Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Confident or Delusional?

Kissinger was wrong. Power isn't the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Confidence is.

Confident people attract others. They get things done, spending more time doing and less time worrying. Confidence fosters charisma, inspires allegiance, and demands attention.

All writers need to be confident. We must believe our work is worthy, that our efforts aren't in vain.

But what are the differences between confidence, and its ugly step-sister, delusion?

Confident writers know they'll be published, if they keep at it.
Delusion writers think they'll be rich and famous.

Confident writers work to get the words right.
Delusional writers think they got the words right the first time.

Confident writers expect to be periodically rejected.
Delusional writers are shocked every time someone fails to recognize their brilliance.

Confident writers take suggestion.
Delusional writers believe their words are written in stone.

Confident writers work even when it's hard.
Delusional writers believe they need to be inspired first.

Confident writers know this is a job.
Delusional writers think this is a vacation.

Confident writers know there's a never-ending learning curve.
Delusional writers believe they've learned all they need to know.

Confident writers know when to move on, and learn from their failures and successes.
Delusional writers keep doing the same things, over and over, hoping for different outcomes.

Confident writers know luck plays a big part.
Delusional writers think there's a conspiracy against them.

Confident writers get published.
Delusion writers don't get published very often, and if they do it's not for very long.

Confident writers work within the system, even though the system is flawed.
Delusional writers work outside of the system, even though they long to work within the system.

Confident writers understand their limitations.
Delusional writers don't believe in limitations.

Confident writers understand sacrifice.
Delusional writers demand everything on their terms.

Confident writers believe in persistence.
Delusional writers believe in talent.

Confident writers believe they owe the world.
Delusional writers believe the world owes them.

Are you confident or delusional?

Chances are high the delusional people will believe they're confident, since self-awareness is in short supply in the writing community.

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

Have you been published by an impartial third party?

Confident writers eventually get traditionally published. Period.

Do you seek out and apply editing advice?

Confident writers know their words can always be made stronger.

At what point do you abandon a project and begin a new one?

Confident writers move on, but first they try to figure out what didn't work, and why.

Would you rather be paid or be praised?

Confident writers know the best form of praise is a royalty check.

Do you help other writers?

Confident writers know it's about what you put in, not what you get out.

Do you understand your failures?

Confident writers don't have failures. They have learning experiences that make them stronger.

Will you be successful?

Confident writers know success is beyond their control. But they keep writing anyway, and will continue to even if success never happens.

It's not about the destination. It's about the journey.

You must believe in yourself.

But first you have to prove yourself worthy of that belief.

94 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I would add one more.

Confident writers look for every opportunity to learn how to make their craft better and to help others (through such things as this blog).

Deluded writers have the arrogance to try and teach others what they themselves have never done.

Mark G.

JA Konrath said...

That's a good one, Mark.

Amber Lynn Argyle said...

It seems like everyone has written a book. So often they want me to edit it for them. I tell them sure, after they've read at least six writing books, attended a writer's group for a year, and gone to at least two conferences.

If they look at me like I'm insane, I know they aren't willing to put in the effort--they just want me to do it for them.

Jude Hardin said...

I'm not delusional, and I have thousands of encrypted newspaper articles to prove it.

anniegirl1138 said...

Mark's comment kinda stung. I was a teacher for twenty years and a pretty good one. I taught because I loved it not because I couldn't do anything else. You should be careful with blanket statements like that.

A good post J.A.

Anonymous said...

Anniegirl – no offense intended and if you look at what I said it wasn’t aimed at teachers per se….I was thinking more along the lines of certain individuals who have never been “traditionally published”--their horseshit phrase, not mine--taking aspiring writers down the dead-end path to self-publication and smearing real writers who have sweated blood to get disinterested third parties to publish their stuff with such phrases as “traditionally published writers don’t know squat.”
Mark

James Scott Bell said...

Great list, JA. Among the unpubbed, I've not met many confident writers. I've met some delusionals and a lot of deer (as in, headlights coming toward). I've had a number of students at writers conferences, and the ones who WERE confident stuck out. They quietly and determinedly learned, took suggestions, worked hard to make their stuff better. Several of these have gone on to publication. There's one I'm thinking of now who has been fighting the fight for years, and he's good, real good. He hasn't hit yet, but he will.

Your list should be required reading for anyone starting down this path.

laurinwittig said...

I've always thought of this distinction as between wannabes and gonnabes. Your list makes it so clear. I'm sending a link to all my writing buddies! Thanks for a great post.

Janet said...

Very good list. Although the line about confident writers getting published - period - and the one about luck seem to contradict each other.

Still, I agree that writing classes and newbies in general should study it.

JKB said...

Thanks for this list today, JA. I needed it.

Chris Wood said...

It's an excellent list and a searching one. I was reading it seriously hoping I didn't fall into the dreaded D category ...

L-Plate Author said...

And that is why I love your blog!

After waiting five months now, having two friendly phone calls from the agent, tightening and rewriting a bit after both calls, I'm now on the final typos draft, it's still not clear if she going to sign me, I need every bit of inspiration I can get.

But I am not giving up, I am going to be a gonnabee!

Mel

JA Konrath said...

Although the line about confident writers getting published - period - and the one about luck seem to contradict each other.

Confident writers know they'll eventually get lucky. Persistence is the overriding factor.

I taught because I loved it not because I couldn't do anything else.

In an older blog post, I talked about people who wrote 'how to get published' books without ever being published.

I took Mark's comment to be about the big mouth in the writer's group who is always criticizing everyone else's story, without having any publishing credits to back up his hard stance. Every group seems to have one.

Trust me, I had TONS of opinions about this biz before I broke into the biz. But I didn't blog about them, or offer advice, until I'd broken into the biz.

Funny thing, too. Once I did break in, I found out much of what I thought was flat out wrong.

Writers should pass on their experience, and their opinions that coincide with their experience.

Writers should not teach theory without practice. It's poison.

Sherri said...

According to your list, I'm about 90% confident. One aspect of my 10% delusion is not knowing when to move on.

Erica Orloff said...

This should be required reading in every critique group, every creative writing class.

Great post.
E

Jude Hardin said...

Trust me, I had TONS of opinions about this biz before I broke into the biz. But I didn't blog about them, or offer advice, until I'd broken into the biz.

I've learned a lot about writing and publishing commercial fiction over the past few years, some of it right here on this blog. Does the fact I don't have a book deal yet mean I shouldn't share some of what I've learned?

I have a problem with that.

Maybe my advice/opinions will carry more weight with certain demographics once I get a deal, but I can't imagine that I'll suddenly be privy to some esoteric bank of knowledge just by signing a contract.

I think we can all learn things from each other, published or not.

Chris said...

I'd like to coin a new word: confilusional

Because we all have to be at least mildly delusional to believe anyone wants to read a word we have to say... but confident enough to write them anyway.

JA Konrath said...

Does the fact I don't have a book deal yet mean I shouldn't share some of what I've learned?

I have a problem with that.


Absolutely, you should share. But there's a difference between sharing and teaching.

This blog is my classroom. I lecture here. I'm the headmaster.

People can disagree with me, which is fine. And we're all peers, no matter how many times we've been published.

But one of my goals here is to mentor.

I wouldn't have ever tried to mentor anyone until I has some publications under my belt. I think it would be disingenuous.

Would the things I say here have less relevance than if I didn't have a bunch of stuff published?

No. But my tone wouldn't be the same.

I pass along what I've been taught.
But I preach what I've learned on my own.

Stacey Cochran said...

This is a very practical list. The trouble is... some of our very best writers are/were actually delusional.

Stephen King, for example, believed in grand conspiracies that governed people's lives. Have you read interviews with him in the late 70s and early 80s? The guy was fucking nuts.

Philip K. Dick. (Need I say more.)

Edgar Allen Poe

And if you applied this to art and painting: Van Gogh was totally delusional.

In fact, I'd say if you're not delusional, your work is less likely to last beyond your lifetime in public opinion.

Embrace your mental illnesses, I say. Revel in them.

JA Konrath said...

One aspect of my 10% delusion is not knowing when to move on.

Once the story is on submission, you need to move on.

Once the story is finished, it needs to go on submission.

If you don't know when the story is finished, give it to a writer's group. They'll tell you.

If you can't get to the end of the story, no matter what, put it aside and move another story.

If you can't finish any story, find another hobby.

JA Konrath said...

Stacey, in King's case, I believe that was the cocaine talking. He's admitted he didn't even remember writing Cujo.

And by delusional, I mean self-delusional. Writers who have no clue about their own abilities and limitations and how the business works.

Jude Hardin said...

I see your point, Joe, but I still think I (or any number of pre-published writers out there) could effectively teach a creative writing course if I wanted to. In other words, I don't think getting a book deal is suddenly going to make me a better teacher.

JA Konrath said...

Jude, you know what it takes to write a book worthy of getting an agent.

That counts as street cred.

Jude Hardin said...

Or maybe I'm just delusional. :)

JA Konrath said...

You're not delusional, Jude. You've proven your chops. Getting a good agent is like getting a key to the country club. You're in.

Because of that, third parties have confirmed you know who to write a book and get an agent, which makes you worthy to teach.

Should you teach about doing a book tour or marketing a novel to fans? You probably could do it, but it wouldn't carry the same weight as you teaching a "How to get an agent" class.

JA Konrath said...

I believe teaching requires validation.

Teachers are experts on subjects. The best expertise comes from experience.

I could spend my life reading about how to play the violin. But I wouldn't think of teaching violin unless I could play well enough to appear on stage.

Practice trumps theory.

Anonymous said...

Do you have to get a pre-agent to sell a book to a pre-publisher? I'm a pre-author by the way. I'm going to write a book one day.

Anonymous said...

"I see your point, Joe, but I still think I (or any number of pre-published writers out there) could effectively teach a creative writing course if I wanted to. In other words, I don't think getting a book deal is suddenly going to make me a better teacher."

No, because from your perspective, your work is publishable. But it hasn't been published yet. And I would say just having a book deal doesn't mean you're ready to teach either. Go through the editing process. Sweat the reviews. Do interviews. See your book on the shelves. Tour. Then do it all over again and prove it wasn't a fluke. Then, maybe you're ready. Would you want to take a class from yourself? Be honest. Disclaimer: I don't know you or your work so please take this generally, not personally.

Mark G.

JA Konrath said...

Do you have to get a pre-agent to sell a book to a pre-publisher? I'm a pre-author by the way. I'm going to write a book one day.

First you need premission.

JA Konrath said...

And I would say just having a book deal doesn't mean you're ready to teach either.

I know some successful authors who aren't good teachers. But if you ask them the right questions, they have good answers.

Anonymous said...

"Do you have to get a pre-agent to sell a book to a pre-publisher? I'm a pre-author by the way. I'm going to write a book one day.

First you need premission."

And the pre-contracts are a bitch, not to mention all the pre-editing and pre-marketing and pre-reviews. Hopefully you'll get a good pre-advance, and if you're lucky, score a pre-movie deal but you need pre-film agents to do that. Would anyone like to share their pre-jacket art?

JA Konrath said...

I'm actually okay with the term "pre-published" even though I know some folks hate it.

It's empowering, believing publication is inevitable. And sometimes, feeling empowered is all that keeps us going.

The term I don't like, however, is "pre-out-of-print."

That one frightens me.

Stacey Cochran said...

I believe that was the cocaine talking.

Something about this line makes me giggle.

It is true, though, if you think about it. How many great writers suffer from serious mental illness.

Some of the best moments I've had in fiction have come when I embraced schizophrenia, paranoia, severe depression, and yes, delusions.

And I don't think you can fake that shit and have it be real for a reader.

If you're not pushing yourself to the brink of sanity, your writing will suck (or be mediocre at best).

It's those truly "lost" moments in a writer's life and work that create genuine emotion on the page.

The key is to generate compassion as well.

Jude Hardin said...

I don't know you or your work so please take this generally, not personally.

Not to worry. I don't ever take comments from anonymous trolls personally.

JA Konrath said...

Jude, Mark signed his name to his post, he's not anonymous. He also presented his point well, without name-calling.

You may confusing him with the other Anon in this thread.

Anonymous said...

“Not to worry. I don't ever take comments from anonymous trolls personally.”
**
Glad to hear it and good luck to you.
**
"I'm actually okay with the term "pre-published" even though I know some folks hate it.

It's empowering, believing publication is inevitable. And sometimes, feeling empowered is all that keeps us going.

"The term I don't like, however, is "pre-out-of-print."

That one frightens me."
**
I hear that. And Pre-can’t-get-a-new-contract.

You have a lot of aspirings here, maybe a post about obsession is in order. Like anything, you can take wanting to be published too far. Until it consumes you. And it’s obsession that leads to delusion. Reminds me of a scene in Lonesome Dove. Lori, the whore with a golden heart wants nothing but to go to San Francisco, and she keeps obsessing on it. The old cowboy tells her, “Lori Darlin’, life in San Francisco is still just life, and you want just one thing, it may turn out to be disappointment for you.”

Anonymous said...

That one's me...Mark G.

JA Konrath said...

Moby Dick is the perfect 'obsession leads to delusion' story.

But do writers need to be at least a little obsessed?

What's the difference between being obsessed and being focused and driven?

I think anything worth doing is difficult to do, and I promote sacrifice in the pursuit of reaching goals.

I also believe goals should be attainable and within your control.

So maybe you can be obsessive about writing a good book and querying agents, but you can't be obsessive about getting published and having a huge it, since that's largely up to luck.

Delusion is about being unable to accurately judge reality.

Confidence is about knowing your place within reality.

JA Konrath said...

It's those truly "lost" moments in a writer's life and work that create genuine emotion on the page.

Really? I think my best moments are when I'm in 100% control of my faculties, calling and hitting the shots.

Though, truth be told, I did write a pretty good story while drunk once. It needed some big editing, but it came out pretty good.

Jude Hardin said...

Sorry, Mark G. Joe obviously knows who you are, so that's good enough for me.

Anonymous said...

"What's the difference between being obsessed and being focused and driven?"

A very fine line. I think it’s about what the writer really wants (and they are probably unaware of it).

1. Are you more concerned with being able to tell people you’re published, that you have an agent? With being able to impart your wisdom on others?

2. Are you more concerned with becoming a better writer, with learning the craft as well as you can, with reading everything you can, with writing the best story you can?

One is based on a deep love of the art that hopefully borders on obsession. One is based on insecurity and egoism and the writing may just be a means to an end.

Sure, there’s some cross-pollination, but everyone is either primarily driven by 1 or 2.

Mark G.

JA Konrath said...

I believe the goal of writing is to be read.

But in order to be read, you have to learn what people want to read.

There is a vetting process in getting published. It's flawed, but then, all of publishing is flawed.

When you finally are vetted, and get that agent and that book deal, it validates that you've met some minimum standards. You were able to write a story that got the attention of professionals who believe they can make money at it.

In other words, you're not writing for yourself, or your own ego. You're truly writing for other people.

The way to do that is to learn the business and understand how to tell a good story.

The goal shouldn't be "publication."

The goal should be "writing the best story possible, winning over those who can help me make money from it, and finding readers."

In this day and age, traditional publishing is the best way to do that, and it's damn hard to break into.

I'd be wary of taking advice from those who haven't broken in yet.

That said, everyone has some experience, and sharing your experience is helpful.

Jude Hardin said...

Question:

Let's say I'm working on the second book of a series without having a contract yet on the first. Considering the current publishing climate, does that make me confident or delusional?

N.Mahana said...

I like your tough love advice, Joe ... whether I slip up and forget, is another thing altogether.

I lack confidence (in my writing) all the time, that's not something I where proudly, as a badge, but something I am trying to push through.

Does that mean I'm delusional? Probably.

JA Konrath said...

Let's say I'm working on the second book of a series without having a contract yet on the first. Considering the current publishing climate, does that make me confident or delusional?

Confident.

If you were working on the fourth book in a series that hasn't sold yet, that would be delusional.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Joe. Good answer.

JA Konrath said...

Jude, you should also have another, stand-alone in mind, and a brief synopsis for it.

I always have three of four books of various genres that I'm ready to pitch if something doesn't sell.

Writers write. Adaptation is the key to success.

I mean rolling with the punches, not adapting movies and TV shows. Though that works too.

Jude Hardin said...

Good advice, Joe. Thank you.

Joy Bennett said...

Great advice, thank you!
Joy
joybennett.com
a confident writer :D
PS Add my site to your list!

Ellen said...

What a terrific post! I'm going to link it on Facebook ...

Meryl said...

I echo others before me. Also, writers need to know that it's OK to feel nervous or scared when they get a new assignment. Still come across as confident.

Many of us experienced writers still fear new things. We just don't show it.

JA Konrath said...

I fear everything.

But I do so with supreme confidence.

Anonymous said...

Here's the bottomline: ALL writers (bad and good and great) are CRAZY; so crazy they spend hours upon hours with other nuts trying to label what's the best way to be crazy. A confident writer is a better crazy than a delusional writer. Guy and gals, crazy is crazy is crazy. NOW: wanna produce something AMAZING: stop trying to define it; stop trying to figure it out; f*** the publishers, agents, bad-published writers (Ahem, S. Meyer), etc., but DO put every last drop of that crazy blood into your writing. When you read early Stephen King, it is obvious he is hearing many voices; obvious he is putting his crazy into the work, where it belongs. The crazy writers who do anything other than that are not true writers or they're afraid of exposing themselves. So a confident writer exposes him/herself. A delusional writer tells everyone the characters have nothing to do with them personally. :-)

Marla Taviano said...

I'm totally confident. :)
Great post!

Jessica Burkhart said...

Great post. :)

Lynne Jamneck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynne Jamneck said...

Thanks for a great morning read!

Jackie said...

I think I'm confident, with delusional tendencies.

Amy Nathan said...

I believe that confidence is something that grows, delusion is something that just exists -- and that confidence allows for patience and delusion dismisses the need for time. With confidence comes wisdom (or perhaps it's vice versa) and with delusion comes more delusion.

Great list.

Eva Ulian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eva Ulian said...

Eva Ulian said...
I may know next to nothing about being published but I do know you do not have to be an expert in a subject to teach it. In fact at times it is a hindrance because unwittingly you tell the kids the answers. Teaching involves setting a learning environment so kids can discover the answers and consequently internalize them. Good teaching does NOT necessarily mean being an expert, but it does mean knowing the art of teaching thoroughly and that makes all the difference.
NB I deleted the previous post because I left out the NOT that I have capitalized above.
4:11 PM

Zee said...

Excellent post!

I wandered in via Collen Lindsey's Twitter feed.

In all honesty I figured I was a delusional writer, turns out I'm actually confident.

Thank you!

JA Konrath said...

Good teaching does NOT necessarily mean being an expert, but it does mean knowing the art of teaching thoroughly and that makes all the difference.

So you'd take flying lessons from someone who never actually flew?

There are so many books, so many classes, about how to get published, written and taught by people who haven't been published.

I didn't learn what I know out of any book or class, and the stuff that I teach isn't available in any book or class.

I also freely admit that whatever I teach should be tried first, not taken as gospel. Individual results may very.

But someone who hasn't ever been published by a major house has no business teaching what that's like, any more than virgins should teach sex ed, or lipless people should teach saxaphone.

Kathleen said...

Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your post- this is my first time visiting your blog, and I'll be sure to come back!

T. Anne said...

wonderful post. Although at times I've been both.

Anonymous said...

The blog starts off well and has some meritworthy points. But in its entirety is cynical and of a small mind.

Anonymous said...

Before all the noobs go and get disheartened (you are unpublished before you are published.... chicken and egg), may I also add that the author of this blog over supposes how successful he is. Success has many paths and many levels.

His own blog seems like 'etched in stone' and he has the last word an seems to have a 'I have seen it all and know it all' attitude about it. In short he shows the attitude of the delusional.

me... oh but a delusional I suppose!

Anonymous said...

Dear friend,

some food for thought..for you:

Life = not a formula.

Further consider this:

Confident meets failure = delusional

and then

Delusional meets success = Confident

So dear, the world celebrates success no matter how you get there.

Writers are emotional creatures and god help if you bunch of agents turn them into savvy businessmen - that would indeed be a tragedy.

Writer from Hell said...

I'm surprised at how many blogs exist condemning writers. Check this out for a 360 degrees on agents:
http://anewradar.blogspot.com/

alice said...

I like this post a lot. According to your criteria, I used to be a bit delusional but am becoming confident. This probably makes sense, over time: anyone who starts out with the wildest hopes is either going to get extremely lucky very fast, give up or grow up! I'd love to know what the percentages are...

Patrick said...

I started with a blog and now I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones (published). In saying that, every day is a learning curve for me,it has to be. I dont get offended by knockbacks or feedback from sub-editors. I embrace them and work them so next time I dont make the same mistakes. Thanks for the post!

Conjurae said...

Offering up a work of fiction is a lot like speed dating while nude...we bare everything with no guarantee that we'll come out of the ordeal with a date (i.e. represented or published). After all, we only get a few seconds to make a great first impression, and we do this by making sure that our body of work is toned, trim and attractive (confident)...as opposed to flabby, shabby and repellent (delusional).

As for the money, never confuse the art of writing with the business of writing. Every writer desiring publication must realize that publishers aren't in business to line their office walls with critical accolades, but to sell books. Period. If you've chosen the business of writing hoping for praise or validation, then you've chosen unwisely. Consider charity work instead.

DebraMarkowitz said...

Great blog. I work with filmmakers putting on a regional film festival - and the same advice applies. There are those "confident" filmmakers who are truly talented, some that are on their way and improve with every film, and those that have no clue how to make movie and have called me unmentionable things because their film was not accepted. They go to a non-reputable film festival (and there are at least two in NY) and this fosters their delusion.
I do understand that you can self-publish anything - but that doesn't mean that every book that is self-published is crap. Just like every book that is traditionally published is not necessarily good.
I absolutely believe in talent, but without perseverance it will get you nowhere.
And as for writers helping other writers; I know three traditionally published writers; one came right out said, "I don't have time to read, too busy writing." The other two just basically ignored my request. I have people asking my opinion on things as well - if I have time, I'll take a look - if I'm very busy - I'll say that it's going to take awhile. And if I just can't, I'll say that too. But I haven't found many willing to help anyone else. At least come out and tell the person, don't dismiss their request without even acknowledging it.
And lastly - I've gotten good feedback from agents, but not from ones who handle my genre - and yes, I'll keep seeking them out (I have two looking at the moment), but I chose to self-publish my first two books to get them out there. The feedback I have received is invaluable to me. Because of the reviews, and reader comments (and no, I'm not talking about people I know), I know this is something I should be doing.
I have made a bit of money on sales, not terribly much, but it is very important to me to have my t books read.
It is also my hope that someone will read it, like it and know someone who can help me secure that elusive agent/publishing deal.
So I guess I'm a self-published (although I've had short stories/poems published traditionally) author who continues to write while looking for that traditional deal.

Angela said...

Awesome post. I think you've hit the mark on every single one. :-)

Michael Edwards said...

I find your article insightful; especially, how you point out mistakes I have made in the past. Now, I listen to what other writers who have more experience then me suggest, and weigh it with what I learn.

I know that I will be published, but I also know that I must never let myself be deluded into thinking I am better then anyone else.

JA Konrath said...

A lot of people have chimed in on this topic.

The first step in self-awareness is dropping your defenses. Confident people have no need to defend themselves.

I try to remind myself that every time I get editing suggestions. :)

paranoyd said...

Crap. I'm delusional.

April L. Hamilton said...

Getting signed with a large, mainstream publisher nowadays has much more to do with marketing concerns than it does with the quality of the work. Being published by a mainstream publisher only proves one thing: that the publisher's marketing department thinks your book will appeal to a broad enough sector of the public to sell very, very well---45k copies or above, as a guideline.

This isn't to say that all mainstream-published work is of poor quality, but the inverse: that not every manuscript which *isn't* picked up by a mainstream publisher is necessarily of poor quality. Now, it's simply a numbers game. Big publishers have dropped their midlists and many multiply-published authors on the grounds that while those books may be successful, they're not quite successful *enough* by today's publishing business paradigm.

At the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference, at which I was a speaker on The Rise of Ebooks panel, I spoke to countless publishing pros who confirmed what I'm saying here. Furthermore, I got confirmation of the fact that for a new author, there's an unwritten rule among most big publishers that the author be able to demonstrate a significant online presence with a minimum audience of 25K. You might say this is merely a case of publishers asking the author to prove his "confidence", but what does it have to do with writing?

An author with enough entrepreneurial spirit to build his own audience to that degree AND the ability to write well has all the tools at his disposal to become an indie author, much the same as an indie musician or filmmaker. If such an author can find an appreciative audience of something less than 45K, an audience deemed too small to be worth big publishers' time, why shouldn't he reach out to that audience directly by going indie? And who are you to judge him as "delusional" for choosing to do so? Many formerly midlist, mainstream-published authors are choosing to bring their books back into print by going it alone---are they "delusional" as well?

Furthermore, you seem to be saying that all confident writers are published by the mainstream, period, but what about all those who approached the mainstream, were rejected by all, self-published to great success, and were *then* signed by a big publisher? True, they did *eventually* meet your criterion, but there was no way of knowing that would happen when they originally self-published. You're saying that anyone who self-publishes---and I suspect you'd think *especially* after being rejected by a big publisher---is "delusional", but neither you nor the author have any way of knowing whether that author will achieve solo success and go on to be picked up by a mainstream publisher. Moreover, what would you have said about a self-published author such as Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid series of books) on the day BEFORE he signed with a big publisher? And what would you have said if Jeff Kinney had elected to remain independent, rather than sign with a big publisher? What I'm getting at is this: the involvement of a mainstream publisher, or lack thereof, proves nothing about the quality or desirability (or lack thereof) of Mr. Kinney's work.

Big, mainstream publishers are chasing after big, mainstream blockbuster hits, much the same way mainstream movie studios do. Yet in the film industry, there's a vibrant indie movement that gets nothing but respect from the mainstream. This is because the mainstream knows the indie movement is a terrific proving ground for both films and the individuals making them. An indie film even swept the Academy Awards this year, so that alone should tell you how much respect is afforded the indie filmmaker by his mainstream peers. Why should writers treat one another so differently--so badly---by comparison?

Forward-thinking luminaries such as Jeff Jarvis, Tim O'Reilly, Peter Brantley and Bob Stein see self-publishing as the new frontier in publishing, a movement that stands to benefit authors and publishers alike, as evidenced by their keynote speeches at the O'Reilly conference. In my opinion, forward-thinking writers would do well to heed what those at the leading edge of change are saying.

I launched Publetariat.com, an online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints, on 2/11, and it's already achieved an Alexa traffic rank in the top 4.5% of all websites worldwide. You probably think this is because there are so many "delusional" writers out there, grasping at any straw of legitimacy offered, but it might interest you to know that a large (and growing) sector of the site's audience is made up of mainstream publishing professionals. They're savvy enough to know a sea change is afoot, and wise enough to know that finding ways to leverage and cooperate with the new, indie author movement will serve their businesseses much better than simply dismissing it out of hand, as you are doing here.

Anonymous said...

Wow. May I add one more
Making long statements (with valid points of course) on someone else's blog in a thinly veiled attempt to highjack traffic to their site:) Confident, Delusional, or Knows an opportunity when they see one?

April L. Hamilton said...

Anonymous - why on Earth would I expect to draw traffic to my site from *here*, a site so obviously anti-indie? I was making a point, but I guess you missed it.

Arjun said...

Very well said. Also: incompetence. The truly incompetent don't know when they're being incompetent. Another form of dulusion.

Anonymous said...

Check Alexa. April's traffic for her site is in the top 4.5% of all websites.

Why would she need Konrath's traffic? That isn't even logical.

Vancouver Dame said...

I keep coming back to this posting, so you must have expressed my thoughts very well. I just referred to it in a comment on another blog (Nathan B.) about positivity. Thanks for clarifying the difference, and reminding us of the hard work it takes to justify the confidence we do need. Very timely considering the quantity of people wanting to be writers today.

Anonymous said...

"Moreover, what would you have said about a self-published author such as Jeff Kinney (Wimpy Kid series of books) on the day BEFORE he signed with a big publisher?"

I would have said he wasn't self-published.* He publicly posted his cartoons/comics on the Family Education Network's sites, which he does not own. From there he went on to get a deal with Abrams, who publishes the Wimpy Kids books in their current format. That's not self-publishing.

* [Not to mention that, if he had self-published, it would only be tangentially relevant to this discussion considering that comics have a long history of respectable self-publishing in a way that fiction simply does not. Which you really ought to know.]

April L. Hamilton said...

Anonymous -
I know all about the long history of self-pubbed comics, but I was talking about Mr. Kinney's novels, which began their public life when Diary Of A Wimpy Kid was posted in serialized form on www.funbrain.com. The definition of self-published content varies from person to person, so there's no point in debating whether or not that serialization 'counts' as self-pub. If you wish, just substitute Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader, for Jeff Kinney. The Lace Reader is a self-published book that became so popular it was picked up by a major house. The day she decided to self-publish, and the day before her contract offer came, was Ms. Barry "delusional"?

Split hairs and pick nits if you will, but my original points are valid. Self-publication can be a legitimate and even savvy path, depending on a given author's motives and circumstances. As I recently posted elsewhere:

"I've long felt that an author who would rather never see his work in print at all than see it without a name-brand publishing logo on its spine is the very definition of someone whose motive in publishing is vanity. The validation once bestowed upon an author by a mainstream publishing house has lost quite a bit of the cachet it once had."

Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

This was so fun.

It made me cringe just a little because right before I read this I wrote an "advice" post sort of about writing for publication, even though I'm not published.

I equated it to giving peers advice about parenting before your kids are grown up: There are things even the good parents seem to forget once they're past.

Or they don't forget them, but it seems less credible, maybe, hearing a 60-year-old grandma say "ride it out" than hearing a mother of three-under-5 say the same thing.

Anyway, I'm hoping I don't look deluded, but that could just mean I am and don't see it...

Love the conversation in the comments. This has been great!

David Dittell said...

JA,

Great post; a real reality check as I considered how closely I fit into each of these categories based on each characteristic.

I wouldn't agree with all of these, but I'm sure you're aware that not everyone is going to completely fit the mold. I think you can value other things above being paid; if you have a small enough target audience, are paid ahead of time, or are just trying to push yourself to new highs then money becomes less prominent.

I also don't think it's bad to work "outside" of the system, so long as you've chosen that path rather than be forced into. Innovation comes from people who see the new paths before they've been trodden down.

Still, a lot to learn here.

Susan Kelley said...

Great post and a list that is at time amusing and at times thought provoking. I think part of being confident is also being determined. I've known so many writers who quite after collecting some rejections. The suggestion in an earlier comment about joining a group and attending conferences was great. Those two things helped me more than any book did.

Marilyn Brant said...

Fabulous post, J.A.--thank you! I'll be sharing it with many others :).

matthew said...

Coming at this from a musician's perspective, I think it could apply to creative industry as a whole.

I will say that it is possible to move from delusional to confident. I myself have made that transition slowly over 18 years or so. The "delusional" statements aptly describe my approach as of a decade ago. One can reform.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with a lot of this. I think there are writers and there are people who are artists with words. Sometimes word-artists are also writers. Sometimes they are not. I'm sure there are people with insane amounts of talent that die in complete obscurity. That's the way the world works.

Does that mean that you shouldn't believe in talent because it may not take you anywhere? That means we shouldn't praise talent because people like Dane Cook, Carlos Mencia, and Tila Tequila exist?

If you're published because you've got hustle, that doesn't make you any better than some other dime-store writer that can pump out mediocrity like clockwork. You might make a comfortable living being published, but in ten years you'll be another jobber and barely a footnote in the colorful and meaningful history of literature.

Morgan Mandel said...

Now all you need to do is a post about building an author's confidence.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://blogtalkradio.com/booksandblogs

Dennis the Vizsla said...

I'd suggest that "knowing" you'll eventually get lucky is more a hallmark of delusion than of confidence. You may think you'll get lucky, you may really believe it, but you can't "know" it. Luck may be the first cousin of persistence, but they don't always turn up at the same family reunion. (This may be semantic nit-picking, but we are in the word business, after all. In any case I think you acknowledge as much, albeit implicitly, when you say that success is out of the writer's control.)

I would also suggest that in some cases, moving outside the traditional publishing system can be the result of a rational decision-making process. In my case, after a succession of agents who failed to sell books, (small) publishing houses closing out from under me, "great stuff but we don't know how to market it" letters, assessing the genres I worked in and concluding they were moving away from the sort of thing I wanted to write, and coming to the realization that I was unwilling to give up my "real" job to devote full-time energy in pursuit of extremely questionable financial rewards, I decided to start putting my remaining books out myself. I know I don't have the drive or the personality to be my own agent or publicist, so I simply make them available through my blogs, some as downloads, others through Lulu. I find that this satisfies me. Perhaps this makes me delusional, but I think it makes me realistic. As you said, "know your limitations".

By the way, you may remember my short story "Cold Turkey". I'm almost done with Dirty Martini and haven't encountered my namesake character. Or maybe I have and I just don't know it yet? ;-) (And no, other readers, the character's name would not be "Dennis the Vizsla".)

Twenty Twenty said...

Hey mate,

Not only would this make a GREAT resource for a writing class, it would make a great lesson for every man, woman, and teenager to read. Printing it out, putting it up on the wall.

Thank you Janelle for sending me here!

Mr Twenty Twenty