Friday, September 18, 2015


Writers are an insecure bunch. Even when we’ve achieved a modicum of success, we worry that it’s not enough, or that it won’t last or that we must work harder to get to that next level. Don’t believe me? Check out this despairing letter to New York Magazine advice columnist Ask Polly—and her response:

The writer has fought the constant uphill battle that is the professional writer’s life and finally established herself at the respectable midlist level, but feels she is slipping. She wonders whether she should just give up. It takes too much work and emotional energy to maintain her place, much less make any progress. She feels the pressure of the hordes at her back, eager to overrun her. She’s of a certain age and not sure she can keep running this race.

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, no matter whether we are raw newbies, newly published or established authors. We’ve all hit that cliff on the path up the mountain that dares us to scale it or go home. A spate of rejections. A resounding no from that agent or publisher we’d really counted on. A stinging contest loss or review. Failing or nonexistent sales. Bankrupt publishers. And sometimes just the pure accumulation of time and effort that seems to lead nowhere, like a soft fall of snow that eventually causes the roof to cave in.

Polly’s answer is that the writer should somehow regain her lost joy in writing and work without concern for what the response of the market might be. Find your passion and forget the fear. Do the work because you love it, and be grateful for the opportunity to do what you love.

I agree with Polly’s advice wholeheartedly. I also think it doesn’t go far enough. The problem is that almost every writer craves affirmation. We don’t write to entertain ourselves; we write to communicate something to others. We want to connect to others through our writing. Some of us are better at this connection than others, and it is a cruel, unfair reality of our world that the number of people we can connect with (readers) is not only dependent on the quality of our writing, but also on the quality of our promotion (and a great deal of luck).

It’s just not true that if you show your passion, readers will automatically beat a path to your door. You have to pave the path and put up signs and give them a map and leave brochures at the local diner.

And if they still don’t find you? Then you have to redefine success. This is where many of us in the indie publishing world find ourselves. When is it okay to admit we will never see the results Joe Konrath, Hugh Howey and others keep promising us? When is it okay to say we can only spend so much time and money on promotion when we’d really rather be writing. What are we doing this for, anyway? Good questions to ask, and they should be asked of ourselves often. The answers will no doubt change as we go along.

The great science fiction writer Harlan Ellison (who is “of a certain age” and must surely be feeling the pressure) once said that “writers write because they can’t not write.” That means no matter whether anyone else is reading—or buying—most of us will keep writing. We just have to find that balance between eternal hope, flaming ambition and crushing despair. And be grateful to be doing what we love.

Cheers, Donna


  1. Been there, done that, more times than I want to admit. I came to a couple of decisions over the summer. I'm just going to write. I hate promoting and it eats my writing time and gets me nowhere, so I'm just going to write and only do the social media I enjoy - blogging and chatting on Twitter. I'm also going to have to get what my husband once referred to as a 'proper' job next year. Can't afford not to. I write, because as Harlan said, I can't not write. The publication part is optional, and I can only put out what I have time and money to do, and that's it.

  2. Right there with you, sister.

    It's true that it's never been easier to get published. There are just so many opportunities now for new authors. But what you don't often hear is that it's harder than ever to be discovered by readers! It doesn't matter if you've won or finaled in big contests or spent years building a name for yourself among your peers and readership. It doesn't matter if you've spent the bucks to have several rounds of editing on your manuscript and had quality covers produced. The truth is when you finally become a published author, you're still an unproven newbie and it's very hard to get the word out and gain a decent readership, no matter how much promotion and advertising you do. There are just SO many books available today, it's like a stadium-sized smorgasbord for readers, and when many of those books are free to boot...

    Yeah, brave new world, for sure!

    But Harlan Ellison said it all. If you're wired to write, you can't NOT write. And if you can share your stories with others who enjoy them, that's a big bonus. I think the discoverability issue will solve itself in time. The question is do "authors of a certain age" have that kind of time? :)

  3. (P.S. Please don't go home! Climb that wall.)

  4. I read that Polly article, and I empathised. Any writer would. Later on Facebook I found this. And really, it says it all for me.


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