How to Become a Fearless Author
In the grand scheme of artists, writers are not typically known for their fearlessness. Indeed, while actors and musicians might be riddled with insecurity, they continue to be outgoing and perform on massive stages. Likewise, traditional artists like painters, sculptors, illustrators and photographers habitually challenge the views of their critics. They oppose the establishment and make controversial points. They fight for what they believe in and experiment, sometimes intentionally rattling their audience in the process.
There are a number of maverick writers who “fight the man” too, unapologetically growing a company with innovative writing and unconventional business plans, but they’re rare. As a whole, we are a more apprehensive breed, preferring to stick to quiet rooms, trope-hugging stories and well-worn marketing strategies. And while these might be “safe” actions from a career standpoint, they do perpetuate timidity and lead to cookie-cutter authors.
Yet still we commonly struggle to talk confidently about our work, downplaying originality and financial potential. Many of us are crushed by negative reviews and can’t collaborate if it means giving up an iota of control. We worry about hitting “publish” and find it hard to sell our content with conviction. In essence, a portion of our community is hamstrung by insecurities.
The aim of today’s blog post is to identify and sever any inhibitions that might be holding back your author career. For some they may be based in craft, for others business. Take a look to see where you could be more fearless to unlock your great potential.
Write Controversial Books
Stephen King says in his craft book On Writing that he always writes the first draft of his novels with his office door closed. He means this literally and figuratively, shutting everyone out of the process when he’s writing fresh words. By doing so, he claims that his first drafts aren’t influenced by opinions. As a result, this practice gives him the courage to explore ideas that he would have otherwise been dissuaded to touch, a process that has led him to be celebrated for his originality and flare.
Many new authors could benefit from modelling their writing process on King’s. But in a bid for reassurance, they share their ideas with friends, family and peers, often leading to unhelpful comments from people who don’t read in their genre. Moreover, knowing they do this, they filter their ideas and characters for fear of judgement. For example, they avoid writing an engrossing account of a psychopath or a sexual predator because they worry that, if they do it too well, people will question their own morals in the real world.
Just because you invented a character, that doesn’t make them an extension of you. To Kill a Mockingbird had racist figures but that didn’t necessarily make Harper Lee a racist. Nor did the perverted characters in J G Ballard’s Crash stem from Ballard’s own interests. As an author, you can crawl under a character’s skin without ever having to become them. Sometimes, if you want to create something original and exciting, you have to write like no one is watching.
A lot of authors also limit their potential by not marketing. Whether they say it’s because they don’t want to “gamble” the money, because books should sell “on their own merit,” or they’re just “too creative” to be business savvy, many ultimately don’t advertise because of fear. We know this because their logic is refutable.
- Money invested in advertising isn’t gambled. It either provides a return or it teaches the advertiser what doesn’t work to help them optimise their targeting.
- Few books sell without help. Those that do, don’t always do it on their own merit. They sell because of an eye-catching cover, an intriguing blurb or because they caught the eye of a selling algorithm.
- Advertising is a learned skill. Even the most creative minds can compete with accomplished marketers with enough practice.
The truth is, if you want to publish successfully on a consistent basis then you need to disassociate yourself from a starving artist’s mentality and embrace a growth mindset. Nurture your education and your confidence. Publishers promote their books fearlessly and you need to do the same if you want to compete with established author brands.
It’s common for writers to describe themselves as introverts. However, sometimes demonstrating extroverted tendences is necessary to stand out in this industry. Just by opting to network or speak, you instantly make yourself more discoverable than your average peer. Not only that, it makes you human – a real person readers can know, like and trust – rather than just a faceless story. You don’t have to do this in person from the beginning to see progress. If you’d prefer, you can start online and use that experience to hone your networking and speaking skills, gradually building your tolerance for risk as you become more comfortable.
To start, if you don’t want to give a live performance or show your face, you could apply to be a guest on a pre-recorded podcast. That way, you can start with the support of a host to keep the conversation flowing, safe in the knowledge that nobody can see you and you can mess up because anything you record can be edited after you’ve finished. After that, you could progress to video-recorded podcasts to get used to being on camera. Then perhaps Facebook Live to experience a live audience. Then, when you feel ready, you can graduate to a physical event. Public speaking frequently tops common phobia lists but if you live fearlessly you can break that fear and stand out against your competition.
The compulsion to control every aspect of the publishing process is a superpower for some shrewd author-entrepreneurs. It allows them to manage a team of freelancers to publish books at the same quality as a traditional publisher, only with a more active marketing strategy that rewards a tremendous monthly income. Independent publishing should be done this way. However, some see their ability to self-publish as an opportunity to handle every task personally. They edit their own words, design covers and drop the ball on marketing activities because they refuse to delegate.
You can do everything yourself but that doesn’t mean you should because there aren’t enough hours in a lifetime to execute flawless launches without help. At some point, if you want to grow your creative business you need to be fearless enough to step back and trust someone else to handle part of the work. In some cases, they will do a task better than you. And even when they can’t, getting a job done to an okay standard is better than not getting it done at all due to time restraints. Yes, you should always handle all of the writing yourself (unless you’re a co-writer or also publish other authors) but almost every other aspect of your business can be outsourced. Once you start, you will discover more time to focus on what really matters, be that writing or enjoying your life.
Own Your Ambition
Modesty is a universally loved quality. However, an insistence on belittling your own writing to avoid looking conceited quickly gets old. In a private context it looks as though you’re fishing for compliments, and in a professional setting it can be downright detrimental to the progress you can glean from relationships. As authors, we need to sell ourselves. If you’ve spent years honing your craft and write fantastic stories then don’t disagree when people praise you. Likewise, if your ambition is to create a seven-figure juggernaut of a brand then there is no harm in letting people know.
Ambition is healthy. Plus, it gives any professionals you network with the context they need to gauge your brand, assets and career potential. Publishers want to know your expertise, connections and expectations before entering a partnership. So do other authors who conduct newsletter swaps or collaborate on anthologies. Having a fearless ambition will not be considered a negative quality in the right company. If anything, knowing who you are and letting people know exactly what to expect from your speech, body language and actions will actually attract similarly ambitious figures who could help you achieve your dream.
If you produce bold art and internalise bravery as a core value in your craft, business or personality, doing so will help you to act with more authenticity, stand out and produce an unshakable author brand. Always remember that your creativity, lifestyle and career work like muscles: it is only by challenging them that you will learn their true potential.
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