New Author Syndrome

For some, it doesn’t wear off with the first book, and for some, it kicks in well before the first book.

I was reading this great post on Ajoobacats’ blog about how rude and pushy some authors get when soliciting reviews. She has a prominent platform, and they’re willing to throw a few elbows to get her attention. The post made me realize that I can explain their behavior.

As someone who deals with quite a few new authors in his professional world, I can tell you: some of them become a pain in the ass. Not to me as their editor (they either sack me or embrace what I have to say; there isn’t much middle ground), but to nearly everyone else they know. And I know it because, when I first started thinking I could write fiction, and for some years afterward, I was such a pain in the ass about it.

For everyone who distanced themselves from me back then, I understand.

For everyone who continued to like me anyway, thank you, you’re saints.

For everyone who is now dealing with New Author Syndrome, whether in a spouse or a friend or a co-worker or a review demander, read on.

Here’s what happens. In a significant percentage of writers and authors, there develops this desperate hunger for feedback, critique, but especially approval. If it continues into the timeframe of publishing one’s own book, it takes what is a strong positive, namely eagerness to get in there and market the book, and turns it into a reek that drives away those near them. It can be found at SF cons with minimal effort, usually by the socially awkward person with the urban paranormal time travel zombie steampunk horror thriller romance who thinks that half of the panel’s time is rightly his.

In New Author Syndrome, the author’s world has narrowed down to two classes of individuals: those who embrace the faith and are useful, and the infidels who are useless. Everyone in that person’s world, and especially every new contact, is either on board with that person as a writer or is insignificant/annoying/counterproductive/The Dreamslayer. The faithful are those willing to read the book, review the book favorably, praise the book to the author, and otherwise touch up on all key points of promotional faith. The infidels are those who decline to sign on to any particular of this fanboyism/fangirlism.

Here is how you get past this phase.

If you find yourself buttonholing people in your world to read your stuff, and having trouble taking “no” for an answer, you need a critique group. This is going to hurt. The critique group’s job is not to fluff up your ego, but to tell you the truth as they see it. There are many forms of critique groups out there, but any environment whether online or in person, in which you cannot simply delete any feedback you dislike, will serve the purpose. This is how you become the writer you imagine you are.

If you have just completed your manuscript and you want first readers (there is no such thing as a beta reader, as beta testing applies to software, not literature; please discontinue that loathsome term, thank you), you need to find them without driving your friends away. It’s damnably hard, especially if you were so afraid of being a lightweight that you wrote a Michenerian opus. You may have to find someone willing to trade reads and critiques. Here’s what’s sure: your spouse may be willing to read it, but your spouse has a number of biases. Your close friends may say they will read it to please you, but may not really do so, or not quickly enough to satisfy your hunger. The pressure will impair these friendships if you are not careful. You might even end up hiring an editor to critique it (and no, I don’t mean me, unless you seek developmental editing and you are intent upon its publication). If you do engage a substantive or developmental editor at some point, and he or she is worth anything, you’ll get hit between the eyes with the most compassionate version of the truth that editor has the power to deliver. If up to that point you have tuned out everyone but fangirls, this may be devastating no matter how compassionate it may be.

If you are about to publish the book, or have just published it, yes, you must be out there marketing your work. The world expects a certain amount of this from you, and will endure it with tolerance provided you follow a golden rule: if you sense no interest beyond a very perfunctory acknowledgement, change the subject. Your need to market your book does not constitute urgency on everyone else’s part, or on anyone’s. If you are pushy toward reviewers, or fail to see the world through their eyes, you will either get no reviews, or you may wish you had got none rather than the blisterings you will earn. If your close friends do not want to buy and read your book, you will know that because they will congratulate you, ask a polite question, then wish you success. If they don’t offer to buy a copy, they don’t want to read it and they don’t want to promote it. This is not Amway.

Being a new writer/author is a lot like dating. The more desperate you are, the more of a turnoff it is. The more your world narrows to the faithful and the infidels, the more desperate you seem. Remember this: there is a whole world outside your writing and your book, a world in which everyone else has interests that are not you. If you take some time off from your writing and your book to show interest in that whole world, whether or not it helps to build your ego or sell your book, you’ll get past this phase and reach your writing maturity.

Some very famous authors never do. I recall the opening ceremonies for a science fiction convention, in which the guest of honor was a fairly famous author who is becoming fairly famous for phoning ’em in (I think he’s just hiring ‘lancers to do the actual writing). The MC introduced Famous Author. He smiled, waved, and said: “Thanks. Buy my books.”

Ever since that day, I admit, whenever I leave a review of one of his books, I admit I put a little extra mustard on the bad parts.


7 thoughts on “New Author Syndrome”

  1. Thought I’d seen you remark negatively on the term “beta reader”, which has always made me grimace too.

    I suppose it might still be applicable to an ancient and obscure VCR or someone who specializes in divination involving live tropical fish, however misspelled.


    1. You have, for I remark negatively on it at every opportunity. Software is software, and has beta versions. Writing is writing, and it has first readers. To borrow from Strunk & White, the term makes me “quiver with revulsion.”


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