Guest Post by Emma Newman: The Anxiety of the Debut Author

Today we have a guest post from debut author Emma Newman, author of From Dark Places and 20 Years Later, who is sharing with us the anxiety of the debut author. I think this is something that many writers in the frantic stampede towards Amazon KDP, Smashwords and CreateSpace forget that they’ll have to deal with. In order to be a success, you’ll have to get out there and tell people about your book, leaving your book – and you – open to judgement. Being emotionally ready to self-publish or get published is just as important as the steps we talk about all the time, like getting professional feedback, hiring an editor, working with a cover designer, etc. You need to be able to take what having a book out in the world can bring your way, be it glowing reviews or scathing appraisals.

And so over to you, Emma!

“If you’ve got a book on sale, you want to give it every chance of success. Like me, you might have absorbed blogs and books written by other authors and made notes about notifying local papers, posting information on your blog and even, in very un-annoying ways of course, mentioning it on Twitter and Facebook.

It’s like plotting a course across an ocean, you read the notes of the ship pilots who did it before so you don’t run aground in the same places as they did. Right?

Mapping out the reefs

Before I go any further I should probably tell you that I originally self-published an e-book of  short stories which got picked up by an Indie press, expanded and released as an e-book and POD paperback. My debut novel is about to be published in hardback by another small press, one which uses the traditional model of offset print run and major distributor.

The type of book, the publishing route and who the publisher is (or is not) has made no difference to the single biggest obstacle I’ve had to face in promoting my books.

The Fear.

I don’t want you to run aground on the same hidden reefs as I have. I happen to be a debut author with a mild anxiety disorder, so the odds are stacked against me, but I still think that the fears I’ve had to confront and the obstacles they have created are experienced by many other authors. When it’s your first novel, there’s no personal or emotional experience to draw upon (and if you have an anxiety disorder, personal experience often doesn’t take the fear away anyway).

Fear, as we all know, comes in many forms, the critical thing to know is that it can be an insidious beast, just a dark shape below the water that you may not notice as you’re pointing your telescope at the horizon. It can slow you down without you even noticing, and stop you from doing those critical tasks you so lovingly made notes about prior to launch. It can manifest as gentle procrastination right through to full blown panic attacks.

When I noticed the dark shape in the water, I realised that I had been putting off critical tasks because of a single belief:

If I tell people about my book, they will [insert terrible outcome of your choice]

When I had to make the page on my website, when I went to Facebook to let people know – and all the other tiny tasks that looked so easy on that list – I crumpled.

On bad days the fear crushed my chest, made my heart behave like a wild bird caught inside a conservatory. On good days I could talk to myself rationally (I’m sure that sentence is nonsensical) and address the crazy. But anything that took my book from the safe confines of my comfort zone and out into the world was exhausting. It wasn’t just ticking off a task, it was wrestling a beast.

The imagined terrible outcomes ranged from people hating the book, to hating me and anything I have ever done before and will do again. Sometimes the anxiety got so bad anyone would think that if I took a step to put my book out there, millions of kittens would die.

What’s absurd is that I never feel this way when other people announce things about their books. Unless it’s the sixth time that hour on Twitter and they’re making that announcement in caps with “PLEASE RT TX LOL” appended to every single one. Even then, millions of kittens don’t die, I just unfollow.

Fear like this is not rational.

It goes without saying that this fear has to be dealt with, otherwise, at best you’ll get a handful of sales and at worst, your book will never perform well enough to justify any financial investment in subsequent novels. That’s the hard business reality of publishing, and if you want to write as a career, like I do, you have to do all you can to make those books sell.

Survival and coping mechanisms

I’m convinced that anxiety (and most of our disorders actually) ultimately come from a place of self-protection and survival, sometimes they just go too far. My anxiety is a very irritating tool that part of my unconscious mind uses to protect myself. It tries to stop me promoting my book, because if my book doesn’t get out there, it reduces the chances of someone saying they hate it (which hurts) and it enables me to keep in the happy place of dreaming that lots of people will love it.

The thing is, that also prevents it from reaching real people who will love it. It prevents me from meeting great people and having amazing opportunities, so I do all I can to battle it every day.

Finding a better way to deal with the Scary

When the anxiety strikes, I try to identify what it is trying to protect me from, then I reason with it. I probably sound mad talking about this – after all, it’s all in my head, but bear with me. When the anxiety is too intense, this is impossible, and I just need to be kind to myself and do the things I can handle. My best friend always reminds me to treat myself in the way that I treat her when she is distressed. That is excellent advice.

Then when I am in a state of mind when I can take a step back and see the root of the fear, I negotiate and reason like an adult would. These coping mechanisms are usually created when we’re children after all, and persist to protect ourselves from feeling the pain of old, deep wounds again.

It’s hard, but it usually works. I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it didn’t; it took me such a long time to gather the courage to email Catherine and she is one of the loveliest people online! At every step I’ve had to reason with that anxiety. Even now, as I type, there’s a little bit of me freaking out at having to send it in! But if you’re reading this, I must have won.

Over to you

Have you found promotion scarier than you thought you would? Do you feel resistance every time you need to put yourself and your book out there? How do you deal with it?

About Emma

Emma Newman has proven that book deals are like buses; you wait ages for one then two show up at once. You can find out more about her debut novel 20 Years Later here and her short story anthology From Dark Places is available in print and e-book book formats. You can buy a signed copy from her website. She blogs and gets up to all kinds of writing mischief at Emma has recorded audio books for publishers and short stories for fiction podcasts. To find out more about her voice work go to You can also find Emma on Twitter: @emapocalyptic.

4 thoughts on “Guest Post by Emma Newman: The Anxiety of the Debut Author

  1. laurenwaters says:

    I completely understand the flash of self-doubt and anxiety that comes with every promotional step. It is so hard to push through and put your book and yourself out there to everyone. It’s great to know other writers struggle with the same thoughts. Wonderful guest post!

  2. Joely says:

    Thanks for a really interesting post.

    I think actually it *is* rational for all that fear and anxiety to come up when you’re doing something big, especially for the first time. We’re wired to be social creatures, to appeal and please other people in our group. And that goes along with not wanting to annoy them or stand out too much. I expect that’s why a lot of people don’t follow their dreams like you’ve done.

    So when you do something that might annoy people, something inside you reacts. Some people are more sensitive than others – and there’s nothing wrong with that. This how I cope. I just remember this is what’s going on and it’s totally normal and OK. Oh yes, and I meditate A LOT.

  3. Emma Newman says:

    Thank you both. I have tried so many times to meditate and still haven’t found a technique that works for me. Maybe I will one day… until then, there’s always tea.

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