As hard as it is to believe, I’m coming up on the five-year anniversary of publishing my first book! And I’m gearing up to release my first audiobook and publish the third novel in my award-winning fantasy series, so it felt like a good time to share some tips for new authors and offer a little encouragement if you find yourself dwelling on fears that might be holding you back from publishing your book and reaching your dream.
Writing a book is a phenomenally rewarding experience. And yet, publishing it is also one of the most terrifying.
If you’re like me, writing isn’t just a way to pocket some cash and snag a quick claim to fame (because, let’s face it, turning a writing career into your full-time job is an uphill battle, and there are MUCH easier ways to earn a living). It’s about passion. You pour your soul, your secrets, and your innermost turmoil onto those pages, and sharing that with the world is a vulnerable feeling.
That’s a completely valid fear. What if nobody likes your writing? What if critics tell you to give up and abandon your passion? What will you do then?
5 Tips for New Authors to Overcome Their Fears
The what-ifs can be deadly, and if you let them, they’ll kill your dream before it ever has a chance for success. It’s way too easy to listen to that negative voice in the back of your mind and let it talk you out of taking risks.
But let me just say that there is NO feeling quite like holding your own book in your hands for the first time. Rewind back to 2018 when I unboxed the very first proof copy of my first novel in the Chronicles of Avilésor series:
I started this website back in 2016 before I was a published author. It was intended to be a personal website resume where I could share my artwork, photography, and writing that otherwise would have been forgotten and unread while collecting dust on the shelf. It was never supposed to be anything more than that. But, once I published my first book and started blogging about my experiences as a self-published author, I realized this blog had the potential to help a lot of people.
I’m not going to lie — my road to publication was rocky. It was definitely not smooth sailing. I made some rookie mistakes, and I’m open about them because I hope other new authors find my articles and can avoid some of those pitfalls. The first post that started bringing in a lot of traffic was a review of Barnes & Noble Press and IngramSpark based on my own self-publishing experiences.
Since then, I’ve posted other helpful articles filled with tips for new authors, including:
- 3 Reasons Why I Self-Published
- IngramSpark Self-Publishing: Process, Royalties, Review, & Advice
- 15 Tips for a Successful Book Signing
- NetGalley Co-Op Review with Victory Editing
- Fantasy Worldbuilding: Tolkien’s Primary and Secondary Worlds
- The “Theory of Omission” | Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory
- Should Authors Publish Under Their Real Name or a Pseudonym?
- Pros & Cons: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing
- A Writer’s Song: Why You Should “Write What You Know”
- 15 Tips to Write a Compelling Fiction Blurb That Sells
- How to Make Money: 7 Extra Revenue Streams for Indie Authors
If you’re interested in these topics, I welcome you to subscribe to my monthly newsletter to stay up to date with my book series, blog posts, and other updates.
In this post, we’ll explore five common fears I faced (and in some cases, still struggle with) as an author. Plus, I’ll share some advice on how to cope with and conquer these fears.
Fear #1: Negative Book Reviews
“How do I prepare myself for negative, sometimes brutal book reviews?”
First, I suggest mentally preparing yourself. Not everybody is going to like your book. Even if you wrote the BEST book in the history of mankind, there will be at least one person who doesn’t like it for one reason or another. Writing and art are subjective.
As a chronic people pleaser, I know this can be a difficult concept to fully embrace. Honestly, I actually felt relieved when I received my first one-star review! It was something that I had been dreading, and once it finally came, it no longer felt like a storm cloud looming on the horizon. It was like ripping off the Band-Aid so I could move on without stressing about it.
Negative book reviews can be opportunities to improve your technique for future novels, but remember to take that criticism with a grain of salt. Look for reoccurring feedback. If only one person complains about your writing style or worldbuilding, that doesn’t mean you should assume everyone feels the same way. However, if multiple reviewers are posting the same notes, then maybe you need to evaluate that feedback more seriously.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes reviewers don’t pay attention to the genre or blurb prior to cracking open your book. A bad review can be as simple as someone complaining that they like YA romance novels and were disappointed in your paranormal thriller for not having a good love triangle. Seriously. This is especially true on NetGalley where some reviewers snatch up free ebooks without taking a close look at what kind of story they’re actually getting, then complain that your genre wasn’t what they like.
The moral of the story here is not to take bad reviews too seriously. Sometimes, they can offer tips in the form of hard-to-swallow pills, but in many cases, you need to learn to brush them off because there’s just no way to please certain readers. Also remember that a negative review is about your work, not you. Try not to take them personally.
Fear #2: Nobody at Your Book Signing
“What if no one shows up to my event and I’m left looking like an idiot?”
It happens. Yep, I’ve been there! More than once. I set up a signing, advertised it on social media, showed up on time, arranged my display… and sat for hours without selling a single book.
But it’s not the end of the world!
My advice for these disappointing signings is not to let them get your spirits too low. If you’re a new author, you can’t expect a line of people wrapping around the block of Barnes & Noble to meet you. Even if you’re an established author with several books under your belt, don’t sweat too much about expecting a big crowd (although you can still dream about reaching Stephen King’s level someday).
Remember that in many cases, especially if you’re branching out of your local comfort zone to tap into new regions, you’ll mostly be relying on daily foot traffic. If there aren’t many people in the store, and if those people just aren’t interested in your genre, it’s not a reflection on you or your book.
Pro tip: you can still look like you’re having a great time on social media, even if nobody showed up. Take selfies, videos, and pictures of your table setup. If you can, see if the event host will pose for a photo with you. Nobody who sees your posts has to know that the event was a total flop. Just smile and post about the event as an exposure opportunity so your online followers can see that you were out and about (presumably engaging with fans… even if you weren’t).
Fear #3: Pressure to Meet Expectations
“What if my book doesn’t deliver? What if it falls short of people’s expectations?”
As far as tips for new authors go, this one is tough. I especially struggled with meeting expectations when I released my second novel because the first one had done so well — better than I’d hoped, actually.
My first book, A Fallen Hero, received rave reviews (despite my fear of racking up those dreaded one-star book reviews). It made reviewer Lauren Gantt’s Top 10 List of 2019 and received the Literary Titan Gold Book Award in 2020.
That unexpected success placed a LOT of pressure on me to ensure that the sequel, Phantom’s Mask, lived up to the hype of its predecessor. Luckily, I met and even exceeded my fans’ expectations with Book II, which also won the Literary Titan Gold Book Award a mere two months after its publication.
However… I now find myself in the same situation as Book III nears its release within the next few months, and the pressure is even greater now. Book I established the standard, and Book II rose the bar with higher stakes and more action. Will the third book be able to measure up? Or will people be disappointed?
Here’s my advice, which I’m trying to take to heart myself — write what you need to write. You know your characters better than anyone else. They have their own story to tell, and sometimes as the writer, our job is to listen to them rather than contort them into unnatural situations. We can guide the plot and hone our technique, but in the end, the characters are the ones whose voices matter the most.
Now, I’m not saying to completely disregard your fans because, at least to some extent, you should be taking your audience into account and writing to your target market. But if you spend all your time worrying about what you think other people want, you’ll likely do a disservice to your characters, your story, and yourself.
This is your story. Tell it the way you feel it needs to be told. If people love it, that’s great! If they don’t… at least you can’t regret not being true to your heart. Set your own boundaries and expectations for yourself. Try to tune out the background noise and perceived expectations.
Fear #4: Imposter Syndrome
“My work isn’t original. I’m just a fraud.”
I think it’s fair to say that most writers (myself included) are our own worst critics. That nasty, nagging voice in our heads often makes us second-guess ourselves and doubt our worth, leading to a textbook case of imposter syndrome. Basically, you feel like a fraud ripping off a similar book that is better known than yours.
Maybe you’ve heard that there are no original stories and every plot falls into one of seven categories:
- Overcoming the Monster / Antagonist (Beowulf, Dracula, Star Wars, Naruto)
- Rags to Riches (Cinderella, Jane Eyre, Aladdin, Great Expectations)
- The Quest (The Lord of the Rings, The Iliad, Treasure Island, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader)
- Voyage and Return (Peter Pan, The Hobbit, The Lion King, Back to the Future)
- Comedy (Much Ado About Nothing, The Alchemist, A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
- Tragedy (Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Hamilton, Bonnie and Clyde)
- Rebirth (The Frog Prince, A Christmas Carol, Groundhog Day, Pride and Prejudice)
To further enforce imposter syndrome, many readers expect you to compare your work to others. No doubt you’ve seen marketing techniques like, “If you love The Hunger Games, you’ll enjoy this series!”
Why? Because it falls into the same genre, target market, and plot category. When delivering an elevator pitch to an agent or potential reader, it’s common for an author to reference similar books to quickly paint a picture in the listener’s mind for a comparison reference.
But sometimes, that widely accepted practice actually cements our feeling of inadequacy. There’s an inherent need to compare our work with that of others. We crave originality even though many experts preach about writing to market and using formulaic plots. Doesn’t that mean we’re just ripping off popular stories and recycling those same seven plots?
If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, take some time to review the unique points of your work. Every writer has a one-of-a-kind perspective in the way they tell their stories, from their writing style to the life experiences they draw upon.
For me, I chose to blend genres as a way of breaking the generic copy-and-paste formula mold. My series pulls in elements from urban fantasy, high fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic, paranormal, supernatural, and thriller tropes. That sometimes presents a marketing challenge because I can’t fit my books into a neat little box and use the “If you like X, you’ll love this” marketing pitch. My books tend to appeal to readers who enjoy a variety of genres rather than one highly specific niche.
Even if you did rely on a formulaic approach, know that you’re not alone! It’s a proven marketing technique that many, many writers use because it does work. People are drawn to the same types of stories over and over again for a reason. As long as you found a way to put your own unique twist on your writing, know that it’s okay for your work to be similar to other books. There are so many stories out there that it’s impossible to not share some characteristics with others.
That certainly doesn’t make you a fraud, and you shouldn’t feel inferior! For more on imposter syndrome, check out my earlier blog post that explores thirteen tips for overcoming imposter syndrome.
Fear #5: Success
“What if I actually make it as an author? Can I handle the spotlight, pressure, and life changes?”
It sounds crazy, but sometimes the fear of success can be just as frightening as the fear of failure. In many cases, the primary factor driving this fear is actually about change, not necessarily success itself.
However, failing to acknowledge and come to terms with a fear of success may result in self-sabotage, even if it’s not intentional. Fear of success, also known as “success anxiety” or “achievemephobia” can present itself in a number of ways, such as:
- Extra attention causing stress for introverts who prefer to avoid the spotlight
- Worries that relationships will be strained if your success alienates loved ones
- Pressure to be continuously creating new content and engaging nonstop with fans
- Afraid of coming across as self-centered, arrogant, or braggy about your achievements
- Concern that new or ongoing friendships won’t be genuine
- Dreading the possibility of more people paying attention and watching you fail
- Wondering if success will change who you are as a person (and not for the better)
- Fearing that success isn’t as great as you imagine and you won’t be happy
- Stress on your mental health if maintaining your public image results in emotional isolation
- Worrying that you’ll burn out and lose the passion for something you once loved
Do any of these sound familiar? Fear of success is a genuine problem that shouldn’t be brushed aside or disregarded as irrational and irrelevant. Be on the lookout for common warning signs that you might actually be sabotaging your chances for success:
- You’re a chronic procrastinator putting off deadlines.
- You like to set the bar low so challenges aren’t too overwhelming.
- You find reasons to quit just before taking a risk.
- You compare yourself to others and justify why you’ll never reach the same level.
- You’re a perfectionist and keep redoing your work over and over again until it’s perfect (but it never will be).
- You have a tendency to self-destruct with harmful behaviors just when things seem to be going well.
- You feel anxiety or guilt when thinking about surpassing someone.
So, how can new authors get a handle on this fear? My first piece of advice is to pay attention to these red flags and negative feelings. Learning to recognize the warning signs is the first step to addressing them.
Once you notice patterns of self-destructive sabotage, you can be more proactive in getting to the root of the problem and pushing yourself past these hurdles, even if it’s uncomfortable. Come to terms with your stress. What part of future success is triggering your anxiety? Is it based on the relationships in your life? The risk of failing publicly rather than privately? Your self-image? Happiness?
This fear is going to have different triggers for everyone. I recommend sitting quietly with your thoughts for a while and exploring the unique facets that are shaping your fear. It may help to visualize what success actually means to you. How will you know when you’ve achieved success? Are you basing it on a financial goal? Book sales? Fans and followers?
What do you need to do to prepare yourself for that stage?
Final Thoughts: General Tips for New Authors
Whether you’re publishing traditionally or independently, presenting your book to the world is a simultaneously amazing and terrifying experience. You’re opening yourself up to criticism and failure.
But the potential rewards are worth the risk! I hope these tips help you to identify and overcome the fears that may be holding you back. If you have any helpful advice you’d like to share, please post in the comments to help other writers and authors!
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I'm an award-winning fantasy author, artist, and photographer from La Porte, Indiana. My poetry, short fiction, and memoir works have been featured in various anthologies and journals since 2005, and several of my poems are available in the Indiana Poetry Archives. The first two novels in my Chronicles of Avilésor: War of the Realms series both received the Literary Titan Gold Book Award in 2020.
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