Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms

I wouldn’t trust a writer who did not experience self-doubt. The world’s best haiku master might be terrible at epic poems, and the finest mystery writer of them all could suck at composing science fiction. If you walk around thinking every word that falls off your fingertips is brilliant, no matter the subject or genre, you are deluded.

popeye2Self-doubt seems to be a burden we writers must bear as long as we continue to put words on a page. Despite the fact that I chuck out writing advice left and right here, I’ve only recently become comfortable calling myself a writer. After all, I don’t have a swarm of publishers and agents outside my door fighting to give me a contract, so I must not be any good.

Sound familiar?

I, like a lot of you, am probably setting the bar unfairly high. Nothing less than a publishing contract will validate me as a writer. I’m working on a novel (allegedly), and once I have done five million drafts and come to hate every single word of it, I intend to query professional agents. I know my chances of getting this thing in a bookstore are about the same as my chances of getting eaten by an alligator in New Jersey. No doubt, when lightning fails to strike, I will rant and rave about all the wasted time and declare that I shall never write another word.

Meanwhile, countless fellow bloggers – many of whom are at least as talented as me and more so – are having a blast self-publishing and taking total control of their careers. I know all the arguments for and against self-publishing, and so do you, so there’s no need to regurgitate it here. It suffices to say that I won’t get the validation I’m looking for if I self-publish. You can tell me not to think that way, but, like Popeye, I am what I am.

Then, why, you ask, is Baker thinking about self-publishing a book of his short stories? Well, it all started when I was five.

noir2Actually, it all started last fall when I finished a 10,000-word story I had been laboring over for months, all the while knowing no one was going to publish it. Not because it’s bad (it’s exactly the story I wanted to write), but because no one is going to publish a supernatural crime-noir musical micro-novel. My hard drive is now jammed with four not-so-short stories that no publisher will ever print. None of the stories fits in a genre, and they typically have oddball, deranged protagonists. But, you see, I worked really hard on these stories.

I’ve been hammering away at rewriting and refining those four stories (and mulling writing a fifth, with a mentally stable, well-adjusted hero, for balance), so I can package them for Kindle. Sure, it’s screwing up my novel-writing schedule. Yeah, I just got a new idea for a short story that may actually be publishable and need to get on that. On top of that, I rediscovered a fifth story on my hard drive that I gave up on two years ago and am now revising so I can submit it somewhere. Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!

The harder I work on a writing project, the deeper I sink into self-doubt. It’s a constant, nagging dialog in my head: No one will want to read this. It’s stupid. No one will want to read this. It’s stupid. No one will want to read this. It’s stupid. The rest of me, on the other hand, thinks the stories are great. Though I’m not yet sure if I’m a writer, I think I’m a pretty good writer. But I am also aware that no one thinks their own baby is ugly.

I’m going to self-publish this short-story collection (maybe). I’ve wrestled with every word in every one of these tales a hundred times. If I had worked a part-time job instead of slaving over these things, I would have enough money for a new car by now. I want this collection out there, because I wrote it and, who knows, it might fill a hole in at least one reader’s heart. What is the worst thing that can happen? Nobody likes it? That ain’t fatal, last I heard.

So what do you think? Should I do it? Is self-publishing the way to go? When you finish a writing project, are you proud or full of loathing? Are you a walking contradiction like me? Do tell.


No relevant video today, just one of my fav songs ever, “Love You Madly” by Cake.

88 responses to “Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms

  • Janna G. Noelle

    When you finish a writing project, are you proud or full of loathing?

    As soon as I actually finish something, I’ll let you know. That’s what I get for making my first serious work a novel in two volumes.

    But you might as well self-pub your stories. The chances of having a short story collection traditionally published before you’ve made some kind of name for yourself are pretty nonexistent. If you’re proud of your stories and they are exactly the stories you wanted to tell, you should send them out into the world.

    I would buy them if you did, for what it’s worth.

    • ericjbaker

      Hahaha! This thing is going to be epic when you finally finish it. I’ll buy it!

      I agree that short story collections are near impossible to publish traditionally for an unknown writer, especially ones that have never appeared anywhere else. This will be an odd batch when and if I finally assemble it into something presentable. I still need a new ending for one of them, plus I think I need something lightweight to balance the others.

      Thanks for offering to be my first customer. I can promise you that you will get mechanically sound prose, at the very least.

  • crankycaregiver

    Have you thought about showing your work to others? Friends, family, bloggers? I know that I was scared to write my first post; my first short memory piece and my first rant about social injustice. The feedback I’ve received gave me the boost I’ve needed for so long to stop hiding behind my laptop and start dipping my toes into the waters of publishing.

    I, like you, do not think I will ever be a writer until someone has paid for my work or it is published on paper. I don’t know if self-publishing is for me..I haven’t come to that point yet.

    • ericjbaker

      I’ve come a long way in regard to my attitudes about self-publishing, since I used to think it was a vanity thing. Maybe because I’ve read some fantastic writers who went that route. I mean, i have no problems self-releasing my music on iTunes, so why should I be all hung up about the writer side of me?

      As for your first question, three of the four stories have been proofread and reviewed by professional and/or highly experienced amateur writer friends, and I am in the process of making changes based on their excellent advice. I’ll have to have them proofed again, of course, to make sure I didn’t introduce new errors.

  • Erin Elizabeth Long

    Excellent post. I wonder each day if I did the right thing by self-publishing. I do believe that the indie path is better for writers, but part of me still dreams of seeing my book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Ideally, I’d like to be a hybrid model–self-publish some work (or, like WOOL author Hugh Howey, retain eBook rights while working with an agent to sell print/film/overseas rights) and traditionally publish others.

    The hardest part of self-publishing is, as you said, the lack of external validation. We look to an authority figure to tell us that we’re good enough to be published, good enough to call ourselves writers. Without that, how do we know we aren’t simply deluded? For me, it helps to look to my readers. There aren’t exactly hordes of them (yet), but they really enjoyed my first book and continue to hound me for the sequel.

    My thoughts on self-published your short stories: You have two choices. Either shop your work to paying markets, then self-publish individual stories and/or anthologies once the rights have reverted to you. Or you can self-publish now and earn a bit of money (and validation from your readers) instead of putting your time and energy into the submission/waiting/rejection game.

    The TL;DR Version: Do it. Hit me up if you need help or have questions.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. I believe you got to the heart of the matter in your comment. I’m still willing to go the submit/reject route for a full length novel (I’ve been through that twice already and have come to enjoy the abuse), and if I have a short, commercially viable piece (under 5K words), I’d try to place it somewhere.

      I’m pretty confident that the longer ones I referred to above (7-10K words) would eventually land somewhere in the online market, because I know my prose is more refined than a lot of the stuff I see out there. However, no one is going to read a story that long on a website, so self-publishing will enable me to have more control over putting them in reader’s hands. I’ll definitely check in with you before I jump in the fire.

  • eclecticpills

    “No one will want to read this. It’s stupid. No one will want to read this. It’s stupid. No one will want to read this. It’s stupid.” How did you get in my head? For me it’s the daily roller-coaster ride of self-loathing. I’m with you.
    As for self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, I don’t think we should make that distinction any longer. The gatekeepers of trad publishing want us to think we’re something only if we’re in print…their print. No more! If you have readers, you’re an author. Simple as that. If making readers happy isn’t a good enough, then perhaps we may be more concerned about other motivations (e.g., money, fame, etc.). Great post. Thanks for your vulnerability. It helps all of us.

    • ericjbaker

      Well said and all good points. And anybody who gets into writing with the hopes of fame and fortune is a silly creature indeed. A pop video on YouTube can get 100 million views. As far as I know, there’s no equivalent site called YouRead.

      • eclecticpills

        Thanks! Yes, we write because we love to write, tell stories and have something to say. (After all, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”) Funny you make the YouTube comparison. I had just done the same thing a few days while my daughter watched a completely inane video with 100s of thousands of hits. Why is it so hard for authors to do the same?

  • nrhatch

    Life is so much easier when we recognize that Ego’s need for external validation will never be quenched.

    No matter what.

    At first, it wants an agent.
    Then it wants a publishing contract.
    Then, it wants book sales to reach a certain “magic” number.
    Then, it decides that “magic” number is not enough.
    Then, it proclaims that it NEEDS to land on the NYTimes Bestseller list.
    And it wants a million dollar advance.
    And it wants to sell the movie rights.
    And it wants Mattel to market action figures.
    And Bobble Head Dolls.
    And more favorable reviews.
    And a Pulitzer Prize.

    And then, it wants . . .

    It’s rather like the Fisherman’s Wife who moves from hovel to cottage to estate to castle to palace . . . never satisfied. Always striving for something just out of reach.

    And, in the midst of all that striving, Ego tells us that we are not good enough as we are . . . that without applause, accolades, and acknowledgment from esteemed critics we are NOTHING.

    One day, if we are lucky, we learn to tune Ego out . . . because Ego is NOTHING more than a figment of our imagination.

    And, on that day, we are FREE.
    Self-doubt is gone.
    As is the desire for external validation.

    We see that who we are is so much more than what we do.
    Or what others think of us and what we do.

    And we return to the keyboard to write . . . for the sheer joy of writing.

    “When we have conquered the enemy within . . . there are no enemies left to conquer.”


    • nrhatch

      An excellent quote by Stephen King in On Writing (p. 219) . . .

      “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. In the end it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting Happy, okay? Getting happy.

      Some of this book – perhaps too much – has been about how I learned to do it. Much of it has been about how you can do it better. The rest of it – and perhaps the best of it – is a permission slip: you can, you should and if you are brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art.

      The Water is free. So drink.

      Drink and be filled up.”

    • ericjbaker

      You had me until you said “Mattel action figure.” I will not stop until I have my own action figure!!!!


      Everything you said is true, but I know myself. I’ve always wanted something just out of reach, and it’s not a switch that can be turned off easily.

      Thanks for your tenacity in trying to convince me otherwise, Hatch.

      • nrhatch

        Thanks for inspiring my just-posted post! 😉

        You are in the majority, Eric. Most people use Ego as a yardstick of success. I don’t. I see most of Ego’s striving as unnecessary.

        If I paint the BEST painting in the world . . . so what?
        If I sing the BEST song on the planet . . . what has really changed?
        If I receive a Bigger Piece of the Pie . . . what have I gained?

        We want what we THINK will make us HAPPY. And find, once we have it, that IT is never enough.

        Because Ego always wants MORE.

        • nrhatch

          Let me know if you want me to link my latest post to this post. I’m happy to do so . . . knowing that more folks will be on YOUR side of the fence, than mine. 😀

        • ericjbaker

          You should sit at the top of a mountain. Your advice would probably sink in better if I had to climb to get it.


          Eastern philosophy trumps western philosophy, methinks.

        • nrhatch

          I am picturing myself seated at mountain’s apex . . . with long flowing hair (hopefully, NOT a flowing white beard).

          “Rapunzel . . . Rapunzel . . . let down thy hair.”
          “Not on the hair of your chin-ee-chin-chin!”

          “What’s that? Chim-chim-in-ee?”
          “No, not Mary Poppins . . . the Three Little Pigs.”

          “What about the 3 pigs? Didn’t they sing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?”

          “Oh, gotcha . . . Climb every mountain. Ford every stream.”

        • ericjbaker

          “Ford every stream”

          Thanks. I’ve heard that song a million times and never knew what she sang there!

          I missed your comment about linking back. Probably too late now, but of course.

        • nrhatch

          I decided to pop back out here . . . because our comments became far too narrow-minded for my comfort. 😉

          I added the link . . .

          I’m glad that Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t try to be punny by having her “ford every fjord.” 😀

        • ericjbaker

          Hammerstein was Frankenstein’s more musically inclined cousin. That’s what my dad used to say when I was a kid, knowing I was more interested in stitched-together monsters than in Julie Andrews twirling around the alps.

  • VarVau

    From what I know, short stories and novellas tend to be a more difficult form to get into print than longer, complete novels. In regards to publishing, I take Chuck Wendig’s advice, even if my eyes are on self-publishing as an ultimate last resort. Both are useful, and a writer can do both.

    However, it is also something I have to caution. A self-published writer (depending on which avenue is taken, like Amazon) getting picked up by a traditional publisher might make a contract overly complicated. And I ‘think’ somewhere I heard of another contract where a writer picked up by a traditional publisher decided to have something printed by a different publisher (a self-pub) an the traditional publisher voided their contract due to it being a breach.
    This is why I suggest agents so much. They know all the legal processes in contracts.

    • ericjbaker

      That’s great advice! I think if I had a self-published title that got enough traffic that publishers came knocking, I’d agree to write something new for them, but leave the original title available as is.

      That said, I’d wouldn’t have any grand expectations when sticking my collection on Kindle. There’s a reason no publisher would want these, and it’s because they are not commercial viable. If they were, I wouldn’t be thinking about this.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • VarVau

        I’m not an expert, but as part of eventually querying agents I have looked into a lot the publishing industry details to further know what to so. It appears to me the entire publishing industry is in a state of flux due to the new digital implementation, which makes hard determining which route is best at times.

        Self-publishing can be a way to get the attention of a trad. publisher, yes. The unfortunate half is (say with Amazon) is the quantity vs quality issue. There are so many who put books onto Kindle, yet Amazon to my knowledge doesn’t provide editors (and they apparently despise agents in their Kindle author marketing) so finding something that is worth a read can be difficult and those who have the ability to stand out are likely to be drowned in all the people putting unedited and substandard material out there.

  • jnice84

    I say go for it! If you know that there’s no hope of the collection being traditionally published then why not give self publishing a go?
    I personally can’t decide what to do with my nearly finished novel, so it’s interesting to see everyone’s different opinions (as always).

    Ultimately, you have to do what feels right for you. If you don’t feel you will get any validation from self publishing, then don’t. Although the collection project sounds like a perfect way of dipping your toe in the waters.

    Great post – lovely to be reminded that other writers feel that horrible self doubt. It’s an awful feeling to have spent a year or more working on something, pouring your heart into it, only to sit back and be convinced it’s all a load of rubbish.

    • ericjbaker

      It’s almost a relief when something you’ve written is out there and can’t be changed. Then it has to stand on it’s own two (or six) legs without having to carry the weight of the writer’s anxiety.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Richard Leonard

    Self-doubt? I have no doubt in my confidence that I am extremely mediocre. 😉 Probably trending towards the lower end.
    But seriously yes, that walking contradiction sounds very familiar. There is that desire for validation by someone who knows better, yet there is the temptation to bypass all that and go it alone to “fill a hole in at least one reader’s heart”.
    Like you I have this long honed masterpiece that I want to make perfect before unleashing it on the world, ideally with the validation of a reputable publisher, and I also have a collection of short stories I was prepared to throw out to all the world’s Kindles. If they’d have it. Just to experience the whole exercise of self-pub. I now have another novel under construction for that purpose so who knows what I’ll do.
    Bite the bullet, everyone else has. I most likely will. I don’t think anyone will think any less of you.

    • ericjbaker

      There is surely a lot to be said for having a professional agent and editor help guide and improve one’s manuscript. The problem area with self-publishing (outside of untalented non-writers cluttering the field) I believe is people who do it for egotistical reasons. I.E., “What do 100 agents know about a good novel. I’ll show them!” The reason I’d never self-publish my previous two manuscripts is because 95 agents said no thanks (that includes three maybes that ended in no thanks). The material simply wasn’t good enough, though it fit the parameters from a length standpoint.

      • Richard Leonard

        Sentence #1 is very true. However I think the example you gave for the egotistical writer doesn’t quite fit. Well, it does apply but there is another angle. I think the egotist might actually be aware on some level that his work is crap but still wants his name in lights. For the bragging rights if nothing else, now that self-pub has more credibility that it used to.
        Hmm. I can see how 95 no’s is a clear message. But surely you received some constructive advice from reputable sources on how to improve it to the point where it is publishable?

        • ericjbaker

          The general gist was that the writing was good, but the subject matter didn’t have abroad enough appeal. One agent complained the mix of humor and violence was off-putting. I’d rather keep plugging away until I hit on the right concept than rewrite something until I no longer recognize it and or feel like it’s not the story I want to write. As far as the egotist in me, I don’t want to self-pub a novel that everyone passed on. I’ll just write something better next time.

  • lythya

    Full of loathing? Nay, I do a victory dance over the mere fact that I finished something. Then a few weeks later I begin to loathe parts of it, haha. But there are always parts that I love, too.

    Please do publish it, I’m interested already. crime-noir musical short-novel. Haha! Put that in the title x)

  • Cheryl

    Do it! I’ve read a little about self-publishing and know a few who have done ebooks. I think any way you can get your name out and create a following will give you a better chance of marketing yourself in the future. I suppose the argument could be made to self-publish that which has wide appeal so as to gain a following for the stuff you really want to do. Either way I think the (mental) benefits of being published far outweigh the (mental) cost.

    • ericjbaker

      I really have nothing to lose (but preparation time). The fact that these stories are a bit off the beaten path might be to my benefit when it comes to finding a niche audience.

      Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Earnest Harris

    Great piece and great points. I self-published my first motivational book and my second book, co-authored with a leading child psychologist, was self-published by his non-profit. I agree that the problem with self-publishing is that it just doesn’t give you that internal feeling of success that you get when a third party, a publisher or agent, comes to you. And truthfully most people don’t look at your books the same as as one backed by a publishing house. It is just a fact. Which is not to say that finishing a book and self-publishing is not a success or something to be proud of. Because it is indeed an accomplishment. But you are correct that having a publisher or agent validate your work does mean something. And not just for ego. It is hard to get a prominent spot on a shelf at Barnes & Noble. Major publishers can get that when self-publishers will have a hard time with that for the most part.

    I have to say I am fortunate and just signed with a New York literary agent to represent my next book. And I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say that feels more legitimate already. On the other hand, we just started working together so the book hasn’t been sold yet. Who knows what will happen. Getting an agent isn’t the end either. In the end, and (sorry this has gone so long, but since I have experienced both sides of this to a degree, wanted to add something) hopefully we all write because we have something to say and just need to write. Regardless of what the end result is. I don’t think we writers really have a choice. We will write regardless of the success level for our work. Can’t wait to read your novel my friend.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for the excellent reply, and congratulations on landing an agent! You’re one of the good guys, and multi-talented too. Keep us posted on your progress with finding a publisher (if you want to).

      Based on your comment, I think you understand where I stand with this whole thing.

  • feminineocean

    Well, can’t add much to the discussion. Except you know I did the Kindle Single and really, having a book out there, even a single, pushes away a bit of that self-doubt for a few weeks. And the older you get, the smaller the doubt becomes. You are a good writer and hey, publishing a Kindle book doesn’t cost anything but time! Less time than submitting to endless agents. So, know we’re all biting our nails in anticipation of your announcement of the publication of your first e-book. 🙂
    Oh, yes, just received an e-mail newsletter from KDP, Kindle has a free app you can download on your computer to read Kindles. Check it out.

    • ericjbaker

      I will check it out that app. Thanks. This internal debate is partly your “fault,” since I enjoyed Illimitable Beauty so much. It inspired me to put my story up there, though I’ve been reading that sales may be increased if there’s a collection of stories, rather than just one.

      • feminineocean

        Happily I take the blame. Yes, I’m sure a book of stories will do well. And see that’s why you’re so much further ahead of me, you have a book of stories. I published my one story because it may be the only one I ever complete that’s worthy of publication – as I’m tending more to poetry and non-fiction

  • Jill Weatherholt

    It sounds like you’ve already made your decision. I think you should go for it. Part of writing is putting yourself out there. Whether it’s praise or criticism, in the end, I believe it will help you grow as a writer. Self-doubt constantly fills my head while editing. Even when I had a short story published in a magazine, I compared it to the other stories and wondered how mine got published.

    • ericjbaker

      The funny thing is, I’m not worried about what people think of it or me. They can leave 1-star reviews and I’ll just shrug it off. It’s only when I’m actually in the writing process and I’m looking at the words that I think it’s not worth the data bytes. Once it’s out there, it’s out there.

      I recently read a book in which Mary Wilson of The Supremes said she has never believed in herself as a singer and was ashamed of her voice. But… but… you’re Mary Wilson of the… 14 #1 hits… the most successful female pop act of all…

      See, it can happen to anybody.

  • The Insatiable Ego | Spirit Lights The Way

    […] post:  Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms (Eric J. […]

  • Megan Cashman

    It’s hard to know when you’re officially an author. When I spoke to an old professor of mine about what to do about my book, he said that just by finishing a novel made me a writer. I didn’t buy that because plenty finish novels but never get them published.

    I see myself as an author in training, even though I have self-published a book. I say that because I’m still evolving, still learning the craft. However, knowing there are people out there who like my book gives me the feeling that I am a writer. But I don’t know when I’m officially a writer. I guess when I have a following 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      I wonder if practitioners of other art forms get us hung-up as writers do on definitions. I think, in general, we are self-critical and hate braggards. We end up being too humble in response.

      If it matters, I consider you a writer.


  • tracycembor

    “Sound familiar?” you ask. I raise my hand while slouching down in my chair.

    Frankly, I think a supernatural crime-noir musical micro-novel sounds intriguing. It beats the horseshoes off my project. 😉

  • Dirk Porsche

    Well written and well thought through post. If any of your stories is similar, I would be glad to give them a chance. But it depends a little on the price tag.

    Make them cheap, entertaining and good, and I will spread the word.

    Do you have a PayPal account? 4$, enough. I would prefer Kindle format (.mobi I guess)


    • ericjbaker

      When I have it all together, properly proofed, and presentable, I will put the collection on Kindle at a very attractive price point. Like, a buck, probably. My intention is not to make money on it but to make some oddball (but entertaining, I hope) material easily available to open-minded readers.

      Thanks for being supportive! I’ll let everyone know, via a post here, when it is avalable. It still needs a bit of refining first.

  • Arkenaten

    Okay,here’s my little tale! For what it’s worth….
    I have written seven novels.
    One, a comic fantasy titled Almost Dead In Suburbia,and one short story have been traditionally published by a local indie publisher, who is working her butt off to get her company’s books exposure in local stores etc.
    It is like pissing against a waterfall and expecting it to notice.
    Getting published is hard enough – and even after a book is accepted it could take a year before it goes to print – and then there is the marketing etc etc. But we all KNOW this, right? ‘Çourse we do.

    Do I feel the way you do? Bet your ass.
    Every F******** time I sit in front of a keyboard.
    I have stopped reading ‘advice’ about publishing from agents, publishers and other authors.
    Advice sucks. It means stuff all. Although I read advice about writing, which is a different matter. But even here, one can be driven round the bend.
    ”How to write the perfect Intro letter”, which you slave over for god knows how long , send it out and receive a form letter in return within five minutes apologizing for this being a ”form letter”.
    Truly, you have to laugh or you will go bonkers.
    I have sent out more MS than I’ve had hot dinners.
    The world record is over 700 submissions for a first time author.- I am not there yet, thank the gods – He eventually went on to write 600 books. Crime, if I recall.
    I know can write, as does anyone who knows the difference between a noun and a pronoun, even though I am wracked with doubt every time I open a Word Doc. Even though every book has been through the mill umpteen times.
    But this has little to do with anything.
    Some of the best writers never get read. Some of the worst do.

    I have only had good words said about my published novel, which is wonderful, I guess, and I am pleased to have made those that have read it smile.

    However, I have since rewritten parts for the ebook edition, for various reasons, and still feel it could be better!
    Totally nuts, and maybe this says more about us, as writers, than we might feel comfortable with?
    Stephen King wrote what are regarded by some as his best novels out of his head on drugs…apparently.

    As the Duke of Wellington is claimed to have said, “Publish and be damned!”

    Maybe Amazon is the way to go? If marketed correctly (ie. It sells) then who cares about anything else?
    Of course, you must completely disregard this advice.

    Remember, it’s not that bad….in fact, it’s probably worse.

    Peace DSP

    • ericjbaker

      A. Lee Martinez, author of the hilarious “Gil’s All-Fright Diner” and at least 5 other books, wrote 13 novels before fnding an agent. I’ll be long since dead before I knock out 13 unpublishable novels, but I still find it inspiring.

      Or, I think of the Marvelettes, who entered a singing contest in 1961 and came in dead last. Distraught, they were advised by a teacher to take a ride into Detroit and sing their self-penned song “Please Mr. Postman” for this little upstart record label called Motown. 10 albums and 23 appearances on The Billboard charts later, it’s safe to say they had the last laugh on their competitors in that talent show.

      Don’t give up, I guess is the message. As soon as I get myself a kindle device, I shall obtain a copy of Almost Dead in Suburbia.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Arkenaten

        The world is full of such rags to riches tales. One does get cynical from time to time which is why as a novice i devoured all those writer sites and agent sites and lapped up all the ‘advice.’

        As I said one has to laugh. We write because, like music, it’s in our blood, as corny as that sounds.
        So I don’t reckon I’ll give up. I just hope I am at the dock when my ship comes in and not waiting at the train station!

        Remember the guy from Decca who said, “There’s no future in guitar groups”

        Who was the group he was talking about, do you know? LOL!

        I hope you enjoy the book.

        • ericjbaker

          The decca era? I’m going to guess Led Zep.

          I know what you mean about professional advice. It would make more sense of one industry person didn’t constantly contradict the next.

        • Arkenaten

          Worse….the Beatles.
          But the same guy was not slow to sign up the Stones.

          Yeah, the contradiction.
          I sometimes sense the agents have bigger egos than the writers. Not all, of course, but just wading through their About Us pages and Do’s and Don’t of Submitting Manuscripts sometimes makes me feel as though I am back in Miss Gomez’s 3rd Grade English class.
          But then I realise they get a ton of submissions and many from writers who start their intro letter. To Whom It May Concern.

          Ouch! 😉

          Even if they are the new JK Rowling, that has got to piss off any agent.

        • ericjbaker

          I appreciate the advice, but I do find it condescending sometimes. The subtext of most such advice is “don’t try to be original.”

  • Arkenaten

    Oh, there is way to stop the comment columns going ‘stringy’. Something to do with settings, but I forget what it was. Not really helpful….I know.

  • Bryan Edmondson


    Eric, I am nowhere near being a profession writer.However I did publish a kindle book of one of my short stories. It was easy to publish, no one stole it and sold my hard work, and I think the best thing was that I felt better about myself for doing it. (It was just seeing it on Amazon, it was a shot in the arm for self-esteem.)

    As for revenue and cash flow statement of my sales:
    I sold exactly one copy of this short story for 99 cents. Oh, I bought the copy also. So self-publishing did not make me rich or famous.

    >>Now I do have a friend who is a terrific writer, who blogs to a huge audience, and does a lot of self publishing. He has about 8 books on Kindle. He has the same failure rate as I do it would seem. (It is not his writing. Marketing a book is a skill that is an enigma. It is just damn hard to get anyone to know that you have a book, and make them want to go look for it. Much less buy it for 99 cents.

    So long and short, self publishing has all of the same poverty and lack of recognition as being formally rejected by a verified publisher. However, it felt really good, It really is fun to see it happen. That sounds stupid, but It feels much better than self-doubt. At least for a few glowing hours anyway..

    So I know this doesn’t make me a real writer. But I AM published. I DID “1” copy of my book.

    (Uh, Hey Eric Baker: How many books have you sold? Oh I am terribly sorry to embarrass you, I forgot you do not self publish. Shame on you! I would buy 4 copies of your kindle book.)

    serious legal advice

    p.s. Protecting Works, The Legal Rights. I know an amateur writer who is a PhD and a patent attorney. He said that the 30 dollars to copyright a book formally is really not necessary. He said in a pinch I could save money and simply print a hard copy of the work.(My short story). I printed all the pages, and on top I typed and stapled a claim to my story as an author,and my intent to publish said printed masterpiece on Amazon Kindle,

    I had a notary witness me signing it, She stamped it.And I was rock solid as irrefutably having a copy of the story before it ever hit the market. It is a legal lock for cheap.
    My bank did it for free.

  • ShannonRaelynn

    Hello Eric. You know from stopping by my blog that this is a topic dear to my heart. It is so nice to have someone else put it into words, because it is hard to feel lonely when one knows they are not alone.
    As many other responses have said I don’t think one route precludes another. I self-published my first novel, not because I was certain I had the next best seller, but because I had put so much work into it, I did not want that work to be for nothing.
    I guess for me it is all about intent. What is your intent? What is the goal?
    Is it an income? It’s amazing what is considered saleable. I think they put a great deal of crap out there. They will gladly publish any knocked off, ripped off idea in the hopes that they may ride someone else’s coattails to money. Want to get published, see what is on the best sellers list, and rewrite the same stories and sell them. And they will sell. Even in Alberta many have gotten publishing deals by writing fan fiction stories very similar to bestsellers. Writing for the market is a viable option.
    Is it recognition? Some people love to know that their stories please others. I have a friend who is a very talented writer, but she only writes as long as there is someone reading and praising her. Without someone spurring her on, she stops writing. She drives me crazy because she is so talented, if she ever finishes a novel I know it will be snapped up because she is so good. But she never does. If your motivation is recognition, keep churning out your great writing, and I’ll return time and time again to pat you on the back for a job very well done!
    Is it fame? Is it success? Who doesn’t want success? But what would that look like and is it really an every changing goal our ego is striving for like nrhatch warned you (us all) about?
    What is your ultimate goal you wish to achieve with your writing? Until you acknowledge it, it is hard to work towards it, and even harder to recognize when you reach it.
    If you simply want to be published then self-publish.
    Before I found writing, I was the major bread winner in the family. I was a school counsellor, and made almost double what my husband made. And I drove to work every day fighting the need to vomit. My goal before I found writing, was to find something that got me out of bed and made me happy doing it. I knew it had nothing to do with money because I made plenty and the money did not compensate for the difficulty I faced doing a job I was not made for. I spent the first half of my life working at jobs I hated, struggling to figure out why I was put on this earth.
    Now I am content. I am the luckiest person in the world. Writing pleases me. ME! And for no other reason do I write. As long as I have the ability to spin stories for myself, and I can afford to do so, I will do it with gratitude. I have reached my goal. I have landed my intent. I wake up looking forward to my day, and my career.
    So what was my intent with self-publishing? I had a friend tell me after I queried a bit, that maybe I just needed to set my story on a shelf and begin a new one. That got under my skin. He’d read my story and I have to admit I thought maybe it was his way of saying it wasn’t good enough to be published. He was never my target audience (fortyish, never married, never a parent, and a man who only reads books written by people with PHDs in Science) and so his comments were easy to dismiss but it made me think about the possibility of just setting the book down.
    I couldn’t! I guess that is what propelled me on more than anything else. I KNOW there are better writers out there than me. I know! I see them on WordPress every day. I have no illusions that this is the best book ever written but I know I am not going to be the worst thing out there. It is a solid story.
    I am putting my work out there because who knows what will come of it? As long as my stories sit idly on my shelf nothing will come of them. If I put them out there… well that remains to be seen. Success or failure is not even part of the equation for me. I wanted a job that made me happy, and I got it. Anything good that comes is just really good gravy, anything bad couldn’t be worse than what I had to endure dreading my every workday!
    I have read your writing. I enjoy your writing. I will read more of what you write if you continue to share it. Should you choose to publish by any route, I will buy and read because I enjoyed what I have read so far. As much as I love to write, I am equally pleased by reading.

    • Bryan Edmondson

      Shannon sorry to comment out of the blue but I wanted to say that this comment helped me a lot. I quit writing about 8 months ago after a particularly harsh writer’s group critique.I loved what I had done and I was crushed to hear what I heard back in criticism.
      I think I will start writing again. I will write for myself.

      If I had a musical instrument and was talented enough to create and play a song that I loved, that might well be the best end in itself.
      It is kind of self abusive to fall in love with the muse and have a great life-changing revelation and wait to be happy. You know, to create and play a beautiful song and then wager a mountain of smiles against tears on what one person says to the question, “Well, did you hear that? Pretty great huh?”

      The sound of pennies dropping into my hat, or my name on the spine of a book is not really a way to live on after death.
      If someone pulled a dead man’s book off the shelf and underlined it, does that mean they lead a life worth living?

      Anyway.thanks for your comment Shannon. You are a very healthy psychological person in my opinion.

      Bryan Edmondson

      • 1WriteWay

        Bryan, sorry to hear about your experience with the writer’s group. I had what might be a similar experience many years ago. I was taking an Article & Essay Writing class for my graduate degree in English. We had been assigned to small groups where each of us would read and critique the other student’s paper. A couple of students in my group were PhD students. I chose to write a book review of a biography of Virgina Woolf and was quite pleased with the scholarly style of my paper (omniscient third-person). I believed the PhD students would like it, even praise it for being far advanced for your average Masters student. But they were not pleased. They tried to be kind but before they could even get the words out I knew what they were going to say: it was boring. My paper was boring. I don’t know if there is any more devastating critique of writing but to say that it is boring. They did try to be kind (they actually were very nice people), but their struggle to find something redeemable in my review was painful to watch. And I was devastated and I know I didn’t hide it very well. Later that day I went home and cried and cried and cried. I would have stopped writing, too, except that this was for a class and I didn’t want to flunk it.

        I had to revise my paper. That was part of the course. That was the purpose of the groups: to get feedback and then revise. But every time I sat at the computer and started to revise, I broke down crying. I felt ashamed that I had even thought of myself as a writer. Still, I had to do something. And then I remember one thing that each of the students said to me: “I want to know what you think of the biography. What did the biography mean to you?” And then I realized what they meant and why the review was boring to them. It was such an objective review that there was no life to it. It was as dry as the desert. So I threw away the original and started over. I wrote about my interest in Virgina Woolf and why I thought this particular biography was the best of all that I had read. I wrote about why it interested me as a writer. I used “I” throughout my review.

        I submitted the final paper to the class at large and had the pleasure not only of hearing that it was wonderful to read, but also that it was far, far better than what I had originally turned it. On a lark, I sent the review to the Journal of Biography and a year later it was published. When I received the galleys for my review, I compared the edited copy to my original. They had only changed one word.

        I came so close to just giving up. Fortunately, I had an obligation to deal with that paper and, fortunately, I had received excellent advice. I had only needed to be open to it.

        Sorry for such a long reply, but I’m really hoping that there might be a nugget of useful advice from the writing group. But my lesson is really the same as what you stated in your reply: To write for yourself. The book review that eventually was published was a book review that I would have enjoyed reading myself. In effect, I wrote it for me.

        You should write for yourself. Otherwise, what’s the point? I hope you do resume writing and never stop.

      • ShannonRaelynn

        Well, thank you Bryan. I work hard at trying to be psychologically healthy. To not be, is just painful! Not sure how successful I am at times… but I know I am always trying.
        It’s hard not to take anything anyone says about our writing personally! I do, each and every time. Everything said to me about my writing pings my ego. It lifts me or it crashes me. And then I dust myself off and realize that whatever that opinion is, good or bad, I can’t control it. And it is just one opinion and I don’t know the motivation or agenda behind it. Someone may praise my writing because they enjoy it, or because they want something from me. Someone may criticize my writing because it isn’t really very good, or because they have a personal grudge against me, and would hate anything I wrote just on principal. I’ve had people, who I love deeply, some of my closest relationships, decide they don’t have the time to read my book. I’ve had people I barely know read it and become my greatest champions.
        I write for myself and I compete against myself. I take everyone else out of the equation. I tell the story I want to hear. It is the one part of the world and my existence I can shape and control. No one else gets a say! It’s all about my idea, my vision. I don’t think about people reading my work. I can’t. Because then I start thinking about their opinions, and whether they will like or not like it, and then I get self-conscious and won’t write. Until my story is complete nobody gets to see much of it. I occasionally share bits and pieces of what I am writing with a very small group of people who are intelligent, kind and above all, have my best interests at heart. I’ve learned the hard way, when I selected the wrong people.
        When I have polished as much as I can then I open it up for criticism, and ask everyone to be very hard on me. But even the opinions I value the most, I always take with a grain of salt. It’s my story and my opinion is really the only one that counts. And while someone’s opinion can have a short term impact I let only a very few affect my story, or impact my perception about my ability. I look for consensus in criticism. One opinion means nothing, two, still nothing. By time I hear the fourth person express the same concerns I am ready to look at the issue as something that needs to be changed or fixed. Doesn’t mean I suck forever, just in that one spot, or two, or three.
        Several years ago I spent four months on the Harper Collins website Authonomy, and that toughened my skin and gave me perspective. Every day I was deluged with opinions about my book. And after a while I saw it all as just noise, lots and lots of noise. And I realized by putting my work out there I would generate noise, some good, and some bad. And I could not control it one way or another. So I gave up on having any control on what other people think about my writing. I accept some people will like it and some people will not. And I try not to take any of it personally, the good opinions as well as the bad, because the good can be as destructive as the negative. You can try to please people, and get caught up in recreating that as opposed to telling your story.
        If anything I said inspired you to pick up writing again, then it was worth the time I spent forming the thoughts. The world needs more writers (the competition makes it more difficult to be successful, but at least we’ll all be unsuccessful together). I hate that you had a group experience that made you doubt yourself. While we should never shy away from challenging ourselves to be better, and improving our craft, I don’t see how criticism that made you stop writing was helpful?
        I belong to a writer’s group and I enjoy it, but it is an organic group; I had no say in the members. I value some opinions more than others. I go because being around writers keeps writing in my focus. I like mentoring and supporting. Our group is more focused on encouraging and promoting writing as opposed to quality control. Not everyone is meant to be a writer, but I know anyone can improve their writing ability. I would never presume to ever tell anyone they sucked at writing. My first draft was awful, and I am so glad I threw it out years ago!
        I would encourage you to write, but if you do so, do it for yourself first. Find readers who are kind, who have your best interests at heart, who like to read, and more importantly, like read the kind of stories you write. And when you find these readers still be sceptical about their opinions, because it is your story. I lurked around your site briefly and I did not see signs of bad writing… oh wait there was that ‘Crappiest Blog’ award…
        But aside from that, the few things I read were interesting and seemed authentic. I have already said how much I like authentic. So keep writing. And if you do I will read it, and tell you what I like about it because I am now following you. Bet you are sorry now for “commenting out of the blue’? I do go on and on and on!

        Trying To Be Just As Respectful,

      • ericjbaker

        Bryan, I’ve looked at some of your work offline, as you of course know, and I wish you would hear the good things people say. You have a unique voice and a weighty Gothic flair. There’s an audience for that, even if it’s not that particular writing group. Write what you want to write.

    • 1WriteWay

      Shannon, I love your comment! You provide such wonderfully sound questions to ponder … ultimately it’s about what will make us happy with ourselves. So if just seeing one’s work in print is enough to make you happy, then why not go ahead and self-publish. Ideally you will keep writing so you will always have something new to offer if you decide to try traditional publishing.

      What also struck me in your comment: “I spent the first half of my life working at jobs I hated, struggling to figure out why I was put on this earth.” I am there right now. I’m looking forward to “retirement” when I hope I can begin my life again 😉

      • ShannonRaelynn

        Thanks so much. I also enjoyed your reply to Bryan. I think feedback from others can really push us to be better writers. I always encourage frank critique’s of my work and it stings like hell but if I push on and force myself to do better I often surpass even my own expectations, just like you did in your class.

        I also know that growth as a writer is a constant process, and eventually you have to just accept at this point it is the best you can do and let the opinions fall where they may.

      • ericjbaker

        1writeway, thank you for the insightful comments and the inspiring story. Those are the things that keep me going.

    • ericjbaker

      What a fantastic comment, Shannon, which you could have easily turned into your own post. I thank you fro sharing it here.

      I hope I didn’t sound dismissive of self-publishing. Like you, I’ve read some terrific self-published or unpublished writing, and I’ve seen a lot of drek sitting on the shelves at B&N. I’m not sure why I want to be traditionally published, but I wouldn’t mind the idea that a publisher thinks I’m worth the investment. Outside of my corporate work, which is mostly editing anyway, I’d like to think that my skill is worth something. I think you have about the healthiest attitude I’ve encountered on the subject. Maybe I’ll get there someday.

      • ShannonRaelynn

        I did not for one minute believe you were dissmissive of self-publishing. I enjoyed your article because I I see myself reflected in your same quandry. With my next book I will again explore the traditional publishing route with my fingers and toes crossed, hoping to score a deal. If no one bites I will again make the decision that the time and effort I put out will not be in vain! And I will save my pennies and self-publish again.

        As a fellow writer I just hate the thought of anyone’s writing, never getting the chance. I know the work, I know the angst, I know the effort. I sincerely hope if no one bites at your short stories you do not give up on your own work. I have to say getting to the end of my project, regardless of what comes, there is satisfaction in knowing it’s done. Its not unfinished. Its not lurking.

        I dropped out of highschool six months before my graduation due to a teen pregnancy. I dropped out of university one year short of completeing my degree. I quit every job I ever had. But I can proudly say now that I am not a quitter. I am a writer. I wrote a book. I published it. I liked the process and I want to try that again. How cool is that?

  • Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms | 1WriteWay

    […] Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms.  This blog post by Eric John Baker is worth a read not just for the post itself, but also for the comments.  The debate of traditional vs self-publishing is still raging, only now I think with more nuance.  Not only is it easier to produce hard copies of our novels, poems, and stories, but there are also more venues for selling your work than there were just a few years ago (think:  Amazon, Smashwords).  Writers aren’t stuck with the old vanity presses that took your $$$ and gave you a printout with a cardboard cover in return.  Each route has its downside, though, and deciding which way to go is tricky.  Getting picked up by a traditional publisher can take years, even with an agent.  Sending out submissions can be time-consuming, costly (postal fees), and deflating (as when the number of rejections you get equal the number of submissions you’ve sent).  Self-publishing might be less expensive (relative to postal fees of submissions) and quicker, but then who is going to market your book, who is going to make it sell?  Then again, even in traditional publishing, writers are expected to go on book tours.  They might have help with their itineraries, perhaps some of their travel expenses are reimbursed.  But they are the ones selling their books, they are the ones doing the hawking.  Getting published by a traditional press might give a writer a bit more “legitimacy,” but the writer still has to put as much if not more work into the process, especially post-publication when the book is suppose to sell and make the publisher a lot of money. […]

  • prestopub

    Well, it looks like you struck a cord with some of us. I struggle with self doubt about my writing everyday. Props to you for hanging in there and for reaching out.

    I’ve bookmarked your site.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks. It did resonate with a lot of people. The comments are more interesting than the actual post.

      I might do a follow up to this at some point, since some interesting ideas have come from the things people said here. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion!

  • Self-Publishing ~ Pros and Cons | Spirit Lights The Way

    […] posts:  Truths About Self-Publishing (Linda Cassidy Lewis) * Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms (Eric J. Baker) * One Year Later ~ Self-Publishing Review (Christine M. Grote) * How to Make […]

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    […] posts:  Self-doubt, self-publishing, and other selfish writer-isms (Eric J. Baker) * One Year Later ~ Self-Publishing Review (Christine M. Grote) * How to […]

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