THEN Moments and Confidence, They Feed Off Each Other

Back in December I mentioned that I wanted to go the Smashwords route with some of my short stories. I was gung ho about it, posted my first story, The Woman Who Loved the Red Stucco House, in January. The next few days I watched as the story received a few hits, then a couple of reviews. Things were going well.

I was happy with the results, even though I posted the short story for free, which meant I made NO money off of it. Several of my friends—writerly and non-writerly (yeah, I know it’s not a word, but if Mike Tyson can do it, so can I)—said I should have sold that piece to one of the big dogs, made some money off of it. I stayed quiet about it, my emotions suddenly mixed on what I had done.

At the same time I had sent out a query for a short story collection, had a good feeling about it. When some of the stories were requested by the editors I was stoked. Happy, happy. Joy, joy.

But, wait, there’s more. I was a very busy person at the time. I had several stories out at reputable publications, fingers crossed, hopes high. Three of the stories had been shortlisted.


Then… I say then, because that’s exactly what it was: a THEN moment. A THEN moment is where something is said or happens that changes the course of something else or the actions of others. (Yeah, I made that up and it sounds pretty damn cool). THEN moments usually change the thinking behind something and can squash enthusiasm, leaving it as nothing more than a little grease spot on the ground with its hopes bugging out the sides. It’s pretty messy for the most part.

As I was saying, all was well, though I had a smaller THEN moment with my friends chastising of giving up the story on Smashwords for free as opposed to selling it. The read THEN happened. A slightly negative review came in from a reader/writer who made suggestions as to how to improve the story. This is all fine and dandy and I would have loved the man’s thoughts before I posted the story—I may have incorporated some of his thoughts… Okay, no, I wouldn’t have. Not because they weren’t good thoughts and advice. They were. But, the feel of the story would have been changed and I’m usually uncompromising when it comes to how a story feels. I hope that makes sense. If not, this is going to be one long post.

I apologize for getting sidetracked so easily. All these thoughts run through the old kanuckle head when I’m writing.

With this gentleman’s thoughts—which I do appreciate—came a sudden decrease in the downloads of the story, which to that point had been averaging about ten a day. For a relative unknown such as myself, those are pretty good numbers. The downloads dropped from that ten to about two in less than a day. The next week saw a grand total of thirteen downloads. See, this is a THEN moment. The gentleman’s review may/may not have had a direct result in the downloads, but it appeared to have.

Negative reviews come with the territory and I really didn’t think the review was all that bad. The individual never said he didn’t like the story and didn’t say not to waste your time with it. It was how he honestly felt (I hope) and I appreciate the honest thoughts more so than the hollow, yeah, that’s great fluff your friends and family tend to give you.

Up to that point I had been working on rewriting The Woodshed, the one published story of mine that most folks really liked.

The following week saw the downloads drop to a total of nine for the week. No more reviews came in either.

Direct result of one reader’s thoughts? Maybe. Maybe not. To a writer, though, it felt like it. All of a sudden the wind was taken out of my sails.

THEN… (Yeah, had to be more than one of those in here, right?) I received the very nice letter from the publishing company about my short story collection. Everything that was said in the letter makes sense and I appreciate the time and effort that was taken to even consider my work. They weren’t going to publish the collection.

Like any normal person I was bummed. I kept quiet about it for a couple of days, not wanting to even voice the truth. Finally, I told my wife and accepted it for what it was: a rejection.

THEN… (hehehe. Yeah, there’s more) within five days of hearing back about the collection, I received e-mails from all three places my stories had been short listed. One was a form letter, the other two were well thought out personal notes.

Strike one.
Strike two.
Strike three.

Go sit on the end of the bench kid. You’re out.

Did I say all was going well earlier? Let me see… Yes. Yes, I did. Way back in the first paragraph. Last sentence.

Just like that (imagine me snapping my fingers really loudly) my confidence took a significant hit. Like any other writer who has a run of rejections or close but not good enough moments, I was bummed. Frustrated. Blah blah blah…

I sound like a whiny little bastard, don’t I? Please, let me continue to lament for a moment more.

All of these THEN moments… and I questioned myself, yet again. But, there was one more in there. I decided to push on with the edits to The Woodshed. I was nearly done when disaster struck. I won’t go into the details, but the edits to The Woodshed were somehow deleted—by complete accident. I was only a couple of pages from being done when the disaster happened.

If you’ve ever slowly let the air out of a balloon you will know exactly how I felt. I deflated after that. I’m not going to lie. I cussed, fussed, raised a ruckus. (Yeah, I’m poetically inclined.) My shoulders sagged in defeat. The ball game was over and my team had lost. I stared at the computer for what must have been minutes but seemed like hours.

For the next three weeks I wrote exactly ZERO stories. I stayed quiet about it, not wanting to be bothered with writing or really anything writing related. I stopped posting new things on my official web presence, Type AJ Negative. My desire to write faded like the hopes of a nerdy teen next to the football captain with the homecoming queen about to choose her date for the night. (I apologize to any nerdy teens out there who may read this. May the force be with you and all that jazz.)

Now STOP. Collaborate and listen… (oh boy)

Here in lies a HUGE problem for writers. We tend to lose our confidence fairly quick. What takes months and even years to build up can be dashed in a moment—kind of like the real world. We tend to forget the positive things that have happened along the yellow brick road. (I’ve always wondered why the color yellow was chosen. Just how did that brick road become yellow? Think about it and get back to me.)

So, let me see here. Positives. Positives. Oh, where art thou, Positives? Oh, wait, here they are, in the drawer marked POSITIVES. Wow, kind of dusty looking. Doesn’t appear to have been perused in a while. Hold on. Let me open this bad… boy… up… Seems to be stuck…

Mmm…(okay, this is where you picture me struggling, both hands on the handle, pulling as hard as I can to get the drawer o… pen…) Whoa. Ouch.

Whew. It’s open now. Let’s take a look inside.

Well, what do you know? There’s the file on The Woodshed. Holy cow. It received two recommendations for a Stoker. (Ah, but the negative wants to creep up and say, yeah, but it didn’t receive a nomination. Shut-up, Mr. Negativity.)

Michelle Lee reviewed the anthology, Dark Distortions, in which The Woodshed was published and had this to say:

“The Woodshed” by AJ Brown is one of the best stories of this anthology. Brown delves beyond the mere surface in this tale of a childhood survivor of abuse haunted by his abusers and presents an unflinching look at domestic violence. He refuses to shy away from the worst but also layers deeper effects, making the characters more sympathetic and believable.

There’s a positive. Makes me all warm and fuzzy on the inside.

My story, Mother Weeps, was nominated for a Pushcart Award.

Then there’s that little zombie series I have going on at The Tales of the Zombie War. Folks seem to like it and I hope it continues beyond the first three installments. I have the next three written and ready to go, so yeah, I really hope it continues. Some of the comments are pretty cool and, as a writer, makes me feel better about my abilities:

Excellent, the detail is sharp and I can really feel this guy. Please keep going.


I love this series. I had to reread it from the beginning just to get the full effect once more. You write in a manner that makes me feel what the character is feeling. The despair, loneliness, and hurt that this man feels is so well conveyed. Keep writing man. They are incredible.


And this one made my head swell just a little:

I love this series! Really great writing. I think this says a lot about your talent. When your reader stops seeing the story through your character’s eyes and starts seeing it through their own, you’ve accomplished something. Good Work.

My first pro sale was to Necrotic Tissue with a short piece titled, Picket Fences.

So, there are some positives here. There are others. These are the things that writers should hold onto when they get a little down in the dumps.

THEN… (Yes, there is another of these things, but this time it’s a good one.) Recently, I received a friend request over on my Facebook page from a young woman. I had never heard her name before, but she put a personal note on there, mentioned The Woman Who Loved the Red Stucco House and that she enjoyed it.

It had been probably a month since I had checked my Smashwords page and I hadn’t thought much about the story since. I had thought it was a mistake to put it up, that no one was reading it. THEN this young lady came along and proved me wrong. A reader liked it.

I have said over and over that writers need to be concerned with one thing: The Readers. If one person genuinely likes something you have written, then you have succeeded as a writer. I’m not talking friends and family either. I’m talking about people you don’t know.

So often we compare ourselves with other writers, where they are as opposed to where we are. That’s not a smart practice. It’s also a quick way to get disappointed with your own efforts. Don’t compare yourself with others. Plug along and do your thing. But most importantly, remember the readers. THEY are the ones that will make or break you. If you compare yourself with others, your THEN moments are going to be more and more depressing as the days pass.

I’d like to quote Joe Konrath here. From his blog, A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing, There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published.

I won’t sit here and lie and say I haven’t thought about throwing in the towel. I have, quite a bit over the last year. That goes against everything I believe in: quitting is just not my style.

Konrath also talks about self publishing and his believe that you should go that route if you have a book. I have a book that I’ve never considered publishing. I think that is about to change. Also, a new story will go up at Smashwords soon, maybe even as soon as next weekend, after the new computer comes in and things won’t be so painstakingly aggravating to get done.

Right now I’m having a THEN moment. This one is a positive. Hopefully, I can string along a few of those positive THEN moments. We’ll see…

For now, though, I think I need to change the saying on my blog. There are way more A.J. Brown’s out there than I thought there were. Damn you copycats!


Shameless self promotion time:

If you would like to read any of the stories mentioned above, you can check a couple of them out by going to these places:

The Woman Who Loved the Red Stucco House at Smashwords

Dredging Up Memories at Tales of the Zombie War

Mother Weeps at Pow Fast Flash Fiction

Hopefully, The Woodshed will be ready to go up on Smashwords in the next month or so. Having to completely re-do the edits is going to take a while.

And Picket Fences appeared in Necrotic Tissue. Unfortunately, they have closed shop and I don’t know if you can still purchase a copy of it.

(Herbie’s Note: I apologize to any of my friends who feel that I should not self publish some of my work. I have nearly a thousand short stories on my hard drive and I would like to share them with readers in hopes that they will be entertained and enjoy a story that I have told.)

8 thoughts on “THEN Moments and Confidence, They Feed Off Each Other

  1. Nice, thoughtful post, AJ. May you be blessed with many positive THEN moments!

    And a Wikipedia entry on the Yellow Brick Road suggests it may have been inspired by a road paved with yellow bricks in Holland, Michigan, where L. Frank Baum spent summers.


  2. Good post, AJ. And no need to apologize to anyone if you want to self-publish some stuff. I think knowing what you want and sticking to your guns is important, man. And a string of rejections does suck. I think it rattles some people more than others. Mine seem to come in threes (and then luckily they’re followed by three acceptances. LOl. So it’s not all bad.)

    Good point in not comparing yourself to other people too. I agree, way too many writers get caught up in that. But it’s like any creative art (guitarist are horrible about it.) It’s part of human nature, especially when you work your ass off.


  3. THEN philosophy and Mike Tyson … um … interesting combination. Yeah – rejection comes with the territory, but it sure as hell doesn’t make it easy. Thanks for another great post.


  4. The road for the fearsome four really WAS yellow, wasn’t it? Never thought about it before. That’s what I like about you. The way you make people think, not just in your blog, but especially in your stories. You make people think with their heart sometimes, too. Which is a lot harder to do than making them think with their heads. Really inspirational blog here, AJ. Thanks for that!


  5. Wonderful post, A.J. I hope you don’t mind, but I mentioned it on my blog. I have felt so much the same so many times! I’m glad you remembered to look at the positives and put the negatives behind you.


  6. Great thoughtful piece, AJ. This is one occurrence that happens to those of us who place our souls on the line with every story.

    As Editor of Welcome to Wherever, I try to remember that when I am reading submissions, and anything that I reject has to be rejected for a good reason and those reasons enumerated in a nice way so as to protect the souls of the people who submit.

    I’ve shared this on Facebook…


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