Greetings all you witches, freaks, and chaotic goons. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I somehow have 13 years of book publishing experience. (Oooh, unlucky number vibes.) But it’s true! I’ve been researching and cultivating my publishing journey for quite some time. I’ve been involved in dozens of book publications as a writer, editor, ARC reader, or street team member.
Close friends and family know that publishing has not been easy for me. I usually have the confidence and the gall to do a very public thing and then fall apart with imposter syndrome when it’s all over. That’s the story of my debut novel release. I’ve endured the following 4 fears and I doubt I’ve exorcised them for good.
Still, my confidence is intact. I’d like to share some industry insight and personal experiences to help you battle your very real fears.
Fear #1: The Market or My Readers Won’t Like My Story
When I asked fellow authors/writers about their worries, over half of the responses were variations of this fear. The advice is always conflicting and the expectations are too damn high.
I also worry about likeability. I chose to write an epic fantasy that was never accepted by an agent and didn’t (still doesn’t) fit the current genre trends. I’m working on accepting and appreciating positive feedback instead of just believing the negative reviews.
I’m an author and editor, so I’ve been on both sides of the feedback exchange. So believe me when I say please consider the source of all your feedback before internalizing anything. Take advice from people who already know what’s going on in publishing. If they know your ideal reader and tell you that you’re ticking all the boxes and you served a good story to your readers, you can believe that.
I do recommend scrutinizing feedback from people who aren’t familiar with or even detest your genre. A common example is when books get unfair low ratings because they’re “too steamy” or “too gay.” Okay, this is a signal that the reviewer is not the target audience and maybe doesn’t care. A lot of romance stories get a lot of unnecessary flack when this genre is one of the most monetarily successful genres out there. It is unfair for readers to assume every book is tailored to meet their entertainment expectations. These readers are nearly impossible to please and it’s not your job to try.
Don’t deal with feedback alone. Build a circle of trust with other authors, editors, or beta readers. These people can help you feel a lot more confident when marketing your books. Yes, writing the book is solitary work but sharing the book can be a community effort. It’s ideal to build this support long before you publish so you can revise and proofread with significantly more confidence.
And one last thing. If this is still bugging you, do what I once forced myself to do: list out the specific haters. Who exactly—first and last name—won’t like your book? Instead of coming up with a straw man depiction of your haters, really squint at them. Why do you care about their opinions? Your honest answers might help you get over unhelpful opinions.
I just want to hug every single writer who struggles with this. We’re letting the wrong people have a say in our publishing experience and killing our darlings before they have a chance to exist.
Fear #2 My Book Will Never Be “Perfect”
Another big fear sort of veers in a different direction: worrying that you will never enjoy your book. Maybe some real-world experiences will resonate with y’all. So if you remember, I released my debut novel in 2018. I was proud of myself but I was honestly horrified when people told me they’d read it. After publication, a few of my editing friends kept finding typos. And I’m an editor—I was mortified. I imagined that any future client would look at my book and think “I’m not going to pay this person to mess up my book.” This didn’t happen but it was a constant fear.
I made the heavy but correct-for-me decision to release a new edition in 2019. This means I spent a year polishing an already-published book. Honestly, I felt so embarrassed and it felt like I let my book and readers down. I truly resented my published book and resented myself for everything else. There are likely still mistakes left behind but I now feel immensely better about my book knowing that I took care of this fear. I also watch how I speak about my writing and try to be respectful and kind. Because I’m still a published author. I love that story. It’s mine.
Look, my book was imperfect, and yet I’m still alive. I published an imperfect book and yet I’m still an author and an editor. I never ever want to go through that again but I learned a lot and feel better.
Is there a book that is completely perfect in every way? I believe that you can always improve a book but more importantly, it’s not healthy for any author to expect that their first or second book will be flawless.
If it helps, think of your book as a brick that helps forms someone’s worldview instead of the whole house. That is why I enjoy writing my books and reading yours; we do not have the pressure of completely blowing someone’s mind. We are one story in a library. We are one rainy afternoon of coziness and entertainment. We are the spark that encourages someone else to write. We are not someone’s whole world and what a release that is.
Fear #3 My Books Will Never Take Off
Many authors still assume that their books will become bestsellers if they traditionally publish. This is not a formula, especially since many publishers still expect their authors to actively participate in book marketing.
If I had my way, I would ensure that more writing conferences invite experts on entrepreneurship or business to come and address the blinds spots of selling a product. Once you publish a book, you have a product. Ta-da! Unfortunately, many authors learn much later that they must wear the marketing hat almost as often as the writing and editing hats. And this is reasonably frustrating.
In 2014, I didn’t know what SEO was but I got my first “big editor” job as an online content editor. Travis and I worked together, got on-the-job experience, and became marketing experts. I honestly love it—Travis is not a fan. What I know about book marketing came from my job—I applied a lot of the principles to this website and my budding Instagram account. I recognize that this is not common for authors and I’d like to see more resources that help authors understand these basic principles from the jump.
Luckily, many of us can put this fear to rest by doing a few things. First, we can set reasonable publishing goals. Your goals are different from mine, which means we’re on different tracks to success. I want you to be as literal and specific as possible—otherwise, no one can help you and you might remain unknown for a long time.
Second, swallow your pride and set up your author community. Again, even traditionally published authors are nothing without their community, so start looking into social media marketing, setting up a website, creating an email list, and investing in ads. Make some Tiktok videos if you must. Find your people and pitch your tent.
Fear #4 Getting Something Wrong and Hurting Readers
First, let’s acknowledge that there are people who genuinely worry about hurting readers and there are people who have a faux concern about “cancel culture.” I can’t help the latter category; they believe what they want to believe. Instead, I want to empathize and offer my insight to those who genuinely want to take care of their readers.
This fear inspired my #LetsGetInclusive series. I wanted other authors like me (white and cis-gendered) to see how beneficial and easy it is to write, consume, and champion inclusive stories. My series has touched on trigger warnings, apologizing, and working with sensitivity readers.
Okay, but this fear is still legitimate and bothers many authors, especially if they don’t quite understand why some authors are getting public backlash for things they say in their books or online. Regardless of your platform size, consistency is your friend. The digital footprint you leave behind will paint the picture of who you are and the values you prioritize. While it might be nice to hire a PR specialist, being consistent costs you nothing. This doesn’t mean that you have to over-share; introverts can achieve this goal, too.
Another friend is time. Take your time if or when confrontations arise. I’ve seen many authors biff this by responding too quickly and too hotly. If they apologize, they end up having to add more to the apology list. You can better control an icky situation if you have a clear, professional mind first. Accidents, mistakes, and flubs happen all the time. I’ve had my share. Mistakes don’t have to haunt you like a little boy in Victorian clothes if you brush up on basic PR skills and online etiquette.
How Do We Banish These Demons?
Unless demons are your thing, you probably want to move forward with your books with more confidence and joy. I’m honestly, not always the best at this. I think every author has their highs and lows.
I tried one practice that I learned from Kristen Kieffer’s Build Your Best Writing Life. She suggests that we write out every single fear or negative feeling we have about ourselves, our platforms, or our books. It’s an opportunity to just be very honest about what this mean voice is telling you. When you complete this grimey list, you can then create a new list: the truth.
For example, I could easily write “I’m worried people don’t actually like my books.” On the other list, I could tell myself “You’ve had enough conversations with the right people to know this isn’t true. I like my books. Right now, that’s enough for me. With time, people will read and enjoy my books.”
I’ve been in therapy for a while because of my author expectations and worries. So I don’t want to come across as one who says “just believe in yourself!” or “turn that frown upside down!” This is not easy but once you master it, it’s a gift you give yourself.
If you’ve overcome these fears or you’re going through them, I’d love to hear about them so we can support each other. Reach out if you could use support. Embracing my community and letting myself be embraced has been the most helpful thing I’ve done for my publishing career.