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When You Feel Like a Nobody

The writing industry is huge. In 2009, over 1 million books were published (both traditionally and self-published). That means there are at least a million authors. If we added unpublished writers to that number, there could easily be two million writers in this world, if not more.

With so many books and writers, it’s easy to feel like we’re a fleck of dust.

Maybe our query sits in an agent slush pile with hundreds of other writers’ manuscripts. And we feel like we’re just another nameless, faceless writer trying to break in. Maybe we go to a writer’s conference and get lost in the crowd. Or maybe we’re on twitter and the clamor from everyone else drowns out our voice.

It’s easy to get discouraged and feel like a nobody. Perhaps we think publication is the answer. We look forward to the day when our name is on a cover, when our book hits shelves, and people everywhere finally see and hear us.

However, now that I’m published, I can honestly say, publication doesn’t change the problem of being a nobody. It just changes the location. Now instead of being an unknown in a slush pile, we’re an unknown in a bookstore.

On Amazon, readers likely won’t come across our book unless they’re specifically searching for it. If our book makes it into a brick-and-mortar store, a couple of copies will sit on the shelf amidst the stacks and stacks of other books.

The fact is, even published authors get lost in the crowd of other published authors. It’s a tough reality, especially for debut authors. Over the past months, I’ve had my share of concerns that The Preacher’s Bride was just another book lost in crowded bookstores.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to stand out. It’s hard to shake off obscurity and turn our name into a brand that people finally begin to recognize. Whether we’re published or not, none of us likes feeling like a nobody.

When I start to feel like a nobody, I usually give myself a mini-pep talk, which includes these four points in one form or another:

1. Lower our expectations.

Don’t expect overnight success. Remember it takes most writers many rejections and several books before landing on the break-in book. And I try to remind myself that it often takes published authors several books before they develop a strong readership, gain clout among the writing community, and start to sell more books.

2. Look for ways to do something different.

I’m constantly on the lookout for new and innovative marketing ideas. I’m not afraid to think beyond what’s currently being done. I try to evaluate what really works and what doesn’t. If I’m feeling particularly down about the obscurity of my book, I try to think of new things I can do to bring it back into the public eye.

3. Surround ourselves with writing friends.

As much as I respect my agent and in-house editors, they’re not my best friends. Sure they’re always available and incredibly supportive. But they’re busy people (with many other authors they work with). They don’t have time to hold my hand through each bump in the road.

The bottom line is that getting an agent or editor won’t solve our insecurities. We need other writer friends who will understand and empathize with our difficulties and share the burden with us.

4. Focus on writing an excellent book.

I tell myself the most important thing is to write an even better book the next time. I want to look for original story ideas, fresh twists, stronger characters, and find something that will resonate deeply with my readers.

In other words, we need to search for ways to make each story better than the last (and that includes published authors). We can’t settle for mediocre if we hope to eventually rise above others to the top.

My Summary: Whether published or not, it’s easy to feel like we’re just another name among many others. Insecurities will chase us, no matter where we’re at. We need to realize they’re normal. When they get too close, we need to shake them off. We can't let them slow us down. And we need to keep running the race hard.

With all of the other writers seeking publication, have you ever felt like just another name or face trying to get noticed? If you're published, have you struggled to make your book stand out among the millions of other books? When you start to feel like a nobody, what do you do to push past the insecurities?

43 comments:

  1. Brilliant post Jody - as always your insights are so helpful and timely :) have a happy weekend x

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  2. Oh, I definitely know I'm a nobody in the world of kidlit. But that's okay. B/c there are so many books out there that I've never heard of. We just hope to find our own little niche. You don't feel like a nobody with your own family of writers. :)

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  3. 'Tis good, Jody. No, not just good, every single one of your points is excellent.

    ~ Wendy

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  4. My husband and I recently stood in the young adult section of our local bookstore (same size as a Barnes & Noble), and I literally turned in circles in the middle of the YA section. I found myself overwelmed with this feeling of, "How in the world does a writer break into this?" There were so many books on tables and shelves and specific publisher displays.

    Lately, my way to work through this is to remember that fame and money is not the reason to create stories. If we measure our success by fame and money, we could be setting ourselves up for disappointment. It might happen, but novel writing is way too difficult to hang all of our hopes and dreams on that.

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  5. This is such a well written post. I think we all have to focus on what we HAVE accomplished, and not what we haven't, the smaller victories, if you will. There may be two million writers out there, but that is out of something like seven billion people in the world. So being published makes you a part of a talented minority! BTW, I read the Preacher's Bride from cover to cover in one weekend. (Add that to your "little" victory pile!)

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  6. I've struggled with this on a small scale at times, but honestly not on a large scale for one of the very reasons you've mentioned. I've surrounded myself by writers who understand.

    I can see how the insecurities would change once I'm published, though. Interesting to hear your perspective!

    Hope you have a great weekend, Jody!

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  7. Oh, yes, I do. Then I remember WHY I am doing this: so someone, even just one someone, may hear about my marvelous, loving God and fall into His arms of grace.

    I know not everyone can be famous. That's okay. I just want to excel at the gifts God has place in me, so He'll be proud.

    I'm sure He's proud of you, Jody.

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  8. I'm finding myself in a daunting place. My book will be published, but it's not out yet and all I can thinking about is what edits need to be done and getting the next book ready so I can submit it as well. I think maybe I'm just keeping myself as busy as possible so I don't start thinking about being one more face among many.

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  9. Hi Jody! This was perhaps the greatest lesson I learned about becoming published; that at bottom, I was still an imperfect human being in need of salvation, and that a book wasn't going to be what would get me to heaven. Not that I thought it would, but I think it had became a holy grail of sorts in the back of my mind. I'm relieved to have moved past that to the place where you, too, have gone; a place of humility, acceptance, gratitude, and pushing onward with the rest of the human race. One thing that helped was realizing that it's really not about the writing but about the message God has nudged us to share. My prayer has changed. Now, I simply ask God to use me in whatever way He sees fit. If it's through books, awesome. If it's through some other means, use away. I'm open and ready!

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  10. Jody, What wise words, and lessons I've learned (like most in my life) the hard way.
    True, being published hasn't made me "somebody." It's just changed the location. But that's not too bad.
    Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Wow! You have expressed the fears and concerns of so many Jody. I too have stood in the bookstore wondering if my book will ever make it on the shelves.

    We writers definitely have to trust God to do what He sees fit with our talent. After all, He's the one who gave it to us!

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  12. Jody, needed this today on a dreary Friday! Good advice when you are feeling like a nobody in your writing. And all worthy to follow! I start with the supportive friends part first - to get an emotional boost then tackle the technical with trying something different and focus on excellence. thanks!

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  13. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much. - Seth Godin

    Richard Mabry posted this on his FB page a few weeks ago, and I loved it.

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  14. Fabulous post!! Everytime I feel discouraged my children are there to cheer me on. Especially my oldest daughter who seems particularly set on me publishing my book. And not just because she was my character sketch for it. She's read it. And loved it. Quotes it from time to time without realizing it. Yeah...that's why I write and I have to remind myself. When it gets published (when, not if) :) I hope it make another person smile and relate to it. And maybe even quote it at the dinner table. :) Thanks for the encouragement Jody!

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  15. Thanks Jody,

    I love number 4. Self doubt is a horrid demon. If you think you are crap (even if you are not)Go and do something about it. Practice writing or take a class or do something just for fun.

    Oh, and just by the way, i saw YOUR book on the coffee table in the Intensive Care nurse's lounge at my hospital. :-)

    that must feel nice, to know you have a book sitting in the nurse's lounge at a strange hospital in a random country. I did a happy dance when i saw it.

    Have a great day!

    Sarah Ketley

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  16. Thanks for the encouragement. I've been feeling like a nobody lately. :)

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  17. Jody, I feel so much better now - My memoir came out in 2009 - a million books. Sheesh.
    Karen

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  18. I just blogged about the question "What makes you feel legit as a writer?"
    So your blog post hit a nerve.
    Two things help:
    1. Surrounding myself with a supportive community of writers who know me.
    2. Staying grounded enough so that I know myself. And this involves staying grounded in my faith.
    Sometimes in the midst of all the to dos and got tos and want tos, it's easy to get lost and lose sight of the important things.

    Appreciate your insights, Jody.

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  19. Yes. And I've entered the second phase of feeling like a nobody... submissions. argh. :p

    Hang in there! I've heard about your book a lot, and it's in my TBR pile! And your new one looks awesome.

    You are somebody~

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  20. Great post Jody, if I was bit more literary I'd swallow a dictionary and write you an awesome review on Amazon. I'll practise ;)

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  21. It is a huge sea to swim in, I often feel like a tiny shrimp.

    I hope to be published one day but do not have high expectations.

    You write a lovely book so will always have fans. :)

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  22. Hi Everyone!! Thank you SO much for all of your comments this morning. It's really helpful to know that we're not alone in feeling like nobodies! :-)

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  23. Jody, most B&Ns I've been to have your book. The reason I know this is because it's often facing out, and the cover's eye-catching. The Christian section can be quite small, so that's a feat, in my opinion. You're not a nobody, and you aren't defined by your book, anyway.

    I used to define myself by my writing. No longer. If I still did, I would definitely feel like a nobody.

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  24. You make a great point, here, Jody.

    That God knows my name and all that happens to me is my only answer to it, the only answer that has truly comforted me and given me strength.

    Now I have reached a new spot in my thinking: how I am received simply doesn't matter as much as I once thought it did. The life we long for is never found in the opinions of men, even when those opinions seem to be necessary for success of our mission. The bottom line is they aren't. There is another deeper, eternal principle at work.

    We are God's workmanship. He has created good works for us in Christ. These are what we walk in, by faith. They cannot be taken from us.

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  25. You're a very special somebody in my world, Jody!

    And as for your books: they're great! I've read the first two and am in the middle of the third, and I'm blown away by your storytelling ability and your versatility.

    Your readers are in for a real treat. I can't wait for them to meet Eli and Priscilla in The Doctor's Lady and see how those two headstrong people work out their differences. And I'm totally in love with Connell and Lily in book three. He's your dreamiest hero yet. Sigh!

    Time to get offline. Your next chapters are calling, and I'm eager to answer.

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  26. I fecently found your site on Twitter. One of the things I do when I feel like a nobody is do something for someone else, either online or in person. That's why I "spotlight" interesting blogs, and it helps me past my moment of wondering if I can ever stand out in the crowd. I know it's about more than that. It's about calling, purpose, integrity, my own truth. And writing because dammit, I just have to.
    I'm putting you on my list of blogs to spotlight, I'll let you know when I do.
    Aloha from Hawaii,
    Toby Neal
    http://www.tobyneal.net/

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  27. Thank you for sharing tips on how to overcome these feelings of inferiority, Jody. As a newbie blogger, it's sometimes intimidating for me to write posts and talk about my book when there are many other writers doing the same. But God gives me strength and the Christian writing community is very supportive.

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  28. Great post :)

    Quote: "As much as I respect my agent and in-house editors, they’re not my best friends." And they shouldn't be. These are business relationships and as such they should be treated.
    Business and friendship never mix or at least they never mix well.

    Thank you for the interesting post.

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  29. Excellent perspective! While we're all clamoring to be heard among the masses regardless of publication, presence or industry, we are all hoping for recognition. A validation of our efforts. It's difficult to both dream big and keep expectations low. The best you can possibly do to have your voice heard is to find a medium that you can use well and perfect you use of it. Fortunately for writers, we have a very supportive community so that even when we falter it can still be a form of success.

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  30. This is a really interesting perspective. It feels like the publishing world is a lot like blogging. There are millions out there and it's easy to get lost in the crowd.

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  31. I have to admit that I hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about this, but you're absolutely right: publication doesn’t change the problem of being a nobody. It just changes the location. I think that at various times in our careers we have/will feel like we're just another voice in the crowd; very few of us will significantly stand out and be Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer. But you've given some great suggestions on how to handle those inevitable insecurities because you're right - we can't let them slow us down.

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  32. Jody, I feel this way pretty much every day. BUT...I'm quick to remind myself how lucky I am. I'm grateful for my skills, which are improving, I'm grateful for the time to write, and I'm grateful I'm in the game. Thanks for the dose of inspiration!

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  33. Such wonderful advise, Jody! It can be overwhelming at times, for sure, when we realize just how many books are out there vying for the readers attention. I remember another post you made a while back where you said, 'There's room for me' (or something like that. ) I was encouraged. thanks again for your great content. There is always something interesting and inspiring here.

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  34. I made the obsevation once that the noise of the internet is so loud I often feel as though my voice gets drowned out in it.

    The work required to cut through seems insurmountable and I often get to feeling hopeless. But then - I ask myself to remember why it was I got into this in the first place.

    My love of writing. It's time to write...

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  35. Blessings.......
    Great piece, very sound advice although I would rephrase "lower your expectations" to "be realistic about what it takes to get published."

    hehe, just trying to be optomistic.
    There are a lot of people who are going with smaller publishing companies and also self-publishing.

    have a blessed day
    rhapsody

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  36. Excellent point about expectations. We get so hung up on best-sellerdom being the prize. Yes, over a million books are published each year, and there are millions of writers. I also am a published nobody but if there are 7 billion people on earth, I'm-we're still in a select group, people trying to do the impossible, bring something out of nothing. Yes, I am vulnerable to all the writing gremlins that eat away--or try to--at my confidence. But on my trip to Washington, D.C. passing the Library of Congress I said to myself, two of the books in there are mine. And not everyone can say that. To be published at all is an achievement, and when you are trying to get published, that possibility is always out there as long as you don't give up. I think it is important not to confuse the business of writing, which is publishing and any business is tough, and there are no guarantees of success, with the art of writing which is the business of our lives, finding fulfillment in the expression of our gifts.

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  37. Great Post! I love reality checks because they rarely bounce.

    tnx for sharing

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  38. Thank you Jody. I am just starting to write and this was so helpful and good reminders. :-)

    ~Tracy
    www.evolvingsoul11.com

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  39. Thank you for sharing your heart, wisdom, and encouragement!

    P. S. Your book is top on my list!

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  40. This post is outstanding. You asked, "What do I do when I feel insecure, like a nobody," so here's what I do. I easily find my identity in what I produce and how others perceive me. When I look for my identity in created things and beings, I lose myself. I feel insecure, like a nobody.

    I counter this by running to Christ and listening to his word, the Bible, which tells me who I really am. Ephesians 1 for example tells me I am loved, redeemed, forgiven, daughter of the King, and the list goes on and on. These are not mere words but statements about who I am. The position I hold in the Kingdom.

    It's impossible for me to live confidently when I look for my worth in creation. I must find it in the Truth. As a no body in the world of writing, I can write with confident humility remembering I am to please the one who enlisted me.

    2 Timothy 2:4
    No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

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  41. I guess the same can be said of artists! You just have to realize God gives your talent, inspiration, ideas. He's got a plan for you and it's a great one! Patsy from
    HeARTworks

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  42. So full of insight and truth. Yes, sometimes I wonder why (and how) I keep going but you know what they say 'Don't give up because it may be you next.' I don't want to miss my turn when it arrives. The publishing world feels like a huge club where I don't have a membership but I'm hoping to find an open window!
    Many thanks

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