Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fear Monsters and The Christmas Carol

Aspects of Independent Publishing Part Six - Fear


I'd like to take a moment and discuss something that affects us all, and right now is affecting someone I hold dear to my heart.

A friend of mine is experiencing fear of what finishing and subsequently publishing her first novel might mean. 
  • Where to next? 
  • What if no one likes my book? 
  • What if no one buys my book?

It breaks my heart when a fellow artist is struggling to pull words from the abyss of fear. Not to say I haven’t experienced it with The Trouble with Henry and Hagatha Kittridge Must Die,or that I'm not struggling with it while writing their sequels. Deep down, at the root of all this fear, is the voice of our self-doubt. The voice that tells us we are not worthy to write. That voice that tells us we are stupid for even trying. That same voice that screams at us in our sleep, giving us horrendous nightmares, giddy at the notion that we are helpless and lost in a sea of sharks.

Our own personal poltergeist, 
the Ghost of Novels Yet-To-Be.

This voice will defeat all of us at some point in our lives. It is the strongest voice that authors and other artists have in our internal arsenal. It’s the same voice that mothers have, the one telling us to wrap our children in bubble-wrap and lock them in the basement so that nothing ever happens to them. The fear that our children might come to harm, or experience heartbreak so profound that the innocence within them cracks, will cripple us. We want to protect our novels, our artwork, our children from the big, bad, scary, and ever-changing world.

But we also want them to have the best opportunities possible: to laugh like hearts can't be broken, to love without reservation, to reach and obtain each impossible thing they dream before breakfast.

We can’t allow them a care-free life and keep them wrapped up in the basement.

We know this. But still the fear that something will happen plagues our actions.

But Shel, what can we do really?
Where is the magic talisman
that will protect us from Fear?

Um, I'd like to say there was a talisman, and that I knew how to find it. I'd be seriously beyond-filthy-stinking-rich if I knew.

Instead, all I have is an allegory.

Story time?
 Oh dear Universe,
not again!

Oh suck it up. It's almost Christmas. You can sit through a little allegory.

Imagine, Mr. Scrooge, if you will, that three specters will visit you, one at the top of each hour beginning at midnight. The first, the Ghost of Novels Past. She is an aging, wisp of a thing, confident in her sorrow, and she looks at you with pity. Because you wrote a novel and you spent all that time tweaking the phrases and the words and the structure and the plot until there is nothing left of the original thought, and you let life pass you by in the meantime. Friends and loved-ones have moved on, publishing their own words with reckless abandon.

“It’s not even edited,” Scrooge says with a sneer. “Not by a professional, at any rate. And they need a lot of glue to patch up those unsightly plot holes. And the people that buy those books don’t know what they’re doing.”

“But the authors worked on the next books,” says the Ghost. “And they improved their skills.”

“Well, I’m doing it right the first time,” says Mr. Scrooge, even though he knows it's more excuse than truth. “My manuscript is going to be perfect before I allow the world to see it.”

“Perfection will never be achieved, and in the meantime, look what you lost,” she says and points to the book signing party of Scrooge's nephew.

And the hour strikes One, and a jolly, irreverent Ghost of Novels Present arrives. He is full of cheer and snark and drags you from the warmth of your bed through the snows of San Diego. “Your friend is struggling with a plot,” he says, pointing to a small boy with a crutch. “He has no one to support his dream.”

“But he has potential,” Scrooge says, puzzled. “Why does he still receive rejection letters from publishers? Why are vanity presses circling around him like vultures?”

“Are there no self-publishing outlets?” the ghost laughs. “Is there no room for his genre?”

“What becomes of him?”

“If he is not found, if he receives one more rejection, I see an abandoned crutch hanging by the hearthfire.”


And then the stroke of Two, and a terrifying poltergeist, the Ghost of Novels Yet-To-Be extends a bony finger and points Scrooge to a lonely grave. As Scrooge brushes away the ice, he reads the working title of his manuscript.

And Scrooge knows then what a life of fear and regret costs.

Shel, we've seen
The Christmas Carol
a million times.

Okay, so maybe I’ve been hitting the eggnog a little hard this year. But there’s something about ol’ Ebenezer that I find appealing. Despite the darkness he surrounded himself with, despite the angst and the worry and the hatred, and the holier-than-thou attitude, at the end he was a changed man. A redeemed man. And Scrooge became known for keeping the spirit of Christmas in his heart.


Okay, fine. To bring this back to relevancy, the message of this Christmas Carol is HOPE. Fear cannot tread where hope lives, but hope is still a fragile, fleeting thing. I’ve heard it said that the beast we feed will be the beast that grows. If we feed our doubt, if we nurture our fear, that will be the monster that survives. That is the voice in our heads that tells us we shouldn’t do a thing, that we should give up because we do not have the talent or the strength to persevere in the face of challenges.

But if we feed the voice of hope. If we allow her grace to fill our thoughts and our dreams, then fear will become diminished, and will have no control over us.

So what if I published The Trouble with Henry and Hagatha Kittridge Must Die, and I only sold a handful of ebooks. So what if this blog is only read by a handful of really supportive people and hackers from China and Russia. When fear of hitting the publish button reared its ugly head, I chose to feed the voice of hope instead. I chose a carefree life for my child instead of a basement prison. I hope I can help others choose the same.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks or says or does. My child is still beautiful, and talented, and full of promise. He doesn’t need to win a Hugo or an Agatha, or reach a million copies sold. It would be nice, but I'm proud of my work, my children, just the way they are.

I wish my friend could feed her hope right now. She’s got life fighting her every step of the way, and some extremely serious challenges than simply the fear of being finished, but fear feeds off of that type of stress. And she’s beautiful and talented and her book is worthy of bookshelves across the globe. She’s just losing her writing heart to her fears.

And if her fear monster wins, then the true tragedy is that no one will have had the chance to read her book. And I cannot bear a world in which a story failed to exist because hope died. 

Do not feed the fear monster, my fellow writers. Make it starve to death, nevermore to grace your computer screen. There are many, many things out there to be afraid of, but our own children need not be a part of them. If there's one thing I've learned about self-publishing, its that you can't break it. If you upload mistakes, you can fix them. If no one buys your book, it's okay, Really. Screw them all and write your next book. And publish it. And write the next book. And publish it. If you build it, they will eventually come. But first, you've got to nurture your faith. You've got to feed your Hope Monster. 

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

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