Everyone has bad habits. When Andrew J. Peters became a published author, he picked up a few more.
This isn’t a self-help article. This is a confessional. Since I’ve gone from “aspiring” author to published author, a horrible array of compulsions has plagued me.
I know I shouldn’t do them. Years ago, a wise friend had told me: “When your book comes out, there’s just one thing you should do: write your next book.”
But like a gambling addict trying to make his way across a Las Vegas casino, I keep getting sucked back into bad habits.
There’s an element of procrastination to my behavior, but it goes deeper. Procrastination is about avoidance, and that’s not really what motivates me to manage my time so poorly.
More so, I’m searching for validation that what I did mattered to the universe. My last novel took me five years of writing and re-writing and editing and querying. That work has to count for something, doesn’t it? So I search and analyze and despair and occasionally find some positive proof that I’m getting somewhere with this writing career of mine.
You might find some of these habits disturbing. You might find that you’ve fallen into some of the same traps. In the latter case, this list might do some good by helping other authors recognize the warning signs of taking oneself too seriously.
On the other hand, you could argue that we waste our time with these habits because we don’t take ourselves seriously enough.
Habit #1: Googling yourself
I’d say I do this at least twice a day. When I’m out of town on vacation.
When I’m in the routine of my day job, and my evening job as a writer, I average five times a day between the periods when I’m at my home office and when I can get an Internet connection on my iPhone while riding the subway.
I google my name. I google each book I’ve written. I refine my search to see if anything has come up in the past day or week. I analyze whether there could be some meaning to the fact that this or that ‘hit’ bumped up or down the list of search results. Taken separately, I guess those searches raise my average to twelve times a day or so.
Habit #2: Checking your Amazon ranking
Amazon rankings are updated hourly. There’s new information to track all day long so why not keep an eye on that at least seven or sixteen times a day?
Nothing feels better than seeing one of my titles move up my Author Central graph. Until it settles back into a middling position twenty-four hours later.
Amazon’s ‘Book Scan’ has proved to be the most depressing application ever created. But still I can’t resist checking it out at least once a day, even though it’s only updated on Fridays. I wonder often if a mistake has been made. Zero copies of my books sold last week? That can’t be possible. That leads back to Habit #1 above, which might shore up some evidence that my books are selling at other venues.
Habit #3: Visiting your Good Reads Dashboard
I’ve been a good digital citizen on Good Reads. I created a professional-looking author profile and joined groups to participate, not just to self-promote. I read the site’s Author Guides and took their advice to heart. I’ve never reacted to bad ratings or reviews. The few times I’ve solicited reviews from members, I’ve used the appropriate venues and done it politely.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t check my numbers obsessively: how many unique users have added my books, how many ratings I’ve garnered, etc.. When I discover a new review, it’s like Christmas morning. I look at the feeds of every user who ‘added’ one of my books to their shelves, and revisit them periodically. When are they going to start reading my book? What the hell is taking them so long?
Habit #4: Twitter spamming
Twitter spamming is continuous reminders to your followers to buy your book based on the misguided notion that it’s really important to do so since the lifespan of a tweet is something like fourteen seconds. Sometimes it’s a simple buy link. Sometimes, it’s a specious endorsement, like a sound-bite from a five-star review on Amazon. Sometimes, most egregiously, it’s an endless feed of advertisements set up on a Tweet deck for your followers’ viewing pleasure.
I’m not a Twitter spammer. But I’ve been tempted. I wonder: if everyone else is doing it, am I missing out?
Habit #5: Shameless Acts of Facebook Self-Promotion
I am not guilty of this habit (much). I figure that my few Facebook ‘friends’ who are real life friends don’t need to be reminded that I wrote a book and hey! did you know it’s for sale?
I try to keep that stuff relegated to my Facebook author page, and even there, I’m pretty sparing about directly promoting sales.
I will however cop to spending a questionable amount of time checking the ‘reach’ of each of my posts, ‘liking’ pages that I hope will ‘like’ me back, and staring at my page in a helpless mire of worry over how the hell do I get the damn thing to grow.
Habit #6: Author Envy
There’s only so much social media self-stalking you can do as a midlist author since (le sigh) let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot of buzz going on about you. But you can spend endless hours comparing your “performance” to similar authors, and this can drag you to a very dark and ugly place.
Most of us authors believe we have a superior product to sell. I think self-confidence is good, but the dark side is a mean-spirited mythology that goes something like this: if I’m not achieving success while others are, it must be because there’s something horribly wrong with the publishing industry. It’s all a game of luck. It’s all a game of trends. It’s all about who you know, and since I know just about nobody, the odds are hopelessly stacked against me.
Like any business, those factors are important, but it’s not an attitude that’s particularly well-suited to productivity.
Habit #7: The Disappearing Act
When despair and helplessness becomes too much, I shun social media completely, with the conviction that it doesn’t make a lick of difference if I build up my platform or not.
This actually turns into a helpful habit since the only thing left to do is to write.
The only problem is this phase tends to last at most a couple days before I’m back surfing my usual haunts.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that this is not a self-help piece for authors. I don’t have wisdom to impart on how to break these neurotic habits. What I have is my experience. These things have not been helpful to me in terms of marketing my work or my own emotional state.
Surely, tracking one’s cyber footprint in moderation is not a bad thing. I’m not suggesting that authors eschew the tools that are available, but I do wonder to what extent that information helps or hurt us.
I do have a platitude that I fall back on when times get tough: building a career as an author is a marathon, not a sprint. Just maybe I would be better served gauging my progress in years rather than hours or days.
Photo: The Hiking Artist/Flickr