Sunday, September 1, 2013

Despicable Me

There is a great book out there that I would encourage anyone who is thinking about writing to read: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. She was a former editor now turned agent, and it has some of the most insightful analysis of how writers relate to words and the neurotic responses that dog the process. In my admittedly limited writerly circle, one thing stands out for me, and that is that most of us have egos bigger than god (take your pick which god, I'm nothing if not ecumenical), and almost all of us--okay a lot of us--struggle with humongous feelings of inadequacy. It's that compelling desire to be seen and heard--me, me, me!--but from behind a bunch of paper (or bytes as the case may be these days).

I had a lot of trouble (aka horrible time) writing my second book. I'd gotten a lot of nice feedback on the first book, was nominated for a prestigious award, was a Booksense pick, got some decent reviews, and you'd think that it would have been a total slam dunk to write the second book. It had the opposite effect (and I know that I'm not alone in this). Many people have trouble writing that second book. I knew the plot, I knew where I wanted to take my characters, I had an excellent sense of the gestalt of the book (which is what gives a book its overarching theme), but I couldn't write it. Why? I was terrified. At least in my case, writer's block essentially boils down to fear of failure. You've tasted the sugar of success, and the last thing you want in your writing wine glass is the vetch of defeat. If you don't write, then you don't fail.

This is why the collapse of the legacy publishing system is devastating. Because the self-doubt is often overwhelming, and the one thing that the legacy publishing system does (or did) was to provide a modicum of legitimacy. Yes, you can write. You published a book. You were nominated for an award. You are one of us! Of course, I had all that and it didn't do a damn bit of good; I was still in a state of paralysis for years as I struggled to write that second book. But it was something of an emotional lifeboat when I was in that Grand Canyon of self-doubt about my writing.

There is no modicum of legitimacy when you self-publish. The only person promoting yourself is you. The only feedback that you're getting are the daily sales figures from amazon (and I'm ashamed to admit that I check those stats a minimum of 10 times a day) and the reviews (from those who don't know you).

Self-promotion suck (see previous paragraph vis a vis massive feelings of inadequacy). But, you say, you did book signings and were on panels at mystery cons and had speaking gigs places, and even did a radio interview (which was very cool). I did, but I also had an entity behind me (my publisher) who believed that my book was good enough to hit the marketplace. And there is so much competition to get a publishing contract that I basked in that approbation. The only monolith behind me in the self-publishing venture is me. I suck at being a monolith of legitimacy. It's scary and I'm not good at it.

Plus, OMG, the time suck. If I'm "networking," I'm not writing. It doesn't get any plainer than that. I'm editing full-time, I have editing gigs on the side, I have a huge yard that takes some time every weekend just to keep the weeds down to a minimum. Life is crazy busy. I find myself making choices in terms of my time every single day. Some aspect of my life suffers on any given day. I shortchange something to devote time to another something.

If someone asks me about Pen and Prejudice, I can say with total confidence that I think that it's fun, funny, and an excellent commentary on genre writing from the POV of a small-fry author. If you asked me, do you think this book is good enough for the larger market, I would say without hesitation, yes. It's a good book. What is more important, however, is that it's a marketable book. It would sell. Put my feet to the fire. I honestly believe this. And yet I'm also always apologizing for it at the same time. Why? Because the yin and yang between self-confidence and self-doubt that dogs most writers I know always comes down squarely on the self-effacement side of the equation when I dip my toes into the self-promotion tsunami.

And the water is so cold.

No comments: