If I were to pick a word for this week, it would be “Fear.” There is fear in the world-at-large with bad men and big weapons everywhere from country music concerts to Asian dictatorships, there is fear in the world of publishing with sales seeming to dip and dip and dip, until we have to ask the question: if we write it and no one reads it is it still a book? And there is fear in me because I’m about to travel to a writers’ conference, and I don’t like airplanes, being by myself, or lots of new people, so it’s pretty much guaranteed I’ll be a knot of anxiety for four days straight.
Fear is part of the human condition, and it is an inescapable part of being an author as well. Authors have a somewhat twisted relationship with our fear, it can drive us to expand our vision, push our boundaries, and reach new heights. It can also sap our initiative, stifle our creativity, and drag us to the depths of despair.
Publishing is a business rife with uncertainty. We spend much of our professional time waiting for other people to judge us—agents, editors, readers—all day long we produce, page after page, book after book, and then we wait for someone else to tell us it passes muster.
The fear this engenders can be all encompassing. I heard someone mention recently that procrastination is all about fear. The reason you can’t finish that book? Fear. The reason you keep putting off that submission? Fear. Writers are filled with fear. The fear of rejection, the fear of failure, the fear we will never be able to do this the way we want.
But if you’re a new writer, here’s something to hold onto: If you do this long enough, you will have virtually all of your fears come true. That may not sound comforting, but trust me, it is.
See, once those fears have come to life, wrapped themselves around your tender heart, and squeezed the motherfucking life out of you, they lose their power.
Once your work has been rejected, your dream agent has shut you down, the publisher has tossed your book in the garbage, your new release has crashed and burned, your ad has cost you hundreds of dollars and not sold a penny—once you’ve gone from earning six figures to earning four, once you’ve hit a list then waited for years to ever hit another, once you’ve had your idea stolen by a critique partner you trusted, and every book you’ve written has been pirated—in short, once you’ve failed as everyone does at some point in this business—that’s when you truly become free.
I’ve been doing this for five years now, and I’ve faced just about every fear I’ve had with regards to being a professional author. I’ve failed with agents, with editors, with readers, with covers, with whole series, and individual books. I’ve failed with networking, and with social media, and at conferences, and in private groups. And several times I’ve failed at the one thing that scares me the most—I’ve had my income decline precipitously.
My biggest fear in publishing has always been that I wouldn’t earn enough to make it worthwhile. But after an exceptionally bad month this year, I faced that greatest fear, and it lost its hold on me. Because I realized that no matter how much or how little I earn, I’ll still do this. Once I got to that place, the fear was gone, and I was free.
So if you’re new to publishing, and you’re struggling with the many fears that plague all writers, stop and ask yourself this: If this fear comes true, then what? If that book bombs—then what? If that agent rejects me—then what? If no one buys it—then what? And if your answer to any of those is: I’ll move on to the next book and try again, then you’ve just taken one giant step toward turning your passion into your profession. Because a doctor doesn’t quit medicine every time she loses a patient, and a carpenter doesn’t stop building things just because he hung one door wrong. Lawyers don’t stop practicing when they lose a case, and engineers can’t leave their jobs when the engine fails.
All professionals fail. All professions have failure. Writing may feel more personal, but in the end, it’s a job and we all fail at jobs sometimes. So this week I’m coaching you to face the fear, face the possibility that you’ll do this and fail—over and over again—then let the fear go, and let yourself be free.
I’ll be over here rocking in the corner while I wait for my flight to take off, but I’m cheering you on, every step of the way.