5 Ways Authors Become Scribezillas, and What to Do About It
It seems to be a law of the universe that otherwise rational people get a little whacky leading up to their publication date, and it can continue well into post-publication too. Becoming an author is an angsty life event, and even the most grounded among us become unglued. A lot of the authors I’ve worked with over the years have likened the birthing of their books to having a child, but that generally references the beautiful creation part that comes with completing a manuscript and getting it out into the world. Fewer authors talk about (maybe can’t even acknowledge) the ugly head that rears itself surrounding publication that I think of as the author’s version of Bridezilla: Scribezilla. (Please note that Scribezilla is not a gendered term; it’s an equal opportunity affliction.)
Your Scribezilla tendencies will typically manifest according to your disposition. If you tend to be controlling, you’ll become more controlling when your book comes out. If you tend to be anxious, you’ll go through the roof. If you tend to be distrusting, you might inadvertently ambush your team. It is nearly impossible as a newly minted author not to face a lot of anxieties. And it’s easy to catastrophize. You may start feeling like people aren’t pulling their weight, aren’t doing what they said they would do, aren’t paying attention or doing their jobs. Beware that projecting your anxieties onto other people is a first sign of this affliction.
When I published my first book, I hired a publicist about four months prior to publication and made it abundantly clear to her that I had modest expectations for publicity. When my pub date came, I felt anxious, but there was something else: pure unfettered, and unapologetic desire. I wanted my book to succeed, for everyone to read it and love it. I wanted more coverage, more hits, more recognition! I called my publicist and told her I was worried about the campaign, and how little coverage we were getting for my (very niche) book.
“Have your expectations for your book changed?” she asked gently.
It turns out, they had. And I hadn’t meant to become Scribezilla in my demands on her, but I had. Thankfully my publicist had a gentle touch and reflected back to me that I had set the parameters. She gave me options. I took a deep breath and reevaluated. We stayed the course. My book did fine. I sold as many as I set out to sell, and a year post-publication, I’d exceeded my sales expectations. My point in all of this is this: It happens to the best of us.
Here are the 5 most common Scribezilla outbursts I see in my work over the years with authors:
1. You feel distrustful of your publicity and/or marketing team and start to feel convinced that they’re not representing your book well or not actively pitching you. Instead of working with them proactively, you complain to everyone around you.
2. Out of anxiety and impatience, you interfere with your publisher or publicist’s job by following up on your own behalf — whether that’s with event coordinators, bookstores, printers or distributors. This is called working cross purposes.
3. You forget that you have to give in order to receive. This usually comes in the form of excessive self-promotion (tied to high expectations and sales anxieties) without having done the hard work of excessive giving in order to have earned the right to make those asks.
4. Your disappointment around what you’re not getting — blurbs, preorders, media coverage — feels debilitating, and you get disengaged rather than fired up.
5. You’re moving so fast that you forget to ask questions, loop in your team and work with your team. You go a bit renegade, but it’s an autopilot setting. You lose sight of the fact that you cannot launch a book well on your own.
Again, don’t fret if you see yourself in this list. It’s hard to write a “how not to be post” without it seeming shaming, but really, like I said, these kinds of behaviors are more common than they are not.
And, don’t worry, you can help yourself! Here’s how:
• Take a deep breath.
• Assess your goals — first with yourself, and then with a close friend, family member or partner.
• Write out those goals and share them with your publicist and/or publisher.
• Discover whether your goals are the same as theirs. Allow for open communication.
• Always be proactive by communicating clearly. Don’t let your frustration and disappointment fester. It will come out ten times stronger and more vitriolic later if you sit on it.
• Remember to say thank you. This one is so simple, but when you’re in Scribezilla mode, you don’t feel thankful, so it feels disingenuous, and yet nothing will get you farther faster than remembering to express your gratitude to your team. They’re busting their butts, and if you’re anxious or disappointed, they feel that. Don’t work against them; work with them.
• Be generous to your audience/readers — with your content, your ideas, your gratitude. In order to make asks of your readers, you have to have a history of giving. People don’t respond well to asks if they’re not preceded by lots and lots of gifts. So pave the way for the ask by giving to your audience, in the form of good content, ideas and even products (think audios, free webinars, book giveaways, swag).
• Think about your long-term game. If you’re getting modest responses, feedback, media coverage, etc., remember that this is a competitive industry and you have to bust your butt to make your way to the top. It’s not a single-effort industry. To succeed as an author, you need to keep writing. So as soon as you have it in you to start thinking about your next book, you want to.
• Again, take a deep breath.