My friend Natalie recently sent me a link to a TEDTalk called Who decides what you think? Not you. The speaker Staffan Ehde talks about how it’s only when we’re confronted with our own incompetence that we have access to the inner dialogue, or code, that actually controls our decision-making process. Ehde challenges listeners to make a list of ten things they’re not good at, things they don’t like about themselves.
I’m going to be perfectly honest here and risk being called a narcissist, but I actually thought, “Meh. I can’t think of anything I don’t like about myself. I can’t think of anything that I feel really bad at. Back to work.”
Now, let me clarify. I’ve worked hard over the past decade to learn as much as I can to improve my life and provide myself with more opportunity. I’ve taught myself to code, to build websites, to use PhotoShop, to run a business, to throw a release party, to publish books…the list goes on. In the process, I’ve gained hard won confidence. I’d spent decades struggling with severe depression and anxiety, and I had to overcome that through sheer force of will in order to convince myself I was capable of learning this stuff. I won’t apologize for how far I’ve come.
I also wasn’t being completely honest with myself in that moment of bravado. This was revealed to me in no uncertain terms within two hours of watching the video.
The same friend began to make suggestions about marketing Les Stone Cold Killers this summer. She suggested donating some copies to a girls reading group, for instance. My immediate response was panic and the proclamation that “it’s really not a YA novel.” I’ve been trying to make this argument since I wrote the novel despite the fact that many readers have identified it as YA in reviews:
Something of a James Bond with a twist, this story had everything I could have hoped for: action, fast cars, explosives, art, evening gowns with pockets… Les Stone Cold Killers offers strong and intelligent characters and a writing style that doesn’t talk down to its readers (as novels of the young adult genre are often want to do).
Finally! An awakening of a new teen genre that drops the usual sappy dramatics and embraces the most powerful female asset — brain power.
In fact, I’ve adamantly refused to identify any target market. I’ve stood by the true but not altogether relevant and indubitably defeatist argument that I’m writing the series for myself.
Of course, this is total self-sabotage. So long as I refuse to identify an “ideal reader”, I can avoid self-promotion, which is something that fills me with boot-quaking dread and anxiety. See? There’s the monster under the bed that I’ve been so diligently and cleverly avoiding.
I suddenly perceived the restrictive lines of code in my head that have been preventing me from robustly promoting Perilous and Sparks:
Authors are special people, and you are not special.
You’re not the sort of person who gets to be an author. Stay in your lane, plebe.
It’s so arrogant to assume anyone gives a shit what you think.
You’re a no-talent hack.
Or to put it simply:
In the year since I released Les Stone Cold Killers, I haven’t looked at sales data, I haven’t asked anyone to review the book, I haven’t arranged book signings. Publishing that book was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I literally felt like I was dying when I saw the Amazon page, and I’ve carefully avoided looking at said page in the year since. When Natalie began to push me on ideal readers and actual promotional activities, she triggered an instant cascade of all too familiar fear that I work so hard to ignore.
Here I was, convincing myself that I’m fearless because I looked my fear in the eyes briefly once. But I don’t get lifetime credit for a one time confrontation with the monster under my bed. I’ve got to be willing to stick my head down there every day and say, “I see you. I’m not afraid of you” until I’m actually no longer afraid. Otherwise, he’s still preventing me from becoming my most heroic, adventurous self.
So this week I’m working on reprogramming myself so that I can be a better author and a better Autumn. I’ve got a new line of code to run:
Publishing is fun and exciting for me.
My ideas have value and my stories have impact.
I am confident when I share my work with others.
I have a right to be proud of my hard work.