Authors: Try Giving Yourself Advice

If another author asked you for advice and you checked out the other author’s book, would suggestions come to your mind? Maybe you would comment on what you do or don’t like about the cover. You might have suggestions for the blurb. If you found something in the Look Inside that put you off, would you mention it?

People generally love to give out advice. That’s why everyone tends to receive a lot of advice, even when it wasn’t sought. People form opinions easily, and many people don’t hesitate to share them.

Even if you don’t share your opinion so freely, you still form opinions. Suppose you’re checking out a book. You’ll know in an instant if you like or dislike the cover, if the blurb attracts your interest or not, and if there is something that you do or don’t like about the book.

But a funny thing about advice is that while people love to give it to others, they often don’t take their own advice.

  • Evidently, you don’t have to have a good track record in your own relationships in order to give dating advice to others.
  • Apparently, you don’t need to have any skill in a sport yourself in order to give tips to others.
  • Clearly, you don’t have to make the best work-related decisions in order to advise others about their career paths.

Here’s my point. If you’re looking at someone else’s cover, you might find yourself wondering, “How can you put that on your book?” But if it’s your own cover, you don’t tend to be as critical. If you’re shopping for a book, you might think to yourself, “That blurb doesn’t try to catch my interest at all.” But when it’s your own blurb, you’re already interested in it. When you pay five bucks for a book, you tend to get disappointed if you catch several typos. But when it’s your own book, you often read what you meant to write instead of what you actually wrote.

There are two things you can learn from this:

  • You need to try to step aside and evaluate your work critically. Take a break from it and try to approach it as if you were seeing it for the first time, and try to evaluate it as if it were someone else’s book.
  • No matter how hard you try, you can’t see your own work as if it were written by someone else. There is no substitute for external opinions. Getting this before you publish is invaluable.

I know a few authors who will think that they judge themselves more harshly than anyone else – i.e. you feel that you are your own toughest critic. Many of us feel that way.

But we’re our toughest critics only in certain aspects. You’re not your own toughest critic in every aspect. You judge yourself harshly only in the areas that you care about most. You give yourself a large allowance in areas that you don’t care much about.

However, those areas that aren’t so important to you might be very important to shoppers. So even if you are your own toughest critic in some regards, honest external feedback – if you can get it – is still very likely to help you find ways to improve your book.

You shouldn’t necessarily change everything based on external feedback. But first you need to know what that feedback is before you can decide whether or not you feel it merits attention.

Have you ever come across books where the cover, blurb, Look Inside, category selection, or something else probably could have benefited from a little advice? Of course, if you send advice to all of those authors and publishers, some of them won’t want it. I’m not telling you to go advise others about how to publish their books. I’m suggesting that we all need to evaluate our own books more critically, and especially to benefit from more external feedback prior to publishing.

We just don’t look at other books the same way that we look at our own. In this regard, books are kind of like kids. Your book is your baby. It’s not like other books, is it?

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

11 comments on “Authors: Try Giving Yourself Advice

  1. Interesting post. I admit that I don’t give advice out unless asked specifically. I’ve found that giving it without a request rubs people the wrong way. Those two bulleted pieces of insight about writing are spot on.

  2. I have heard it said many times that a writer needs a tough skin, and yet, if it weren’t for critically constructive feedback I know I would be drifting aimlessly in a world of words at times. The word advice just puts people off though. It is something your aunt would say. I wish I could be my toughest critic. I thought I was, but then reread again (and again and again) and found out I wasn’t.

    • That tough skin becomes especially important when the feedback is public. One of the benefits of private feedback prior to publishing is to help anticipate some of the comments and to gain a little experience at handling emotions.

      It’s funny how a slight change in terminology can significantly affect the reaction of the audience. 🙂 (Something we need to bear in mind when we choose our words—and yet another reason to seek feedback.)

  3. Brilliant advice. I try to be self critical but I really agree that we need to take a step back from our work and outside feedback is essential. I agree with Charles in that I don’t usually give advice unless I am asked for it because (a) I don’t consider myself to be any kind of authority and (b) because I always worry about upsetting people! Don’t think I am that thick skinned writer that sknicholls talks about! 🙂

    • Thank you. There seem to be many more people giving “advice” that authors need a thick skin than there are authors who are actually wearing one. It’s not so easy to do when it’s your own baby (I mean book) 🙂

  4. Very good article. My writing grew by leaps and bounds once I had other readers give me feedback. Another reader will see something that the author didn’t. It has helped me to take steps back and see my own work in a different light. Even negative criticism helps (once the skin is thick enough).

    The more I review other writer’s work, the better am I at ripping apart my own writing. It’s easy to notice something that isn’t our work, then realize we’ve done the exact same thing. It goes to show that writing and reading do go hand in hand.

  5. Good post. All the advice on writing on my blog is in the form of posts about the way I write: and I wrote them for me, so I don’t forget how to solve those same problems when they come up again.

    I throw them out there because, hey, that’s what a blog’s for – and it is possible they might help someone else who is as odd in their writing as I am.

    I LOVE looking at the covers people who give cover advice produce, and the blurbs produced by people who give advice on blurbs, etc. I often disagree vehemently (inside my head) with their results, but I ALWAYS learn something about how I might want to do things when I get to that point. At least I’m educating my opinions at the same time.

    In the same way, I visited blogs for over a year before starting one, and formed lots of opinions about what I did and didn’t want – great education out there if you’ll only look with a critiquing eye.

    I may steal your idea of a Mission Statement.

    • Hi, Alicia,
      If the writing tips are helpful to you, they will surely be helpful for many others, too. 🙂 Studying covers, blurbs, blogs, etc. is a great idea. (I’d place more emphasis on those that are selling well, and less emphasis on those produced by the critics. As with golf or tennis, sometimes those who excel at teaching proper technique aren’t the best at applying it.) Someone suggested using a mission statement, but not necessarily calling it by that name (although you can see that I retained the name).

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