How to deal with self-doubt when self-publishing

You've put out a book you're proud of, and you're disappointed with the results. It feels like no one's noticed. No one's reading. No one cares.


And it doesn't help that you see other authors, with less good books, kicking ass and taking names. It's made that old enemy to creativity – self-doubt – creep into your life.


It sucks when you pour your heart into a book and it doesn’t feel as though readers respond. I’ve been there. We’ve all been there. I think that’s why having a support system of writers like RAtM is so awesome. No matter where we are in our career, we fucking GET IT.


I love reading success stories of authors who worked their asses off and they have a series that takes off and their Book Report looks like this pretty reverse ski jump up into the stars. But the reality, I’m learning, is that success is more like a craggy range of peaks and valleys. I hiked the Inca Trail a few years back, and the route map and my Book Report are practically identical.


What I do know is this: There are literally a million easier ways to earn a living than being an author. Earning money as a creative is HARD AF. (Everyone who is successful who says it’s easy has a sample size of one). And you’re doing it. You are doing a thing so many people literally only dream of.


You’re awesome.


And a huge part of how you get to do that is because of Amazon and self-publishing. One of the amazing things about self-pub is that you get real-time data about how your books are doing. You can see every minute of every day how many people have purchased and how well your promotional efforts are paying off.


It’s also one of the worst things.


That constant visibility and data overwhelm has turned writing novels into a short-term game. It’s part of why so many of us are writing books as fast as we can – because we see the spike when we release, so we get on the treadmill trying to make that spike our everyday reality.


But if you’re in this for a career, it pays to take a step back from the short-term view and realise you’re still going to be writing books in 5 or 10 years time, and the books you write NOW will still be earning for you then, too. Every book you write – even the ones that flop – is vital. Because you learn things. Because as long as you write books you’re proud of you can repackage them and try them in a different audience. Because they will keep earning for you for the rest of your life.


I earn 5 figs a month. Around 70% of that is $100 here, $200 there, from older backlist books – stories I poured my heart into that have only earned $3k across their lifetime, or didn’t make back their launch costs, get me to that incredible goal. Because packaging and launch costs are fixed, but royalties are forever. I wrote 33 novels before I had anything break the top 100. Hell, I don’t think I had anything even break top 1000 on its own until Shunned. But I was still earning fucking good money back then, and it’s even better now. The graph may look like a mountain range, but the trend is upward.


If I hadn’t written those 33 books, I couldn’t have written 34.


Don’t quit before the miracle.


Sometimes books take off and they don’t know why. Sometimes books and series flop and we don’t know why. Remember that whether a book rises or falls has nothing to do with you as a person, and very often nothing to do with the story you’ve told.


If you’re asking yourself, “Where did I go wrong?” The answer is, “You didn’t go wrong.” But knowing that intellectually and living the truth of it are two different things.


Getting over self-doubt is a constant battle for many of us. These are things I have learned:



Try not to get hung up on how a book does during release. If you’re saying a book is a flop after 2 weeks or a month… you’re giving yourself heartache for no reason.


That book has literally THE REST OF YOUR LIFE to do its awesome thing. It might even still be earning for your grandchildren, long after you're in your grave. That's amazing.


It’s okay to be bummed, but don’t feed that feeling. Ban yourself from looking at your analytics for a week. Stop checking your rank or looking at your reviews. Remind yourself of the big picture – your author dreams. Why you're doing this. Every book is one step closer to achieving that dream.


This single thing – stepping away from your data for a week – will probably help immensely.



I usually find looking at the success of fellow authors and reading stories of how they did it and checking out how great their ranks are super inspiring… except when I’m feeling low. Then it's the pits.


That’s nothing on them, because other authors succeeding is awesome and lifts us all – it’s on me and the way I feel. So step away from that for a bit, too.


Instead, focus inward at your own goals and dreams. Think about the books you're writing – are you happy with them? Can you picture yourself writing these books for the rest of your life? What's a dream project you've always wanted to do? Remember why you write in the first place – for the joy of telling stories. Hold your future author dreams in you mind - create an image of them and use that to guide you, instead of what others are doing.



When making decisions about future books, start by reminding yourself who you are as an author and why readers come to you. Go read a few of your positive reviews – that helps!


Starting from a position of celebrating your voice and your achievements is a good place to make decisions about future books if something has gone wrong.



You may find changing up your writing process will help give you a creative jolt, and stop you staring at the screen going, “What’s the point?”


You might try a new outlining method, or sprinting with other authors, or writing at a cafe instead of your house. You might try a completely different project or genre. Anything to get you excited.


    "I usually find looking at the success of fellow authors and reading stories of how they did it and checking out how great their ranks are super inspiring… except when I’m feeling low. Then it's the pits."

    Steff Green

    Writer and publishing coach.



    Don't bottle up all the doubts or they'll continue to haunt you. Talk about how you feel with other writers, or your family and friends, or a therapist or writing coach if that's your jam.


    Sometimes you just need someone to metaphorically slap you around the head and say, “you’re doing great! You don’t have to conquer the whole world in a day, you silly womble. Sit back and ENJOY what you’ve achieved – you don’t have to push for more, more, more all the time.”


    Accept that they’re right. YOU ARE ENOUGH. Have a hard talk to yourself about managing expectations and seeing how far you’ve come. I ordered all my books from Amazon and lined them up on a shelf in our living room and there are over 40 of them. 40! And I get to write stories for a living. Guys, life is awesome.



    If you are reading this article in 2020, you are currently in a state of 'trying to work during a global pandemic.' You might be trying to work while worrying about finances, or with kids at home running wild, or with a partner or family member who is sick or who has lost their livelihood.


    This year especially, do whatever you can to take away the pressure you put on yourself.



    Sure, your book might've been a disaster, but you learned things! You learned that this particular combination of factors = disaster.


    And learning things in business and life is great, and you can apply the things you learned to your new series and new releases. A book written and published is never a waste. You’ll be earning from that series for years to come.


    Having a long-term view of things really helps you get through the short-term disappointments.


    You've got this. Self-doubt does not have to define you or your creative process. If you're like a badass support network of fellow authors, join the Rage Against the Manuscript FB group!


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