5 Ways Authors Sabotage Themselves

I run into these five things with amazing frequency. They come up in conversations with aspiring authors all the time. The first two are lies people either pick up or, more likely, that bubble up from the reservoir of doubt and anxiety we all carry inside. The second two are things authors don’t do either because people don’t talk enough about them, or because authors are actively discouraged from considering them because they are not part of the creative process. The final one is a natural instinct to search for expertise that distracts and possibly obstructs people who are trying to do the right thing. Let's get into it.

Self-Sabotage #1: Believing authors can’t make money.

This is an odd one, because there are so many examples of authors paying their bills and building successful business as authors. When people say things like, “Well there isn’t any way to really make money as an author,” what I think they mean is, “People like me can’t make money as an author.” I can forgive some imposter syndrome and I would never want to say that profit is the sole reason to write, but if you are deciding to launch a business and are either telling yourself it can never be profitable or you are not the type of person to be successful in a given field, you are sabotaging yourself.  

Self-Sabotage #2: Assuming there are no readers.

This is another one I hear a lot, often from authors who have written their first book and are at a loss for what to do next. It is sometimes stated as, “There just aren’t any people that read the sort of thing I write.” 

I assume this is because the work of finding readers runs up against creatives’ reluctance to put themselves out there and ask people to read their work. There are readers for pretty much everything.There might not be many and they might not be easy to find, making the professional journey harder, but authors have shown us over and over that audiences can be built for all kinds of things. 

It also had the added benefit of being something that publishing companies have said for years, though for them it is short hand for, “I don’t know how or want to sell that book.”

Self-Sabotage #3: Not asking yourself who this book is for (or identifying your readers).

This self-sabotage is both the mirror image of #2 and its frequent companion. When I hear some version of #2 expressed I ask about the book and follow-up with questions about what sort of person the book might be for. If that is a dead end I ask who they wrote it for. The number of authors who have never asked themselves what type of person will read their book is staggering. It is doubtlessly an outgrowth of the “selling out” myth and the idea that art only has integrity if it is made in a vacuum. Both are discussions for another time, but the idea that art can be created in a vacuum is demonstrably false, and selling-out is such a fraught concept that simply by mentioning it I assume a person to be a creative dilettante. 

Slightly different but no less worrying are authors who write non-fiction and have not thought out who their book is for. All authors should think about who will read their books and if necessary create written profiles of who they are. 

Self-Sabotage #4: Not making a business plan

This is an outgrowth of not thinking of  “Author” as a job and business, and is certainly related to the previously mentioned artistic integrity/selling out concepts mentioned above. This one is forgivable. People start writing for fun and personal enrichment and at an amorphous moment often begin to take it seriously.

Knowing when to start thinking of it as a business is not always easy. However, as soon as you decide to publish a book, you should start thinking of your business plan. It does not need to be complicated but you do need to start informing yourself about the realities of budgets, releases, and rates. The importance of this has grown in my estimation as I meet and talk to more authors who describe wading in haphazardly and then having to take time to correct past errors while still trying to progress on their authorial journey.  

Self-Sabotage #5: Listening to the wrong advice (though not necessarily wrong advice)

This is pretty nuanced, so please give me the benefit of the doubt that I am not criticizing anyone for sharing advice or trying to learn about being an author. This problem also bumps up against one of the greatest strengths of the modern author world – That most publishing professionals enthusiastically share any and all good advice they can with other authors. It is truly a wonderful community. This becomes a problem for authors starting out in two significant ways. 

First, there are things that authors can waste a lot of effort worrying about before they need to. They often seem technological like making the best use of Word Processor X to manage your multiple series, mastering Software X to get the most out of your newsletter, or using Management Site X to integrate multiple social media feeds and leverage A/B testing. These are all great things but are advanced level activities you don’t need to think about until you have the actual need to deal with them. One word-processor or newsletter service is much like the other when you are writing your first couple books.

The first leads right into the second. Advice goes out of date quickly in the publishing world. The value gleaned from, “How I started,” stories doubly so. The strategies that worked 5 years ago may be useless today. Understanding that not all advice is created equal and has a shelf life is the first step to learning how to find helpful advice. Luckily, there are many ways to publish.  Publishing is changing all the time, but unlike some other fields, authors have the freedom to switch up their business however they see fit.

I have run into people who have exhibited these self-sabotaging behaviors a lot in the last four years and being an author is hard enough. Are there any self-sabotaging behaviors you have noticed out in the author world? I would love to hear about them.


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