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How to Deal When Fear Threatens to Ruin Your Book

There’s always a point during the ghostwriting process when, for lack of a better term, shit gets real. The author gets snippets of their first draft and seeing their own words on paper viscerally cements the fact that the work we’re doing will indeed result in a tangible book. 

“My god, people might actually read this thing someday!” 

Consciously, of course, authors are excited to see their manuscript come to life and hope people will read their book once it’s out. They accept the vulnerability that comes with exposing one’s mind to the world long before ever deciding to hire a ghostwriter in the first place. The problem with fear is that it’s often most active on a subconscious level and can threaten the quality of the manuscript in unexpected, insidious ways. 

As creators, suppressed or unprocessed fear can become our worst enemy, overwhelming us to the point of paralysis. Jarring thoughts pop up about every possible bit of criticism we could receive, particularly online where the trolls creep out from under their bridges to douse the world in spicy hater sauce. We water down our ideas, soften our words, and over-explain simple but potentially controversial opinions, assuming readers will think badly of us if we don’t. When a book is written and edited from a place of fear, it can start to sound as if it’s apologizing for its own existence. I have bold ideas, but please don’t hate me for sharing them. That is the subtext readers absorb.

It makes sense to feel this fear, particularly if you’re a first-time author. No one wants to become the target of a social media mob or risk ruining their reputation over an opinion they’ve shared. Avoiding unanticipated ire from a book’s target audience is an essential aspect of narrative positioning and a good ghostwriter or book coach will be on the lookout for every bit of content with the potential to raise hackles. We flag these sentences and bring them up for discussion during revisions so authors can chew on them and decide how they’d like to handle each.

Occasionally, authors get stuck in the fear swamp and never end up publishing at all. This is a terrible shame and potentially avoidable as well. If you’re an author currently wrestling with fear, here are some mindset tips to help you free yourself from its mighty grip.

Focus on what you can control.

You’ll never be able to guarantee any particular person will approve of your book, connect with its message, or appreciate your mission. We can’t control what others think or feel, but we can control how we approach the creative process. By preparing well for interviews with your ghostwriter or book coach (if you have one), diving into your manuscript to collaborate during revisions, and communicating closely with your publisher (if you have one), you’ll have the best chance of articulating your message in ways that resonate with your target audience. 

Embody the feeling of accomplishing your goals. 

The vast majority of authors who publish are happy to have done so. There comes a point when all the work feels worth it, like when their book gets five-star reviews, hits the New York Times Best Seller list, or lands them a paid public speaking gig. What goals do you have for your book? What would give you the greatest amount of gratification? Would it be the compliments from friends or the satisfaction of helping your target audience? Visualizing and embodying the feeling of that moment, whatever it involves, can help shift your mind and body out of fear. If you can put yourself in the shoes of your future self at your point of greatest joy in relation to your book, that feeling can fuel your creation process and keep you connected to your ‘why’. Your present worries will seem like small potatoes once you’re finally living your dream. 

Brainstorm how to handle the worst possible outcomes.

When we find ourselves stuck in the fear swamp, we’re often fixating on the worst outcomes imaginable. We wonder if we could lose friends or even our job for expressing our honest opinions. We might envision obsessive stalker-fans at our door or legal tussles with crooks who try to steal our intellectual property. While most of these thoughts aren’t likely to manifest, there’s always a remote possibility they could and it helps to think about how you might handle each. How would you deal with rejection from a friend who didn’t like your book? What could you do if someone tried to steal your work and publish it as their own? Having a vague mental plan in place can help break down the wall of fear standing in your way. You will always have options.

Realize you don’t have to respond to most criticism.

Truthfully, there’s no need to interact with people who don't resonate with your book’s content. It’s great to engage with readers who leave comments and reviews online, but you don’t have to respond to them all or spend your time defending your book when haters swarm. It’s best, in fact, to ignore the haters altogether and even hire a social media manager to deal with their shenanigans for you, if necessary. This can help protect your peace of mind from anxiety over other people’s opinions. Your job as an author is to write a book you can stand by, promote it furiously, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Starve the trolls. 

Focus on your target audience.

While writing a book, we often fear an amorphous “they” will read it, think it sucks, and ridicule us about it. Who is this “they” and why do we care about their opinion? Close your eyes and ask yourself, “Whose judgment am I afraid of?” 

It’s my hunch that the boogey-haters haunting your mind are not your target readers. “They” are likely some acquaintance from work or middle-school bully you haven’t seen in 30 years whose last name you can’t remember anymore. Bottom line: if they’re not part of your specific audience, your book is not for them! They might not even vibe with the overall topic in the first place, let alone read the book and take detailed notes in order to pick you apart. 

Turn your attention to your audience instead. How are you trying to serve them? Are you aiming to take them on a transformative journey, expand their mind with deep wisdom, teach them how to do something, or make them laugh? Are you getting your content across to them in scrumptious ways they can pleasurably chew on and digest? Have you positioned yourself and your narrative in ways that will resonate with them and their values? Focusing on questions like these will bring you clarity of purpose when fear clouds your vision. Serve your readers and leave the rest behind.

Let go of perfectionism.

We perfectionist types often carry the belief that if we’re not the best at what we do, we’re failing. This turns into an obsession that fills our bodies with fear of making the messy moves the creative process demands. 

I want to be the best author in my niche.

This will be the best damn book on sailboats this world has ever seen!

I beg thee, save yourself some stress by throwing this type of thinking out the window. When it comes to books, “best” is a goal with no metric. There’s no such thing as an objectively perfect book. Aim for the highest standards you possibly can, of course, but don’t allow fear of imperfection to hinder your progress. Be messy and make mistakes, but whatever you do, finish your book and get it out there. 

That's how winning is done!

Look forward to criticism that will help you grow.

Every experience is a learning opportunity. Some of the critical feedback you receive in response to your book will sting in the moment, but help you grow in the long run. You may even go on to write more books with fresh wisdom under your belt and the knowledge needed to avoid previous obstacles or mistakes. You’ll widen your perspective in ways that allow you to move forward with greater clarity about your purpose and how you want to approach it. The reactions of others are merely reflections that guide us in our quest for connection. There’s nothing to fear from experiences that help us evolve on our journey. 

If you’re working with a ghostwriter or book coach, tell them about your fears! We’re here to help you navigate all the worries that arise throughout the manuscript creation process. We want to hear what’s on your mind and collaborate on solutions that will result in the best book for your situation. By shining a light on your mind’s shadows with a trusted ally in your corner, you can prevent fear from making itself at home in your work.


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Peggy Holsclaw is a bestselling ghostwriter and book coach based in the Bay Area. Her company, Bonafide Ink, helps non-fiction authors bring their books to life on their quest to change the world. She has proudly collaborated with entrepreneurs, executives, energy workers, and other inspired creators from around the globe.

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