Dealing with Discouragement

An author’s lot has never been easy.

Historically, very few authors out of the millions who have attempted to write for a living ever reached that ambition.

The explosion of the indie publishing industry, which really hit its stride around 2010/2011, made it much easier for far more authors to made decent money.  All it required was the ability to write a competent story, a smattering of business sense and a skerrick of promotion.

Also, a stout ability to pivot on a dime, to weather the massive overnight changes that arrived frequently and often without notice.

The massive changes are still happening.

In addition, it’s no longer good enough for authors to produce competent fiction, and skate by with minimal marketing.

Paid advertising is becoming close to a prerequisite of doing business, authors have to be experts in marketing, pricing, copywriting, graphic design, and the management of freelancers and contractors.

Navigating the alligator-infested Amazonian swamps becomes more challenging every day.

And, just like Hollywood, no one really knows anything.  Meanwhile, the cooperative and supportive indie fiction community ensures you are flooded with well-meaning, conflicting, and possibly irrelevant advice every single day, generating guilt for not doing it all/knowing it all and exhausting overwhelm.

It’s easy to be discouraged.

I guarantee that sooner or later, you’ll face a black pit of despair.

I did, just last week.  Totally unexpected, completely out of the blue.  I crawled into a small hole and whimpered for nearly a day.

That, believe it or not, was a major achievement for me.

I haven’t had a woe-is-me attack in quite a while–I think the last time that happened was when I was still working the day job, before I got my first (failed) shot at writing full time.   When I had bleak times in the past, though, the hole went very deep.  I would languish in the pit for days, sometimes weeks, before I managed to crawl out of it, pick myself up, dust off and reaffirm my commitment to making this writing career work.

Please note:  I’m not talking about a mildly sad moment, or an off-day where you’re not in the mood to face the overwhelm.

True discouragement is far more severe.  It can cripple you with “why bother?” thoughts.  Panic can be close to the surface, driving you beyond sensible thoughts into pure reactions (which are usually the very worst things you can do, too).  Even if you manage to hang on to reason, you cannot seem to reason your way out of what seems like a debilitating situation.

This time, though, I managed to catch myself as the chest-beating began, and then worked hard to get out of the hole as quickly as possible.

And I did.  It took a day, then I was back to the regular schedule.

The causes for discouragement.

There are thousands of reasons why we, as indie fiction authors, might want to pull the covers back over our heads on any particular day, and check out until the ice age is over.  Generally, though, they fall into three broad groups.

1. The Comparison Trap

This one afflicts every author, indie or otherwise, successful or not.

In fact, for indies, it’s even more insidious, because the indie community is so open about their success, sharing numbers and ranks, and celebrating every win and achievement.  If you’re not keeping your shield in place, you can fall so easily into the trap of feeling doomed because you’re not doing as well.

It doesn’t matter how well you’re doing.  There is always someone else doing better.  In the mysterious ways of the world, their reports and numbers are the only ones you will notice and focus upon.

2. The Indicators Gloom

We all track our sales.  Many of us track our author ranks (which is actually just another type of comparison, but I’ll include it here, because it is data).  We process royalty payments and from the net, pay for expenses.  We all track data.  Some of us track a lot of data.

If the data dips and stay there, or keep sliding downward, no matter what you do, then discouragement is just about guaranteed.

3. The Overwhelm Abyss.

There are a shit-ton of “shoulds” out there.  None of us has the time to do even the “must do” stuff, let alone all the “would be nice” projects and strategies.

The next time you read about an absolutely essential aspect of indie publishing that you’re not doing and have no idea how to fit into your day, you might find yourself hit by guilt and frustration over the impossibility of juggling it all…and discouragement and despair follow close on their heels.

What they have in common.

In a word:  powerlessness.

It could be real or imagined, but despair is built upon helplessness.

Nothing you do works.

Nothing you do changes anything.

Nothing you do seems to make a damn bit of difference.

You have no idea what would work.

That last point is a common one in the indie publishing world.  No one knows anything, remember.  No one knows the sure-fire way to make sales, earn good money, get high rankings, make a living.  The only thing anyone knows for sure is what works for them (if it is working at all).  So it’s possible that you’re doing everything everyone says is a good idea, and none of it makes a jot of difference.

After knocking yourself out for months, you might get to a point where a couple of negative things happen — a bad day for sales, a couple of harsh reviews, a snarky fellow author taking potshots (who might well be flailing in their own discouragement at the time)–and you find yourself in the black pool of swirling doom.   On any other day, you might have shrugged it off, but not this day.

You’re discouraged.  And it’s a shitty place to be.

The antidote.

When you recognize that your spirits have hit the bottom of the pit–and that will take a degree of self-awareness and analysis–then the single absolute sure-fire way to drag yourself back out again is…research.

If the sense of helplessness driving discouragement is created by not knowing what will work, then you need to figure out what might.

Adopt a scientific mindset.

Research what might work to fix the overwhelming challenge.   There’s no lack of ideas out there, no matter what has got you down.  Take a day/weekend/week to search and collect possible solutions to your problem.

Then, form a tentative solution.  You have no idea if it will work for you at this stage, but that’s not the point.  This is the hypothesis stage of the scientific method.

It’s most likely you’ll have dozens of possible solutions.  Pick one.  Pick the one that seems the most promising.

It’s tempting to try them all, but overwhelm is a real thing.  You can’t do all of them justice if you go at them piecemeal.  So just pick one.  (For now.)

Make sure you have base data to measure against — your daily sales, word count sheets, and work logs will help, here.  Your monthly sales reports, your site traffic, reader engagement numbers….there are a lot of data points an indie author can collect.  Pick those that will help you measure the effectiveness of your strategy.

Then, test it.

Give yourself an endpoint, when you will stop, collect and analyse the results, and make a decision on whether the strategy works, or not.

If it works, yeeha!  Do more of it.

If it doesn’t, pick another strategy and test that.

Knowing what doesn’t work for you is as valuable as knowing what does.   It will make you feel like you’re making progress.

And it will zap any discouragement, because now you’re moving in a positive direction, and you have hope, once more.

Don’t let discouragement get the better of you. Knowledge is the solution.  If you don’t have it, worked to get it.

You’re never truly helpless.


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