66. The curse of self-doubt

The second time is easier, like heartbreak. I’m no longer sure that my novel The Golden Illusion, which I’m pitching now, is good enough.  Two years ago I went through this with my book A Prize of Sovereigns. I had loved writing it, the characters whispering their stories in my ear. Friends had offered critiques, and I’d revised and revised. At last I was ready for the book to make its way in the world.

I sent it to a dozen agents, and a couple of publishers – they rejected it. Yeah, you’re supposed to believe in yourself and really, really want it. I’ve read all the stories about best-selling authors being rejected over and over again. Including the hapless publisher who rejected J.K. Rowling twice, once as J.K Rowling and then again as R Galbraith. But the thing is, I’m an evidence-based kind of guy, even where the evidence quality isn’t that great. And it’s not enough to believe in yourself, you actually have to have some talent too. Maybe I lacked ability.


No matter how many of my writer friends told me the book was good, I discounted their views. Only a positive response from someone in the industry was going to work for me. I reckoned I had two choices – to press ahead pretending I had faith in the book, or to junk the thing and start on another one. I took the first option, and about a year ago it was accepted for serialisation by Big World Network. And my short stories started to get accepted by literary magazines. These magazines are useful because you can measure yourself against their acceptance rates, published in Duotrope.

So there was the evidence I needed that I had some talent and the book was okay. Two years out from writing it, as I record the weekly audio versions of each chapter, I have enough distance to read objectively – it seems pretty good.

The trick is to tread the high wire between on the one hand being open to criticism, and on the other retaining belief in your work. This doesn’t always work, and I wobble off the line in one direction or the other.

When the dreaded writer’s doubt has struck again, I realised instantly what to do – ask a professional. I sent it, and Prize of Sovereigns, to a literary consultancy and asked them to tell me which one I should major on. Personally I feel Prize is the better book, but harder to do an elevator pitch for. But what do I know? I’m just the author.

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