As writers today, we live in a world of self-promotion, where the lines between self-confidence and self-delusion seem to me to have blurred a bit too much for my liking. In the new cut-throat world of the independent artist we are expected to sell ourselves and do it with swagger. Our potential paymasters and collaborators like a bit of swagger.
We live in a new digital age. So much of what prevented us from producing books (costs of production and distribution mainly) has been swept aside and reduced to the point of accessibility. I don’t know how many books are self-published on a digital platform every year other than it’s a lot, and ever-growing.
With all this extra stuff out there, and so little of it having been sieved through the natural quality control of traditional publishing, what’s a reader to do? At the moment, with more and more book shops closing down, far too many of us shop online. And once we have gone over to the digital side, happy to read a virtual book through an eBook reader, we will simply spend even more time on the internet doing our book browsing. Perhaps we’ll sign up to Goodreads for suggestions, or ‘like’ a plethora of Facebook Pages that purport to champion the best in independent fiction (or some such thing).
It’s a jungle out there, isn’t it? And if readers are not so certain any more of where to look for new work, nor are the writers clear on where to fish for the readers.
This clamour for readers has thrown up quite a side industry. You can barely breathe for book promotion services. Should a writer and indie publisher try one of those? What about Twitter? Every writer has a Twitter account to promote their books and stuff. But sometimes, that’s all they do. Endless plugs. And some of these Facebook Pages? Plug after plug after plug. It became pretty clear to me (old school person that I am, admittedly) that no readers ever go to these pages, only other authors of self-published books! And eventually, only other Twittering self-published authors will follow the Twitter accounts of self-published authors.
And in this mire of self-promotion, we get to the very crux of the self-confidence issue. Have you got what it takes to blow your own trumpet?
Yes? Good for you.
Who doesn’t enjoy the sound of someone blowing their own trumpet?
I adore self-deprecation, albeit there are many shades. The root of all that is globally-loved about the British sense of humour is its ingrained self-deprecation. My definition of a sense of humour is not – unlike others’ definition – the art of being funny or an ability to make others laugh. It is the ability to tell and/or take a joke against oneself. It takes a unique form of arrogance to be able to do this, a quiet arrogance born of confidence. Confidence in one’s own talent.
If you sat in front of my desk, as an author, and came over all fidgety, and indecisive and shifty…well, I wouldn’t care as much as I would if you were applying for a management job, or salesman or marketing executive or producer. You’re an author. You write. Alone with your thoughts, and you don’t need anyone else. I’m only interested in your words. However, I might wonder how you would deal with the shock of winning the Booker. I might be uncertain as to your suitability in front of a school assembly just before prize-giving. I might wonder if you were too flaky to manage to write another five books – one every year – on schedule and no messing. But I’m a very nice man. Others would be thinking “Jeez, grow a pair.”
But, on the other end of the confidence scale, if you sat there bristling with the kind of flagrant self-assuredness that makes my ears twitch, and told me how amazing your book was, I would instantly switch off, slip into cruise control until your time was up and wave you politely away.
There is a massive difference between the perception of confidence in a person. Many, many creative people are inherently lacking in self-confidence. Without question it can be a barrier to success. We need to sell on our written work. Sometimes directly to our readers. Sometimes to an agent or publisher or television executive. Sometimes there might be a lot of collaboration. All of this can be tough news for people short on confidence.
But how assertive should you be? How marvellous are you expected to tell someone your book is? Someone you hope, or need, to impress? I mean, I’ve heard people say: “Hell, if you don’t think it’s amazing why the fuck should I?” To which your answer should be, but never is: “because we are two different people, arsehole.” Your job is to write, and the job of others is to decide whether it is good, bad or indifferent. Your book is not “amazing” until someone who has read it says it is. Then, by all means go on to Facebook and let people know.
Be confident, self-assured, committed. Never give up. As a writer be that, and more. By all means grow a pair. But don’t grow such a big pair that you feel able to tell me that your book is amazing, when all you need to do is wait until I tell you it is. Just as I would wait until you told me you thought mine was. Much more honest all round.