Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writing through Your Fear

Whether you’re a beginning writer or a seasoned veteran, writing can be scary. Fiction authors put out original imaginings that often hold deeper truths (or are falsely judged to reveal something about the writer). Nonfiction authors declare themselves an authority on a topic, who readers depend upon for knowledge or assistance.

When you think about it, that’s a lot of pressure (especially if you’re an independent author). It’s no wonder we writers get scared of our craft.

I’d like to tell you it gets better, that after the first novel the fear magically goes away. Maybe it does for some people. However, two novels and eleven nonfiction booklets in, I’m still nervous every time I sit down to write.

How Writing Fear Evolves Over Time

fear-of-failureBefore I had written my first fiction book, The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I feared I would never write a novel. I felt certain I would die with this ultimate goal, the one thing I felt meant to do, unaccomplished. Luckily, that didn’t happen. In fact, I went on to write a second book …

And I got even more scared. My fear evolved. I thought to myself, “What if that first book was a fluke?” and “What if everyone hates the sequel?” Now, as I write the third novel, the fear continues: “What if I grow to dislike this series? What if my readers don’t like the direction I take it? What if no one even reads it?”

Of course, my nagging thoughts aren’t limited to fiction. Every time I write nonfiction, I wonder who gave me the right to inspire or educate others (aka imposter syndrome). Who do you think you are, Kate?

When I try to market, specifically through paid advertising, it gets worse. “Why am I forcing my books on other people? What if I don’t earn back my investment? What if everyone who buys my books hates them?”

Don’t worry. I’m done sharing. (See? Even now I fear you’re judging me or growing bored!)

How to Overcome Your Writing Fears

conquer-fearFirst, if you’ve had similar feelings, know that you’re not alone. Second, know that, while your fear may never go away, you can write through your fear. How do you do that? Unfortunately, it’s one of those questions that you have to answer for yourself. But, here are some tips:

Know your enemy

You can’t fight an enemy that you can’t identify. Once you truly understand your fear, you can begin to move past it.

For example, I fear getting bad reviews, because they mean that people hate my books. But it’s not the reviews themselves I really fear. It’s rejection, judgment from others, and that I’m not as talented or intelligent as I want. At the very core of my fear is my own self-doubt. If I truly believed in myself and fostered more confidence, maybe I would be less scared of those inevitable bad reviews.

So, what do I do about it? I’m working on positive thinking to help me have confidence in the skills I currently have. More importantly, I’m continuing my education on writing craft to strengthen my abilities and grow confidence through experience.

What is it that you really fear, and how can you work through it?

Find a greater fear

Yes, bad reviews terrify me. But you know what’s worse? The idea of giving up on writing altogether.

Give this (morbid) exercise a try. Picture yourself about to die. Seriously, go all “writer” on it and set the scene as if it took place in your book. Now, with your death before you, answer what is worse.

Getting a rejection letter from an agent vs. hiding your manuscript on your hard drive

Encountering criticism from internet strangers vs. never meeting the people who love your books

Never drawing attention to yourself vs. never writing a single word

Are you really going to let fear stand in the way of what you want to do?

Drown out the negative thoughts

incentive-960045_640Most of my writing fear happens when I’m not actually writing. Those horrible words come to me when I first sit down at the keyboard, or when I’m trying to think through a troublesome scene while washing the dishes. A simple trick I’ve learned is to drown them out.

There’s lots of ways to do this. Start babbling aloud to yourself so you can’t hear yourself think. Scream “Stop! Stop! Stop!” inside your head. Turn on some music or a podcast. Try to recite the first page of your favorite novel.

I know it sounds silly, but anything you can do to stop the negative thoughts will help. Our brains love shortcuts. You see a growling dog, your brain says, “Run!” You see a pimple on your face, your brain says, “Ugly.” You go to write, your brain says, “You suck.” If you can retrain your brain to avoid negative thoughts (or even better, default to optimistic ones), you’ll also avoid the fear they bring.

Take inspiration from the experts

When all else fails, keep doing what you’re doing now — finding someone who understands and learning how they handle their own fear. Here are a few tried-and-true resources, available for free online or from your local library:

Making Fear Your Bitch by Jamie Davis — I almost didn’t write this article, because this podcast/transcript says it so much better. Seriously, that’s not insecurity talking; it’s just the truth. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference.

The Successful Author Mindset by Joanna Penn — A fantastic book. Penn shares her own fears (including excerpts from her journal), as well as addresses many other psychological issues that plague writers (e.g. perfectionism and the need for validation).

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield — Several writers swear by this as their go-to motivation book. Pressfield personifies fear as “Resistance” and covers all the ways you can and must defeat it.

You can put all of this into practice and start working through your fear today.

Take five minutes to identify the root of your fear, then imagine how your happiness would suffer if you continue to give into it. Then, drown out these thoughts with motivation and inspiration from others. And most importantly, write — even if it scares you.

Do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. As long as it takes.

Why? Because only you can tell your story. The world deserves your story, and you deserve the joy of writing it.


What fears plague you as a writer? How do you overcome your writing fears? Share your tips in the comments!

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

2016 Year-End Reflection

Before I announce my 2017 New Year resolutions, I wanted to take a few hundred words to reflect on my author journey up to this point. This is one of those posts that I’m writing as a time capsule for myself, but I hope you’ll find it useful or inspiring for your own creative life.

kate-m-colbyWhile 2016 has been a difficult year personally, it’s been my best year as an author and independent publisher. As I wrote previously, I’ve made some great accomplishments and done much more than I expected in just a year since I published The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1).

I’m not going to rehash those specific achievements. Instead, I want to outline my growth in a more general way. The Smarter Artist (aka Self-Publishing Podcast) guys talk about their years in terms of themes. Each year, they have a word that drives their creative decisions and business, and takes them one step further in their journeys. (For more, read Iterate & Optimize: Optimize Your Creative Business for Profit). By modeling this practice, I can review how far I’ve come and where to focus my efforts in 2017.

2014: Discovery

This was the year in which my author journey began. I learned about independent publishing, graduated from college, and wrote the first draft of my first novel.

2015: Learning

While I had a manuscript written at the end of 2014, this year marked my steepest learning curve. I researched every aspect of independent publishing, learned several new skills (e.g. formatting), and finally hit “publish.”

2016: Confirmation

Even though I’d been a published author since September 2015, it still didn’t feel real. This past year has been all about confirming things to myself. Was that first novel a fluke? (Nope! I wrote and published a sequel.) Is this really the career I want? (Yup! Each little milestone reminds me.) Is long-term success realistic? (Well, I’m not doing too badly so far … and I’ve got a plan in place!).

Instead of researching the logistics of publishing itself, my focus in 2016 switched to marketing and business planning. While I love my Desertera series, it’s a beast to market, as it doesn’t fit perfectly in one genre and it’s difficult to summarize in an “elevator pitch.” For my next series (which I hope to start drafting in 2017), my goal is to make an idea I love fit within an established genre.

On the business side, I went back to my (rather shallow) accounting roots. One of my 2016 New Year resolutions was to make $1,000 in royalties — which I did! These payments are not profit (as my book production and other costs exceed my revenue), but I’m willing to spend a couple years in the negative like most small businesses. However, I finally sat down and started tracking my gross profit margin (aka income minus expenses), which gives me my break-even and go-full-time years (assuming I stick to my budget and hit my royalty goals). If there’s interest, I’ll talk more about my financial plan in a future post.

Overall, 2016 was also my most consistent year in terms of creation. While I did not write as much fiction as I intended, I kept to my nonfiction production schedule and felt a burst of inspiration from my Fiction Ideas writing prompt booklets. As much as I enjoy writing nonfiction, I intend to make fiction a greater priority for 2017.

2017: Growth

I’ve come a long way in two-and-a-bit years, but I still have a far to go. For me, 2017 will be all about growth. You can read my specific goals here, but in general, I want to diversify the assets I have (aka finally make the leap into audiobooks!), focus on my writing craft (Story by Robert McKee is top of my TBR), find more readers/writers who share my passions, and of course, write more books (my new motto: Always be creating!). It’s a lot to take on, but I think I’m finally ready to make a major shift in my author life. And it starts today!

My final goal? I want to be more transparent with my writing process, business growth, and other aspects of this journey. I really admire indies who do this (see Joanna Penn’s recent post), but they are often already hugely successful. While this is inspiring, it can also be discouraging. It’s difficult to imagine that we’ll ever get to their levels, and their experiences don’t show how other creatives at “our level” are doing. By being more transparent now, I hope to provide a “realistic” look into independent publishing, as well as an example of growth (there’s that word again!).

I hope you’ll stay with me for the journey!


How was your 2016? What broad goals or hopes do you have for 2017? Share them below!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How to Handle Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Ugly

read-1702616_640.jpgBook reviews are the lifeblood of books. A healthy rating encourages potential readers to buy, makes an author eligible for merchandising from retail sites, and improves a book’s overall ranking on those sites. However, if enough readers read your book, eventually you’re going to get a bad review (probably several). Those dreaded one-star ratings are the cost of exposure.

After hearing a few author horror stories on the subject of reviews, I wanted to provide a public service announcement of sorts. Sure, several other authors have written on this topic already, but just in case mine is the first you read (or you want another opinion), here is my advice for how to handle your book reviews: good, bad, or ugly.

First, it is important to remember that you are not your book. Reviews are a subjective reaction to your creative work and not you as a person. (We’ll get to the 1% in which this is not the case in a bit.)

Personally, I try not to read reviews (good, bad, or ugly). This is not to say that I don’t try to cultivate them, or that I do not appreciate them (Seriously, if you’ve reviewed one of my books, thank you!). However, I know myself. A bad review can temporarily shatter my confidence and ruin a whole writing day. That’s not worth it to me, my work, or my readers.

My solution? I have my husband check my reviews for me (once a week or so). If there’s a good review, he lets me know. If there’s a bad review, he distills it down to only the constructive criticism (and leaves out any rudeness), so that I can learn from the review, without being upset by it.

You have to decide what’s best for you. If you’re a sensitive soul like me, try getting a spouse, friend, or family member to be your review buffer. If you’re a tough cookie, read all you want. As long as reviews don’t over-inflate or deflate your ego, there’s nothing wrong with reading them.

So, that’s my general policy. Now let’s drill down into the specifics. For the purpose of this article, “good” reviews refers to positive reviews, “bad” reviews refers to critical reviews, and “ugly” reviews refers to hateful or personal reviews.

five-stars

Good Reviews

Good reviews tell you two things: what readers like about your book and who likes your book. When you get a good review, take note of the reader’s praise and try to keep those themes in your writing. Also, do a little research on your reader. What other books have they liked or disliked? From their profile, do they fit within your target audience? These will tell you if your book is reaching the right market and give you an idea of where to advertise or how to promote your book in the future.

When I published my first novel, I checked my reviews often and responded to the positive ones (That’s all there is when only your friends and family are reading your book!) with a ‘like’ or comment on Goodreads. Now, I don’t respond to any positive reviews. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them (Again, I totally do — thank you!). It’s that A) I don’t want to offend anyone by accidentally skipping or not commenting on their review, B) it sets a precedent that I might also respond to neutral or bad reviews, and C) I really don’t have that kind of time. Note to my readers: if you want to have an actual dialogue about my books or receive a personal thanks, just shoot me an email via the contact page.

It’s worth noting that I have never responded to any reviews on Amazon or another online retailer. As a social network, Goodreads muddles the line, but on retail sites it is clear: do not respond to reviews. It’s unprofessional and the retail sites are likely to frown on it.

one-star

Bad Reviews

We all know these. They’re the ones that make us want to crawl under the covers or throw the laptop out of the window and never write again. But bad reviews can be good. Beyond providing you with constructive feedback, they tell other readers what this person did or didn’t like about your book, so that they can better judge for themselves. Your target audience can be persuaded by bad reviews (Is it full of cursing? Sounds up my alley!), and your non-ideal audience will be warded off (Sex? No way!), thus preventing another bad review in the future.

It is my policy to never respond to bad reviews. First off, I respect the reader’s right to their own opinion. Second, they’ve already “wasted” enough time with my book, they don’t need me saying anything to them.

Some authors make exceptions for this. For example, some will jump to defend a concept the reader clearly missed that could change their perspective of the book. Others will respond if a reader makes a factual error in the review. My professional opinion is to stay silent. Most times, you will only irritate the reader more, or never receive a response to your rebuttal anyway.

Here are a few other ways to react to bad reviews:

Remember, you are not your book. The conception of bad writing (or actual bad writing — let’s be honest, it happens) do not make you a bad person or unworthy creator. It just means you have more to learn. We all do.

Take comfort in that even the best books have bad reviews. This may come as a shock, but there are people out there who hate Harry Potter. I know, but it’s true. Go to the page of your favorite author and check out some of their book’s most scathing reviews. If they can survive it and have their work admired, so can you.

Go read some of your five-star reviews. Or social media comments or emails or whatever. Focus on the readers who get and love your work. They’re the ones that really matter.

Really need to respond to that disgruntled reader? Write a response and destroy it. Do this by hand so there is no temptation or possibility of posting it online. Craft your elegant defense or your childish slew of insults, then rip it up and throw it out. You’ll feel better without doing any damage to your professional image or online relationships. Venting to a trusted friend — NOT in online writers’ groups or forums — is another idea. Seriously, though, don’t put your gripes online. A) It can be found by readers. B) It still makes you look bad. C) Negativity will just bring other writers down. Don’t be that person.

If all else fails, I like to get existential. You are only certain of this one life. Is one person’s dislike going to keep you from pursuing your passion? I didn’t think so.

troll

Ugly Reviews

These are reviews that make personal attacks on your character, threaten you, or which are given to your book because the reviewer has a personal vendetta against you. Luckily, these are super-rare, but they can happen. Again, I strongly encourage you not to respond. Instead, contact the website administrator and ask for the review to be removed. If the review is not about the book or makes explicit insults or threats, this should not be a problem. It cannot prevent the reviewer from repeating the attack from a different account, but it is the safest and most responsible course of action.

No matter what praise or criticism, your books receive, remember that you are not your books. Their success or failure does not reflect your character or personality. While writing ability is very personal, it can be improved over time with patience and practice. Whether in book review responses (don’t do it!) or anywhere else online, always be respectful and courteous to readers. And most importantly, never let anyone else keep you from writing. 


How do you handle the different types of reviews? What are your best practices for authors? Share your advice in the comments.

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

My First Anniversary as an Author-Entrepreneur

Holding my book for the first time!

Although I wrote my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1), nearly two years ago, this month marks the anniversary of its publication and what I consider to be my first year as a published author and entrepreneur. Is the writing life everything I thought it would be? Yes and no.

Before choosing independent publishing, I did extensive research into the field. I knew that one book (or two, or ten) is not enough to make a full-time living as an author. I held no illusions about being a break-out success or breaking even on my initial investment in one year (Across industries, small businesses take an average of five years to earn a profit.). While some authors reach these milestones within the first year, and while I have tallied many of my own proud accomplishments, short-term success has never featured in my goals. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I can build my author career slowly. Currently, I’m 24 and a half years old. I want to be a full-time author on my 30th birthday. I think that is realistic and obtainable.

At this point, my career as an author-entrepreneur must be my second financial priority. With my husband in graduate school, I am the primary breadwinner for our family, and my day job must come first. In order to continue publishing books, I make sacrifices and set aside a budget for publishing expenses. Sometimes I miss those little luxuries (like binge-watching Netflix all Saturday, or dyeing my hair every three months), but the short-term sacrifices are worth the long-term gain. If I’ve learned anything from being an author-entrepreneur, it’s how to think days, months, and years into the future simultaneously.

writing-fuel
Chai tea = writing fuel

When I first declared myself an author and established Boxthorn Press, I focused heavily on blogging and bringing together a supportive community of writers and readers. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Through writing and reading blogs, I’ve made some of my best friends, as well as many valuable business connections. I still want to provide helpful posts and engaging content for my fellow writers and readers, though I’m starting to realize that my blog needs to take a backseat to creation. Over time, my posting schedule has declined from five days a week to three to two, and I think this has been a healthy shift for my productivity.

Perhaps the most difficult experience I’ve had as a writer is dealing with criticism. I know my books aren’t perfect. On the fiction front, I have a long way to go as a storyteller (If I didn’t, that wouldn’t make for a very fun career!), and I’ll be the first to admit that my nonfiction booklets have been crafted on a shoestring budget. I know everyone will not like, understand, or appreciate my art, and negative attention is the price of exposure. Bad reviews and hurtful comments only strengthen my own self-doubt and internal editor, but luckily, I have the perfect antidote …

You. My readers and writing friends who are reading this right now. If you had told me one year ago the amount of support and encouragement and caring I would receive from the outside world, I would have laughed. But it’s entirely true. My readership is small but mighty. Those who enjoy my novels (and booklets) have shown an outpouring of support in reviews, social media shout-outs, and yes, monetary support. Without all of you, I would have a damn difficult time blocking out those negative voices and zero chance of achieving my dream of full-time authorship within the next five and a half years. So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Without spoiling my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions, I want to wrap up this post by addressing my goals for the future. My creative mentor (from afar, that is), Joanna Penn, talks about measuring your life in Olympic periods (and writes an inspiring reflection post each year). If you judge your progress by one year, it may not seem like a lot has happened. However, over the course of four years, so much more can change.

second-book
Finishing my second book (aka the first is not a fluke!).

From late 2016 to late 2017, I want to focus on creation and diversification. I’ll put out a new book (hopefully two!) in the Desertera series, but I’d also like to expand the novels I have into audiobooks and perhaps foreign translations. At the same time, I’d like to start planning and writing my second series in the background, so that it is ready to publish when it is time to wrap up Desertera. With my nonfiction, I hope to begin a full-length book and perhaps diversify the products I already have.

Over the next Olympic period? I’d like to have two complete fiction series under my belt and available in all English formats (ebook, paperback, and audiobook) and perhaps another language or two in ebook format. I would also like to have two or three full-length nonfiction books, so that other writers can learn from my mistakes and accomplishments. I’d also like to expand my author-entrepreneurship into other avenues, such as course creation, author services, or perhaps something more social like podcasting. Hopefully, Boxthorn Press will be making a profit and heading to a place in which it can replace my day job.

You know what the craziest part is? I don’t think this is all a pipe dream. I’ve researched the industry, studied successful indies, crafted a basic financial plan, and have picked apart my every strength and weakness. While success is not fully in my power (I’m still beholden to my readers, after all.), I hold 90% of the cards. If I keep learning and working, I know I can make my dream a reality.

Two years ago, I started scribbling down an outline in a notebook and praying that I could achieve my biggest dream of writing a novel. One year ago, I hit the publish button and achieved my new biggest dream of becoming a published author. Today, I’m telling you that I want to achieve my newest biggest dream of being a full-time author by age 30.

Can I do it? Well, stick with me and let’s find out together.

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

Escape to Salem

House of the Seven Gables

For our second anniversary, Daniel and I took a fun weekend trip to Salem, Massachusetts. I’d like to tell you that it was all about romance … but what kind of  scholar-author team would that make us?

While we did enjoy a fancy dinner and a quaint bed-and-breakfast (complete with a wine and cheese hour!), the main focus of our trip was research. Daniel is studying the Salem Witch Trials for a class project, and I’ve always been fascinated with the event … and just may have a book idea brewing. If you’ve ever thought about a trip to Salem, I highly recommend all the attractions in this blog post (and going in fall – such gorgeous weather!). In the interest of brevity, I’ll just hit the highlights:

Salem Burying Point
A lovely little spot that holds the graves of important townspeople, including several of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestors (including Judge Hathorne, who presided over the Witch Trials). While the bodies are not buried there, it does include a  set of beautiful stone benches engraved with the Witch Trial victims’ names. (My header image shows a few tombstones – visible on the main blog page.)

witch-house-deskHouse of the Seven Gables & Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birth House
Probably my favorite part of the trip. The original home that inspired the famous novel still stands. It’s filled with era-appropriate recreations and there’s even a secret staircase visitors can climb! Hawthorne’s birth home was moved to the property in the 1950s, and it holds several of his letters and books, as well as the desk on which he wrote The Scarlet Letter. As you can imagine, this author geeked out.

The Witch House
Home to Witch Trial Judge Jonathan Corwin, this is the only house in Salem with direct ties to the Witch Trials. History buffs: this is your jam. Authentic household items and writings from the 1600s (only a few things were recreations), with knowledgeable and friendly tour guides on both floors. If you want to know what life was like as Puritan, this is your stop.

Danvers, MA – aka Salem Village
What many people don’t realize is that modern-day Salem is actually “Salem Town.” The hangings and some trial activity happened here, but the accusations and most trials actually happened in Salem Village, which is modern-day Danvers. Unlike modern Salem, Danvers has tried to separate itself from the Witch Trials. While important monuments remain, they’re mixed right in with neighborhoods.

salem-village-parsonageWhile Hawthorne holds the most special place in my heart, this was by far the coolest part of the trip. We saw the official Witch Trials monument, the site of the meeting house (where the accusations happened), and toured the homestead of Rebecca Nurse (one of the victims). But the highlight for me? Walking in the parsonage foundations, the exact place where Reverend Samuel Parris’ daughter and niece made the first accusation and started the entire spectacle. I couldn’t stop the goosebumps!

Now that I’ve gushed about the amazing things we saw, I want to take a moment to impart my biggest lesson from the weekend. So many people depict the Witch Trial victims as A) actual witches or B) vengeful spirits. After learning about these individuals, those impressions couldn’t be farther from the truth. The victims went to the gallows (not the stake) pitying their misinformed community members and trusting completely that they would be absolved in Heaven. Throughout my entire trip, I didn’t hear a single account of revenge or hatred from the victims (their families, a bit).

Being in the victims’ town and standing where they stood gave me an appreciation for their faith and a new perspective on their stories. If I do include Salem and the Witch Trials in a future novel, you can bet those themes will feature in my work. There’s no substitute for in-person interaction, and I’m so grateful Daniel and I were able to take this trip. I can’t wait to travel to more inspiring places and share my experiences with you on this blog … and in my books!