Why Do Writers Delude Themselves?

I understand what it’s like to dream of being a writer. I understand how hard it is to achieve that dream. I understand how difficult it is to remain in print. I understand it because I’ve lived it.

What I don’t understand is why some writers delight in deluding themselves — even when they  know that what they are doing is foolish, costly, pointless and pathetic.  I got an email the other day that’s a perfect example of this bizarre phenomenon.  Here’s how it began: 

I’ve been reading you for a while.  I don’t get people who post
their unpublished writing on their blogs or websites.  On the other
hand, I feel somewhat guilty because I have a self-published book out
(pretty pathetic, I know, but 27 years ago my first book was published
commercially and I’ve had books reviewed in the LA & NY Times) and
feel really weird about trying to promote it.  I don’t quite know what
to do.

Okay, he had a book published 27 years ago and has had his work reviewed by the NY Times and LA Times. That’s great. But what does that have to do with self-publishing his book today? Nothing.

He says he feels "weird" trying to promote the book and doesn’t quite know how to do it. Excuse me?  He’s asking himself now how he’s going to promote his self-published novel? Shouldn’t he have thought of that before writing a check to some vanity press? What was he thinking when he went to a vanity press? Clearly, he wasn’t thinking at all. He was deluding himself. But it gets worse…or sadder, depending on your perspective:

doubt you’d be interested in my book, but here’s a link to the Kirkus
Discoveries review (yeah, I paid $350 to them so I’d get at least one
review): xyz  and to my stupid website, xyz.

Let’s try to follow the logic of that paragraph, one sentence at a time…

"I doubt you’d be interested in my book, but here’s a link to the Kirkus Discoveries review."

He doesn’t think I’ll care about his book, but he’s going to point me to a review that he paid for anyway, because that might convince me it’s good.  Huh??

"Yeah, I paid $350 to them so I’d get at least one review."

This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about: a writer deluding himself, knowing that he is, and going along with the delusion anyway.  If you paid for a positive review, it’s not really a review, is it? In fact, it’s worthless.  What good is a review that everyone knows you’ve bought and paid for? Does it make you feel better about your work that someone you paid to like it says he likes it? You could have saved $350 by simply writing a rave review of your book yourself.

It’s clear from his email that he knows he made a mistake, he feels foolish about it, and yet he can’t stop himself from compounding his error. He paid to be published without thinking about how he’d promote his book once it was out. He paid for a review just for the pleasure of seeing someone talk about his work.  Then he sends an email to me, of all people, that basically says "look at me, aren’t I pathetic?"

And he thinks this is a winning strategy?

I’m not telling you about this email to humiliate the guy. I feel sad for him…and yet, at the same time, stories like his infuriate me. He’s not some idiot being taken advantage of by the false claims of a vanity press… he knows better. So why does he do it anyway?

I just don’t get it. Someone, please, explain it to me.

13 thoughts on “Why Do Writers Delude Themselves?”

  1. I would pay for a review if it was done by one of maybe three people I admire and respect, precisely because it’s the kind of thing you can’t buy.

  2. In the 70s, a friend of mine, Stanley Gordon West, published Amos, a novel about a crooked nursing home and an old man trapped in it. It became an Emmy-nominated TV drama starring Kirk Douglas.
    Stan wrote several novels after that, but never managed to interest a New York publisher. Eventually he started his own publishing company, Lexington Marshall, and got his own ISBN and bar code, etc. and began publishing his novels on his own. He has been very successful. One of his most recent ones, Blind Your Ponies, has been optioned for film and there is a waiting list of half a dozen film people who want the option if they can get it.
    Stan did not go to a vanity press after two decades of sheer frustration with NYC editors and agents. He created a press. It consumes a lot of time, but now it brings him a good living. He has needed to find good editors to edit his own novels. His books are broadly distributed, face-out, in Barnes and Noble stores.

  3. Creating your own press is indeed a whole different deal, but not for amateurs either. Even PA hooked a couple of long-ago-published authors as I recall.

  4. I have no patience with vanity presses, but I think there are some good things about Print on Demand. A friend of mine couldn’t get his Harry Potter parody published for love or money in the U.S., so he used Lightning Source and promoted the crap out of it. Ended up selling the book to Orion in the UK and Simon & Schuster in the US, writing three more parodies and got his first novel out last month. So it can be done, but you have to be committed to making it happen. I agree, your correspondent seems to have given up before he’s begun.

  5. “I doubt you’d be interested in my book…”
    I read that sentence and his email as a kind of aw, shucks false modesty and self-deprecatory angle that’s a kind of pitch to get you to go to his web site.

  6. Yeh, on first read through I felt kind of sorry for the guy.
    But then I thought about it and it started coming across as passive-aggressive bullshit.
    As Mr Winkler quite generously put it, it’s just a pitch to get you to his website, but I’d call it a pretty dishonest one.
    It’s kind of in the same mould as when your partner tells you that they look hideous, innit? You’re not supposed to agree… you’re supposed to re-appraise and flatter.
    Did you look at his stupid website?

  7. I don’t know. I live in England. This is the world capital of passive-aggressiveness. To me, it sounds more like a former midlist author (probably of the more literary type), going through a midlife crisis.
    I mean, here’s a guy who once was good enough to sell a manuscript and get it reviewed in the national press. Now, though, not even the smallest university presses will touch his work. How do handle the fact that you’ll never again be able to see your work in print?
    If it was me, I’d give him a hug (but I probably wouldn’t buy his book.)

  8. My thoughts, are personally, a writer of true worth seeks ways to inspire and guide others. I myself have been writting for 19yrs. and look for nothing from anyone. Yet, I still find myself to be shocked and amazed everytime someone reads a piece of my writting and shares an emotional connection with all I conveyed…I feel that is what makes a writer feel truly inspired….I claim my art to be for me, by me, and my only hope is to leave an impression on just one heart:) I have poetry posted at poetry.com at the mother site which is free, and I have been with for 6yrs. and poetry.com workshop as crjem1991 which is a members site, but I have been there for almost 3mnths. and the feedback I have recieved is invaluable…my blog is writersedge-crjem1991….hope you’ll take a look…I am new to this type of site, so forgive me for being haphazzard:)lol
    Sincerely, Robin

  9. Writing is not about inspiring other people. it is not about anything other then writing. it is the creating of a story, the weveing of immages, and thoughts and emotions.

  10. I agree with you, Lee. However, if someone wants to pay me $350 to review a book, I’d probably take him up on that offer – unless he or she was a psycho. 🙂

  11. Deluding Yourself

    I just got an unsolicited email from John Hanzl urging me to read his book OUT OF HELL’S KITCHEN because it has received both the Editor’s Choice award and the Publisher’s Choice award from his publisher. Pick up your own


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