What Authors Need to Succeed

Confidence Pic

Here is a riddle for you:

What is a factor common among all sorts of authors, which can have a huge impact on success?

It’s something that all authors need, any author can have, but which can’t be bought.

Ponder this for a moment.

It’s not the drive to write; most authors have a natural inclination toward this.

It’s not a fantastic plot; most fiction writers can come up with a storyline, and it’s easy to research what kinds of plots attract readers. A good, complete storyline does matter, but it’s not a part of all writing.

It’s not great characterization; this can be developed over the course of time, along with a writing style that helps portray it. It is quite important in fiction, but not common to all authors.

It’s not the writing skills; the ideas themselves are more valuable than the technique, and there is editing help or writing development available, where needed.

It’s not an incredible cover; this is very important for many books, though not all, and there is cover design help available for authors.

It’s not a business plan; although researching a book beforehand, proper packaging, and ideas for how to sell the book can greatly enhance sales, authors need something else in order to carry this out. Much writing is also highly creative and artistic, where the best reading doesn’t come from words written in a business fashion.

It’s not an innate knack for marketing; this definitely helps, but marketing can also be learned, and there is an abundance of free advice to read up on.

It’s not money; there are many free marketing ideas to choose from, some of which can be implemented effectively.

It’s not good looks; readers are looking for stories or information, not buying a book hoping to date the author.

It’s not celebrity status; this is not realistic for everyone to have, at least when starting out.

It’s much simpler than that.

It’s often overlooked.

It’s incredibly important.

It’s something that comes from within, at least it can.

Give up?

Ready or not, here it comes…

Okay, I’ll hide the answer at the end of this paragraph, in case you weren’t ready to see it yet. It’s confidence.

That’s it!

There are two parts to this: Why is it so important for authors, and how can every author attain this?

(1) Why is it so important for authors?

Actually, it’s not just for authors. It’s many things in life.

For example, I see it all the time among physics students. When learning new concepts that seem strange or intimidating, many students proceed tentatively. They sometimes give up when they were proceeding in the right direction; they just lacked the confidence to keep going. They sometimes give up when they get the wrong answer, assuming that they solved the problem incorrectly, when all they did was make a simple mistake; they just lacked the confidence that the solution was correct to check it carefully. When you doubt your solution, you wonder if it’s worthwhile to check it over.

The top students tend to be much more confident. They carry out their solutions fully because they’re sure they’re solving the problems correctly. Instead of doubting their solutions, when they get the wrong answer, they check their solutions carefully. Confidence makes a big difference.

Are you more likely to give a good speech if you approach the podium timidly or confidently?

Do you want to hit a long drive down a tight fairway, sink a critical putt, strikeout a tough hitter, hit a homerun, or serve an ace? Confidence and positive visualization play a significant role in this.

Have you ever tried to do something mechanically, like turn a crank, pull a handle, or push a button on a device that’s new to you? If you’re tentative about it, sometimes it doesn’t work, and later when you ask for help, someone else does the exact same thing that you did, but it works. Why? You didn’t try hard enough because you approached it uncertainly. The other person was simply more confident.

There is also the danger of being overconfident, and breaking the device because what you did is wrong. The line between confident and overconfident is just as important as the line between tentative and confident.

Here are ways that confidence benefits authors:

  • You’re more likely to fully invest your time, effort, thought, and resources into a project if you have full confidence in it. If you’re going to do it, go for it. Don’t make finding a good cover or seeking editing help conditional upon success; strive for success in the first place, else it may be very hard coming.
  • The author who is confident in the book is more apt to market diligently and to learn effective marketing strategies. The author who is uncertain about the book worries that marketing may be a waste of time, and just pokes around at it, hoping, usually without much success.
  • Uncertainty shows up in the marketing itself. Speaking to others about your book, you must look both confident and passionate about your work. If you can’t sell your book to yourself, how do you expect to convince others to read it? Your confidence impacts others when it shows.
  • It takes confidence to do effective premarketing over the course of months, to strive to build buzz for your book, and to get neutral feedback. Premarketing can make a big difference.
  • You must be confident to exercise the patience needed to market successfully. It can take a year or more for effective marketing efforts to reach their full effect. It takes time for people to discover your book, to buy your book, to start reading your book, to finish reading your book, to recommend your book to others, to write a review, etc. And only a fraction who discover it will buy it, who buy it will read it, who read it will finish it, who finish it will like it, who like it will recommend it. It takes a lot of sales and a lot of time. You must be very confident to market diligently over such a long period of time, especially if you don’t see instant results.
  • At a reading or signing, the confident author charms everyone and looks the part. The tentative author is nervous and doesn’t quite seem to belong there. It’s your event, you need to own the place and function as a proper host. Nervousness versus confidence will even show in your speech and mannerism.
  • Positive visualization helps. It helps you maintain a positive outlook. You’re more motivated when you’re optimistic. You work more diligently toward the positive outcome when you are able visualize it. Positive visualization even helps you subconsciously; it’s subconscious to you, but you’re doing things that others can perceive through your behavior (e.g. nervousness may show up as being fidgety).
  • Authors tend to make a lot of mistakes (such as unprofessional behavior) when they behave out of fear. Confidence leads to more professional behavior, which is important for long-term success and positive branding.

But overconfidence is a problem for authors.

People are more likely to buy your book if you look like you believe in it; that’s confidence. People are less likely to buy your book if you come across as arrogant or if you brag about your book; that’s overconfidence.

The confident author will let people discover his or her book and then talk about it passionately until the subject naturally changes. The author who introduces his or her book to someone who isn’t expecting this is overconfident that anyone who hears about it in any context will buy it. People are more likely to show interest in things they discover than things that are advertised.

Be confident enough in your book to market it effectively, but try not to be overconfident.

We also tend to make more mistakes when we feel overconfident. If we feel too confident, we may not practice as much as we should or we may not give the matter enough attention.

(2) How can every author attain this?

It’s not easy for everyone to show confidence; some people have more trouble with this than others. But everyone can become confident.

It’s not just a matter of saying you’re confident. There’s much more to it than this.

Suppose you don’t know a word of Russian and suddenly wander down the streets of Moscow telling yourself you’re confident you can easily pick up on the language. Not gonna happen. (Maybe someone will speak English, but you’re not going to instantly pick up Russian no matter how confident you are.)

You can become confident through experience.

Again, this doesn’t just apply to authors. I see it with my students. The student who hasn’t practiced or studied enough definitely lacks confidence. The top students know they have practiced plenty and studied hard, so they show confidence. Then there are good students who worked and studied hard, but don’t show confidence; instead, they show much anxiety and make nervous mistakes. These students didn’t first convince themselves that because they’ve worked and studied so hard, they do know how to solve the problems. They had every reason to be confident. Maybe they have done poorly on tests in the past, and this prevented them from showing the needed confidence.

There is a way for students to overcome exam anxiety. One step at a time. Try to solve one small problem by yourself. Then work your way up to exam conditions. Start with self-check exercises, try practice quizzes, make a practice exam. Put yourself in positions where you experience exam anxiety, where it starts out easy and becomes progressively more challenging. It takes a will to find the way.

Authors can take a similar approach:

  • You become confident in your writing when you receive positive feedback. You might find friends, other authors, and family members to help give you this initial support. The next jump is feedback from neutral readers. If you discover that there is an audience who appreciates your writing, this lends you some needed confidence.
  • You have to learn to deal with criticism. When you receive neutral feedback, you may encounter this. If not, when you publish, you might receive it from reviews. You have to realize that no book pleases everyone. After a couple of days, examine the criticism for anything useful that may help you grow as a writer. If you make any changes that help you improve as a writer, this should give you confidence that your writing has improved. It will, if you just look at it this way. Once you overcome the emotions involved in criticism, this should give you the confidence that you can handle more criticism in the future. It’s very important to work toward this because fear of criticism creates all the problems of being uncertain. You can achieve this in small steps, if necessary. Find ways to confront criticism little by little, starting with friendlier situations.
  • If you need more confidence in your writing, try to learn the craft better. Reading classics can help you master the language. Sometimes reading good writing is better than working on mechanics because you’re not bored in the lesson – it just occurs naturally – and it also conveys a sense of style. Reading grammar and punctuation guides can help, too, even if just a little here and there. Practice writing in a journal every week, working on something specific. If you feel that your writing is improving, it will lend you confidence.
  • Get a good support group. Authors can feed off one another’s confidence and help one another overcome problems that arise. Emotional support can be quite valuable, too.
  • Learn about editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, or anything else that you wish you could be more confident about. The more knowledgeable you become, the more confident you become. If you feel tentative about marketing, for example, research it.
  • Research similar books. Read the top sellers in the genre. See what is common among their storylines and characterization. Research those authors to see what they’re doing to become successful. Learn what readers expect in the genre. The results of your research can help you become more confident in your own book.
  • In addition to learning more about marketing, take one step at a time. Start out with something simple that you feel comfortable doing, get it started, and see how that goes. Then try something new. Eventually, you will develop a following and feel that you’re making a concerted marketing effort.
  • Study the covers and blurbs of top selling books in the genre to learn the art of proper packaging. This will help you become confident that your book will attract the interest of your target audience. Also read up on cover design and blurb writing.
  • Exercise, eat right, and sleep well – all those things the doctors say you should be doing for better health. What? This can affect your ability to show confidence, too? And maybe some confidence will help you get a better night’s sleep.

You can do it if you work at it. Make it a priority to develop and show the confidence you need, while avoiding overconfidence. It is that important. 🙂

¯ A little bit of confidence is all you need,

To give people something that’s sweet to read. ¯

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Cover Design Checklist

Cover Problems Pic

Check for these possible issues when designing a cover:

  • Random imagery. There isn’t an obvious connection (to someone who knows nothing about the book – i.e. the customer browsing search results) between the images. Sending a unified message with a clear signal (i.e. clear in about three seconds) tends to be more effective.
  • Imperfect images. The cover concept is clear, but it doesn’t quite work with the images used. Would a great movie be the same with lousy acting? Finding the right images can make a difference.
  • Photobombing or transparency. An image seems out of place – instead of being a natural part of the scene – or you can see through an image (other than a ghost). This can be quite distracting. Strive for unity.
  • Facial expressions. The model may show the wrong facial expression for the occasion or wear a look of disinterest. A model’s disinterest may carry into the customer. This is a very important element that is often overlooked. Do you see looks of disinterest on popular magazine covers or commercials? Will those models display the wrong emotions?
  • Instamatic. A cover is not merely a snapshot – especially, an ordinary looking snapshot. A fantastic cover doesn’t get the buyer thinking, “Gee, I could have done that.”
  • Refrigerator art. Most hand-drawn images – especially, pencils and crayons – give the impression that the author wished to feature his or her child’s artwork. This may be harsh, the art may be quite good, it may be paid for, it might not be drawn by a child, and the artist might not be related to the author. But it’s the impression that counts. It’s not the quality of the art that’s at stake. Your cover doesn’t need a Picasso. It’s the age of graphic arts. This technology has many amazing possibilities and can help your cover look professional.
  • Bulletin board. Two or more images are put together as if stuck on a bulletin board with thumbtacks. That is, it has this layout, even if it doesn’t look like a bulletin board and there are no thumbtacks. How will such detail show on the thumbnail? One main image will be easier to see, send a more unified message (which is more effective), and aid in recall (part of branding).
  • Photography mistakes. Perspective problem, inconsistent lighting or shadows, red-eye, and blurriness, for example. Don’t distract the buyer.
  • Boring. Bored shoppers don’t buy. Grab the attention of your target audience.
  • Busy. Too much going on. For one, it’s distracting. Also, a single unified message tends to work better. One main image helps with unity and branding.
  • Alignment. An image is off-center, but visually seems like it should be centered. One more distraction to avoid.
  • PhotoShop issues. Aspect ratio, filter issues, too many layers, and pixilation, for example.
  • Cut and paste. Looks like the images were simply found and thrown together, perhaps like a collage. A natural looking scene is less distracting and helps send a more unified message.
  • Deformed creatures. Humans, animals, aliens, or other creatures don’t look quite right. This includes mannequins, avatars, and drawn imagery, for example. This distracts the buyer.
  • Huh? Concept isn’t immediately clear. An effective cover quickly attracts the target audience and sends a brief unified message about what to expect.
  • Sexy. On a cover where this isn’t expected in the genre, or where the appeal is stronger than expected. This appeal may backfire where it’s not expected. Who is your specific target audience? That’s who you want the cover to attract. When a cover attracts the wrong audience, it greatly deters sales.
  • Color clash. The colors don’t coordinate well together. It’s ideal to use three main colors that work very well together: primary 60%, secondary 30%, and accent 10%.
  • Readability. The font is hard to read. A nonstandard word or name is hard to read. Text reads vertically or is otherwise oriented in a hard-to-read way. Wrong words are emphasized (like “the”). L-e-t-t-e-r-s appear individually such that it slows the reading. Text is too small. Buyers browsing search results may decide whether or not to click in just a few seconds. Make it easy to figure out what the text says.
  • Too much text. The text dominates the front cover. In the thumbnail, a few keywords from the title and the author’s name (although this can be smaller than the title, unless you’re famous) should be easily visible, while a main image should dominate the cover. A single main image is your best chance of grabbing attention, signifying the genre and content quickly, and aiding in recall (“I’ve seen this before,” is a key part of branding).
  • Poor font choice. Boring (plain font), doesn’t suit the genre or content, upsets many readers (like Comic Sans), hard to read, or too many different fonts used. One or two fonts that fit the genre and content help to send a unified message. A font that creates interest, yet is easily readable, helps the cover as a whole grab attention. This is a very tough balancing act, and more important than often realized.
  • Mismatch. Cover signifies the wrong genre or subgenre and doesn’t obviously relate to the content (i.e. to a potential buyer who knows absolutely nothing about the book – and won’t read the description to find out because the cover failed to grab his or her attention). This is a very important point, but is also a common mistake.
  • Typo. Spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistake. Oops! A mistake on a title certainly doesn’t bode well for a book with tens of thousands of words.
  • Credit placement. Traditionally published covers often give credit to the cover designer on the back cover with a small font (name and website) as well as on the copyright page (so people who like the cover and blurb will find it on the Look Inside). This is common among professional cover design. What’s common on self-published covers is for this acknowledgment to appear on the front cover in a large font. If the cover looks professional, this will be obvious at a glance; it won’t be necessary to declare this on the front cover.
  • By. Using the word “by” prior to the author’s name. It’s obvious who the author is, so this is superfluous. Some customers perceive this as amateurish. Avoid possible distractions.

It’s far easier to criticize a cover than to design a perfect cover.

There are so many mistakes to make that a few are almost inevitable.

But the best covers tend to avoid almost all of these mistakes.

I’ve made some of these mistakes myself. I certainly didn’t have all this in mind when I designed my first cover.

Publishing Resources

I started this blog to provide free help with writing, publishing, and marketing. You can find many free articles on publishing and marketing by clicking one of the following links:

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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