Words of Advice to Writers: Know Thyself

Nov 07, 2013
The Temple of Apollo in Delphi © Georgios Alexandris | Dreamstime.com

The Temple of Apollo in Delphi
© Georgios Alexandris | Dreamstime.com

“Know Thyself”. Those words of Delphic wisdom carved into the Temple of Apollo have been a part of the bedrock of philosophy for thousands of years. They’re so simple, and yet they can be interpreted in so many ways. A 10th century encyclopedia of Ancient Greek knowledge claims that they are a reminder to the boastful that all of their pride might not be warranted. To others they have meant much the same as Shakespeare’s great words, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”

Writers would do well to hear the words of both the Ancients and the Bard. The biggest trouble we can get into as we dive deep into this crazy world is to lose sight of ourselves and what we’re doing. Not only that, we can so easily lose sight of what our strengths and weaknesses are that we hold ourselves back, either with our actions or our inactions.

I wrote a whole series of posts on the Essentials of Self-Publishing last year, but I want to add this piece of advice to those lessons: You have to know your capabilities and your shortfalls and constantly reevaluate what you are and aren’t doing and what you can and can’t do if you’re going to make it long-term in this business.

From what I’ve seen, this advice applies mostly in two big areas.

The first is in how we see our own work. It’s so tempting and so very easy to be lulled into a sense of complacency about our writing. We work hard on it, we seek the help of professional editors and accomplished beta-readers to polish our work to the best that it can be. If we’ve been diligent about it, we have every right to be proud of the finished product. Go us!

But as the aphorism of the publishing world goes, you’re only as good as your last book. Writing is not like a video game, where once you reach the next level you stay there and then advance to the level higher than that. The uncomfortable truth is that while we aim to have each book be better than the last, it doesn’t always happen that way. I wrote last week about a novel that I read that was just terrible, but that was penned by a NY Times bestselling author and was number thirty-something in her cannon. At some point someone let her get lazy.

All writers need to stop and "take their temperature", as a high school teacher who liked to give pop quizzes used to say. © Ezhicheg | Dreamstime.com

All writers need to stop and “take their temperature”, as a high school teacher of mine who liked to give pop quizzes used to say.
© Ezhicheg | Dreamstime.com

Knowing yourself as a writer includes scrutinizing each book that you write as if it were your first. It involves keeping your standards up and checking what you’re doing against all of those things that you know make up good writing. In the business, education, and medical worlds professionals have to undergo continuing education every few years to make sure their skill-set is up to date. I am a firm believer that writers should seek out continuing education too. Take craft workshops, go to writer’s conferences for more than just the schmoozing, and ask questions like a newbie—of folks at the top of the field and of yourself. Keep learning.

Ah, but as I’ve recently discovered, there’s a whole other aspect to knowing yourself that I never bothered to take into account in the early days of my publishing career. I can guarantee I’m not the only one either. In fact, I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t one of those things that separates the hobbyist from the career writer. You have to know what you’re not good at and find someone to help you with that.

As it turns out, I am really not good at staying organized and focused when it comes to launching my books and promoting them. I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve tried. I know what kind of things are essential to a successful book launch: buzz on social media, a strong blog presence, as many reviews out of the gate as you can get, and a network of key people to spread the word. I, however, am just a teensy bit of an introvert. As in A LOT. I am not good at going out and conquering the world and lining up a ton of guest blog posts.

Fortunately for me (and others like me), there are people who will do that for you! I had a really good experience last year with Orangeberry Book Tours. They promised 30 days of blog appearances and reviews to match. They delivered at least 30 solid days of blog posts and at least 6 months of random appearances here and there and easily about 40 reviews on Amazon. (I don’t know if these results are typical or if I just got very lucky, so I can’t guarantee the same results).

That was great, but I still had the sense that I could do better and needed more. As I was pondering what to do with the release of In Your Arms (later this month), the proverbial light bulb went off over my head. I realized that I had a great friend on Facebook who also runs a book marketing company, Badass Marketing. From the moment I messaged Anne with “So, this book marketing company you have. How about that?” we hit the ground running. I won’t want to let too many cats out of the bag too early, but I kind of think we’re going to conquer the world later this month when In Your Arms comes out!

In Your Arms_smallFinding Anne fit one of the pieces of my publishing journey/writing career that I hadn’t given enough attention to in place. As Anne (and many, many other people) have told me, I’m too nice. Feeling as though you are imposing on people by asking them to host you on their blog or review your book is not a good way to go. Finding someone badass who can get out there and ask for you, however, is AWESOME!

When the light bulb went off, I realized that I need a publicist if I’m going to get to the next level. That’s me. That was my personal revelation. For you it may be the honest realization that you need grammar lessons or that you need to find and build a relationship with a really good developmental editor or that you have to splurge for professionally designed covers instead of relying on your own skills (no matter how good they are). There are things holding us back from reaching the next level, and we have to be honest with ourselves to discover what they are.

But it’s so worth it when you find them. I have a very good feeling about the launch for In Your Arms. Like, I’m tingly all over! I’ll let you know what happens when we get there, but it really does feel like a piece has fallen into place. Get out there and find your pieces, people! You won’t regret it.

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