Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Business of Writing: The Shy Author Syndrome, Part 1 by Linda Rohrbough

Recently, I’ve seen a phenomenon that some vanity houses are taking advantage of. I call it “the shy author syndrome.” Authors who were in the beginning almost militant about being published, suddenly get a case of stage fright right before and after their books come out.

There are two questions here. One is why would an author suddenly get “shy?” And the other is how would a vanity publishing house take advantage of that? Good questions. Let’s start with “why shy.”

Part 1: Why Shy?

New authors can be almost militant about their books. They look around, see other authors doing well whose books aren’t nearly as good as theirs and they think, “Why shouldn’t I be successful?” I don’t know how plugged into reality most authors are. First time authors always have big dreams. And it doesn’t seem to matter if they are producing great books, mediocre work, or dreadful trash that really needs to be burned.

But in any case, the result is the same. It’s like stages of child development. Everyone learns to talk, to walk, to read, and so on. Some learn it faster than others, but everyone pretty much gets it on a fairly predictable schedule.

Like stages of child development, there are stages of author development. Once the first book gets published, no matter how that happens, there appears to be, with very few exceptions, a shy stage. The author suddenly is unwilling to mention the book at parties, conferences, or even to friends. They don’t want to do book signings or media interviews. They’d rather hide.

I think there are a couple of reasons for this. One is the reality is just not quite as enticing as the romance. Most people admire authors. But once you actually are an author, you find out how unromantic it can be. My friend Jodi Thomas said she went into a bookstore and saw an author sitting by herself at a back table. So she introduced herself and it turns out it was Mary Higgins Clark. The bookstore hadn’t advertised Clark was coming and they weren’t even announcing it over the loud speaker to patrons in the store.

This happens to authors, no matter who you are. And a couple of hours sitting at a table being mistaken for the person who gift wraps books is enough to shrink anyone’s ego. But then there’s the guy next to you on the plane who thinks your book is one of those “dime store trashy romance novels.” Or if you write nonfiction, then you’re writing “technical manuals” like you just sat down in a day and wrote a VCR repair guide. (Like anyone repairs VCRs anymore.)

Or your friend’s grandmother gets disappointment all over her face when she finds out you don’t know John Grisham. And when your friends find out there’s no book tour, they start to look at you squinty-eyed.

But there’s another element and that’s the fact that the author suddenly is aware of all the shortcomings in the book. Every mistake becomes a glaring error. Plus the author becomes painfully aware of how much self-revelation is in the confines of those pages.

Now add to that the stigma of self-publishing. No matter how good the book, how polished, how well-presented, how well-written, once it’s self-published, it becomes an uphill climb. As self-published books do better sales-wise, the stigma is decreasing, but people who discover the author paid to publish the book still get a jaundiced eye and put their hand protectively over their wallet. And this is true from bookstore owners to the next door neighbor.

Add all this up and once the book hits print, you’ve got the shy author syndrome. Authors shrink back, refuse to set up book signings, refuse to seek media interviews, and stop fighting to get their books into distribution.

This phenomenon is a frustration to publishers, who have skin in the game and are trying to recoup their investment. They’re going to do the promotion they promised to do no matter what the author does, because they have a mechanism in place to do so and it runs pretty much without author input. Authors sometimes find that frustrating, but that’s how it works. It works better, though, when the author does his or her part.

In Part 2, we’ll look at how and why vanity presses are a prime place for shy syndrome authors to get taken.

About the Writer:  Linda Rohrbough has been writing since 1989, and has more than 5,000 articles and seven books to her credit along with national awards for her fiction and non-fiction. New York Times #1 bestselling author Debbie Macomber said about Linda’s new novel: "This is fast-paced, thrilling, edge-of-the-seat reading. The Prophetess One: At Risk had me flipping the pages and holding my breath." The Prophetess One: At Risk recently won two national awards: the 2011 Global eBook Award and the 2011 Millennium Star Publishing Award. An iPhone App of her popular “Pitch Your Book” workshop is available in the Apple iTunes store. Visit her website: