Can’t speak for everyone, of course, but it’s my general impression many authors don’t have great faith or confidence in their own work. They are mostly a shy bunch, the ones I’ve met anyway, backwards in coming forwards.
There are exceptions of course. Norman Mailer was hardly shy for example. He seems to have been aggressive in the face of pretty much everything. He once got in a near fatal fight in the street with three sailors because they said his miniature poodle was ‘gay’. I suspect his confidence was boosted by the huge, unexpected and breath-taking success of his first book The Naked and the Dead. After its publication he was feted across the USA like a movie star. It was Martin Amis who pointed out that someone in the UK whose book had a similar level of success would buy a set of filing cabinets and consider giving up their job as a school teacher.
Mailer’s boundless, sailor thumping confidence is the exception though. Most of us never experience his level of acclaim and I suspect reticence is trained into us through years of rejection from agents and publishers. Even when we achieve publication it goes through us like a watermark. The new breed of self published author seeks to swerve this of course but you can be rejected by readers too if your book fails to sell and that’s the fate of many.
So we train ourselves not to expect much for our work and to accept it is merely the best we can do.
Even famous authors feel this to a degree I think, so exceptions seem remarkable. Here’s another one for you. Carson McCullers was so convinced of the potency of her novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter that she became convinced that the movie star Greta Garbo would fall immediately in love with her if she read it. So she shuffled off round to Garbo’s mansion, banged on the door and handed over a copy.
It didn’t have the desired effect at all, luminous and wonderful though the book is, it failed to make Garbo fall into bed with her.
And though it’s clearly bonkers to believe you have written a book so good it’s going to make movie stars sleep with you I sort of admire old Carson for her chutzpah.
When people ask me about my work I say things like: “It’s not a bad effort,” and “It seems to have turned out okay.” Self-disparaging, low-key things, desperate not to attract attention to the work or to me.
I don’t believe that’s a me thing, or even a British thing, I think it’s an author thing.