I just published my debut novel, Wicked Fox—a young adult fantasy novel based on the Korean myth of the nine-tailed fox set in modern-day Seoul. And while I went on the journey from writing the book to publication there were many moments when I thought, “I have no idea what I’m doing and everyone can tell!” That, my friends, is our awful anxiety-goblin named “Imposter Syndrome.”
Here’s the secret about Imposter Syndrome: literally every big author you love feels it. These moments are totally normal and have happened to every single author I’ve ever had long conversations with. In publishing, the more you accomplish the more you’re stepping into the unknown. You sign with an agent and it’s a new experience. You go on submission and it’s a new experience. You sell your book, you do a cover reveal, you do your first interview…all new experiences. But established authors who’ve been around for awhile are also experiencing new things all the time. The first time they go on tour, write a final book in a series, meet their hero author, have a banner at a conference, get a TV deal. You can think that they’re all cool as a cucumber because they’re getting amazing things, but inside, I can assure you, they are freaking out at entering this brand new uncharted territory.
Speaking from the perspective of a debut author it’s really hard to work for a dream for so long with no guarantee of success. But, in some ways, it’s also terrifying to achieve that dream. There are moments when you psych yourself out and think that it took you so long for a reason. That every rejection was right. That for some reason the editor who bought your book was having an off month and now regrets everything!
It’s hard. I had actual moments where I woke up, convinced it was all a dream and that I had to tell everyone that I’d lied and accidentally told them I had a book deal when really it was a vivid, prolonged fugue state.
Here’s the thing…it did take me so long for a reason. It took me a long time because I was finding my voice, I was finding my style, I was finding my story. It took me a long time because I was finding my community, the people who will support me through the down times so they can celebrate with me during the good times. It took me a long time because nothing moves fast in this industry until everything moves fast. And it took a long time because everything is subjective. And that’s okay.
Imposter Syndrome is hard to combat because it’s not really caused by external factors. A lot of it comes from our internal insecurity of stepping into the unknown and being unable to navigate it well. However, no one is expected to go into a new job (because writing and being an author is a job) and know how to do it all on the first day. You’re given training and a chance to learn the lay of the land. And the same will happen when you enter the world of publishing. People are innately kind and enthusiastic in publishing because we’re all here through our love of stories.
As writers we create because we want to share something with the world. But at the same time sharing our story is terrifying because we bury our hearts and souls into our work. And the idea of someone saying it’s not enough or rejecting it hurts before the words are even uttered. However, if we let the fear of rejection stop us, then we’d never have made it this far.
There’s a reason people talk about rejection so much in this industry, because it happens at every level. We are united in our support for the author with 100 agent rejections. The writer who’s been on sub for over a year. The creator who’s on their tenth manuscript. This is what makes us strong. This is what makes us amazing.
But, I can also promise there will be moments that make you feel like you do truly belong in this community. The moment when someone asks you to sign your ARC for the first time. Or the moment when an author you respect tells you they liked your book. I will always remember the first time a reader sent me fanart of my book. I cried (LOL). I can’t promise every one of these specific moments will happen for you. But a moment will happen that reminds you that you do belong here. That the community wants you. That your art is worthwhile. When that does happen, my advice is to hold on to it (I have a document called *positivity* where I copy paste positive reviews or replies I’ve gotten to my writing.) And when you’re feeling down, take out that doc or those memories and remember that there have been good moments and that those moments will come again.
Kat Cho used to hide books under the bathroom sink and then sneak in there to read after bedtime. Her parents pretended not to know. She currently lives and works in NYC and spends her free time trying to figure out what kind of puppy to adopt. Visit her online and follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.