Don’t Call Procrastination Laziness. Call it Fear. (PART ONE)

From the very beginning, one of my primary goals has been to ensure that all authors have access to professional-quality book publishing, sales, and marketing—even those who can’t easily afford these services. Every year, I’ve offered this opportunity to them in the form of simple contests and free giveaways. But, far from helping more authors transform their dreams from the invisible into existence, this exercise has instead provided me with some very interesting insight into the mind of an artist. It has made me rethink my whole strategy and tweak my focus so I can help these people in hopefully more effective ways.

In part one of this blog series, we’ll take a closer look at the experiment, the result, and the subsequent conclusion I came to regarding what is stopping people from moving forward with their books. In part two, which will follow in a few days, we’ll look at some effective strategies an author can use to work with his or her own brain rather than battling against it. Success as an author is just around the corner once you can conquer this.

The Experiment

The first year, I took out a specialty insurance policy which allowed PPG to offer authors a chance to win $100,000 in cash if they referred aspiring authors to us who ended up purchasing one of our book publishing packages, if they purchased one of our book publishing packages toward the publication of their own book, or if they could prove they sold fifty copies of their already-published PPG book in a bookstore consignment deal. Long story short, there were very few entries into this contest and nobody won. I deemed this experiment unsuccessful because it didn’t drum up anywhere near the new business I had hoped for; and, I attributed that lack of interest to the fact that it required people to invest a significant amount of time or money upfront for a chance to win, and that it was only a chance instead of a guarantee that at least one person would win.

So the next year, I offered a chance to win $5,000 toward a professional PPG publishing package to all Canadian adults aged eighteen years or older with a guarantee that one person would win. This time, no one had to pay any money upfront. People could qualify for more than one chance to win in various ways: by liking our Facebook page; by following us on Twitter; by subscribing to the PPG Publisher’s Blog; or by joining the PPG Writers Forum. I figured there would be much more interest across the country—and there was—but something curious happened. Despite the fact that we had quite a few contestants and one seemingly solid winner, a book was never published as a result of this contest.

The Result

Despite being given the opportunity—the written guarantee!—to have a professional-quality book published free of charge, in which 100 percent copyright ownership of both the written words and the artwork produced for that project would remain with the author, our winner still procrastinated on publishing the book for several months. Halfway through the year, we had a conversation about this. I expressed to this author that the prize was to have a book published within the year; and if we didn’t begin the publication process within the next month or two, it would be impossible to have it completed within the year, which would render the contest null and void. I provided a deadline that the winner agreed to meet; and it was also agreed that if we didn’t begin publication of the book by that date then, out of fairness to the other contestants, the contest would be re-opened to them.

The winner procrastinated some more . . . right past the agreed-upon deadline. So, a letter was sent out to all of the contestants (including the winner) offering everyone one more crack at this prize. (This letter was also posted publicly on the PPG Facebook Page.) Due to the lateness in the year, everyone was given two weeks to submit their properly-formatted manuscripts and artwork to PPG in order to qualify, otherwise the contest would be deemed null and void. Four of these contestants (including the first winner) expressed a solid interest and said they had books ready to go, so it was hopeful for one gleaming moment in time that we might have ourselves a winner. But guess what happened? Everyone procrastinated past the deadline. No one submitted their work. The contest was deemed null and void.

I can vividly recall one of these contestants using the excuse of limited time. “It’s going to take me four hours to put together everything you need in order to submit my book to you. I don’t have that kind of time right now.” I’ll admit I was not only shocked by this but also a little annoyed. I didn’t respond to the comment. I didn’t know how to respond to that, because I found it so perplexing that someone would abandon $5,000 in free cash for only four hours of work. It was the equivalent of me paying that person $1,250 per hour to do what needed be done to get that book ready for our professional publishing process; and yet, this contestant still wouldn’t (couldn’t?) do it: nor would any of the others.

The Conclusion

I’ve come to realize that an author’s procrastination has very little to do with him or her being too frugal to invest the amount of money that is necessary to produce a professional quality book; because, even when given the opportunity to do it for free, many people still can’t bring themselves to do it. And it has even less to do with simple laziness. This is about fear. Only an intense fear of something can prevent an author from publishing and selling his or her book. But a fear of what? That’s the question.

Or maybe a more accurate way to word that question would be, “What exactly causes fear?” And perhaps the answer is simple genetics—a surplus, irrational “fight or flight” survival instinct that is still present in the human brain even after thousands of years of evolution. According to an article titled The Brain from Top to Bottom, written by Bruno Dubuc and posted on McGill University’s website,

The first time you observe the anatomy of the human brain, its many folds and overlapping structures can seem very confusing, and you may wonder what they all mean. But just like the anatomy of any other organ or organism, the anatomy of the brain becomes much clearer and more meaningful when you examine it in light of the evolutionary processes that created it.

Dubuc goes on to compare the three components of the human brain: the reptilian brain; the limbic brain; and the neocortex. Of these three components,

The reptilian brain, the oldest of the three, controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brain includes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum. The reptilian brain is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive.

Your unconscious, compulsive, automatic fear of things unknown is created in the reptilian portion of your brain. It’s purely instinctual, just like reptiles. They don’t “think” or “rationalize” things through. Nor do they have any sort of emotional response to things. Reptiles simply react out of their natural survival instinct. When they are faced with a common situation that’s known to them, they either live in/on it . . . or they eat it. When they are faced with a potentially threatening (unknown) situation, they run and hide. Theirs is a pretty simple, straightforward existence.

Instinct is a good thing that serves a valid purpose in our lives. God gave us all an instinct for a reason, and we should pay attention to it; but, whenever your fear of the unknown has you avoiding potentially advantageous opportunities simply because they’re new to you, I encourage you to consult with your more evolutionarily advanced neocortex—the logical, rational portion of your brain—by writing your fears down. Articulate them to yourself in writing. Read them out loud to yourself. When you do this, you’ll begin to see just how irrational many of those fears really are.

There are the fears that come up before you’ve published your book, and then the ones that creep in during the publishing process itself. And if that’s not enough, once you get past those and actually publish your book, then there’s the fear of book sales and marketing to contend with—the anxiety you feel at the idea of exposing yourself publicly. Julia Cameron put it best in her book titled The Artist’s Way when she wrote:

Do not call procrastination laziness. Call it fear. Fear is what blocks an artist. The fear of not being good enough. The fear of not finishing. The fear of failure and of success. The fear of beginning at all. There is only one cure for fear. The cure is love. Use love for your artist to cure its fear.

All of your concerns about book publishing, sales, and marketing are variations of the exact same thing: the reptilian brain’s unconscious, automatic “fight or flight” survival instinct triggered by its fear of the unknown and coupled with its inability to feel love. That’s it. That’s the cause right there.

My goal in writing this blog entry is to do my best to put your reptilian mind at ease so you can use your neocortex more effectively in the successful publishing, sales, and marketing of your book. In fact, you’re going to use more than your logical neocortex. You’re also going to learn how to put your emotional limbic brain to good use so you can appeal to others’ limbic brains to get them to buy your book after its been published.

As Zig Ziglar, a well-known and often-quoted American author, salesman, and motivational speaker, so aptly stated, “People don’t buy for logical reasons. They buy for emotional reasons.” The most effective salespeople appeal to their customers’ emotions to sell their products and services. I hope to teach you some effective ways to do this so you can publish that book at long last and enjoy more commercial sales success as an author. That is my intention.

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