% mark, usually) that are so horrible I convince myself that the book is doomed to failure, that leaving academia was a terrible mistake, and that clearly the only reason my other books got published is that Tor made a terrible mistake (or, rather, the same terrible mistake again and again and again.  I told you: logic and reason have nothing to do with this).  But then I remember that the idea is actually quite good — that, in fact, I love this idea — and that, yes, there really is a book here, waiting to be written.  And I start to write again.  Writing is hard.  Really, really hard.  If it wasn’t, everyone would publish, and every published book would be brilliant.  And we all know that neither of those things is true.  But here’s the point.  That’s the execution part.  Your idea is still brilliant.  I promise.  And not only that, the execution part is supposed to be every bit as bumpy and unpleasant as it feels.  There are times when I hate the things I write, when my working feels clunky, my characters flat, my narrative incoherent.  Those moments used to make me panic.  Now I recognize them as inherent elements of the process.  When I hate what I’ve written, I delete and rewrite.  And then I delete and rewrite again.  Eventually, I’ll get it right.  Our goal has to be to persevere, to maintain our faith that at the far side of this slog we will be able to celebrate the accomplishment of getting through it.  The true poisons for self-confidence are not the creative struggles; the true poisons are the self-loathing and guilt that come from giving up.  As long as we move forward, we have reason to take pride in our work.  Trusting the idea and understanding the nature of writing itself — those are the keys to getting through the conception and execution stages.

But, you say, what about that third stage?  Ah, yes.  There is a reason I called this stage “negotiation” instead of “marketing” (which implies that our entire focus is on the money) or “submission” (which implies giving up control).  I’m not talking about contract negotiations.  Rather, I mean artistic negotiations.  None of us should take rejection to mean that our stories suck (or that we can’t write).  Rather, rejections should be taken as stances in an extended negotiation — the process by which we take our original concept and the story produced in the execution stage, and reconcile that artistic creation with the realities of reader tastes and the market.  One beta reader or editor might read our story and decide that the characters need work, or that the plot is too complex.  Okay.  After the tears and the tantrums are over, we have to look at our work from the perspective of a negotiator.  Are these criticisms legitimate?  Probably they are.  And so, what needs to be done to our story to make the next reader like it more?  How much are we willing to do to address the problems spotted by that reader while still remaining true to the conception and the execution?  At times we might find that we’re not doing enough, that the next reader still sees similar problems.  We have to soften our negotiating stance a bit more.  At other times, we might find that the fixes were just what the story needed, and that they have placed us in a better position for actual business negotiations the next time around.  The point is, this isn’t about “sucking” or not; it’s not about “failing” or not.  It’s about reconciling our vision and our creation with the perceptions of the reading audience.  It’s a negotiation, not a verdict, and as such, it is very much part of a continuing creative process.  Thought of in this way, it’s far less frightening, at least it is for me.

Self-doubt can manifest itself in many ways, and I know that I have only scratched the surface here — and still this is a long post.  If need be, I’ll return to the topic next week.  But in the meantime, let’s talk about this.  What eats at your self-confidence?  What gives you faith in your process?

David B. Coe

29 comments to Back to Basics, part III: Maintaining Self-Confidence

  • David – Nice post, and one that hits very close to my own writerly home… To some extent, I think that we all learn how to work through the self-doubt; we can say, “Gee, I felt the same way about the *last* book, and *it* sold.” But those sagging middles of novels… They’ll trigger my self-doubt every single time. Now, what I find interesting is the (large, to me) number of authors who post very publicly about their self-doubt. To me, it’s something to discuss – with specifics, rather than in general identifying the existence of the condition – in private with friends and other close writers, but not to spread where all the world can read days, weeks, months, years after the confidence is restored.

  • Right on the money, David. These are doubts (sometimes niggling anxieties, some times eat-you-from-within black funks) we all have. But maybe they are more than inevitable: maybe they are healthy. After all, what kind of insight or empathy could you expect from the writing of an author (or politician, or minister etc. etc.) who had ceased to have self doubt? We might need a thick skin for what you nicely call the negotiation stage but writers have to be able to slough that off, snake-like, for the conception and execution stage. Write naked. Save the armor for the salesman stuff.

  • David, great post. I have recently written about some of my own self-doubts. I liked them to the writers version of being in a hitter’s slump. Even the best hitters in the game fall into a slump now and then and the trick to defeating any slump is getting up to the plate at every opportunity and swinging at pitches. Don’t let the close ones go by without a swing. At first, you’ll foul them off, but as you get your timing back, you’ll straighten them out–a infield hit, perhaps; then a base hit to left center. You get the idea.

    The trick for me in writing during these slumps is the same as when I played ball: get out of your head. You can have so much stuff going through your head as a writer and that can clutter your concentration and lead to overdoing things. If I can manage to get out of my head, I can usually break through the slump. All it takes it one good scene.

    Sorry for all of the sports analogies, but I think they fit well into the situation I sometimes find myself in.

  • Ah, yes, doubt never goes away. In fact, I believe it’s a necessary barometer of what you’re doing. If you are so confident in your work that you lack any doubt, you’re probably not doing anything that good. If, however, you have a little doubt, that “I believe this is a good idea but I’m scared how the world might see it or that I screwed it up” kind of doubt, then you’re in the right territory. At least, that’s my way of dealing with it. I convince myself that my fears and doubts are evidence that I’m taking a challenging risk in the right direction.

  • Our pasts, the ghosts of the children we were, and the dark voices that live inside us are all two edged swords. They fill us up with fodder and build characters who are well rounded, multidemensional, complex. And they also make us head-banging crazy and near-depressed. But having a book, a story, to channel all that crazy into helps keep the dark at bay.

    Rereading all this makes me want to build a campfire, hold hands, and sing spirituals. And my very-ugly-muse is cracking the whip. Back to work. If I’m working, I’m not thinking about the crazy.

  • David, thanks for the Back to Basics series. Your advice has really been hitting home with me every time. Being a skeptic of all things in general, self-confidence is a major thing that keeps me from writing and I know it’s the biggest hurdle I’ll need to overcome if I ever hope to be successful. Hell, I had so much self-doubt growing up that I forced myself to double-major in a hard science just because I figured I’d *never* make it otherwise.

    Well, as they say, I’m young and I still have a long way to go. I’m beginning to learn that I really do want to DO this thing and I have to take those leaps of faith, because that’s what writing is for me. Butt in chair. Hands on keys. Take a deep breath and jump!

  • Thank you for tackling this subject, David. It’s such a challenge, and writing can be very tied to self-esteem.

    What eats at my self-confidence? Sometimes, it’s reading a writing post telling me about what I may be doing wrong (or worse, taking away from the post the idea that I’m doing it wrong). This is because I get stuck in my head that I can’t possibly be doing it right.

    One thing I love about Magical Words is that we *discuss* issues, so I don’t often come away with that feeling. And if I do, I’ve been training myself to treat it as a lesson, probably something I can file away until it’s time to edit my work. (As opposed to “OH NO I GOT THIS PART WRONG THE APOCALYPSE IS NIGH”.) I’ve also gotten a bit better about not taking these things personally.

    The biggest confidence-killer, one that is hard to admit because it makes me feel incredibly lame to even bring it up, is loneliness. Simply because writing is such a solitary act, it means that I don’t socialize as much as I could. And a certain part of me is extremely social. I sometimes find myself (hm, how did I put it yesterday) “numbing myself with Facebook”. That’s guaranteed social interaction, however distant. But that takes away from my writing time. Facebook has its uses, but it’s too often procrastination, validated.

    It is nice to have the interaction that we commenters have with the posters (and each other) here. That’s an awesome confidence booster: actually getting a response. But in the vein of having self-confidence (and honouring Wheaton’s Law), we have to respect the time of the authors who are posting here, and just like at conventions/conferences, it would be rude to expect to hog that time. So lately, I’ve become a big fan of the write-in. My NaNo-inspired writing group, The Other 11 Months, meets a few times a week throughout Greater Vancouver. My local currently meets on Mondays and Fridays. We all get together in a coffee shop meeting room and sit around a table, writing. We chat, too, but we somehow seem to be able to get stuff done. And we can throw out ideas and questions for instant feedback. It’s wonderful, and it effectively removes the “solitary” part from the equation.

  • Mindy, yes, the mid-book crisis is the one that gets me, too. As to your comment about writers who speak of their self-doubts, I assume you’re referring to posts and essays that get very personal in terms of details about a particular crisis of confidence. But I’m curious: do you find this inappropriate for public discussion at a personal level, or do you think it is unwise from a marketing standpoint?

    A.J., thanks for the comment and a belated welcome back. I do think there is something valuable in the self-doubt. It’s like the high-wire acrobat who has a healthy respect for the risk he is taking — except in this case it’s a matter of the writer wanting to do better, constantly striving for improvement. Because nothing we write is perfect; there is always room for growth, always a gap between where we are and where we might be.

    Jamie, I like the sports analogy (and can’t wait for the season to start). Like you, I find that my work suffers when I “think too much.” At some point we have to subsume thought to creation and just let the story flow. It seems to me that’s what you’re getting at. Thanks!

    Stuart, I totally agree. Nancy has been teaching for 19 years, and she still gets nervous before that first lecture of the year. That’s how she knows that the material is still fresh, that she’s still on top of her game as a teacher. Writing is the same way. As you say, the self-doubt is a sign that we’re taking chances and doing important work.

    Faith, yes, the double-edged nature of what we carry within us — I love that. The insecurities of childhood also inform the stories we tell and the characters we build. I’ll be thinking about that all day.

    Raven, thank you. Glad you’re enjoying the series. I think self-confidence is the toughest thing for all of us. Bridging that gap between “I have a story I think is cool” and “I have a story that others need to hear because it’s so cool” — that’s a substantial distance. But that leap is entirely necessary if we are going to make ourselves writers. “Butt in chair. Hands on keys. Take a deep breath and jump!” I love that! Thanks!

    Laura, you raise a terrific point, one that I should have addressed explicitly. the fact that we basically all work in a vacuum is a major part of the whole self-doubt thing. I worked in an office environment back in my political consulting days, and I could (and did) check with my boss periodically to make certain I was on the right track. That ability to touch base made the process so much easier. The work was still challenging, but as least I knew that I was doing it “right”. Even as a grad student, I could check in with other grad students as well as my adviser. But writing is something we do alone. You shouldn’t feel lame for bringing it up; it is absolutely true, and it makes an already difficult endeavor even harder. That’s why so many of the strategies that we come up with here at MW involve SELF-motivation, SELF-confidence, SELF-criticism, etc. Thanks for the comment.

  • Self-confidence is my principle bugaboo. I’ve never had problems that the Writer’s Digest articles say writers have – pacing, developing three-dimensional characters, establishing a clear sense of pace, yada yada… My problem has been believing in my stories (which is just a way of saying believing in myself). I let self-doubt utterly crush my first novel and stopped me doing much of any writing for years. That time lost I will never get back. If I’d known better then that it was just part of The Process, I would probably have been able to work through it.

    Neil Gaiman, on writing American Gods:

    “Feb 13th: wrote some stuff. It was crap.
    Feb 14th: wrote some brilliant stuff. This is going to be such a good novel. Honest it is.
    Feb 15th. no, it’s crap
    It was a bit like wrestling a bear. Some days I was on top. Most days, the bear was on top.”

  • And Faith, damn you for the phrase “the ghosts of the children we were”. Now I have a brilliant idea for yet another story to distract me from the one I’m supposed to be working on! 😉

  • Thanks David. Sometimes the right post comes along at the right moment. After receiving a disappointing email last night, I needed this 🙂

  • I’m in the execution stage right now, working on rewrites, and I’ve been struggling with this a lot. Do you have any exercises/routines/methods/strategies of helping to get through it? I’ve heard that some authors leave encouraging notes to themselves, but that doesn’t work for me. Any other ideas?

  • Unicorn

    Thanks for the post, David. I’m going through the “Oh no oh no oh no, I’ve plagiarised absolutely everybody, my story is just a bunch of stuff cobbled together from everyone else’s stories, in fact, it really sucks”. Basically, it goes like this:
    Me: [falls sobbing on main character’s neck] You’re too much like Harry Potter! You go to school like him and you’re a hero like him! Everyone’s going to sue me for plagiarism! WE’RE ALL DOOMED!!
    Main character: Last week I was too much like Frodo Baggins.
    A. J.: Write naked? Do you know what a weird picture those words have drawn in my head? Well, I’m glad you don’t. It includes Faith’s muse. It is not a nice picture. 😀 Wish I could make a point so, well, pointedly.

  • Wolf, I think that self-confidence (or lack thereof) lies at the root of nearly all the problems writers encounter. Even the Writer’s Digest stuff you mention, I believe, becomes easier if you believe in your own ability to master it. I’m pretty certain that one of the reasons I enjoyed some success fairly early on in my attempts to make it as a pro is that I was too ignorant to know I was supposed to be doubting myself. That arrogance I mention in the post? I had it in spades. I was too stupid to understand all the things I should have been doubting. If I had known then what I know now, I might well have written a far better first book…or I might have been too paralyzed by self-doubt to write it at all. Thanks for the comment. (And yeah, I love that phrase from Faith’s comment, too.)

    Megan, I think that the revising/editing stage might be the single most difficult part of the writing process, particularly with respect to these confidence issues. You have to be able to believe in yourself and your work enough to appreciate the good things you’ve done even as you correct the passages that don’t work as well. Some time back I wrote this post on self-editing: In it I discuss various ways to create some emotional distance between you and your manuscript. And for me, that distance is the key. If I can get enough of it, I can do a thorough critique of my own work. When I have trouble with editing, it’s usually because that distance isn’t there. Hope that (and the link) is at least somewhat helpful.

    Unicorn, I sometimes deal with those doubts as well. Usually, when I think my work is too derivative of the work of others, it’s because I haven’t worked through all the narrative and character issues yet. In other words, the piece remains too amorphous in my head; there’s no resolution, nothing to set it apart from those other books I know so well. Once I can see the entire work in my head (not completely written or even fully outlined, but at least fully realized in terms of where it’s going and what makes the story work) the similarities to other works fade, and the unique aspects of my story become more apparent. Hope that helps.

  • Krista, sorry to have missed your comment before. It was caught in the filters. I’m glad this post helped, but I’m so sorry to hear that you received disappointing news. We have all been there. Truly. Remember: it’s a negotiation, not a verdict. Best of luck.

  • David> Timely post for me. What makes me feel less confident (is that tied to the not so fresh feeling? At least metaphorically?) is TIME. The further I get from something, the less confident I am in it. Right now, I’m looking at my novel and going “eh. Not terrible, but not that good either.” I know I’ll bounce back the other way, it’s a cyclical thing, and so I just keep plugging away. I’ll make myself write the query letters and send them out and see where it falls, and then I’ll go back to “negotiation” as you put it.

    Megan> When you mentioned “execution” I had to laugh. I totally get what you’re saying, but I had this flash of “This is it, something is getting executed. Either the book goes or I do…”

  • Emily, I find your comment really interesting because I’m totally the opposite. The closer I am to a book, the less confident I am in it. I’ll finish a novel and tell my wife something like “Well, I’m done, but I don’t think it’s any good.” Then, four weeks later, I read through it again, and see that the flaws are smaller than I thought and the good parts shine a bit more brightly. But yes, plugging away is the key. And I had thought of finding a word other than “execution,” but there is something remarkably apt about it. As you say, it’s often either the book or me….

  • HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAVID! Your vacation sounded fabulous, and I am extremely jealous of your Cirque du Soleil tickets. That said, fabulous post. I’ve written three novels, and I found that the 60% point was about the same for me in terms of flagging confidence. Actually, in one of Mur Lafferty’s interviews with Neil Gaiman, he mentioned calling up his agent to apologize, because his novel was shit and he couldn’t finish it, to which his agent replied, “Oh, you’re at that stage of the book. Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.” Seems not even the infallible man in the leather jacket can avoid lapses in confidence.

    And that helps me sleep at night.

    For this post, I kept highlighting different parts and pasting them into my notepad file to agree with or discuss, but there ended up being too many of them, so here are just the two that struck me the most:

    “Most of us tend to start the conception stage with a lot of confidence, only to see that confidence erode slowly during the execution stage, and then with greater speed during the negotiation stage.” Oh my God. Let’s make a tee-shirt.

    “It’s about reconciling our vision and our creation with the perceptions of the reading audience. It’s a negotiation, not a verdict, and as such, it is very much part of a continuing creative process.”

    That’s a fabulous way to look at it. It’s amazing how just changing the way we describe something in our heads can change our attitude towards it. I’m getting better at separating criticism of my work from criticism of my talent as a writer, but I’m not sure those things can ever truly be separated.

    @Raven: Guess what? You’re ideas aren’t cool. They’re @%$^@* awesome! (And I’m not just saying that because you know where I sleep) <3

    Thanks for the awesome series of Back to Basics. They really are helpful. I had commented with a question last week (perhaps a bit too late), so I'm going to throw it at you now:

    I would really love to know what kind of schedule and goals you guys set for revisions. I’ve suddenly found myself in the position of having so many projects to revise that I’m afraid to add to it by starting another project.

    Take care!

  • Wow. I just saw how long my comment was. I really should learn to be brief. :/ Sorry for the space-hogging!

  • Thanks for the comments and birthday wishes, Lauren, and no worries on taking up space; we have lots of room…. I’ve heard from lots of authors who have trouble at that 60% point, but yes, it’s reassuring to hear that Himself also has these issues. And I agree: changing the terminology, and thus the way we approach a particular issue or problem, can totally reorient our worlds. Glad you found the “negotiation” approach helpful. As to separating criticism of a piece of work from perceived judgment of our talent . . . well, let’s just say that it’s an ongoing process for all of us . . . Nice to know that you’re enjoying the “Back to Basics” post. There are lots more coming.

    As to your question from last week, my schedule for revisions always begins the same way: with time off. Seriously. I cannot revise a manuscript effectively when I’m too close to it, and I’ve found that the simplest way to give myself that necessary distance is simply to put the thing away for a while. How long? Ideally six weeks. But that’s not always possible. At a minimum 2 weeks, but really I prefer more time. After that, it becomes very hard for me to give you any specifics that will be of value. Revisions, I believe, are the most idiosyncratic of writing endeavors. I tend to do a fair bit of polishing as I write, and so my manuscripts start out fairly clean. This isn’t boasting. It’s just how I work, and there are times when I wish I could simply spew out the pages and do all my polishing later. I know that other writers do just that, and so their revision process is going to look quite different from mine. My goals when revising are to anticipate and correct every flaw my beta readers (usually my editor and agent) are going to find. So one of the things I like to do is read the manuscript as if through another reader’s eyes. I try to step out of my own head and into that of my editor (or my wife, or someone else who regularly reads my work) and see the book as they would. But I don’t set a target for “pages revised” or “words read” when editing. Each book is different, and I think that any sort of arbitrary production goal will mess me up. Reading back through this, I’m not sure I’ve been very helpful. If you have projects that need revising, I would suggest that you give them some time to settle before attacking them again. Go ahead and start that next book. And when you reach a natural stopping point, or find yourself a bit stuck, take time away from it to revise. Both projects will benefit from the time away.

    Now look who’s hogging space….

  • Thanks, David. I wasn’t sure if it fell into the “too weird and personal and let’s pretend it doesn’t exist” category, which is why I felt lame for bringing it up. This whole “vacuum” feeling is made worse by having a day job om addition to clocking writing time. Which is probably why being out with friends for some of the writing helps so much.

    There are other folks who show up at the same coffee shop to write, who aren’t part of our group. They just hang out throughout the shop, working on their stuff. Maybe having people around (as opposed to just sitting at home writing) helps keep those feelings away. It does for me, at least.

  • @Pea_Faerie: HA! I needed that. The pun was unintended and yet so true! 🙂

  • Razziecat

    Hmm…what erodes my self-confidence? Probably the dry spells are the worst. Days when I’m stuck on a plot point and can’t put two words together. I’m trying to come up with a writing exercise that will prime the pump and get the words flowing, even if they’re crap. I figure eventually the sludge will peter out and the stream will run clear.

    I have to say that it helped enormously to post bits and pieces here in some of the recent posts and to hear that they were good. Everybody needs a little positive reinforcement now and then to counter the times when the crapola meter is off the scale!:)

  • Laura, I think workspace issues are pretty idiosyncratic. I can see where working in the midst of many writers might be helpful for some. It would drive me batty. I’m the kid who watches others write in their blue books and starts thinking he must be failing the test because he’s not writing as fast or as much as the other kids. Not good. But I’m glad it works for you.

    Razz, I hate the dry days, too. Had one today, actually. First day back from a vacation or time off is always bad, and today was no exception. I sat and stared at the screen, and nothing. So I’d take care of other things and then come back to it. Still nothing. What do I do? Well, for now I have faith that tomorrow will be better, and the day after that will be even better than that. If that doesn’t happen? Well, then I need to start looking at the last plot points to see if I’ve gone off the rails somewhere.

    We know those posts where folks post samples are very popular, and I’m sure we’ll be back to them before long. To be honest, they’re also incredibly time consuming on this end, so we can’t do them all the time. But as I say, we’ll be doing more of them in the near to medium future. Glad to know they help!

  • Thanks for your perspective on these issues, David. It’s helpful to know that even writers who have impressive work behind them still feel this way at times.

    I’ve noticed that there’s a definite bias toward traditional publishing in this crowd, the trials of which seem to add to the angst of certain authors. Now that we have front-list authors like Barry Eisner turning down half-million dollar advances to self publish instead, is anyone seriously looking at self-publishing as an option?

    Just curious.

  • Oops. That’s Eisler, not Eisner. Sorry, Barry.

  • D.R., that’s a great question and one to look at more closely in a full post. I would say though that the headline on the Eisler situation is a bit misleading. If you dig deeper, you find that the half-million dollar offer was not exactly what it seems and that the numbers you see on the self-e-pubbed writers who are out there might not be exactly what they seem either. Is it getting more and more lucrative for authors to market themselves online with e-books that they produce themselves or through smaller “presses” that give them more control? Absolutely. But even with all the advances made in the last couple of years, ebooks are still a small portion of total book sales, and as the resurgence of LP records shows, no technology ever really dies.

  • I agree that print will never die, however, I’ll bet print rights will be seen as subsidiary rights by the end of next year at the latest. E-books may be a minority of total book sales overall, but now sells more e-books than print books. PW reports that e-book sales in February grew over 100% while mass market paperback sales declined by over 30% (almost a third!). If I finish my book next year on schedule, I’m looking at a year to woo an agent, another year (or two) before I have a deal with a publisher and my book finally gets to market. That’s a total of three to four years from now. And that’s waiting on a deal that may never happen, to reach book stores that may not exist anymore. Meanwhile, Amanda Hocking made $450,000 in January alone on her self-pubbed e-books, and established authors are jumping the traditional ship as we speak. The times are changing, and quickly!

  • Yes, the Amanda Hocking numbers are some of those I referred to in my last comment. To be brutally honest, I don’t believe those numbers (which, by the way, are self-reported). She’s not even the number one seller on Amazon’s Kindle list, her books go for 2.99 a pop, and she’s making more money on a monthly basis than J.K. Rowling did at her peak? No way. Something is weird about that. And Amazon’s Kindle numbers are also based on self-reporting. Again, I’m not sure I believe it, and even if it is true, that’s not a true yardstick. Overall, the people who shop at Amazon are far more tech savvy than those who shop for books in general. And Kindle is Amazon’s proprietary reader, so those Kindle sales are are the vast majority of Kindle sales happening anywhere. Yes, the world is changing and dragging the publishing industry kicking and screaming with it. E-book sales will continue to grow, and quickly. But books as we know them are not about to disappear, and I strongly doubt that by end of 2012 print rights will be subsidiary.