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Seven Worries of an Aspiring Author

by Tom Ashford

Being an author can be an anxiety-inducing experience. There’s always something else to be writing, or tweaking, or setting up, or simply generally worrying about. That’s probably why the magical, romantic image of traditional publishing is so initially inviting: the idea that you get paid (handsomely) to write your marvellous novel and then other people sort everything out for you so that it can go on to be a bestseller.

Of course, this isn’t how it works (not anymore, anyway). Whichever route you choose in getting your books to market, you’re going to have to put the work in. And when you’re writing your very first book, all sorts of worries are going to dance across your word-addled mind. Most of them are utterly meaningless and shouldn’t distract you from finishing your first draft… but they inevitably will.

Here are a few of them, and the reasons why you shouldn’t care.

1.) What if somebody steals my ideas?

Don’t worry, they won’t. You can put them up in your writers groups on Facebook and get feedback without the imminent threat of somebody stealing your concept and churning out their own version faster than you can type out ‘Chapter One’, because it isn’t going to happen.

For one, the harsh truth is that your idea isn’t worth very much. Not even if it’s a really good one. That’s mostly because ideas are easy – it’s the execution of actually having to write all three hundred pages of it that’s challenging. I know loads of people who’ve come up with great ideas for stories, or even entire fictional sagas. Yet nobody else in my circle of friends has sat down and written a book. It would be a much bigger concern if people could steal your ability, or your enthusiasm, or your commitment. Those are the obstacles to writing a book, not the lack of an idea.

If you’re showing your idea to a non-writer, they won’t steal it. If you’re showing your idea to a writer, then they’re very unlikely to steal it because they have plenty of ideas of their own. And if somebody does steal your idea, don’t be too worried. If they need to steal ideas, then their book is going to be awful and nobody will notice it. And that brings me to worry number two…

2.) My idea isn’t original

Of course it isn’t! Nobody’s idea is, not really. Everybody is influenced by what’s come before them, whether that’s a book or a film or whatever. As they say, there’s nothing new under the sun… and if there is, then chances are you’re not the one to find it. But that’s not a reason to worry or feel disheartened. You should feel relieved by that fact!

So long as you aren’t trying to copy something else, whatever you write will be original enough in that it carries your own perspective and is written in your own voice. There will be tropes from your genre; there will be beats that mirror other stories. That’s all fine. Star Wars is very similar to other stories outside of the sci-fi genre. Lee Child wasn’t the first person to write a thriller novel. It’s fine. Just write the book you want to write. You’ll soon get over this worry.

3.) What if I get bad reviews?

It’s not a question of ‘if’. You will get bad reviews, without question. Your book won’t be perfect, and you’d still get bad reviews even if it was. You can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t want to. Do you know who else gets bad reviews every now and again? Me. Mark Dawson. Dan Brown. Stephen King. J.K. Rowling. If you can name them, they’ve got a bad review (or hundreds, if they’re successful enough).

Sometimes these reviews will offer valuable advice on how to improve your writing (you might even want to tweak your book afterwards, if they point out a typo – something not so easily done in the traditionally published world). Others will simply be hurtful. Some will be bafflingly odd, like the person who got a review on her book from somebody who had been expecting a pack of sausages. They can’t be helped or avoided. Don’t worry about them. If your book is good then the positive reviews will outweigh the negative ones, and trust your readers to be savvy enough to work out which reviews actually have value.

4.) There’s too much pressure – what will my friends and family think?

Nothing, probably. Don’t let the pressure of what you friends and family will think of your book get to you, because the reality is they probably won’t care. That’s not meant to sound harsh, only the truth. They’ll be impressed because you’ll have written a whole novel, which most people never manage to do (this is presuming you aren’t related to a whole tribe of authors), and maybe they’ll even be impressed with what you write. But even if they aren’t, it’s not the end of the world.

The reality is, other people don’t think about us anywhere near as much as we imagine they do. They’ve got bigger things to worry about than the fact that their friend or sister has written a romance novel, or a book they didn’t think was quite as good as the Dan Brown book they just finished. They don’t care, and neither should you. It’s your creative endeavour, so ignore everyone else and do it for yourself.

5.) What if my book doesn’t sell?

Write another one. That’s one of the great things about self-publishing: if your first book (or your second, or third, or tenth) doesn’t become a bestseller, you can just jump back on your horse and try again. You’re only knocked back a few months, and there’s no age restrictions on being an author. Unlike with traditional publishing, a poor book launch doesn’t stop you from trying again a little further down the road. And when you do finally write a book that sells well (or that you can market well, at least), you’ll have a huge backlist of other books that your readers can move onto. Don’t worry about it too much. If you’re looking into writing as a way to get rich quick, you’re barking up the wrong tree anyway.

6.) I can’t find inspiration

Welcome to the club. If you wait until inspiration strikes, you’ll never finish your book. Half the time, you probably won’t even want to write. The scene will be too daunting, or you’ll be tired, or there’ll be something else you’d simply rather be doing. But you find a routine and you stick to it, day in and day out, whether you want to write or not, because otherwise the book won’t get done. The idea of a writer being supercharged by a muse is, for most people at least, a bit of a myth.

7.) My book is rubbish (or going to be rubbish)

Well, it might be. But that’s fine. That’s what the second and third drafts are for. Few people, if any, can write a perfect first draft. I personally enjoy taking it slow on my first draft and making sure every part is exactly how I want it before moving onto the next paragraph, and I STILL need to go through the novel afterwards to improve it. Don’t throw your manuscript away or give up. Keep working on it. It will improve. Even if it doesn’t improve enough to be published, you’ll have improved along the way and your next book will be better.

The bigger warning sign would be if you finish your book and think it’s the best thing ever written. Most people think what they’ve done isn’t quite as good as it could be, even if they’re wrong. Chances are, other people think what you’ve done is better than you do. Either way, cut yourself some slack.

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.