You’re in that magical time of production where you’re feeling great because you’re ready to start looking for a publisher. You’ve probably received feedback from trusted authorities, and you’ve made the changes necessary to make your work the best that it can be. You feel good about it – confident! You’ve already begun making helpful connections and building a supportive community for your work. You’ve done it. You’ve completed your finished product, and you feel awesome!
Now you’re ready for a new level of virtuous achievement that requires an extraordinary level of confidence. Having the confidence to create and polish your work is personal and intimate, but putting your work and yourself out there to be scrutinized and contracted by someone, whose only interest is making money, is another thing altogether. Every writer asks themselves, “Am I really good enough?” And, to answer, “YES!” – is the virtue of confidence that’s required to climb to the next level. Without question, and if you believe only one thing I tell you, believe this – your confidence in yourself and your work is more important than any single factor in determining your level of success in your writing career.
So what does that look like, exactly, once you’ve been acquired by an agent, editor or even if you’re self publishing? I asked Michelle Howry, a Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster’s Touchstone Fireside imprint, who has more than a few New York Times Bestsellers to her credit. “How can an author's confidence make or break their career?"
MH: To an editor, “author confidence” really translates into “author action.” The most confident and successful authors on my list are also the most proactive – proactive in finding great ideas and writing about them, but also proactive in marketing and promoting themselves and their books. No longer can an author just deliver his or her manuscript and think that the job is done. (I’m not sure this was ever the case, but it’s certainly not so today.) A confident author is proud enough about their work that they want to get out there and tell the world about it. And that’s what we need in this incredibly competitive publishing world.”
TLC: Exactly. Five years ago, I would hear writers say, “But I’m not in marketing, I’m a writer!” Now, I’m starting to see more and more writers thinking about selling their work from the very beginning. I read an article about an author who had a book signing in a book store, which for an unknown author can be a terribly frightening experience. This particular author stepped-up to full-on sales guru. She knew her product. She knew her audience. She knew they needed her book. She was no longer the author. She was the best book seller in the world! She walked up to people and introduced herself as the author. She engaged them and asked questions. She discovered their interests and sold to them. She put the book in their hands and told them how it would change their lives. She sold out of every copy, took orders and created a data base. That’s how confidence manifests itself in the real world of publishing.
MH: I have an author who wrote a wonderful book last year called The Motion of the Ocean, a memoir of her two-year trans-Pacific boat trek with her new husband. Janna personally contacted dozens of sailing bloggers (who she knew about because of her deep involvement in that community), and many of them wrote about the book! She also reached out to many book groups and attended their discussions, either in person or on the phone. That book has been out a year, and she is still making personal connections and selling books. I don’t think she’s by nature an incredibly outgoing person, but she’s passionate about this book, and her drive to get the word out makes her confident – and effective! That’s what it takes.
As an author, you have to be confident about your message and your writing. We editors rely on you as the expert in your field – that’s why we tapped you to write that book! Dazzle us with your expertise, your knowledge, and your text.
TLC: Let your confidence in your career flow to your salesmanship. With all the avenues of publishing available today, it’s a challenge to even be noticed. If you want readers and a royalty check, you’ve got to sell your book. The best first step you can take is to believe that is exactly what is going to happen. Confidence in the morning, confidence in the evening, confidence at supper time – believe in yourself and all good things will flow from it.
Your exercise this week: Writers with unfinished work, join a supportive, reputable online writing group. SheWrites and Writers Digest Community are great places to start. There are also many helpful groups on LinkedIn. Within the community there are many sub-groups depending on genre, locale, etc. There’s something for every writer. Join these groups with the intent to share, receive feedback, give feedback and build your community. Start making friends.
Writers with finished work: Do the same. Go ahead and join a group to your liking but also join a group that discusses marketing, publicity and the future of publishing. Share, learn, and grow more confident about the new direction your career is heading. This is what you always wanted. Make the most of it!
Have any Confidence building tips or stories you’d like to share? Send them to me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Howry is a Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Fireside imprint, and before that she has held editorial positions at Grand Central Publishing, Penguin Book Group, and McGraw-Hill. Since joining Touchstone in 2007, Michelle Howry has specialized in acquiring and editing commercial nonfiction, from how-to/practical titles to narratives and memoirs. Recent books include the New York Times bestseller A LITTLE BIT WICKED (by pint-sized Hollywood diva Kristin Chenoweth), the New York Times bestseller THE BRO CODE, bestselling psychic Sylvia Brown (ALL PETS GO TO HEAVEN; THE SECRET HISTORY OF PSYCHICS), and her most recent New York Times bestseller: THE NEW ATKINS FOR A NEW YOU (which re-launched the bestselling diet franchise in 2010). For Michelle, editing a nonfiction book is like taking a “master class” from one of the top experts in the world … and she’s always looking for new experts to learn from!