Thursday, January 11, 2007

Self Image

How we view ourselves and how the world views us are two different things.

A few ago years ago, I had a close friend whose writing career was in a bit of a slump. Naturally, he was depressed about this. And he had a right to be. His first book didn't perform to publisher expectations, and they released his second book without much support. One of the big chains didn't even carry it.

I'd like to point out here that I've read his work, and it's terrific. Everyone who reads it agrees. And he busted his hump promoting, traveling, and spreading the word about his books.

But fate gave him the finger, and his best efforts didn't bring him success.

In a long letter, he told me that he had lost hope. But he ended with something provocative: "My agent is constantly reminding me to act successful, no matter what."

This goes back to what I like to say about confidence. Being self-assured is damn attractive. People gravitate toward confidence, which goes back to my theory that everyone hates to make decisions. When you're meeting or seeing a new person, and that person is confident, it immediately helps you form a favorable opinion of them. To trust them. To believe in them.

The only naturally confident people are sociopaths. The rest of us wallow in constant self-doubt.

But the world doesn't have to see that.

The only way people can ever know what you're feeling is by what you let them see. If you show them confidence---even if the confidence is fake---they'll see confidence.

And I believe that confidence should extend to all of your professional connections.

An agent/author relationship is a weird mix of business partnership, employee/subordinate, and husband/wife. We tend to reveal more of ourselves, and our insecurities, to our agents.

But looking at basic human nature, I'm not sure how wise this is. Your agent isn't your friend or soul mate. Showing frailty to the person who is supposed to champion your work may be a disservice to you and your career.

Nobody ever gives Charlie Brown any Halloween candy, or picks him for the team. I don't want my agent to pity me, or feel like she's doing me a favor. I want her to believe she's going to get super rich off of me, and act accordingly.

Now, we all have times in our careers where we need to be nurtured. And that's when you call up a trusted peer and unload. But you don't want anyone in this publishing business to perceive you as a charity case, ever.

My writer friend did get back on track, and now his career is booming. His secret? Keep writing. Keep promoting. And Zoloft.

Remember that perception is everything. How you feel about yourself is not how the world feels about you.

The best way to become successful is to act successful.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Psychiatric drugs and the facade of self-confidence seems like a good plan to me.

Great post.

Anonymous said...

"Fake it till you make it?" LOL

Sure, everyone has feelings of self-doubt, but wallowing in them is a choice.

T said...

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Self-affirmations are good, too. We've all heard people say, "I'm no good. I hate this. I wish I didn't have to do this. I feel fat." Etc. It's not much harder to say, "I'm perfect for this. This is what I love doing. I can't wait to do this. I feel fat."

Well, three out of four.

Anonymous said...

Joe,

Every successful person I’ve ever met had a strong, successful self image. I think it’s because of a theory called the power of attraction. It means that if we have a positive attitude, for instance, we attract positive things, people, events, etc. And vice versa. So to attract success, we must have a successful attitude, demeanor, aura, karma, mojo—whatever we want to call the self image you refer to in your blog topic.

I think that attitude is habitual. Some people are disaster magnets. They attract bad luck because they believe that they are unlucky. Others seem to always be riding a rocket to riches. Is talent involved? Yes. Luck? Yes. Attitude? Definitely.

The power of attraction is a self fulfilling prophecy. We are what we think.

Joe

Anonymous said...

All of your posts have been super, but this one might just walk away with the cup. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree. I'm a little leery of people who I describe as "often wrong, but never in doubt," and there's definitely a fine line to walk between self-confidence, arrogance and hubris.

Still, I don't think anybody accomplishes anything by constantly thinking they won't accomplish anything.

Good post.

Best,
Mark Terry
www.markterrybooks.com

Anonymous said...

Joe,

I agree with your post.

If you wish to examine self-doubts and worries, you should do it with your critique group or writers club members.

Part of the responsibilities of writers is to support one another. Sometimes what you need is someone you respect to encourage you to get off your duff and "fix the problem," "send it out already" or "try again."

Other times writers are there to provide feedback and tell their peers where their writing isn't working in the manner that it could and should. Being a sounding board/support group is also part of being a literary friend/peer.

I agree that you do not want to potentially undermine your relationship with your agent by treating them as a quasi-therapist.

I do not have an agent yet, but I intend on putting forth the most professional attitude possible without ever appearing needy or ungrateful. I don't want to ever give an agent a reason to regret taking me on as a client, nor do I ever want them to cringe when they hear my name and avoid taking my calls.

Be the professional you wish others perceive you as being.

Linda

http://lcmccabe.blogspot.com

JA Konrath said...

Some of these comments are better than the original post.

Lisa Gates said...

This great post has got the coach in me fired up on all cylinders, and it makes me wonder why all writers don’t have a coach. Yep, that was an unveiled plug, but here’s a nugget to make up for it:

In moments like Joe’s friend is experiencing (and we all have them) when we believe the harpy saboteur, we do two things: try to run away from it and bury ourselves under a heap of bootless affirmations, or we try to get people to align with our misery.

There’s a third choice. First, don’t deny reality. You’re having a thought and this thought (I’m a bad writer) is producing a feeling. Don’t run here, just notice it and ask yourself, “is it true.” At this point, the harpy will try to answer, but turn your head and listen for the truth.

If you stick with the inquiry, you’ll find what’s true, and the truth is always hooked up with your values and commitments, the things that brought you to writing as a profession in the first place. If these values and commitments are undistinguished, not quite conscious, you have some work to do.

Here’s another nugget: dark moments are your higher self trying to reach you, trying to wake you up, trying to get you to make a course correction. Stay with it, don’t run, ask yourself what values you would be honoring if you jumped back into that novel, that short story.

Connect with people who call out your magnificence, and don’t call the ones who like to keep company with misery. But connect: we don’t do this life alone.

spyscribbler said...

"Remember that perception is everything."

Sometimes I just love how similar playing life is to playing poker. :-)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic advice worth following. Explains why I check out this blog almost daily.

Though I have to admit something ... I just started reading my first Konrath novel, "Whiskey Sour."

Joe, you had me at the chocolate candy bit.

Manifest Dignity said...

Hi - I came across your blog while trying to find some non-sponsored comments on AuthorBuzz. It now has a new home on my feed reader!

I must admit that I get a sense of fatigue from unrelenting exhortations to confidence. The people I admire are humble and nice, and my first instinct is to imitate them. However, this easily comes across as uncertain and weak - especially since my small, female body also evokes passive stereotypes.

But even when I'm working to overcome that character flaw that prefers to emulate nice instead of confident, I really feel it in the core of my integrity if I think I'm "acting" or "faking it". I feel like I'm writing a check my body can't cash, and I'm not sure how long I'll be able to maintain the fraud.

I do like how you framed the issue: a business relationship will have better results than cultivating pity. I'll certainly make that my mantra the next time I'm feeling ill-treated. However, the sense of "fakeness" really erodes my well-being. It's so hard for me to keep it up that the stress literally affects my physical health. I want to be truthful and authentic, so faking confidence feels like I'm sabotaging my ideal self.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Okay, Joe, now you've got me worried. How am I going to know whether the next incredibly confident person I meet is faking it... or is actually a sociopath.

Anonymous said...

One of the great things about faking confidence is that it almost invariably leads to an increase in actual confidence. You start to realize that your state of mind is one of the greatest influences on others' behaviors, and, even better, your state of mind is one of the easiest things you can control (unless you're a sociopath...or a psychopath...but I guess we'll ignore them for now).

Ultimately, how you perceive the world is different from how the world perceives you. Fortunately, you can change the latter by changing the former.

Stephe said...

Joe shoots (again). Joe scores! (again) Much appreciated post.

Marti said...

I agree 100%! I love "fake it till you make it" - great advice!

PS - do you have any upcoming appearances?

Hope you have a great day!

Anonymous said...

"If you show them confidence---even if the confidence is fake---they'll see confidence."

I'm going to have to dissent. Being fake doesn't get you anywhere either in the publishing business or anywhere else. If you want to succeed, write consistently good books and be a profession in everything you do. Leave the faking to the amatuers.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Joe! I agree with you, and the formula I use myself is: 90% play-acting and 10% bravado. Works for me.

"I'm going to have to dissent. Being fake doesn't get you anywhere either in the publishing business or anywhere else. If you want to succeed, write consistently good books and be a profession in everything you do. Leave the faking to the amatuers."

No matter how great your work is, if you don't act with confidence, you run the risk of jeopardising your potential success. It's not enough to produce good work, you need to be able to convince people that your work is good. Confidence goes a long way towards that. Look at it another way: if you don't believe in yourself, why should anyone else? Agents and editors have to stick their necks out for YOUR book, so it only makes sense to do everything you can to assure them that they are doing the right thing - and one of the ways of doing that is to act confident.

As to the sustainability of such a strategy: my personal experience is that if you ACT confident, it will become a habit and one day you'll wake up and find that you can do it without thinking (give or take a few panic attacks).

Of course, if you have deeper issues than just poor confidence (e.g. clinical depression or social anxiety), something more substantial might be needed to help you.

By the way, I also think it's important to differentiate between confidence and arrogance. Being confident doesn't mean being brash or loud. It means having faith in your abilities. It means having the courage to voice your opinions (appropriately) and to defend those opinions (again, appropriately). It means accepting the fact that you are not perfect and can never be, but you keep soldiering on anyway. It means not being a wimp.

And there are also degrees of confidence. We are not all confidently alike. Joe Konrath has enough confidence to talk a lamp post into buying his books. I don't. And I'm happy with that. There was a time in my life I couldn't even bring myself to call a close friend to invite her to dinner. Now I've trained myself to the point I can make small talk with strangers without breaking out in sweat. I do not aspire to Joe's lofty heights of confidence, but that's OK because I am happy with myself now. Confidence means being able to accept who and what you are and to use that to your best advantage.

JA Konrath said...

Being fake doesn't get you anywhere either in the publishing business or anywhere else.

Where does being anonymous get you? ;)

Anonymous said...

Where does being anonymous get you? ;)

I'm not here to advertise. And I have no quarrel with BEING confident as opposed to FAKING someting. My only point is that too many authors are looking for a shortcut or get focused on something that isn't all that relevant. The best way to make it in this business it to write truly good books and keep doing it one after the other. It's your book that sits on the shelf. Not your face.

Kevin Wignall said...

"your book that sits on the shelf. Not your face"
- Tell that to Marisha Pessl!

I don't want to put words in Joe's mouth but I'm guessing when he talked about faking it he wasn't actually suggesting you be a fake. There's a difference.

For one thing, all the studies of "luck" tend to show that people who consider themselves lucky and successful exhibit confident body language which in turn leads to opportunities - the opposite is true for those who consider themselves unlucky.

Second, as Marcus Aurelius said, the soul becomes dyed with the colour of the thoughts. Act confident and you will become confident (without also becoming a sociopath!).

Finally (sorry, long comment - I don't comment often, Joe, but when I do you get value for money) remember that the agent is human also and can equally suffer a lack of confidence, even in an author they believe in. So Joe is spot on, the more upbeat you are with your agent/editor/publicist, the more confident they will be.

Anonymous said...

So Joe is spot on, the more upbeat you are with your agent/editor/publicist, the more confident they will be.

Be as upbeat as you want. But concentrate on writing the good book. That's what really counts.

Anonymous said...

Good books WILL rise to the top. Bad ones WILL sink to the bottom. Sometimes it takes time, but the leveling process will occur. The BOOK is the produce we are selling as authors. Keep you eye on your product.

JA Konrath said...

Good books WILL rise to the top. Bad ones WILL sink to the bottom.

Really? Based on whose definition of "good" and "bad"?

Is this based on overall sales? The NYT Bestseller List? Awards won?

Please point me to your Universal Objective Good/Bad Detector, which seperates the literary wheat from the chaff.

Please show me an editor who hasn't acquired a wonderful book that sold poorly. Then show me an editor who hasn't rejected a book that later went on to huge success. Certainly, if a book is great, everyone will know it and everyone will buy it, right?

Here's the dealio, Emilio--books are a product. Like all products, they are packaged, advertised, and distributed.

Travel and communication easier than they've ever been in the history of man. And competition for sales has never been fiercer, with hundreds of book being released every day.

Writing a good book is only the first step in having a successful career in this business. If you believe it is the only step, you're rather short-sighted.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I was the Anon who posted "Fake it till you make it." But I didn't mean people should adopt false personalities or sell out who they are. Rather, I meant that I personally have found myself to be more successful when I picture my goal and step forward in faith. It is not about being fake, it is about vanquishing self-doubt and behaving as if you know what you are doing until eventually you DO know what you are doing.

That's how I got over drug addiction that almost killed me and that is how I live my life each day. For a long time, acting like a clean and sober person was all I could do. I just copied what clean and sober people did. The fact that I didn't know how to do it didn't matter because I was willing to listen to clean and sober people and do what they did. Guess what, it worked.

I'm not saying you shouldn't educate yourself for how to promote, write, whatever, in a better way. Where would I have been if I had not educated myself about beating addiction? But I have found this attitude can work in writing too. In facing the demons of self-doubt every day, or in meeting and greeting at a booksigning. It can work in all areas of life.

Anonymous for a reason-

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Joe.

In my personal experiences, I've found that being prepared goes a long way toward building confidence.

In order to ad lib, i.e. "fake" it, you have to truly know your shit in the first place. If you walk into an arena, behaving as though you own it, you need to have the chops to back it up.

Most people can spot a counterfeit in a heartbeat. Know your stuff, and the confidence will follow naturally.

Anonymous said...

This is so true. I run the agent pitch sessions at a regional writer's conference and see how all the writers come across to the agents. Keeping the agents on time is a huge part of running the sessions, so I always call time, and five minutes later the next batch of writers show up. If their agent isn't done, I tell them to go hover and be seen, and the agent will generally wrap up the session as soon as they see the writer approaching.

At one session though, we had gotten all the writers seated with their agents, started the timer, and then I noticed someone standing in a corner by the stairs. This writer had come in, and instead of going out to hover, stayed back. I told him to go hover by his agent (who couldn't even see him because he was effectively hiding). His response: "I don't want to interrupt." I had to escort him to the agent, who did immediately break when she saw the next writer. But the writer had lost two to three minutes off his pitch session because of self-image. He just didn't see his own time as valuable.

Anonymous said...

Here's the dealio, Emilio--books are a product.

That's exactly my point. That's why authors should appreciate that the quality of the product they produce is the greatest factor by far of whether they will succeed.

That's not to say that having an upbeat attitude, being charasmatic or even good looking doesn't play a role in getting an agent, a publisher or fans. But in the end, the reader wants a good book. Give the reader a good book and he/she will tell others. The word spreads and the book rises towards the top.

Give the reader the opposite, however, and the book will move towards the bottom.

Like you said, competition is fierce. REaders don't have time to waste on books they don't enjoy. Most will toss a bad book long before they finish it and will not buy another by that author.

Lisa Gates said...

Here's the dealio emilio, part 3:

If you look at the cliche--fake it til you make it--on the surface, we're left with surface awareness.

What's underneath the cliche is choice. You choose to be confident. You choose confidence because you're aligned with a bigger picture (writing the book, getting published, etc.).

It's not hollow if you're aware you're choosing the bigger game, rather than getting into bed with your fears.

Kevin Wignall said...

Anon, I think we can take it as a given that everyone sets out to write a good book, but I think that misses the point of what this post is about.

Simple fact is, if ten people write good books, taking to heart all of your exhortations, a few will succeed and most won't, or at least, they won't do well enough to survive in the modern marketplace.

I think what we're talking about here is how to improve your chances once you've written a good book.

Incidentally, aside from definitions of good and bad, if you honsetly believe all the good stuff finds a market and all the bad stuff sinks... well, I simply can't believe that a book lover would suffer under that delusion - the evidence to the contrary is just too plentiful.

Tom Schreck said...

I kinda like the anonymous guy...he's kind of the superego in this blog..the voice everyone has in their head anyway...

I try to say "I CAN try to be confident, it will work!"...then the voice from deep in my fears says "You have to write a good book--and you know how good your book really is..."

The I spend the day with Joe Konrath on one shoulder and Anonymous guy on the other like an old episode of Bewitched...

Tom
"On The Ropes"
www.tomschreck.com

JA Konrath said...

But in the end, the reader wants a good book. Give the reader a good book and he/she will tell others. The word spreads and the book rises towards the top.

Give the reader the opposite, however, and the book will move towards the bottom.


I agree 100%.

This blog is about how to make readers aware that your good book exists, and nudge them into giving it a try.

When I say that books are a product, I mean that a lot more goes into selling a product than the just the product itself.

Writers should be aware of these things.

Anonymous said...

Think about all those public speaking classes you've had in college or debate or instructions on how to handle yourself during a job interview. They always tell you to put on a confident smile, to stand tall, shoulders back, firm handshake etc. Why? The same thing Joe's talking here. Present yourself as serious and confident if you want the world to see you as serious and confident.

I agree with the folks who took shots at the fake it til you make it philosophy. That can lead to a lot of emptiness and frustration. But there is nothing wrong with "bucking up" and facing the world with a confident voice/smile/etc, even when you don't feel it.

Think of all the heroes of life, be they fictional or real, and they have the fears and the self doubt, just like everyone else. But these heroic folks become heroic by beating down the negative self talk with a club and going forward anyway.

Yes, write a good book. Work on your chops, take creative writing courses, read like a madman, rework the story until it ROCKS. Then, go out there and spill your passion confidently to agents, editors, and eventually the buying public.

Schlepping around with a sticker on your forehead that says, "Woe is me, I'm a loser," probably won't get us many sales.

Go Joe, keep up the good work here. And, uh…is the usual rate for therapy still okay?