Black Belt and Imposter Syndrome

Tonight during training, we were doing simple drills. Such simple, simple drills. Receive, deflect, attack. Receive, deflect, attack. What I meant to do, and how it actually looked, are two vastly different things. Now that I wear a black belt, those mistakes seem unforgivable.

This is probably one of the best books ever written, and she feels like an imposter? Tina Fey is my spirit guide.

This is probably one of the best books ever written, and she feels like an imposter? Tina Fey is my spirit guide.

That such simple things still flummox me reminds me of something that is increasingly popping up in my internet forays: the idea of imposter syndrome. The internet is full of quizzes and articles (you can try a quiz here) and there’s plenty of advice on how to deal with it. And everyone has it – Sheryl Sandberg, Tina Fey, Maya Angelou – people who are at the very top of their game and still think they’re frauds. That any minute now, everyone else will cotton on to the true inadequacy of the sufferer and out them.

It is also, it seems, a syndrome that is particularly prevalent in women:

Research that began in 1978 with the work of psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes found that many women with notable achievements also had high levels of self-doubt. This deep lack of confidence–which couldn’t be equated with anxiety or other disorders–appeared to involve a deep sense of inauthenticity and an inability to internalize their successes. – Feeling Like a Fraud: Living With Imposter Syndrome

There are days when it feels like I stole my black belt, that it was given to me out of pity because I’ve been around so long and always help out, and not because I have any actual skill. I am pretty sure that pity gradings are a thing.  And yet in most things, there is nothing as clear-cut and neat as a black belt. It is physical, the whole bloody world recognises it as a certain standard, and twelve Senseis sat in a row and discussed it and thought “welp, she can have one, she makes the grade.” And I’m not even remotely in a McDojo organisation – there’s lineage and tradition and respect for the art (truly, KDISA is an excellent federation), so the belt means something. It’s just that it feels like I didn’t really earn it. After all, lots of people have black belts. It can’t be that hard to get one.

Admittedly, this spreads to most parts of my life (except running, because crossing a finish line and getting a medal is a really straightforward form of achievement) but it hits particularly hard in the dojo. Even tonight I thought “someday, Sensei is going to hand me a yellow belt and say ‘I think you dropped this'” and then I will put it on and I will feel like I deserved that. And no one is even trying to take away my accomplishment – most of my family seems to be proud of me, and my friends were excited for me when the grading weekend rolled around.

I think what makes it particularly hard for martial artists to make peace with sucking is because there is only one easy way to see progress, and that’s gradings. In between that, though…only I can truly measure my progress, and its so hard to see. It is ultimately a creative endeavour, and deeply subjective, and therefore difficult to measure and incredibly easy to feel embarrassed about. But as the wise Jesse (of Karate by Jesse fame) says:

But the moments of glory will be few and far between, compared to the daily grind of hard practice. Between the occasional moments of greatness, there will be longer moments of despair.

These periods of suckiness are NOT “optional”.

They are ESSENTIAL.

And the real problem is not that you will have ups and downs.

The problem is YOUR ATTITUDE about it.

How you handle it.

Because if you always walk around feeling bad about being bad, you will constantly have a hard time motivating yourself to keep improving!

Get it?

All I can really do is try not to obsess over failure. I do it with my writing (since my blog posts maybe get shared once or twice on Twitter, they must be shitty articles), I do it with my karate, with my work (every email or phone call from a store feels like an indictment of my work ethic) and pretty much most things. And despite the fact that I have the framed degrees (with distinction and full academic colours), that I have run a marathon, that I have placed nationally in creative writing competitions, that I have a black belt when so many have quit, that I still get things done, it is very difficult to shake off the feeling that its due to luck, or that a lobotomised sloth could do what I do.

To be fair, they are cute though.

To be fair, they are cute though.

In any case, I am pretty sure that I’m not the only martial artist out there that struggles with this, and that it probably feels more acute for new black belts. Apparently writing therapy is one way of dealing with it, and I do feel better having taken the time to sit and write this out. It seems like such a stupid thing on paper, but like most fears, it isn’t rational and nearly impossible to explain or wish away. It does get a bit easier every year, and I can only hope that one day I will truly run out of fucks to give and just get on with my life. Until then, well, there are always friends. And cake.

Further reading:

– The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention by Pauline Rose Clance & Suzanne Imes

How to banish imposter syndrome once and for all – The Telegraph 

The War Continues: Amazon Throttles Legacy Publisher Sales

Oh look, it’s happening again. Amazon has removed buy buttons before, in 2008, 2010 (twice) and 2012, and now they’ve decided they’re going to try again and see if people allow it, AGAIN.

Goddammit.

My grief with Amazon has been documented a few times before, and I’ll never apologise for it. However we must realise that what we have been prophesying as an industry for years is rapidly coming to pass. Today author Sam Sykes announced on his Facebook page that Amazon has removed preorder and buy buttons from Hachette authors in order to bully the publisher. James Patterson announced on his blog that:

Currently, Amazon is making it difficult to order many books from Little, Brown and Grand Central, which affects readers of authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Sparks, Michael Connelly, me, and hundreds of others whose living depends on book sales. What I don’t understand about this particular battle tactic is how it is in the best interest of Amazon customers. It certainly doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of authors.

Hachette, Little, Brown and Grand Central are not small publishers in themselves, and they also belong to the biggest publishing houses in the world. This is a clear message: Amazon is taking on big publishers once more and expects to win. These are the warning signs that have been discussed nervously by all of us in the book industry, be we publisher, author or bookseller. Amazon made it known ages ago that they wanted to become publishers, beginning with their purchase of Createspace in 2005, creating Direct to Kindle Publishing, and their institution of the godawful Kindle Worlds.

For my money, Amazon’s end game is to control the entire ebook publishing industry, either by buying up authors or driving publishers out of the digital publishing game through these strongarm techniques. To begin printing and editing their own books would take more capital, human resources and intellect than Amazon is willing to spend, but what they already have is a monster of a self-publishing industry producing hideous books at a fat margin to them. No publisher getting a cut, and the author is not much better off trying to flog their stories in a trough of self-published stories the size of the Mariana trench. The Kindle is their outlet, their store in readers’ hands, essentially circumventing the need for them to get off their asses and walk into a bookstore.

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It isn’t digital that’s going to kill the book industry. There’s no reason authors and publishers can’t use the ebook to leverage sales of hardcopies. JK Rowling, far ahead of the curve, controls sales of her ebooks, while her publishers manage the huge sales of her hardcopy books across the world. Better use of DRM might help publishers sell more ebooks. The ebook can prevent books from disappearing when they go out of print. People can take their ebooks on the train and keep their beautiful hardbacks at home. I don’t have a problem with ebooks, but I have a huge problem with Amazon. Amazon is a thug, with no respect for authors’ rights, for publisher overheads, for customer autonomy. They own your ebooks, they’ll yank them from your kindle and delete your entire library without blinking. Their sudden deletion of buy buttons on authors’ books on their store is not a surprise, and it is not unprecedented, but it is still unpleasant.

The only way this will change is if customers vote with their wallets. Buy Nooks or Kobos, if you must. Use a Note or an iPad to read, and for the love of all that is written, please support bookshops, indie and chain. Buy directly from authors’ websites where possible. Buy from Humble Bundle and support authors directly. But please: don’t support Amazon.

UPDATE: How the war between publishers and Amazon will cause a brain drain of talented writers and editors, from Slate

The full text of James Patterson’s speech at Book Expo America – a passionate call to talk about this important issue facing our industry

Neil Gaiman weighs in: I’m Obviously Pissed at Amazon

The superb Chuck Wendig of Terrible Minds reminds us that Amazon is neither savior nor underdog.

An author that found his fame with Amazon defends them, and asks umcomfortable questions about why authors are defending the traditional publishing model: Sympathy for the Devil

The Unnecessary Elevation of Fanfiction: The Announcement of Kindle Worlds

So Amazon has stooped to a new level of illiterate thuggery, and is now looting the corpses in a way both blatantly ruthless and pathetic. With the introduction of Kindle Worlds, Amazon is now allowing people to write and sell fanfiction for three different, equally vapid series (Gossip Girls, Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars). 

Some people would say (and they would be wrong) that fanfiction authors should have the right to earn money off their work, and they might also (wrongly) suggest that the fanfiction will only bolster the licenced properties in question and therefore generate more money for everyone. Everyone goes home happy and the Internet is better off for it, etc. Except that this is probably one of the worst (and most meta) examples of a poor author-publisher relationship ever. People more studious than I have taken a magnifying glass to the terms offered by Amazon to fanfiction authors, and have found the contracts fairly restrictive, and in some cases outright exploitative. The most excellent John Scalzi has scoured through the terms, and found this little nugget:

As a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit: “We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.” i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of moneyeven, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.

And as he goes on to explain further:

“Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.” Which is to say, once Amazon has it, they have the right to do anything they want with it, including possibly using it in anthologies or selling it other languages, etc, without paying the author anything else for it, ever. Again, an excellent deal for Amazon; a less than excellent deal for the actual writer.

Again, we are seeing Amazon trying to create not only a new publishing playing field, but eroding the rights of writers that have been so hard-won over the years. So many authors are already getting scammed out of their money by vanity presses or traditional publishers with watertight, author-unfriendly contracts – it doesn’t help that the behemoth that is Amazon is further contributing to this increasingly unfair market. Sure, the fanficcers may be earning money they wouldn’t have before, but at what cost in the long term? Like Scalzi mentions,

If you are a corporate rights holder, for example, would you bother with seeking out pro writers any more, and paying them advances and royalties and all of that business? Or would you just open up the gates to paid fan fiction, which you don’t have to pay anything for and yet still have total control over the commercial exploitation thereof? Again, this is interesting stuff to consider, and if I were a pro writer who primarily worked in media tie-in markets, I would have some real concerns.

How many other big licences are going to take advantage of this? I am curious to see how many of them do. Clever authors have made sure to maintain all their rights, and I doubt that any of the really big author-created franchises (Game of Thrones, The Avengers) will follow in this path.

Secondly, how successful can this really be? Does anyone really want to pay for fanfiction? It isn’t clear if there will be a stringent editorial process – as far as I can tell there isn’t much of one on Kindle Direct Publishing and it is unlikely that they would have the people required to proofread the mountains of drivel about to descend on Kindle Worlds. And sure, the fanfiction will probably only cost $5 or so (like most self-published drek) but nonetheless people are accustomed to paying sweet fuck-all for fanfiction. And not only that, but they have been able to get it in a variety of communities, ranging from the infamous fanfiction.net to livejournal,  tumblr to AO3. Many of these websites have become sophisticated platforms, throwing in gifs and deviantart.com-sourced jackets, fan-mix soundtracks and more, all for free. So why pay for it, and be forced to read it on a Kindle anyway? Most Kindle users don’t have the ridiculously priced Kindle Fire, so off it is to dreary e-ink land and no more pretty gifs or fun formatting.

And even worse: who is going to want to buy fanfiction that isn’t allowed to have sex scenes in it? Isn’t that the point, after all? To slash that which has not been slashed before? To have characters bonk boldly where none have bonked before?

And the third (and the worst): why are we even legitmising fanfiction in the first place? I’m sure some people are celebrating this, thinking that now fanficcers can ply their craft in public, like real authors do. And while fanfiction has its place, that place is not on the level of original work. I may not be a fan of his books, but I am a big fan of what George RR Martin has to say about fanfiction:

 I am not saying here that the people who write fan fiction are evil or immoral or untrustworthy. The vast majority of them are honest and sincere and passionate about whatever work they chose to base their fictions on, and have only the best of intentions for the original author. But (1) there are always a few, in any group, who are perhaps less wonderful, and (2) this door, once opened, can be very difficult to close again.

His blog post is a fascinating look at what fanfiction/plagiarism has cost authors in the past, and the importance of defending their copyright. It has cost authors entire novels, caused lawsuits and even affected their livelihoods. Now I know that the Kindle Worlds have been authorised, and I know the authors have ceded (in part) their control, but nonetheless it is an attempt to monetize and legitimize fanfiction and I am really, really uncomfortable with that. If I published Savant (hahaha, NO) and I came across a fanfiction of it, I would probably be more than a bit pissed off that my years of work had been used by someone else to for whatever strange reason. It is teamwork, but the person who does the most work is still getting screwed and is expected to be grateful for the attention during the unasked-for screwing. And after all the work an author has done, it seems grossly unfair that anyone should dare to profit off their efforts and imagination. Like Martin says “No one gets to abuse the people of Westeros but me“.

More tasty links:

What Famous Authors Have to Say About Fanfiction (Flavorwire)

How Kindle Worlds Aims to Colonise Fanfiction (The Guardian)

‘Kindle Worlds’ Lets Authors Publish Fan Fiction — At Dubious Cost (Wired)

Fan Fiction Is Finally Legitimized With Kindle Worlds (Forbes)

Amazon launches Kindle Worlds allowing authors to publish fan fiction

Forbes Top Ten Authors and the South African Top Ten

It is a slightly old article, but the results of the Forbes Top Ten authors list is as interesting as the authors are (in my opinion) mostly mainstream. The list taken from this page includes a surprising number of authors who write for children or YA markets.

The list encourages one to draw the following conclusions about the book market:

  • Kids are reading more and more than ever before, especially if authors like Kinney are writing exclusively for young kids and others are branching out into the younger readers market. The first article mentions the advantages tech-savvy authors have when they tap into the massive eBook market. I wish I could remember where I read it, but the YA market is possibly the fastest-growing market. It makes sense to write for it. And judging by the books that I see in the subs with the book reps, there is a desperate need for someone to write better YA that doesn’t involve emo vampires or sad fallen angels or hairball-hacking werewolves. Or mermaids. (Why mermaids? That is a question that speaks to some very deep-seated issues.)
  • Writing crime pays, apparently. Judging by the high earnings of Patterson, Evanovich and Steel, writing about or involving crime in one’s books seems to be successful. However it is a highly saturated market with far too many authors competing for one of the most unforgiving markets. Crime readers tend to follow one author just because the selection is so overwhelming. If anyone wants to break into the book market, crime and romance are definitely the hardest to crack. Fantasy and sci-fi readers are much more likely to pick up new authors.
  • Writing for women is more likely to pay off (Steel, Evanovich, Sparks and Meyer are prime examples) and it has long been established in the publishing industry that men don’t read, or at least not enough to matter. (An unfortunate conclusion but that’s how the numbers roll.) Now that I have been meeting with reps for about six months, I have been able to piece together a great deal about the industry. Women do read a great deal more and across more genres, and while I don’t doubt that men read, they don’t read enough to dictate to many markets. From what I gather, non-fiction tends to be more unisex but there is a growing trend in what is unofficially called ‘dick-lit’. Its chick-lit with a male protagonist who too is unfulfilled and seeking love. It sounds a lot rougher than it really is.
  • Mainstream works. None of the authors on the list are particularly challenging or even controversial. Meyer with her necrophilia and bestiality is so bodice-ripper and hetronormative to be puke-inducing, so that puts her firmly in the heart of the mainstream.

I understand that reading is always going to be escapist and simple for 98% of the world’s literate people. That’s why none of these authors write anything that is particularly stimulating. And I can respect that most people are not interested in reading challenging and mind-rearranging material that inspires debate and anger. The list is interesting for many reasons, but mostly for me because it serves as a handy shorthand for what people want to read more than what booksellers want to sell. If I had a book store I know it would be very much like Black Books, with really interesting but badly selling titles. This is why I have a blog and not a book store.

The most important thing to take away from this is that people are still reading, and while a large part of me wishes they were reading more interesting things I’m just glad that kids are still loving books and that people haven’t given up books for reality TV.

While I’m on the topic of top ten lists, it is always interesting to get the Top 50 books sold here at Exclusive Books. While I cannot share numbers with you, I can share the top sellers, and it fascinates me that the local top 10 this week is 90% South African non-fiction. This may change when all the big international Christmas titles come out (Night Circus, Language of Flowers and the Freddie Mercury biography, for example) but for now it is good to see South Africans supporting South African literature, especially non-fiction.