If you’ve followed D2D online, tuning in to our livestreams and podcasts, you’ve heard me mention my co-worker, Elyssa. She’s brilliant, and I honestly don’t know how we’d get anything done around this place without her. Today happens to be her birthday (happy birthday, Elyssa!), which is kind of coincidental to me writing this particular post. Because it was Elyssa who suggested this topic, just a few days ago, and I knew as soon as I heard the idea that it was going to be the next thing I wrote.
Because sometimes we forget who we really are.
In the self-publishing space, there’s always been a nagging, pestering question hanging right at the edge of our awareness. It plagues some of us, to the point of causing the dreaded “imposter syndrome.” It makes us question not only our work, but ourselves. We wonder if we’re legitimate. We wonder if we’re real.
“Am I a real author?”
I get why this question would come up, believe me. Every real author runs into this sense of doubt. For many years (decades, really) I wrote and published in near obscurity. What few readers who did pick up my books were usually related to me or went to high school or college with me. My mailing list hovered at 60 subscribers for so long, I was starting to think that MailChimp had set that as the limit on my account.
For those decades I tried everything to get my work noticed by a larger crowd, to make more than a few measly bucks per year on these books I’d labored so long and hard to drag into existence. The work, as you know, can be exhausting. But more exhausting is the work after the work—the incessant, unending push to market and promote, to figure things out, to get better, to sell, for the love of God.
If writers face an existential crisis any time they sit in front of the blank page, that crisis is no less dampened once they’ve actually finished the book but can’t find anyone willing to read it.
That’s daunting. I know. As a matter of fact, we know—everyone here at Draft2Digital knows exactly the struggle you face, and how draining and painful it can be. Some of us are writers, just like you. Some of us work in different silos of the publishing world, but we have those same struggles, and we see your pain every day, too. It’s one of the reasons we work so hard—so very hard—to eliminate as many of those pains in your life as we possibly can. That’s our job. We build things to make the author life as pain-free as possible.
But before you get to D2D, you have to face down the demons and the Herculean trials awaiting you as you start and build and grow this author career that’s made you so passionate, you’re willing to work at it with no promise of reward.
“Should I take that advice?”
As if simply finding the time to sit down and write each day wasn’t hard enough, there’s all the “advice” that comes at you from everywhere. Podcasts, YouTube videos, books, articles, blog posts, social media, author groups, well-meaning friends, even more well-meaning family—you have no shortage of people telling you how things work. Or how they think they should work.
Who do you listen to? How do you sort out the good advice from the bad? What is it, ultimately, that you really and truly need to know? And what is it that you should really and truly ignore?
You’ve embarked on a fairly arduous career path, in deciding to be an author. And I can tell you from experience, you’re going nowhere if you can’t slow down and collect your thoughts and center yourself. Writing is a “flow” activity—meaning, it’s the kind of thing you do by getting into the zone, letting your mind relax enough that the good stuff starts rising to the surface, flowing out through your arms to your hand, through your pen or keyboard and onto the page.
You don’t achieve “flow” if you’re so stressed you can barely think. So breathe. Relax. Take some time to meditate a bit, to pray, to sing, to listen to some uplifting music, to take a walk. Whatever puts you in a better state of mind will serve you pretty well when you start spilling what’s in your mind onto the page.
Feeling more Zen? Good. Let’s talk about how to suss out the good advice from the bad.
Since there’s no shortage of advice out there, finding the right bits really comes down to two things: Your personal goals, and their achievements.
Your goals as a “real author” can be literally anything. I won’t preach to you about keeping your expectations realistic or making sure you’re not overreaching. Sometimes the extreme goals and the crazy overreach end up pushing you further along, even if you don’t achieve everything you’re after.
But what I will tell you is this: If you shoot for the stars and fall short, don’t punish yourself over it. Take stock of where you’ve landed, and what you learned from your attempt, and then use all of that to set up your next launch.
Know your goals and you’re halfway to achieving them. Having a destination always makes the road trip easier to plan (a little sage wisdom learned from the #VanLife that my wife and I have been on).
The second bit, though, is where you’ll be able to filter the good advice from the bad advice, in the deluge that sweeps over you.
When someone is giving you advice, they usually speak with some authority. They’re often pretty firm in their perspective. It’s up to you, then, to determine whether their confidence is justified, and whether they are the authority they claim to be.
Has this person actually accomplished the thing they’re advising you over? If they’re telling you how to sell a million copies of your book, have they sold a million copies of theirs? If they’re telling you how to make a living from book sales, what’s their own income situation look like?
For sure, people are capable of offering solid advice on things that they, themselves, have not yet achieved. There’s an entire coaching industry built around the idea of certain fundamentals of success being “transferrable skills.” So even though a coach or advisor may not be a New York Times bestselling author, they may not have had that as one of their own goals. They might still be able to point you in the right direction, simply by coaching you in techniques and methods that lead to general success.
In that case, what you’re looking for as you examine this prospective advice-giver is whether they have demonstrable success in their life, and whether it was the application of their advice that led them there.
My general rule: I study people who have done what I want to do, and I try to replicate what they did. If it works, then it becomes part of a process. If it doesn’t work, I try something else.
I’m open to advice from people who are doing something different from what I’m trying to achieve, but only in the sense that you never know what new ideas can be transferred over to what you’re doing. When someone who has not done what I’m doing tells me with great specificity what I should be doing, I’m become wary and cautious, and I’m a lot slower to simply accept the advice as written in stone.
When someone offers you specific advice, look for that specific success in their life. If it isn’t there, you can freely ignore them.
“Do I need to know how to do that?”
Along with free advice, there’s no shortage of recommendations for software, services, and skills in this business.
I’ll confess—I’m guilty of being one of the “pushers” for certain things. Obviously, I think you should use Draft2Digital for all your formatting and distribution needs! I am the most biased of biased prescribers, on that one.
But I’ve also, in the past, pushed certain pieces of software, admonished that you need a minimum set of skills, and generally recommended more than strongly that you should be using X or doing Y. Some of these things really are quite valuable and would help you as an author. But if I’m being completely honest with myself, and with you, I’m forced to admit that there aren’t so many “must have” resources for authors. It’s a pretty flexible and wide-open career, when it comes down to it.
So do you need to know how to use Photoshop? Or Scrivener?
Must you use Vellum to do your layout and conversion from manuscript to ebook? Or save up and buy a Mac so you can even use Vellum in the first place?
All of these things could be useful, and you gain a certain amount of increased empowerment and capability, and even self-confidence, when you learn how to use them. But they aren’t necessary. Just helpful.
The same can be said about social media.
Do you need to post on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram? Pinterest? TikTok? YouTube?
Will posting content on these channels help you sell more books?
Maybe—but maybe not. And frankly, that’s the real question you need to answer. None of these things define you as a “real author.”
The two rules I recommend following, when it comes to learning software, buying equipment or products, paying for or subscribing to a service, or posting on social media and other platforms are these:
Rule #1: Do what works for helping you sell more books.
Rule #2: Do what you’re going to be comfortable doing, and only for as long as it lends itself to your success.
Similar to the rules for which advice to follow, these two are all about knowing what you want to achieve and doing only the things that move you toward that goal, while stopping anything that moves you further away.
“Am I really a writer?”
Self-published indie authors have a perception problem.
In some respects, it’s public facing: Despite success stories, indie authors hitting bestseller lists and getting TV and major motion picture deals, there are still some folks who believe that self-publishing is for people who couldn’t really “make it.” The people who think self-published authors aren’t “real authors.”
They think that if you didn’t go through the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing world, you’re just playing make believe. You weren’t validated. You’re lacking your medallion, your punch card, your chip.
You’re never going to convince those folks, so don’t bother. They want to play in the walled garden. You’re out hiking in a national forest.
The second perception problem, though, is inward facing: We sometimes allow ourselves to doubt what we’re doing, and whether it’s “real.” We hear criticism or just well-meaning advice from friends and family, trying to help us keep our expectations from being too high, to keep our feet firmly on the ground. Sometimes we just whisper those things to ourselves.
“What am I doing? Do I really think this is going to work? No one’s buying my books. No one’s reading. Every review is terrible. I don’t have the money to pay for ads. I can’t afford that writing software. I’m awful at social media.”
There is no enemy more vicious and capable of tearing us to shreds in the shortest time possible than we, ourselves. We’re merciless with ourselves.
We have to start with a decision.
We are real writers, because of one simple fact: We write.
We are real authors, because of the fact that we have written.
We are real publishers, because we have done the work and put out the book.
If we aren’t doing those things yet, we’re committed to getting them done.
That’s who we are. We don’t quit. We just do. And we succeed, even if that success is a tiny spark at the start. Every flame starts as that tiny spark. Every raging inferno starts with a tiny flame.
You are the real author you pretend to be, because it turns out you haven’t been pretending at all.
It doesn’t matter what software you use. Authors have written Pulitzer Prize winners with nothing but a stub of a pencil and some scraps of napkin.
It doesn’t matter whether you can design your own covers in Photoshop—apps like Canva can help you design a cover with a few clicks.
It doesn’t matter whether you can afford to or even figure out how to run ads. There are gloriously successful authors who find their audience using nothing but word of mouth.
None of the things that feel intimidating or scary or overwhelming to you can stop you—because you are a real author.
Write, and you are a writer.
And that’s as simple as anything gets.