When Can You Call Yourself an Author?

This is a question that bounced around my head for a while. Before I talk about how I felt and when I decided to use the word author, I asked the writing community of Twitter what their thoughts were;

This question was something that prayed on my mind quite a bit when I started writing especially after released Creatures.

Although having written and (self) published a book, I still didn’t feel like I could call myself a bona fide author. Maybe it was the self-deprecating part of my brain, but I didn’t think I was good enough to be able to use that word.

Something in my brain associated the word “author” with the likes of Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, James Patterson, Steven King, Michael Crichton; the authors of books that I grew up reading and I think I was comparing my work to theirs and, honestly, it just didn’t stack up.

In May of 2020, I was struggling with my mental health to the extent that made the difficult decision to quit my day job of working in IT. With this done, I had time to focus on my mental health, and I felt like a big part of my healing was being able to write, and although I was now doing this full-time, I still didn’t feel like I was good enough.

Having these thoughts is difficult to describe, and I’m doing my best to get my thoughts and feelings down here. I suppose a part of my struggle was that I had imposter syndrome. In case you don’t know what this is; it’s a psychological pattern where an individual doubts their skills, accomplishments and talents and you have this fear that one day you’ll be discovered as a fraud. Even though I had written and published a book, I still didn’t have enough confidence in my skills to say that I was good at this and I would be able to write anything else, that Creatures was a one-off. However, then came The Next Stage.

It took me around two years to finish and get The Next Stage published. I think a big reason for this was me delaying it because I still didn’t think it was good enough. It was only when I got to the point where I couldn’t do anything further with it that I eventually released it. When writing it, I knew that this book was superior to Creatures, but there was still that part of me that couldn’t believe I had written it.

Before publishing, the only people to read it were myself and Alex. When she read it, she said it was amazing – so much so that she read it in around four hours because she couldn’t put it down. But there was still that niggly feeling in the back of my brain that it wasn’t all that good and the only way I would truly find out is getting it out so that others could read it.

Once The Next Stage was released, and I saw the reception it was getting – being likened to the Alex Cross books and Blade Runner – it was as if a switch had clicked in my head, one that went from “I’m not good enough to be doing this” to “This is what I should be doing because I’m good at it.” Overnight I was able to call myself an author. Don’t get me wrong, the imposter syndrome still creeps in occasionally – usually when I’m hitting a depressive episode, but for the most part, it’s gone.

As I stated earlier in the post, this is just my journey through this period, and others experience other things and ways they define it. If you feel like you can call yourself a writer/author, then you do it, don’t let anyone stop you from defining your work.

Publishing Perils and Mental Health

I self-published The Next Stage back in October. Before I did this, however, I sent it out to a few publishers that when I didn’t hear back from, I decided to go ahead with publishing it myself.

A few weeks ago I received an email from one of the publishers that I’d sent to, saying they would like to publish it.

I won’t lie; this got me a little excited as I thought I was finally getting somewhere. Unfortunately, this feeling wasn’t to last.

We looked into this publisher and found that they had published some fairly well-known books, so we thought “Great, they seem reputable.”

After reading the email more thoroughly, I found that they didn’t want to publish my book with a traditional contract, but with something they termed ‘Hybrid.’ I was still excited though as I still thought that this was going to be
something good.

However, when we started to look into what that meant, and the testimonies of others that have tried to do things this way, my good feeling evaporated and left me feeling down.

Let me explain what we found.

Basically, the hybrid contract that this publisher was offering sounded pretty much like self-publishing, only you’re not doing it, you’re paying someone else to do it for you. And for this service, they would ask for a pretty large sum of money – which I don’t have.

We started to look into what other people have said about these kinds of contracts, and the good feeling faded further.

Many people said that this company took their money and did very little for them. That they refused to do any of the marketing that they promised to do. It seemed that they reneged on all of their promises to other authors and left them with a book that was selling and a massive deficit in their finances. This just wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

I’ve only been writing for a while, and I am well aware of the perils of traditional publishing. You may get twenty refusals for every one acceptance, but having this acceptance snatched away from me so unceremoniously took a real bite out of my mental health.

There was part of me wondering what the point of even trying was. I felt like I wasn’t going to get anywhere.

Now, I know that The Next Stage is a good book. The reviews speak for themselves. But struggling with a mental health issue means that even the slightest setback, can cause significant damage to my self-esteem and my want to continue with my writing career.

I’ve now recovered from this setback – because that’s all that it was – I’m continuing with my writing, and I’m probably a few months away from my next release, but this whole thing has left a bitter taste in my mouth when it comes to sending my books to publishers.

I know that not all publishers are likely to give me the experience I had above, but I’m now warier than ever about dealing with anyone.

I hope that in the future I will feel confident enough to send things out once again, but for now, I’m just going to stick to doing things myself. It’s hard doing everything from writing to publishing and marketing yourself. But I feel a modicum of control over it now which I’m not willing to give up at the sake of my mental health.

I warn any other – not just those with mental health issues – to be wary of who you send your books to. Please make sure you research them beforehand and be sure of what you’re doing. I obviously didn’t do enough. I think I was probably having a very slight manic “this will be a good idea” moment. But at least now I have learned from the mistake and am now able to continue with my writing.