The Help Desk: Lord, give me the confidence of a lactating spider

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I work in a bookstore and I deal with self-published authors who come in to place their books on our shelves on consignment. Some of the authors are very polite and kind and understand that they're not my only client. But the pushiest authors I know, the ones who bug me incessantly and continually ask why I don't put their books on the counter at the front of the store, have the self-published books that don't even look like books — they're double-spaced, and the covers are garbage and they're printed on 8 1/2 by 11 paper. The back covers are riddled with errors, and the dialogue reads like it was written by an ESL class from Tokyo on its first day.

The most confident authors I've ever met are also the worst authors I've ever met. In your experience, is self-confidence a sign of bad writing?

Pat, Columbia City

Dear Pat,

Did you know that some spiders breastfeed their young? Imagine the body confidence it takes for a spider to look at a dairy cow, nature's milk-producing poster child, voluptuous udders refracted in each of its eight tiny eyes and think "Nice try but I can do better."

Spiders do not even have mammaries. What they lactate could better be described as protein venom, yet produce it they do. The reason? Confidence, willpower, and spite.

All artists are powered by a blend of confidence, willpower, and spite. It takes those three traits to take stock of the world – and the art already in it – and conclude an important point of view is missing: their own. This isn't a bad thing, but as you've discovered, when one trait outweighs the rest, the artist becomes insufferable.

Nature will take care of over-confident writers in time. Like over-confident spiders, their protein-to-venom ratio is screwy and they will find few volunteers willing to suckle at their teets, metaphorically speaking. This vicious cycle will continue until they are all venom, devoid of protein, and they find to their horror they have misspelled their own name on the cover of their own self-published book. On that day, they will quit art altogether and resume their career as a real estate agent/fly catcher while the watchers of the world, like you, quietly celebrate.