Let’s talk about shame.
No, wait, come back!
You want to know why this is important? Because you’re running a busines. You’re trying to make wise, informed decisions. And, if you aren’t careful, shame is going to end up making decisions for you—and it’s not going to make good ones. Getting a handle on the sore spots and the “I should”s is not always going to be comfortable, but getting rid of the white noise of shame is going to be invaluable in a business sense.
The Bad News
Even the abstract concept of shame is uncomfortable to think about. As it relates to our own careers and creative work, it’s even worse.
The Better News
Here’s the thing: your shame will do almost anything to keep you from actually thinking about it. It will hide in the back of your head as an amorphous mass, and naming it, delving down to the root of it, will begin to rob it of its power.
What do we have to be ashamed of?
As authors? Well, let’s see…
…our choice of publishing route (traditional, self-published, hybrid, vanity*)
…our writing style
…our book’s pre-order sales
…our backlist sales
…how much engagement we seek and get on social media
…the size of our mailing list
…that night we took off to watch a movie instead of writing
....the fact that we didn’t travel more in our 20s because then we’d have cool stories to tell
…the fact that, instead of wearing a cool capsule wardrobe, we are still wearing the same pair of tattered flannel pajama bottoms
And the list goes on. The worst part, however, is that these things don’t just sit in the back of our heads. They snarl us up as we try to work on new stories. They drive us to burnout. They give us completely impossible goals and berate us when we fail. Instead of leaving us in a place where we can make solid decisions based on our current situation and skillset, they drag us into what are frankly terrible decisions based on “I Should”s: I should be able to run my own facebook ads, I should be writing in a different genre, I should be releasing each book as soon as it’s done, I should be able to finish a book every 5-8 days…
Want An Example?
I have spent the past several weeks filled with shame over my sales. Now, that’s not anything new. I’ve had wildly high-achieving friends in this business for the better part of a decade, and no amount of happiness for them can keep the little voice in my head from saying, “so why can’t youdo that, you failure, you?”
Although I’m used to this shame, it’s been put in sharp relief by my role here at ScribeCount. I’ve been an author for years. I’ve poured thousands of hours into writing, advertising, cover design, querying, plot work, editing, websites—you name it, I’ve tried it. Which is to say, I’m an author, just like you.
But, as I put together screenshots of ScribeCount and how-to videos, all I could think was, “they’ll see my sales numbers. They’ll think I have no right to call myself a part of this community. They’ll know that I’ve been here for years and never struck it big.” Instead of working on my WIP, I stared at the screen and was paralyzed by past “failures.”
As a totally unrelated question, did you know how weirdtea tastes when you cry into it?
In reality, I’ve written stories I adore and I’m proud of, I have a small tribe of fans, I’ve made some of the best friends of my life, and I’m extraordinarily proud to be part of the ScribeCount team. But the shame in my head wants me…
…to pack up and go home
…to do all of my advertising myself because I “should” be able to (terrible plan)
…to set a series of 12-15 preorders 6 weeks apart for the next year because I “should” be able to work full time and also get a book out each 6 weeks
…to do all my own book covers (also a terrible plan)
…to shift gears immediately into genres I know I don’t write well because those are more popular
…to spend hours combing through the most sanctimonious, “brutally honest,” soul-crushing blogs I can find to try to bash myself into a different writer than the one I am
In other words, my shame is using the fact that I don’t wantto pack up and go home to try to force me down a path that leads straight to disappointment, burnout, and money wasted on ads I should never have tried to make on my own.
Your Case Will Be Unique
Your areas of shame won’t be exactly like mine, but they’re there, and they’re uncomfortable to think about. The thing to remember? It isn’t just you. Every one of us has a different career, a different path toward our best books, different pieces of the business we enjoy or don’t. There’s no need to be ashamed of that.
In fact, shame will only stop you from making clear-headed decisions about how to play your next steps. So give your shame a run for its money and really think about it. Understand the behind-the-scenes factors that are going into your bad decisions and your burnout.
And, if you can, speak honestly with new authors about your struggles. We’ve all had them, and we’ve watched too many amazing voices get burned out. Let’s make sure we keep ourselves and our community thriving.
* Here at ScribeCount, we think that people should not have to pay to have their books published. The vast majority of vanity publishers have been horribly exploitative. What we want to underscore in this blog post is that we’ve all made decisions that were mistakes in hindsight. Allow yourself to learn and move forward instead of staying mired in shame!