I saw this on Instagram a few months ago, and it has stayed with me ever since.
It’s an issue that’s not really talked about in the writing community, but I think it’s time it came out of the shadows. It’s a false feeling of shame and serious impostor syndrome that’s holds many writers – budding and established – ransom.
And now, I’m mad enough to want to write about it, because I can see for myself how detrimental it can be for people who want to pursue their writing goal, but are crippled by the fear and shame of not being good enough.
Why some people willingly throw money down the drain
My BookMaker Sessions are one-to-ones with people who prefer a more personal coaching approach to writing their books. They are paid-for sessions that are booked via an online calendar.
In the event of cancellation (which requires at least three days notice), you only get 50% of your money back.
In the first session, we discuss writing goals, author platforms and readership. But before the session I ask for samples of your work, so that I can assess your writing skills and make recommendations for improvement if needed, or even, determine if we’re a good fit.
I thought the fact that people had to pay in advance for these sessions would be enough of an incentive for them to at least show up. (They start from $250/h for the first session).
Seems I was wrong. It turns out that a very large percentage of people would rather throw money down the drain than have someone else review and discuss their writing, even if that was the service they paid for.
This is not right.
I have observed this over and over again.
I’m asked about the best way to break into freelance writing, but when I ask for links to the person’s work, even if it’s just a personal blog, I get radio silence. Eventually, they fess up and admit they’re ashamed of their writing.
Someone tells me they’ve published a book. When I ask them for the link on Amazon, they retreat with a nervous laugh. ‘Thing is, I really don’t want anyone to read it. It’s just a silly little book. Nothing the likes of you – or any normal person for that matter – would want to read.’
Some have even gone as far as uploading their manuscripts in Amazon, only to suffer paralysis at the publish button, because they are terrified that they will be laughed at when the book is published.
I know a stupendously successful author (she’s sold gazillions of books), yet still suffers from impostor syndrome because she’s self-published. She’s open to marketing collaborations with other self-published authors, but gives traditionally-published authors like me the cold shoulder.
I also know other, equally successful indie authors that are like this. It’s a ‘them vs us’ mentality, or what I call the Arctic Wall that divides and separates self-published and traditional authors. It’s also the nonsense of publishing that no one talks about.
This has got to stop.
We are all storytellers. Some of us are little further down the road than others, but we can all learn from each other.
Every successful book marketing strategy that I’ve learnt has come from indie authors, who by and large, are more marketing savvy than their traditionally-published counterparts – Abidemi Sanusi
Which probably explains why they sell more books – they understand they are selling a product and are forensically hard-nosed about how they sell it.
As a traditionally-published (and now hybrid author), I can say that I learnt about the craft of writing from my patient editors. I also learnt that the traditional publishing model is a crazy-ass one. The hours are long, the pay is horrendous, and everything takes forever to get done. Yet, it’s still the Holy Grail of publishing. Shout me down all you like, but I know lots of successful indie authors who would do anything to have at least one traditional publishing contract, because of the literary credibility and industry validation that comes with having one.
It doesn’t make them traitors to the indie cause. And why can’t they have the best of both worlds?
The shame of the first book or first anything
I’m familiar with the shame of the ‘first work’. Every author has this, as does every actor, playwright or (insert anybody who’s ever done anything for the first time).
It’s just the way life is. But you shouldn’t let it hold you back from writing more books or finally embarking on that freelance writing career. After all, it’s only by doing more of something that you get better at it.
My first book was religious fiction. When it came out, I made page 3 of a national newspaper and was even invited to Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour (for non-UK residents, this is a much-coveted radio slot), which my then-publishers declined on my behalf.
Today, I have mixed feelings about that book (I’m just being honest). But it’s out there and there’s nothing I can do about it.
My book, Eyo. The same one that was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize?
Well, the first edition was filled with errors, because the printer was emailed, and so printed the draft version, or some other elephant dung reason that I’ve chosen to block out of my mind, for the sake of my mental health. I’ve also always felt that the novel could’ve done with a LOT more developmental editing (and I still do), but alas, the editor wasn’t up to the task (he was later fired and we had to bring in other people to clear up his mess).
For a long time after the book was published, I struggled with feelings of shame, because I thought the book could’ve been so much better.
Until my agent basically told me to sock it up. She said that if I was such a bad writer, my religious book wouldn’t have made the headlines, and my first non-religious and commercial book wouldn’t have been nominated for such a prestigious literary prize, typos, developmental edit or not.
There are still copies of this ‘shameful’ first edition floating around. But now, when I get emails from eagled-eyed readers pointing out typos, structural weaknesses and inconsistencies in the book with glee, I shrug and return to my inevitable glass of red. Not to drown my sorrows in shame, but to carry on with the pleasurable drinking activity that I was engaging in, before I was rudely interrupted by the email.
I guess you could say that I’ve evolved. Well, it was either that or watch my mental health go down London’s putrid Victorian drains.
So here’s my challenge to you.
I don’t know where you are as a writer.
I don’t know if you’re an established author or yet-to-be published (indie or trad-pubbed, it doesn’t matter – no one cares).
I don’t know if you’re a budding freelancer, a dabbler or a veteran.
But if you’re dogged by feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment or shame about your work, you need to ask yourself if this writing thing is for you in the first place. And if you decide that it is, take ownership of your work. Own it and strut it, even the crappy writing projects. Do this and I promise you that your mindset and the way you approach your writing life and career will change dramatically – and for the better, too.
Over to you: you’ve read this post. It resonates with you. What are you going to do next?
Also published on Medium.