I’ve been depressed this week. I think it’s mainly due to the weather: too many cold, cloudy days. It’s time for me to head south. But more than the weather, I’ve been plagued by self-doubt and disappointment. A couple weeks ago I read a book that has been a finalist in many well-known contests, and I found so many flaws in the plot that I don’t understand how it was published, much less why it was in contention for those awards.

Sometimes I can convince myself that it’s the topic that sells a book and makes it a best seller, that editors and readers are willing to overlook poor writing and weak plots simply because the “time is right” for that particular book. But that excuse didn’t seem plausible with this particular book. This was a mishmash of a plot, and not particularly unique.

So has this book been nominated for awards because the writer is well liked by other writers? (She really is a wonderful person.) Is it selling well because she’s young (at least relatively young) and beautiful? (She certainly looks good when being interviewed.) Could it be the blurbs she received from other writers influenced readers and book buyers? Or is it because she knows how to use social media and has succeeded in creating a “Brand”?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but it bothers me to think success may be determined by elements that have nothing to do with the story or writing. Most of us can’t (or don’t want to) change our looks or our age, and I would hope that prestigious awards are based on the product, not the producer’s popularity. (Yeah, I know, I’m naïve.) As for blurbs from other writers, I don’t pay any attention to them, but maybe that’s because I’m in the business. I know how often well-known writers are asked to blurb books, and how some writers will give a good comment simply because the writer is a friend.

Platform, nowadays, may be the most important aspect of selling a book. Once upon a time, publishing houses created the platform. They put out the ads, booked autographing sessions and interviews. They sent the galleys and advanced reading copies to reviewers, and created press releases. Their sales reps touted a writer’s new book and convinced book stores to purchase copies.

That was once upon a time. Now most of that is on the writer’s shoulders.

Yes, in a way that’s good. I can now write my own ads and press releases (and not give away an important plot point in the process), and I can choose the reviewers for my book. I can go on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and all of the other social media sites and push my book. I can gather fans clubs, run contests, go on blog tours, make trailers, put out newsletters, update my website, and…

The list can go on and on. And for many, all of the above is wonderful. It’s exciting. It’s fun. And best of all, it often sells books.

But I wonder (and I’m not thinking of myself here, but of others) how often writers get caught up in the platform and don’t find time for the writing. How many books might have been written that never will be written because the writer didn’t have the time or energy after devoting so much to the platform.

What is liberating can also be a trap.


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26 Responses to Self-doubt

  1. Interest post, Maris.

  2. Melissa Keir says:

    Don’t let doubt get you down. We all fight it. I don’t believe in contests nor read the blurbs. The book has to touch me to matter to me.

  3. Lucy Kubash says:

    I know I find all the promoting on social media energy draining (not that I do that much) and would rather be writing. I keep telling myself I need to do more on LinkIn and connecting with other blogs, but I just don’t find it that much fun, and you’re right, it’s a big time suck. And yes, it’s discouraging when a huge best seller is very poorly written. Wow, I didn’t help you feel less depressed now did I?

  4. Self-doubt – 30 years of writing – 58 books – and I still doubt that I’m a decent writer. I think most successful people aren’t sure how it all happened and wonder if they will wake up the next morning to find it’s all over because someone found out I’m a big fake who only pretends she knows how to write . What’s funny is when I first finish a book I think it stinks. But I can go back to some older books and think, “I wrote that? Wow, it’s pretty good. How did I do that?” I think self doubt with a current book just stems from being too close to your project for too long, and from realizing this is book number umpteen-umpteen and can I really keep coming up with a good story? Am I repeating myself? Do I still have what it takes? I ask myself that all the time, and right now I feel like I’m doing everything wrong with my current work in progress. I let my secretary read what I have so far and she loved it, so go figure. Self doubt isn’t something to be depressed or worried about because, Maris, you are only one of thousands of others who feel the same way. I am actually glad to find out someone else doubts her writing just like I do. As far as why some books get all kinds of acclaim when they aren’t even all that good, I’ve had the same questions. It’s a hit and miss industry – right editor, right publisher, right time – and often it’s how much time and money an author wants to put into promotion. There seem to be a lot of “best sellers” out there that I’ve never heard of and have never actually seen on a best-seller list. Anyone can call themselves a “best seller.” I don’t have an answer for why some truly deserving books never make it, and some not so deserving get all kinds of attention and acclaim. I guess that’s just how the cookie crumbles. I wouldn’t mind a few of those crumbs.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Rosanne, great response. You echo many of my feelings. And yes, I know there are many other writerrs who feel this way. Many of those writers (yourself included) are far more successful than I’ll ever be. Most of the time I simply try to write and enjoy the process, but every so often the weather and lack of sun get me down and I fell into this self-doubt trap. As I said, time for me to head south.

  5. Barbara M says:

    I think this speaks to knowing what you want — that quick flash, or a book that will be read for generations.

  6. Connie Bretes says:

    Sorry you’re feeling so down Maris. I too get affected by photosynthesis (lack of sun) as I go to work and come home in the dark.

    I’m still new in this arena, and sometimes can’t tell if what I’ve written is a good write or not. It sucks that someone well known can write crap and get published, but someone who is trying to learn the trade, or someone such as yourself trying to get publish, it’s hard. I feel overwhelm by all the energy it takes to promote your own book.

    Take care and try and have a great day.

  7. Kristen says:

    Must be something in the air! I’ve got similar mopes this week, too. I’m figuring, though, nose to the grindstone: I’ll keep plugging away, doing what I’m doing, and trying to ignore the rest. Hope you have sunshine in your skies again soon.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Kristen, I think it is in the air (the lack of sun and the colder temperatures). And you’re right, the best way to get over these feelings is to keep plugging away.

  8. Great post, Maris. It does help to know that you’re not alone in the mopes. I recently finished my third book, and I worry it’s not as good as my second book. So far everyone who has read the ARC loves it. “Your best so far,” they say. Huh. Now I’m struggling with self-doubt over the fourth book (one I’ve already contract for so feel even more pressure). According Nora Roberts, even she feels self-doubt, so I guess it never goes away. Maybe that just shows how much we care about our work. I’m in the process of “proof-listening” to the audiobook of my second novel, and as I listen to the narrator tell my story, I think, “Wow. I’m a pretty good writer.” That little boost sure helps. ( :

    • Maris Soule says:

      Rebecca, thanks for taking the time to comment. I know I’m not alone in the self-doubt category (but Nora? Really?), and I like your idea that it’s because we care about our work. I do want my stories to flow and be interesting, for readers to get to know and like the characters as much as I do. I think I also want to like the characters and story of books I buy (ones that have been given high praise), and I’m disappointed when that doesn’t occur. Good luck (and sales) with the books that you’ve had published and with the one that you’re in the process of writing.

  9. Cathy Lothamer says:

    I have continued writing since we spoke. Perhaps not as much as when I was alone on the boat for days on end, but continued. Creative people are harsh self critics and I am certain that my writing will be laughed at by “somebody”. I just keep doing it. This weather is not helping, but at the same time it is not hurting as my desire to hibernate grows. I have told my children for years, “just do the next right thing” and things will be alright. I must take the advise I so freely give, or I could easily get paralyzed by my overthink drive. Be grateful for all you have accomplished and know that some of us envy you for those accomplishments. I look up to you as I appreciate the hard work and dedication you have displayed. And I look forward to meeting up with you “in Florida!”

  10. Maris, as you can tell from the comments, you’re not alone. And yes, creative are terrible self-critics. And yes, lack of sun makes us blue. I just told DH we need to start getting up earlier. I’m shutting down about 5 because it gets dark. Too much loss of writing time. So it does affect us. I think the important thing to remember about this business is how subjective it is–as are all performing arts. I don’t care much for hip hop or hard rock. That doesn’t make it bad, just my opinion. I’m not too much into fantasy, but some folks love it. When I’m judging contests, I’m consciously make efforts to keep my own biases out, but it’s hard. We’re in a subjective business. I love blogging, but spend way too much time with it. (eg. length of this response. LOL), but it’s important like FB and Twitter, which I’m off to do now. Glad the sun has come out where you are. Enjoy lunch wit friends.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Ah, yes, you’re right Marsha. These comments have shown I’m not alone regarding the writing frustrations. And I just returned from a long lunch with five boating friends. Seems we’re all heading south for the winter. I’m not alone with the need for sunshine and warmth, either.

  11. I set aside a time for writing first, then I do the promotion stuff. It was interesting to see how much free time I had when the publisher that was going to print my first book went out of business instead. I have that manuscript at another publisher, but if that doesn’t work, I may self publish. I have to do promotion whether or not I have a publisher, but at least most of what I do takes more time than money. Carolyn Rae Author – facebook

    • Maris Soule says:

      Carolyn Rae, I think it’s the time element that frustrates me. I must be getting slower and slower every year because I just don’t seem to have enough time to do it all. I, too, am thinking of self-publishing one book I’ve written. How lucky we are to not only have that option now, but to be able to get our self-published work out to a world-wide audience. Good luck to you with your book.

  12. Phyllis Humphrey says:

    You are right that gloomy weather can affect our mood. (I moved from Illinois to California which helped.) But you may also be right that the novel with plot holes really is bad but managed to get readers who didn’t notice or care. If I’d made notes, I’m sure I could list a dozen books which I threw against the wall in disgust. “How did this ever get published?” makes us feel inadequate but only temporarily and if we let it. Just write on and be glad when the critics like YOUR stories.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Phyllis, you’re so right. I need to focus on what I write and remember the successes. I think this funky mood will improve once I get to a warmer, sunnier climate.

  13. You’ve worked hard, Maris. All those things you mentioned wear us out. Plus, you’ve taken time to mentor new writers like me. You deserve some fun in the sun!