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August 20, 2015

What’s Your Author Self-Esteem?

Man staring at the ground with text: How to Improve Your Author Self-Esteem

One of the longest and most successful blog hops I know of in the writing world is the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Once a month, writers across the web post about their doubts and concerns and share their support.

While I’m not a member of Alex’s group, I can relate to the idea behind it. In fact, here on my blog, I have a whole tag for self-doubt. I think it’s safe to say that we often doubt ourselves as authors.

  • We doubt whether we can do a story justice when writing. “It seemed so much cooler in my head.”
  • We doubt whether we’re writing the right story. “This other idea sounds more interesting than my current draft. Maybe that’s a sign my story is boring.”
  • We doubt our beta readers’ or critique partners’ feedback. “They said they liked it, but what if they were lying to make me feel better?”
  • We doubt our revisions and edits. “I can’t tell anymore if I’m making my story better or worse.”
  • We doubt whether or not anyone will like our story. “Should I click the button to (send this query/publish this book)? Or should I reread it once more to make sure?”

That’s all normal.

However, if we’re not careful, that self-doubt can creep into our psyche in ways that affects our career choices. Our business decisions should usually be based more in fact than emotion, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes we even reject ourselves to prevent rejection from others.

Are We Self-Rejecting?

We might talk ourselves out of trying to write a challenging premise, even though that story idea could be the breakthrough we need. Or we might decide against querying a top-notch agent or publisher who’s expressed interest in our genre, simply because we figure they wouldn’t be interested in our story.

It can be far too easy to think that we’re not good enough or interesting enough for X agent or Y publisher. I know of some authors who queried small publishers—and only small publishers—because they assumed no one else would want their story.

That might be the case (some niche stories are a better fit for a small publisher experienced in that niche), but a decision made because of careful research for the best fit within the market is different from a decision made because of self-doubt-fueled assumptions. One is actively deciding, and one is reacting to imagined rejections.

The issue doesn’t go away when self-publishing—and can even get worse. Self-published authors can let self-doubt dictate countless aspects of their career.

A common (very, very common) problem is when we price our work according to our self-doubts rather than our market research. If we’re friends with many self-published authors, we probably know at least one who prices their books cheaply simply because they don’t think they deserve more.

Our Author Self-Esteem Can Affect Our Pricing

I read an insanely insightful blog post a couple of weeks ago by a textile artist (The Pale Rook) trying to figure out how she should price her work. She often mentors other artists through their business process, so she thought she wouldn’t have issues when roles were reversed and she met with her mentor.

Instead, she found a magazine subscription’s worth of issues in how she thought of herself, her work, and the worth of her work. I hope everyone will read the post, because I’m going to try to restrain myself from quoting the whole thing. *smile*

“I thought that earning a good salary for my work was somehow unfair to the rest of the world. So I reduced the price…

I feel bad about people paying for my work because I think that the people who buy and even those who appreciate my work are somehow being duped. I keep feeling that at some point I am going to be found out to be an imposter.  I feel bad when my work is considered valuable…

I feel that if I openly value my work then people might not like me.”

Charging Money for Our Work Can Make Us Uncomfortable

I don’t know about anyone else, but I can definitely relate to the issues The Pale Rook struggled with. There can be a big difference between what we think our work deserves and what we think we deserve.

We might be able to look objectively at the quality of our work and recognize that it deserves a certain price. Yet when it comes to attaching that price to our name, to what’s coming into our pocket, we can waver.

Issue #1: If we don’t value our writing, we’re more likely to lower our pricing to fit what we think we “deserve.”

We might be afraid that if we price our work too high, people won’t like us. We don’t want to be seen as “too full of ourselves.” Or maybe we think we can avoid a “not worth the money” Amazon review if it’s “cheap enough” (even though those reviews show up on free products too).

Issue #2: We’re afraid of people not liking us if they perceive us as overcharging.

Is There Help for Us?

The Pale Rook goes on to describe how she helps those she mentors get over this problem of devaluing their work. She’s seen her students time and again apologize for their work—no matter how hard they’ve worked on it or how good they believe it to be deep down.

“I ask my students why they feel it’s so difficult to not devalue themselves. Their answers are always, always the same. They tell me that they don’t want other people to think they are arrogant. They worry that if they say their work is good, other people will point out that it’s not. They worry that if they appear to think they are better than others, then those others won’t like them.”

No matter how good our writing is, we will have people pointing out its problems. So if others are going to put down our work, why would we beat them to the punch?

People who don’t like our work simply aren’t the right reader for that story. Their opinion doesn’t have to be more valued than our own. They don’t have a direct link to “the truth of the universe.”

Likewise, in her classroom, she bans students from saying “sorry” or any other negative words about their work.

“After a few minutes of speaking hesitantly … something would shift. … They would speak without apology, explanation or expectation, about what they loved about their own talent. …  And when they shone, something would happen to the other students in the room, and to me;  we’d feel just a little bit closer to our own value because we could see someone else connecting with theirs.”

Her recommendation to those who read her post is similar:

“Talk to yourself about yourself, your work, your talent, your virtues, whatever you like but do it without apology and do it out loud.”

Self-Doubt Plus a “Nobody” Author Equals Low Author Self-Esteem

No matter how we publish, we usually start out as a “nobody” debut author. Even those who traditionally publish often don’t have a big marketing push from their publisher.

From a fact-based, marketing research perspective, it makes sense to start off with prices low enough to give people a reason to take a chance on a new, unknown author. In the indie publishing world, we might even decide to offer a story for free, like I did with Unintended Guardian.

But when does that end?

At what point do we say: Okay, I have enough cheap stuff out there for people to check out if they’re unsure. Now it’s time to price for real.

My Struggles with Author Self-Esteem

When I developed my business plan last year, I made conscious decisions about how to price my work:

  • I was going to offer a freebie short story to create a wide funnel of potential readers.
  • I was going to price the pre-orders for my follow-up novels lower to reward those who follow and support me.
  • I was going to keep my first novel on the cheaper end to ease potential readers into my longer work.
  • My prices would increase with later works.

The reality matched that plan fairly well… Except for one issue that I hadn’t nailed down back when I was still in unemotional-business mode.

I had my freebie, I’d marked the final price of my first novel cheaper than the second, and I had my pre-orders priced cheaper. But how much cheaper should they be?

My pre-order price for the first novel was $0.99. For the second novel, I debated, hemmed, hawed, and struggled to justify a higher pre-order price. In the end, I chickened-out and kept Pure Sacrifice‘s pre-order price at $0.99.

Why? All that self-doubt stuff The Pale Rook went into above. But in the time since I’d set up Pure Sacrifice‘s pre-order, I came across her blog post, which helped me see the influence that doubt had on my business decision.

So when it came time to submit my third novel, Ironclad Devotion, for pre-order, I had her insights to back me up. Ironclad Devotion‘s pre-order price ($2.99) is still cheaper than it will be post-release ($3.99), but it’s no longer “I really devalue this work” cheap.

A huge part of me wants to apologize for that price, and that’s crazy. And I know that’s crazy, but I have the urge to do it anyway. Ugh.

We know that ebooks are dirt cheap. They’re less than a birthday card we buy for a co-worker without a second thought. They’re less than a drink or a burger that we won’t think about tomorrow.

And none of those justifications even goes into the time or effort we put into creating the book. Or fact that our book might be really, really good.

Ironclad Devotion is the book that was near-publishable at the first draft stage. It’s the favorite story of my beta editors and my editors so far. It deserves to be valued.

(Heck, it probably “deserves” to be priced more than $3.99 at release. But I’m going to follow my plan to raise prices with later books and trust that my writing will keep improving and keep deserving more. *grin*)

So I’m sticking with my one-step-above-ridiculously-cheap pre-order price. And I’m not going to apologize for it. *smile*

Do you struggle with self-doubt to the point that it affects your overall author self-esteem? How does it affect you (drafting, editing, submitting, publishing, promo’ing, etc.)? Do you think our author self-esteem can affect our business decisions, like for pricing? Do you relate to The Pale Rook’s struggles? Do you have other insights for where this issue holds us back, or other suggestions for how we can resolve it?

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What do you think?

32 Comments on "What’s Your Author Self-Esteem?"

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Paula Millhouse

I saw a clip on FB last week where the great Stan Lee, of Marvel Fame said about the same thing, Jami. He felt like an imposter writing comic books when all his buddy’s were swinging hammers and becoming doctors. It took him a long time to value his contribution to entertainment – to understand what he did really mattered.

OMG – just imagine our world if he hadn’t figured out how important entertainment is to people – there’d be no THOR!! Or, IRON MAN, or .

This must be a Universal Story sort of thing.

Paula Millhouse

*fill in your favorite Marvel character here* was supposed to follow Iron Man. 🙂

Davonne Burns

This is exactly what I’ve been struggling with lately. I have three short stories out, two are part of an ongoing series. Yet I find myself hesitating to share them on social media. ‘No one is interested’ and ‘no one cares’ are both something that my inner editor/demotivator tells me all the time. I’m terrified of spamming people and making them feel like I’m shoving my book in their face constantly. So I end up not sharing at all…

Rather counter productive. Having anxiety issues doesn’t exactly help either, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m hoping that by the time my current WIP is ready to submit I’ll feel more confident about the story and about myself as an author.

Evolet Yvaine
Oh yes, I’m flinging self-doubt like a ninja’s throwing stars. I’m a newbie in the romance genre and my main fear has always been–and continues to be–writing from an adult POV (because I used to write YA), writing from an adult MALE POV (because I’ve never done that, even when I was writing YA), and writing love scenes. Never mind that I’ve been reading romance books since I was a freshman in high school. I knew that I eventually wanted to try my hand at writing a romance and I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. There’s been SO much self-doubt flying around that I’ve been procrastinating about writing. Until Camp NaNoWriMo last month. when I basically FORCED myself to just jump in. Before that? I buried myself in book research and I was buying and reading books about how to write erotic fiction (Alison Kent’s “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Fiction” was SUPER helpful). Ironically, I didn’t write one love scene during Camp. I shied away from it because I talked myself into believing that I wasn’t ready to write it. I think I justified it by telling myself that I need to read up more or something. Honestly, how much more can I read though? I know my fav authors–Lori Foster, Melissa Foster, Jaci Burton, Carly Phillips, Jill Shalvis–must’ve felt self-doubt when they first started out. I think my problem is that they’re SO GOOD at what they do (which is why I continue to read their… Read more »
Carradee

The self-esteem thing is one reason I post on Wattpad. I get quick feedback when I’m updating regularly, and even when I’m not, readers still comment sometimes and even check on me when I’ve been quiet for a while.

One thing I’ve struggled with over pricing (for my services as a freelancer, too) is the concept of “I can’t afford X”—but much of why I can’t afford X is because I won’t charge X! If I charged X (or even a little more), I could afford it.

Whenever I’ve increased what I quoted clients, I’ve ended up getting it…and usually without a pause. Which itself says that I’m still undercharging. (And in the vast majority of cases, when I’ve lowered my rates to be able to work with someone, I’ve ultimately regretted it.)

Something I noticed years ago but keep forgetting is that when I raise my rates (which are still in the realm of “reasonable”), I get treated better by clients. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suspect the same would hold true for book pricing, too.

Kim

Wow. Timely post. I’m going through a terrible time right now with self-doubt. I can totally relate to the who-will-care-about what I write problem. I’ve even had “who do I think I am?” moments recently around writing a novel. But then I got on the FB page of one of my favorite writers and she was talking about going to play darts at the local pub and she posted pictures of her dogs, and it helped me to see her as a normal person!

I *love* what you said about the cost of a book. We spend 2 or 3 or 4 dollars all the time without even thinking about it and so much work goes into writing a novel. Thanks for that reminder!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung
Oh yeah, I always think of myself as having higher self-esteem and self-confidence than most people do, but I still sometimes slip in my confidence and SE for my writing, though they have improved a lot. In the past (and sometimes even now), I kind of felt like the published stories (especially traditionally published ones) were “superior stories,” while my stories…were of a lower social status and didn’t deserve to be as valued as those published stories did. Interestingly, I also subconsciously viewed my friends’ (not yet published) stories and characters as superior to mine sometimes. The reason why I thought my stories would be “lower in social status,” was simply because those stories are mine. It’s really funny that I never doubted my self-doubt before, and just accepted that “my stuff = inferior because it’s mine” logic, lol! But recently (maybe this year?) I’ve finally come to question this self-doubt, and after reading this post, I’m questioning my “mine = inferior” logic more explicitly and directly! So not only do I need to believe in myself and my work, I also need to recognize that that “my stuff = lower status stuff” belief is absurd! Why should I think that I am so special as to be “inferior” to everyone else? Why couldn’t I just think that I was equal in social status to everyone else instead? I’m such an egalitarian, haha, so I was being a hypocrite by having an inferiority complex in this aspect of life. And… Read more »
Deborah Makarios

Ah, yes, the old self-doubt. After years slogging through my first full-length novel (still in redrafting phase), I keep catching myself doubting whether there is even a niche for this book – even though it isn’t a “niche” book at all!
Maybe I need to imagine my intended reader more clearly – and convince myself that they exist.

Robin
Robin

Pure Sacrifice was definitely 4 bucks worth of enjoyment. (I only paid 99 cents, though, since I pre-ordered it)
😉
and although I only paid 2.99, I’m sure that Ironclad devotion is worth 4 bucks, too. (I’m really looking forward to that one. When I was a kid, my next door neighbor’s dad was a balcksmith… I am looking forward to getting to visit a blacksmith shop again.)

stick to your plan. it’s a good plan. 🙂

Rona
Rona

True true true!! All of this. In my full-time job as a lawyer I encounter the same thing. I have reduced rates for lower income clients, and they are the ones who devalue what I do the most. The more I charge, the more people seem to value my work. It’s an odd paradox. And I note the same thing about authors I like. I will scoop something up at .99 or 2.99, but I would not hesitate to pay 4, 5, 6.99 for works. I have some authors hat charge 9.99, and I may cringe a little at it, but if I like the author, I’ll definitely do it (I won’t go higher than that for any ebook though; past that price point I’d rather have the hard copy). So feel free to raise your prices! You’ve definitely done the work to warrant it, even if you might not think you deserve it.

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[…] What’s Your Author Self-Esteem? by Jami Gold – great post on self-esteem. Of course we must always keep in mind not to go too far the other way as well. Heh heh. (Oh, I’ve met a few!) lol. […]

Melissa Maygrove

You’ve made me want to raise my prices. LOL

I do think page count should play into it, though, and that was why my second book (200+) was priced at $2.99 when my first book (400+) was $3.85. The point is moot now, though, because I’ve reduced the first one to 99c to encourage folks to try my books. I’ll go higher with the next series, though, and maybe the last book in the current one. By then, I will have proved myself as a writer.

A friend shared a quote with me once that’s tacked above my desk.
“You doubt because you care, and that can only lead to great things.”

Alex J. Cavanaugh

So true! Why should we put ourselves down when there are plenty of other people who will be happy to do so? If we don’t believe in what we are producing, no one else will.
Thanks for mentioning the IWSG! Next week is our four year anniversary and we have a big surprise for the members.

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[…] Once we get into publishing, whether traditional or self-published, we are in business. So we need to think like business people. But we writers are an emotional bunch. Jami Gold examines how low author-self-esteem can impact our business decisions. […]

Sophie
Sophie

Oh, this was helpful to read! (Sorry for long time no comment, but I’ve been kinda busy trying to manage original work with fandom work, and then starting school…)

So far, you can guess where I am–low author self-esteem (“Am I doing this right…? I have no idea…”) My original work is new territory for me, so I’m not sure if I’m going the right way, which probably doesn’t help. (Sorry, Ashley, Shanae! I’ll get to you eventually…) But ah well. This is something to bear in mind, thank you!

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[…] The point is that free should be a purposeful choice because it’s part of our bigger, long-term strategy. It’s our decision—not something that someone else decides. […]

michael cobb
michael cobb

Self-esteem isn’t just thinking well of yourself. It is also a consistent feeling of self-respect. Improving self-esteem has a stabilizing influence on yourself, and can change your life.

Click to grab Ironclad Devotion now!
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