1. Fear of Being Considered a Grey’s Anatomy Knockoff: I hear this a lot. My book contains some similarities to the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, apparently. That’s fine, especially because people love that show. For the record, though, I just wanna state: I have never, even once, watched it. I don’t like medical dramas, partly because I’ll fixate on some inaccurate detail and then ruin the show for everyone else by complaining about it, and partly because who needs medical dramas on TV when you’ve got them live every night in front of you? Still, I must be attracted to this on some level because the real-life drama is what inspired me to write.
2. Fear Of Everyone I’ve Ever Known Thinking They Are A Character In The Book: Let me just be upfront on this point. You’re not in the book. There is one character who is semi-based on a real person and as of right now, that person is tiny and still basically illiterate, so any fallout should be a few years off. Everyone else is made up, or at least a fusion of four or five random people plus some wholly imaginary traits.
3. Fear Of Everyone Thinking The Protagonist Is Me: Again, it’s fiction. FICTION. I did base the book on situations I knew to be somewhat realistic but I didn’t personally do the stuff the main characters do in the book. Are they sort of like me? Well, yeah. They’re wordy, witty, nerdy, attractive doctors with all sorts of mayhem in their lives. Are they actually me? No. I made this stuff up, y’all. (Except for that scene where the mom loses her mind making breakfast. That was actually me.)
4. Fear Of My Children Reading The Book: I didn’t think my book was particularly risqué until the first Goodreads giveaway happened and I noticed everyone requesting the book had to verify that they are at least 18 years old. Say what?? I’ve read YA books with ten times more sex and cursing than my book. I mean, yes, there is SOME sex and cursing in my book. Being an astute observer of the human condition, I have noticed that some people do curse and have sex IRL, so I put a little of both in there when the situation called for it. It’s medical fiction, so there are some bloody scenes too. And some death. And then there are the themes: betrayal, deception, and the hedonism of keg parties when you’re a young, heedless idiot. Now that I think about it, my children are not going to read this book until they are thirty-five.
5. Fear of Failure: This is the big one. Almost every writer knows what it’s like to be pummeled by rejection. Outside of the Olympics, there are few people in the world who work so hard for so many opportunities to be squashed. Writing a book is an immense amount of work—even before other people weigh in about how much you suck, you wither under your own cloud of self-doubt on a daily basis. Then you get beta-readers and critique partners, who, if they are any good, tell you what’s wrong with what you wrote. Then it’s on to the highly unlikely feat of acquiring an agent. Agents get hundreds of letters a week from people wanting representation, so at best you get no response, and at worst you get an insulting rejection. (Or vice versa, depending on whether you’d rather your life’s work be ignored or dismissed.) Occasionally you get a request for pages, followed by a personalized rejection. Writers blog happily to each other about these: I got rejected, but it was a NICE rejection! She liked a sentence on page 107, y’all! Agents are wonderful people but they’re swamped by all these writers.
If you manage to snag an agent, they’ll often ask for revisions. Then when you’ve re-worked the thing you wrote for the 400th time, it’s time to move on to be rejected by publishers. This is especially disheartening because you have an agent for God’s sweet sake. You know you possess some viability by this point, so why aren’t the publishers falling all over themselves for your brilliant manuscript? You want to know the most reviled words in the English language? Not Right For My List. Ask any writer. Those words suck.
Then, if you manage to reach this exalted pinnacle—you’ve been signed by a publishing house—you are rewarded by heaps of scorn from reviewers and readers. Everyone likes to share their opinion on books. This is fine and should be encouraged, unless it’s a negative opinion and it’s regarding my book. Then it should be suppressed, because it’s going to kill me. If ever the phrase Don’t Read the Comments should be taken to heart, it’s now. Because I read the comments about other writers’ work (including comments I myself have made back when I was merely a judgmental reader) and I want to stab myself in the eye with a fork.
The first few reviews from strangers have started to trickle in about my book and they are triggering mad panic. After one or two semi-bad ones, I emailed my editor in hopes of changing everything about the book. It’s too complicated! It’s not complicated enough! Too many big words! Too many medical scenes! The characters are too attractive and too highfalutin!
My editor, familiar with this sort of writerly hysteria, was the picture of calm. She reminded me that other reviewers love my book. The publisher loves my book. She loves my book. I love my book. Also, she said gently, it is too late to change the entire thing.
Ok, fine. Some people are going to hate my book, and it’s probably going to be for plot-related reasons that are personal to them, not because I’m an appalling writer. But even if the book garnered 100% positive reviews from readers, professional reviewers might hate it. Or worse, it might not get any attention at all. It might not sell well. Most books don’t sell well. I might never publish another book. I might never write another book.
The reality is that being a writer—or engaging in any field where you channel a vast amount of energy into creating something—is unlikely to end well for you. Very few books are wind up as critical successes, and even the ones that do often garner staggering amounts of hatred. It’s the nature of the beast: art is subjective. Commercial success is even rarer. Most of us will toil for years with very little to show for it, pouring our hearts and financial resources and energy into this virtual baby that people will casually flick into the trash.
I know all this is true and yet…I still am so scared of failing.