I often say that I have confidence for days. I shoot all my shots. I walk like I know where I’m going even if I don’t (which, sometimes, leads to a dead end haha but that’s a story for another day).
I’m a queer, Black woman working in a very white homogenous industry. I’ve been burnt out multiple tomes. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety. I’ve had a billion reasons to give up, to not try again another day, to say sorry for taking up as much space as I have. But, I never do.
As writer, we’re told to be our number one fans. In other words, we should believe in our own work before anyone else does. (And, of course, we love/crave/need those loyal people in our corners—I think my grandfather believed I’d be a writer before I even knew I would <3) But so many of us don’t really embrace that. Or, if we do believe in ourselves, our actions don’t support that. I understand that sometimes you need a pep talk—I need pep talks constantly. Let’s acknowledge that and move on because I’m not here to talk about what others can do for you, I’m here to talk about what you can do for you.
I always see authors say “sorry” for tweeting promo. Or “mute me now” in the week leading up to a book release. I’ve even known people who’ve been asked to share a thing on social, by their publisher, only to preface it with a rambling apology. I’m not trying to be that woman telling others to not say sorry, I know how annoying that gets. That said, tweeting about your book, instagramming others’ cute photos of it, pitching it to the TSA agent who’s asking you too many questions at 8am in the morning, is your job.
When you’re “just a writer” it can be this super personal, creative thing. You don’t have to tell a soul. When you get that book deal, you’re now basically a small business owner. It’s still hella personal—again, this isn’t a massive corporation, everything is going to affect you—and it’s part of your paycheck.
It is your job to promote your work.
If people have a problem with you doing your job, they can unfollow you, etc. No need to say “mute me now,” they know the mute button exists. Do your work. Own your shit.
It is so normal to have insecurities, sometimes massive one. I’m constantly having to work through and around my anxiety and telling myself, no everyone doesn’t hate me and yes I’m pretty and take deep breaths, every problem isn’t as life-shattering as it seems. We all have insecurities. But it hurts me when I see writers saying things like, oh I have this book I really want to write but it’s a tough YA market or this genre is dead so I’m not even going to try. That is ridiculous. It’s one thing if your editor passes on your next book, but self-rejecting yourself!? Come on, y’all. You will get rejected so many times in this business. There are well-known, bestselling authors who you would be shocked to hear still get told, hey this book isn’t going to work for us. Self-rejecting is more than cruel, it’s hindering yourself and your career.
I want to see more authors cultivating confidence.
About a couple years ago, I had this book I really believed in and was working on it with an agent. And then we parted ways and when I queried, I had agents say, oh we don’t think this genre is coming back…I’m not confident I could sell this. It hurt but it was fine because I don’t want an agent who’s not confident in my work. That confidence spreads. My confidence for my own work allowed me to find my amazing agents. Agent confidence spreads to editors in the way agents pitch books to them. Editor confidence spreads to their whole team. I’ve seen it happen; I’ve done it myself. The key thing is that the confidence starts with you. My confidence allowed me to do revision after revision on it. On days when I literally had lost faith, when I was like this might not sell, I still believed deeply in what I was working on. My confidence has allowed me to win auctions as an editor, against people much more senior than I. You’ve got to dig into that confidence well, or fill it up if it’s empty.
I’ve been asked before what I think makes a great author, what allows people to have that “elusive” long, successful career. And when people ask this, it’s typically at a conference and it’s often writers looking for insider secrets. And there are lots of things I think help. Having cool ideas help but trust me the ideas aren’t everything. Being hardworking, but hey sometimes you work hard and don’t get what you want. Being nice but also, guess what, some of your favs are actually assholes. (this is not me encouraging you to be rude, not okay!) What I’ve noticed is that a big part of that longevity is some ridiculous confidence. And I say ridiculous because I’ve sat down with authors I’ve really admired who’ve been doing this for a while and when they start talking, you know when we’ve really started talking the ambition just flows out. I’m like holy shit these are BIG dreams. Seemingly impossible, scary big dreams. And in this very unpredictable industry, are you just setting yourself up for failure by having such big dreams? Isn’t it better, safer even, to have smaller, more manageable dreams?
I often think about how Octavia Butler basically manifested her career by first journaling her dreams, by first believing deeply in herself. So, no—you’re not setting yourself up for failure. No, you shouldn’t have “more manageable” dreams. This industry is unpredictable, you never know what time you have, how long your platform will last, so why hold back?
We are dreamers, that’s what so much of being a writer is. You should encourage yourself to dream as wildly as you like. And again, when you become an author you’re running a business. You need to believe your ideal career can be yours. You need to strategize and works towards those dreams. Who cares if you fall short? Who cares if your idea of success changes? Mine has many times already within only the past couple years. Success should be defined on your terms, too.
Maybe, for me, part of this mentality is that I didn’t have the luxury to not have confidence in myself and my work. I wasn’t supposed to be a writer, my mom aggressively tried to stop me from doing anything creative, I gave up on multiple dreams to try and make her happy, to fit into the mold of the daughter she wanted, so she could be proud of me. I made myself really small in doing so. I stopped doing things I was good at that I enjoyed. I reached a point where I had one dream left. This ember. And so, I stoked that fire. I had to for my own survival, I was miserable otherwise. And it was hard. Being an editor was hard. Trying to balance a budding writing career with a flourishing editorial career was fucking hard. It’s really hard to try to succeed at a thing when the very person you feel should be in your corner, is aggressively not. When I first started as an editorial assistant, I couldn’t imagine what failure looked like. I didn’t have the luxury to not be confident because I’d used up the last of my eggs and they were all in that basket. I think the only reason agenting feels less hard is because of how hard everything else was, because of the confidence I cultivated being an editor and as a writer.
There are so few writers of color, so few agents of color, and at some point, I realized I was someone people also looked up to. So, I decided I had to keep being confident. I wanted to inspire, to empower anyone I could. But also, I had to balance that confidence with truth-telling with vulnerability and that’s when I learned that you can be confident and have doubts, you can be confident and vulnerable and honest about your struggles. Confidence doesn’t mean lying to others about how hard it can be to get to a place, to maintain—to sustain—a career. So, I won’t lie. I deliberately had to let people slip away from my life. People who weren’t okay with this confident me, people who thought I should embrace more realistic dreams.
I’ve worked too hard to say “sorry to bother you” with my promo. To tell you to mute me when I’m doing my job. If an editor wants to pass on me, okay. But I’m not going to reject myself. I think especially because I’m a queer, Black woman, confidence became an act of resistance. White bosses thought I couldn’t do a thing, well let me show you. People thought I got ahead as fast as I did because of my race? Oh honey, I’m not sorry that you’re bitter that I’m much better at my job than you are.
Cultivating confidence became a lifestyle. Battle armor. It feels good to be confident. Confidence is sexy. I love the energy boost that comes when I tell myself I’ve got this and then I go ace that thing. Even when I don’t ace that thing, even when I “fail,” my confidence picks me back up it allows me to take that “failure” as a lesson learned, as ways to improve–or not improve, sometimes (a lot of times) you don’t need to read that much into a rejection. My confidence is like a cozy blanket in my ever-chilly A/C home.
When you believe in yourself, it’s like a ripple effect. You see the people around you for who they are. You distance yourself as best you can from toxic people. But know that even if you rid your life of everyone toxic today, there will people who want you to quiet yourself. To dream less boldly. You have to also cultivate thick skin and believe in yourself first. Be so confident that what you don’t give as much, or any, weight to what negative people say.
And here’s “the secret.” Sometimes what others say will always matter. The comments my mom still makes about me a writer, my unstable financial life choices, they still hurt. But I have a book coming out next year that I got paid for so while my mother will always be her, money really does help. Money, for me, is a massive confidence boost. She can say what she wants, I’m getting paid. Hilariously, when I started not caring as much, she stopped making as many comments.
But again, the fact is that it has to be about you. You have to believe in yourself. You have to get better at ignoring naysayers. You have to scream about your work.
Opportunities are going to come knocking, opportunities that you want, and you need to shoot your shot and say yes.
Be your best advocate. Let other people tell you no; don’t tell yourself no. Another secret, I don’t always have massive confidence. Though I’ve always believed in myself I haven’t always believed I’m right for something. As in sometimes I feel I’d be great at a thing but I don’t meet the “job requirements.” It doesn’t matter. You have to put yourself out there. You to say, okay I’m worthy of this [fellowship, writing opportunity, whatever] and put your ALL into going for that thing even if there’s some doubt (even if there’s a lot of doubt) within you saying omg I’m not good enough.
And yes, the great thing about having an agent is that they can be that person. The great thing about a close writing community, is those people can be that person.
But long before I had an agent, before I had my circle, I cultivated this attitude. I worked my butt off on job applications for positions that weren’t “at my level.” I have doubts all the time; I just don’t allow myself to hold me back. Working in publishing working with authors and writing is dream I’ve had for years; it makes me happy…I will not be responsible for taking away my own happiness.
I believe in all of you. But I need you to believe in yourself.
Those of you reading this, who have a thing they’ve been wanting to do or go for, make more than a promise to yourself. Commit. Set aside time today, even if it’s just 5 minutes, to put towards doing that thing.
Stop apologizing for tweeting about your work. Stop encouraging people to ignore your self-promo tweets.
Cultivate confidence like it’s your job. Because, well, it is.