How to Survive the Slough of Despond

I’m not sure how many people these days understand the allusion in the title. It refers to a location in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve never read it, honestly, although I’ve heard the phrase for years. Here’s a quotation from it, via from the Wikipedia entry for “Slough of Despond,” which literally means swamp of despair: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended…There ariseth in [the sinner’s] soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place, and this is the reason for the badness of this ground.” I left out the parts about sin; that belongs in a religious commentary, which this isn’t.  Substitute “writer’s” for “sinner’s,” and doesn’t this sound like the state of mind in which we often find ourselves? Fears? Check. Doubts? Check. Discouraging apprehensions? Oh yeah, in spades.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m in a personal Slough of Despond at the moment. John Bunyan wouldn’t understand the actual phrase “burned out,” but he’d probably include the essence of that phrase in his nasty swamp. I’m not burned out on writing, surprisingly, but on marketing. No, the writing of the WIP (which stands for “work in progress,” for those of you who were afraid to ask) is going along swimmingly, thanks. Y’know, when I actually find time to write. At the moment, writing is easy. Marketing is hard.

Marketing is hard anyway to most writers. If you’re fearful of ridicule in reviews that say your heartfelt work is crap, how are you able to tell everybody in the world they should read it because it’s great? If you doubt your ability to write because no one has bought it or even downloaded it for free, how can you summon the catchy and intriguing prose that will compel readers to catapult you to the Amazon top 100? As has been pointed out elsewhere (I’m not finding the actual quote, but trust me on this), writers of fiction are not generally used to writing marketing copy, especially for themselves.

It’s especially discouraging when you aren’t seeing great sales. That’s where I am these days. My sales are pretty pitiful (like a couple of sales a week or less), despite a regimen of marketing and participating and trying to get my name out there. I’ve put out a collection of stories, but I’ve been too burned out to really promote it much. The next book, The Source of Lightning, is in editing, and I’m hoping it will find more readers. But in the indie marketing game, “hoping” just doesn’t cut it.

So what do you do? You’re not going to like the answer. Everybody tells you there’s no magic bullet. Everybody’s right. If you read the authors of “how to” e-books I reviewed in my last post, they’ll tell you it’s hard work. And luck, as J.A. Konrath always reminds us. You keep at it, that’s what you do. Hire it done, if you have the money to spare. Check out people like Duolit. Read blogs like Indie Author Community for inspiration. Join groups like Indie Author Group to learn and rejuvenate. Above all, keep at it.

Really, that slough can’t stretch on forever. You’ll get to the end of it eventually. Or you’ll decide it’s too hard and give up. Take courage in the fact that you’re an indie author, and YOU are in charge of your destiny. Reach out for help. Keep on keepin’ on. If you don’t illuminate the path, luck won’t find you.

Comment and let me know how you survive the Slough of Despond.


  1. There is something positive in the fact that you are preparing to publish another book despite sales. The Indie world of wait… it will come… is a great test of one’s mettle.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Hope! You are so right about the waiting. But all the experts say it’s a long-term experience, and the more books you publish, the more you’ll sell, even if it takes awhile.

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