The Princess Author Syndrome

by | Feb 25, 2015

By Judith Briles

In front of me was a new fiction manuscript. I had read the first three chapters to get a feel for the book beforehand. It needed editing, but so do all books to some degree. The opening chapter had legs and moved me to the next, always a good sign.

Could it move to the editing stage? My recommendation was to make it so at the joint meeting with the author and editor in my offices who had already done a pre-screening of the manuscript and felt that it was ready to start formal editing.

The author was shocked that I could make that decision without reading all 100,000 words of his masterpiece. Those of us who do content editing can tell quickly if we have a mess on our hands or something that needs what I call tweaking. It can be time consuming, but not massive re-writes. I didn’t see the need in front of me, again recommending that the book be moved to a full edit and proceeded to talk game plan and book strategy with him.

What evolved was something else; something that started my internal author alarms positioning for warning, warning.

My warning signal was buzzing … warning, warning … in front of me was a Princess Author.

Princess Authors have no gender. They want others to inundate them with words of praise about their books (or selves) … crave to be told that their words melt like butter on hot bread and that everyone will rush to buy the book … and believe that presence on social media and marketing is for others … never them. Their books never stink.

In other words, Princess Authors want to be “kept” … thinking/believing that there is no work involved after a book is written.

prince-ess (2)Oh boy. Even with the surge in indie and self-publishing; the numerous conferences and programs readily available to authors and authors-to-be; the countless blogs and articles that are just a click away, Princess Authors continue to multiply.

They are either ignorant or choose to ignore the work that must be done to support a book once it is a book in hand—either print or “e”.

The author’s manuscript to book journey is not one that is easily waltzed through. There are plenty of signposts but a variety of barriers and potholes await, even landmines. They can pop up anywhere along the creation, production and execution routes.

Assuming that a book gets birthed, Princess Authors excel in practicing benign neglect. Yes, they care about their book. But the underlying belief is that they are done.

It’s up to the public to find them. To buy the book. To tell others to buy the book. To discover if the author is out and about and come hear him or her. For the media to locate them and honor them with being a guest or featured on a show or in print. For people everywhere to buzz about how wonderful the book and the author is. Social media is for others, not them.

And those beliefs create the guaranteed formula for author and book failure.

How to Duck the Princess Author Syndome

To avoid drifting into the Princess Author Syndrome, authors today must be as proactive as any have even been. It’s a competitive world out there—a book-eat-book world.

To avoid being sucked into the Princess Author Syndrome, today’s author quickly learns: if author and book success is to be, it is clearly up to me.

That means a game plan is in play—part of yours will include:

  • knowing and stating who your ideal buyer is.
  • knowing and being able to communicate in 15 seconds what value your book brings to the reader.
  • discovering which social media platforms are used by your ideal reader/buyer.
  • identifying the top 10 influencers in your genre—your competitors—and following them in their social media platforms.
  • creating a website that gets new material added on an ongoing basis.
  • having a strategy of how and when you will communicate via social media (Blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and following it. Social media is your town hall. If you don’t orchestrate and implement, hire someone who will.
  • determining what steps you will take to gain visibility for you/and or your book and implement a plan that you can follow.
  • understanding that if you can’t do the reach out/stay connected work, you will hire someone who will.
  • getting that as long as you desire book sales, you will need to market your book.

The list is longer, but heads start spinning with the amount of “work” that becoming and being a successful author entails. My author-to-be put his head in his hands, shaking it. “It’s too much. I can’t … I don’t want to … I won’t … ”

My time is not free. As he got out his checkbook to pay my fee for the two-hour consult, I told him to stop and keep his money. I wasn’t going to work with him to develop all of the above and more. He wanted to be taken care of; to be told that his words were golden; and that the world would knock down bookstore doors to get copies of his book. It was not going to happen.

If the author and book are to be successful, it’s up to the author. If the author isn’t going to do the work that is necessary to propel his or her words and won’t hire a virtual assistant or team players to make it happen, it won’t. Princess Authors need not apply.

Judith BrilesJudith Briles is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. She is an advocate for authors and writers and is known as The Book Shepherd. Delivering practical authoring and publishing information and guidance, she has authored 31 books, won multiple book awards and co-founded Mile High Press. Judith is the Chief Visionary Officer of

You can learn more about Judith here.


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  1. Kristan Cannon

    I love this article and while, thankfully, I’m not the princess author. I did however print this out and add the words, “Or the author’s princess spouse.”

    Sometimes it’s not the author who is the princess but the spouse, despite all efforts and discussions, only sees the same as the princess author and doesn’t get why the actual author still needs to work to market the book. I am, of course, speaking from personal experience.

    Thankfully my princess spouse figured it out. Unfortunately it took awhile.

  2. Nat Russo

    Judith, this was a wonderful article. I’m a self-published author with a modest amount of success, and I mentor other up-and-coming authors. They’re usually gobsmacked when I tell them the amount of work it takes to become and stay visible.

    I’m convinced more and more that to be a successful author in today’s publishing landscape requires a healthy dose of entrepreneurial spirit.

    • Judith Briles

      Nat, you’ve got an “Amen” from me here. The entrepreneurial stream gets that a business is brewing and/or jumps in know that’s what publishing, self-publishing, indie publishing is about. The hobbyist/dabbler doesn’t. His or her fate may just be the norm–about 100 books are sold.

      Love the word “gobsmacked” … must remember it!

  3. Laura Bastian

    True, Judith. Thanks for posting this. As a publishing professional I encounter it across genders.

    I do think most authors come to realize they need to be less passive once their books have been out for a bit. The majority come around to getting on board with what they need to do in good time.

    I tend to cut them some slack. The truth is we publishing folk live and breathe the industry, so we know how tough it is getting traction for new authors/books. We see our successful clients work for it. Newbies usually don’t follow the industry as closely as we do and are shocked with the slow trickle of sales. The good news is that old-time values like persistence, investment, and hard work pay off!

    • Judith Briles

      Thanks Laura … I think the divide happens with these two questions–questions that will separate most by looking in the mirror and ask one self … Is what I’m doing a random hobby–I’m I diddling with writing and publishing? … or Is this something I will dig into with my time and energy–and yes, pocketbook–and commit to marketing and making it a success?

      It’s time for a Come to Book Chat.

  4. Carlen

    Thank you, Judith. I’ve printed this off and taped to my wall two feet in front of my nose!

    • Judith Briles

      You ought to see all my walls … in fact …with each new book project, it all begins on a white board and/or flip chart with a variety of colored sticky notes to start my visual layout before any writing begins.

  5. Susannah Scott

    Wonderful post Judith!

    The gender doesn’t matter, most debut author are ill prepared for what happens after they get the call. IMO, this lack of preparation not only makes authors difficult behind the scenes, it has increased the number of author social media meltdowns.

    I’ve studied eight of these meltdowns, start to finish, noting everything from the inciting incident to the fall out in books sales. There is a definite pattern–on all sides.

    The tragedy is not only for the imploding author. Their bad behavior muddies the entire book community with ill-will waters and spawns divisive arguments between reviewers, bloggers, and authors. All of this could be avoided with a little author tough love and preparation.

    All my best,

    • Judith Briles

      Susannah … would love to see your 8 meltdown behaviors. I’m at [email protected]

      So for climbing out of the muddle! Here’s to us with the shovels!

      • Susannah Scott

        Here, here!

  6. Sandra Wendel


    Thanks for putting a name on these types of authors. Yes, absolutely, I have been in your editing shoes with prima donnas a number of times when they say, “You need to read the whole thing first.” “If you would read it all, you’d understand my point.” “What do you mean there’s no story line?” “My characters are just fine.” Appreciate your candor.

    • Judith Briles

      Hello Sandra … if only authors knew–and now our readers well–how most movies are green lighted … the first page or two is read and the last two. If it hooks, the falling in happens; if there’s a great conclusion or another hook … done deal!

      The other kicker is our reading time is time … meaning that it can’t be donated as a full time endeavor. New writers and authors-to-be get stuck on the pay issue… it’s hard to grasp that money has to go out now when the author has put so much in and weren’t paid for it. The fate of we authors who labor.

  7. Alta Walters

    Great content! It’s good to reinforce that authors must step up to the plate to make their brand fly. Unfortunate that the choice of language, “princess author,” reinforces misogyny and bias.

    • Judith Briles

      Alta … if you can come up with a term that will be readily recognized with a behavior that can imply both male and female inclusion and mirrors my intent, let me know.

      Years ago, I did a study that became the genesis for a breakout book. The topic was sabotage/betrayal/undermining … of women toward women. My dissertation was on it, that first book was Woman to Woman: From Sabotage to Support which enjoyed eight printings that I knew of and was featured in everything from People to the Wall St Journal to the National Enquirer and the Oprah to anything range. Quite a ride. And I was publicly challenged shredded by many women and women groups (including Glamour magazine that went to challenge my study; did its own and then publicly announced that it paralleled mine)–how dare, say, publish that women undermine other women–even Gloria Steinem tried to talk me out of publishing … until I reminded her that Ms magazine was circling the toilet because of the behavior I was exposing.

      That book led to four other books and thirty years of deep-diving into the female dominated workplace of healthcare where a common phrase-nurses eat their young–has been bantered for eons.

      Staboteur in the midst is what I called it–male or female. Princeteur–nope, doesn’t work. Is it Helplessness Syndrome–nope. Entitledness Syndrome–well, there’s something there. But … I like Princess …

  8. Kim Hruba

    While I agree with the article, and you state the gender neutrality in your description – I think it’s unfortunate that you opted to use the word “princess” instead of another word. As women, how about being part of the shift of such language? (I’m thinking here, for example, of the movement to stop using the word “bossy” to describe assertive girls/women or females in leadership.) Why make princesses synonymous with demanding and lazy? How about identifying them as cultural or political leaders of their respective states? What other adjectives could be used in place of princess? How about “anti-due diligence?”

    The reaction of the author you referenced in your article, who, “put his head in his hands, shaking it. ‘It’s too much. I can’t … I don’t want to … I won’t … ‘” sounds like he was despairing, overwhelmed, and frustrated as opposed to demanding and lazy. I can identify with those emotions. As you mentioned, the whole experience – not just writing the book, but the publishing – is a journey. Despair was part of my journey – a time when I knew I wasn’t ready to do the work to publish. But a few years later, I was ready to do the work – and did it.

    I wholeheartedly support beating the drum of due diligence. But maybe the name calling is unnecessary. For the professionals who work with the publishing process day in and day out with many, many authors each year – it might seem obvious to you – but for a newbie, remember that it’s their first time and like you said – a journey.

    • K. A. Jordan

      I would agree with you, except I’ve seen some of these ‘Literary Aristocrats’ throw hissy fits that would do a two-year in a tiara proud.

      • Judith Briles

        the visual of a Literary Aristocrat in a tiara makes me smile–along with the LA has no clothes.

        • K. A. Jordan

          We could call them “Special SnowFlakes” because of the way they melt down.

          I think the Myth of the Best Selling Author is right up there with Cinderella in our culture. It doesn’t exist in the real world, but we cherish the myth with all our hearts.

          • Judith Briles

            K. A. – I think “best selling” should be better defined-redefined–gads, I see another blog coming on to tackle. Is it so many copies? Hitting a major list? What? For me, I’ve personally sold most books that the majority of NY Times best sellers … but they weren’t through the stores. I did it with my mouth and speaking about my topics.

            Special SnowFlakes … interesting. Than, maybe Diva Authors and Divo Authors and make the word up? I’m sticking with Princess Authors – I can visually see what it means.

    • Joan Stewart

      Political correctness makes for boring copy.

      Anyone who knows Judith Briles knows she’s anything but boring.

      She calls ’em like she sees ’em. That’s why she’s one of the most talented writers I know and one helluva book shepherd.

      • Judith Briles

        I’m honored and humbled Ms. Publicity Hound! As a certified member of the OBC–the Old Broad’s Club, political correctness isn’t my forte.

    • Judith Briles

      Ahhh Kim … the journey is an overwhelm for sure, even for those of us who have traveled the road many times. To add more to the author I referenced, I had observed and interacted with him at various author gatherings — he had heard many times from others the level and depth of work needed. Anti-due diligence … no way, he had been exposed to what was needed multiple times–I pin-pointed it specifically for his book. The reality was, he wanted to be a kept author.

    • Ernie Zelinski

      I don’t think that Judith goes far enough. Let’s tell it like it is. As a traditional and mainly self-published author whose books have sold over 875,000 copies worldwide, I think that I know a little bit of what it takes to be a success as a writer. From the comments I see posted on various blogs and websites, I have to conclude that the vast majority of wannabe bestselling authors are severely delusional. Of course, these wannabes trap themselves in a Catch-22. They are too delusional to realize that they are delusional. So their conditions get more severe with time.

      On a previous blog post by Joel, I mentioned why I would never consider publishing any other author’s books. I will share that again. I have several times indicated that my mentor has been Robert J. Ringer. Ringer is the only person to the best of my knowledge to write, self-publish, and market three #1 New York Times bestsellers in print editions. His self-published books sold over 10 million copies in the 1970’s and the 1980’s. Not so long two of Ringer’s self-published books were listed by the “New York Times” among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

      After Ringer’s success in publishing his own books, he decided
      to publish other’s people’s books. Ringer states:

      “I had the misfortune of striking it rich on the very first book I published, which is analogous to going to Las Vegas for the first time and coming away a winner. The book was a doom-and-gloom treatise on investing called ‘Crisis Investing’ . . . sales of the book went through the ceiling. Even more amazing, ‘Crisis Investing’ ultimately enjoyed a string of fifteen consecutive weeks in the number-one position on the ‘New York Times’ best-seller list and became the biggest-selling hardcover book of 1980.”

      In the end, Ringer said that he wished he had failed with that book. He actually managed to put three of other people’s books on the “New York Times” best-seller list after less than a year in business.

      Ringer said that this experience of publishing other people’s books gave him firsthand appreciation of what conventional publishers have to put up with in dealing with authors — and he didn’t like this at all! He called the business of dealing with authors the “Publishing Asylum.”

      Ringer stated, “The one thing that most unpublished authors have in common is that each of them seems absolutely certain that he’s written the sequel to ‘Gone with the Wind’ — or at least ‘Think and Grow Rich’ — and makes demands accordingly.”

      Ringer continued, “It got to a point where my staff and I would spend a large percentage of our time discussing strategies to humor our most deranged authors. When I finally extricated myself from the publishing business, I could have written a great movie script based on my zany experiences. I can see myself now, accepting an Oscar for ‘Psycho Author’.”

      Again, let’s tell it like it is. There are tens of thousands of “psychos” out there thinking they are going to make it big in the publishing field. Fact is, these people will not ever get around to publishing a book and if they do, their book will sell fewer than 100 copies in its lifetime. Unfortunately, there are too many people
      in the book publishing industry willing to sell these “psychos” services such as editing, cover design, etc knowing full well that these psychos’ books will never sell 100 copies.

      Ernie J. Zelinski
      The Prosperity Guy
      “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
      Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
      (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
      and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
      (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

      • Judith Briles

        Ernie … rarely would I use the word psycho … oh, there are some. How about just plain The Delusional Author, which too many are as you point out. Hmmm, I see another blog come on with tips on how to not fall into the trap and how to get out if you are.

        With POD and the thriving vanity press operations now operating under “self-publishing services” and accepted with open arms, the publishing predators who work/market both stealthily and boldly are flourishing.

        The Delusional Author springs from ignorance. That can be changed with getting the foot in the water and ongoing education. The Princess Author wants to be kept and have all done for him/her. That could work if he/she had the money to pay someone to do all the work … yet as you know, “could” is the operative word. The word that is critical is “committed.”

        I’ve never had the experience of an author in my circle who has had a roaring success unless he or she was hugely committed to moving the book; talking about the book; engaging about the book … in other words, the GOYT factor was in play … get off your tush.

        Maybe what we are both saying is: if the author can’t commit, they should quit? And yet, there’s a spark there … maybe, just maybe it’s ignited and the author and book moves into play mode. The optimist in me.

        Congrats on your sales.

  9. K. A. Jordan

    It takes such a long time to understand just how much work is involved with publishing a book.

    The first time, it seems impossible that writing and crafting the book is just the tip of the iceberg. The easiest part, in fact, and the most fun part.

    I watched Indie Publishing start with the birth of the Kindle, and start to expand from there. The first few years, Indie authors were provided with a sterling opportunity, because there was no backlist available.

    I did very well my first 2 years. Had a UK Bestseller in Romantic Suspense, made hundreds of sales and gave away more than 10k books. There were only 100k ebooks available. Now there are what? 5 million?

    Now, there is a lot more work involved with getting discovered. The Prince/Princess wants to play the Trade Published game as it was 20 or 30 years ago.

    Alas – those days are long gone. However, the money is much, much better now.

    • Judith Briles

      So agree K.A. My roots come from traditional publishing … I was a “kept author”–great advances; crisscrossing the country on the publisher’s dime for media; book tours for each new book where at times I didn’t think I could do another perky TV spot. The old days of the 80s, early 90s are gone. Yesteryear.

      My cross-over came in the year 2000 when a client I was speaking for asked if I could negotiate a discount for one of my books with the publisher. It wanted to give them to clients and audience participants. Having just taken the rights of the book back, I responded that I could, clueless about the path I was about to embark upon. The order was for 1,000 books and I negotiated enough moneys to re-edit, layout and print 2,000 books. I was now a publisher–and my fast learning curve moved into play.

      Thirteen of my own books later and publishing others, would I go back to traditional publishing? No way.

  10. Joan Stewart

    Another dead giveaway that you’re working with a Princess:

    “My book is good enough that it will sell itself.”

    • Judith Briles

      Joan … that has to rank in the top five remarks that is used in a typical pitch to an agent … and that creates the tuning out response. Ho hum…

    • Amy Collins

      “It will sell a MILLION Copies!

      • Judith Briles

        It’s the next Harry Potter, Twilight, 50 Shades ….

  11. JJ Bach

    One need only read through the many writing-related groups in LinkedIn to realize the limitless size of the seething horde of Princess Writers that are out there……

    • Judith Briles

      What scares me JJ, is that so many get taken by the publishing predators with promises of glory that surely fizzle.

      • Flora Morris Brown

        Hi Judith,

        This is what worries me most too! These Princess Authors back away from the wise advice offered by book shepherds like you, and waltz right into the waiting claws of the Prince Harmings of Self-Publishing.

  12. Diana Plattner

    I read this article with a mixture of interest and disagreement. In my experience, authors who consider their work to be “above editing” are not necessarily reluctant to promote their titles. In fact, the rudest, most arrogant author I have ever encountered (he actually wrote “How DARE you edit me?” [caps-lock included]) was also very aggressive about book signings, promotions, guest blog posts, and so on.

    Conversely, the authors who are the most reluctant to engage in these activities are rarely motivated by egotism. Usually they fit into one of two categories: either (1) middle-aged, first-time authors who don’t do social media and are afraid of making fools of themselves; or (2) old-school literary authors who’ve been taught to view self-promotion as unseemly. The attitude of the latter isn’t “I’m so wonderful, it’s up to the world to discover my treasures”; it’s “If I wrote something good, it will find its place in the world. If it doesn’t find a place, it must not be very good.” It takes time to persuade these authors that they can sell their work without selling their souls.

    • Judith Briles

      Hi Diana … of course authors can sell books without selling their souls–I actually personally don’t know any who have become soulless. The man I described did not believe that I, or anyone, could express a viable opinion about the merit of his manuscript without reading every word; he did not believe that the editor who had gone through the first three chapters could express a reliable opinion/recommendation without doing the same.

      Social media is the town hall for book marketing–I have authors I work with who are either ignorant and reluctant to start the learning curve. If an author wants to sell books, it’s get over it time. Either start learning or hire someone who knows the drill.
      I know that sounds black and white–but it’s part of the publishing DNA today.

      • Diana Plattner

        Judith, I agree completely — publishing is different for everyone these days, no matter how reluctant some authors may be to accept the new climate. That’s the thing about climate: it exists, and we’re in it, whether we accept it or not. And of course it’s not necessary to sell one’s soul in order to sell one’s work. Writers were out there self-publishing and hustling their product long before the brief, glorious era of Big New York Publishing. Good writers. Commercially successful writers. Literary writers.

        My concern is that we take care not to perpetuate the wrong-headed idea so many writers have about the author-editor relationship. We’ve all heard the joke, right? An author and an editor have been trudging for days through a blazing desert when they happen upon a deep, pristine oasis. The author falls to his knees and begins to drink; when he looks up, he sees the editor pissing in the water. “What are you doing?” the author cries. “Making it better,” says the editor.

        Ha ha ha, I get it. Laughed my head off first time I heard it. Sadly, the joke survives because so many people think it’s true — editors are bullies, or they’re failed writers taking their frustrations out on “real” authors.

        Obviously, that’s not the way of it. Obviously, there are far too many writers who cop a royal attitude, and their hubris wrecks their work. My point is simply to encourage editors not to grow jaded, to avoid an us-versus-them attitude, and to steer wide of sweeping generalizations. Not every reluctant author is a Royal Author. A few do, indeed, need to be told to get over it (although in my experience, those who most need to hear that are the least likely to heed it). With most authors, it’s more effective to “get under the rock of their reasons” and help their understanding. This approach educates the author, develops repeat customers, and in whatever small way, improves the wider author-editor climate.

        • Judith Briles

          My advice to all authors when they get an edited manuscript back–whether it’s on hard copy with markings that the author inputs or on electronic with the tracking– first BREATHE deeply before it’s opened. Next, get your favorite beverage and then sit down quietly, undisturbed. No phone calls, pings, nothing. Read through first to last page. KEEP BREATHING.

          When the markings come back, the first inclination is to resist and deny it needed this much work–changes. What, the editor pissed all over my masterpiece??? Get over it. The editor’s job is to make the author’s words look better and that means the book and the author jointly.

          Now, 90% of what the editor has done is usually spot on. The other 10% might be something the author will want to resist or decline or brainstorm with the editor.

          I remember my first book sale to NY and my new editor telling me that it would now move to editing. “What?” I said. “I paid an editor to do that already before it was given to the agent.” And so my lessons began in the 80s about publishing and the multiple edits books need. All books need.

  13. susan troccolo

    Wow Judith, powerful stuff. I read this as I have Frances Caballo’s “Twitter Just for Writers: The Ultimate How-To Guide for Authors” as the first item on my To-Do list this morning. It was clear to me from day one that publishing would be a business I would drive myself. CEO of Me. Maybe what these authors don’t understand is the value (and fun) in learning new skills. With the resources out there today, we can choose to learn to do it ourselves, or find someone to do what-ever-it-is for us. #That’s Indie!

    • Judith Briles

      Hi Susan, as a #Twitter junkie, the savvy #author knows that he or she has to work the tush off for #book #success.

  14. Michael N. Marcus

    >The author was shocked that I could make that decision without reading all 100,000 words of his masterpiece.<<

    It doesn't take long to tell the difference between garbage and good.

    Several time I've gone to a movie with my wife and within five minutes I knew it was a stinker and was ready to leave. She begged me to stay, saying "it might get better."

    I know that bad seldom becomes good and my policy is: "I've already wasted my money. I will not also waste my time."

    Twice I got refunds for the ticket price when I walked out on stinkers.

    Readers should keep in mind that Amazon and B&N will give refunds on books you do not like. Don't be bashful. Don't suffer in silence.

    • Judith Briles

      I’m with you Michael. I’ll walk out of a movie–hubby wants to give it a chance; I ask for my money back … and with books; I have returned them (by the way Costco will take them back also)–the last one I did that to was a John Grisham that I actually forced myself to read and was so ticked that I post an 1 star review on Amazon. I’ve convinced he didn’t write it; or wrote it with an hour glass that sanded out.

      As a reader, you know within a few pages if you are going to want to stay with it.

  15. Michele Orwin

    Great article. Know exactly what you’re talking about. Only sorry you’ve chosen the “Princess” title – we’ve run into far more “Princes” who guard their “sensibilities” at the cost of learning their craft.

    • Judith Briles

      Michele–my experience is that it knows no gender. I have found that once men hit the overwhelm wall, if they have the financial resources, a virtual assistant is brought on board and outsourcing starts. My recommendation to my clients early on in the process is to bring one on early versus later if at all possible–consider it part of the cost of publishing.



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