Indie Authors: The Powerful Practice of Leveraging Your Professional Anxiety

A few days ago, my daughter sent me this text: “I’m so happy about your book mom. You definitely made the right decision.”

She had good reason to toss up a digital high five. I’ve been writing Woman On The Wall since 2019, scrapped the entire first draft for a new main character and rewrote the whole thing in six weeks. It went through another massive edit before I spent a year in the traditional publishing query trenches with five full requests, six partials and a whole lot of rejections. 

There were no rejections that day, though. I’d had my Goodreads Author profile approved, another small step in the larger process of birthing this project that began long before Woman On The Wall. The website was humming, a steady stream of people subscribing, strong support from my networks. I had even just finished a day at a virtual conference with Publishers Weekly. Everything seemed right in the world. My daughter was right. The decision to become an indie author was shaping up as the right decision for my writing career.

I thought about it all for a moment before responding. Should I go all stoic or send back a little confetti? That seemed like the response that most people are up for when they send that sort of note. However, it’s my kid—my 16-year-old kid who is going to graduate from high school next year and get smacked with the reality of the world. 

So, I opted for the truth. “Thank you. I’m scared every moment of every day about it.”

Professional Anxiety Is Real When You Challenge Yourself In Unfamiliar Spaces

I am scared. It’s true. This whole thing is stinking terrifying.  And this is coming from a woman who has built businesses from scratch, failed hard, travels alone most of the time, lost babies, immigrated to another country, scraped back when life handed us a couple of years of financial hell, and whose father often quips that my willingness to play the long game is strong.

Lately, though, the long game is a brutal slog. The anxiety comes in waves. There are times, like the moment I saw “Goodreads Author” next to my name, when the foundation I’ve started to build solidified a bit more. The realization of little dreams like this make an excellent pay off for the other times when Mailchimp wants more money for me to be able to accomplish a simple task like sending a follow-up email, or I read a blog from a famous writer telling me that I’m going to have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars in advertising to get this book of mine in the hands of the masses. 

There’s so much to do and learn, even through I already have a huge machine around me. My husband does my cover and graphic design work. A friend and excellent copy writer is crafting my blurbs and marketing pieces. I’m so grateful for a strong developmental editor and endless support from writer friends who aren’t afraid to tell me when I need to get some next-level help. I want my own experience as a marketer to pay off too. So much has changed, though, since I was in that arena. Now, I feel like the ancient frog in the youthful pond. It has given me new-found respect for the work that goes into traditional publishing. It also makes me wonder how I will ever stand out in the proverbial sea of stories. 

Enter endless anxiety.

Leveraging Your Professional Anxiety As A Part of the Creative Process

While some wins are juicy, other moments that should be full of celebration and wow are, in fact, huge triggers. On Sunday, my husband finished the absolutely gorgeous full book cover from back to front and sent it to me for proofing. It was, and I mean it, a phenomenal moment for both of us to see that ready to go. How many nights has he sat up with me discussing novel scenarios, passing me a glass of whiskey when I got yet another rejection on a full manuscript, read the entire novel from front to back doing line edits and making recommendations? This book constitutes so much of the two of us over the last three years. To see it this close to being published made us both cry. Then, it made me sick.

Will it live up to expectations? Did I screw up the back cover copy? Is the Mona Lisa public domain artwork? (I already knew it was, but I totally panicked) Did I give Ken the right measurements? Is the ISBN code right? What THE HELL am I doing?

This happens at least once a day right now.

Yes, going it on my own is the right thing to do. Yes, it’s 100% the best choice for this novel and the rest of The Sibylline Chronicles series to come after it. I believe it in my very core.

The anxiety of going it on my own, though, is so very real. It’s the great paradox – go it on my own and I have complete control over my work. I own my Intellectual Property outright. I have the final say on all of the creative decisions. It’s so beautiful to not have to conform to the capitalist mentality that you must create what is in demand right at this moment. I’ve always hated the idea of chasing trends as an artist. By the time I move through the production cycle of a novelist (about a year), those trends are whimpering out. I’m stuck with a book I didn’t want to write.

However, the other side of that paradox is when I go it on my own I have complete responsibility for everything. I take the financial risk, the artistic risk, sales, no sales, appeal, no appeal, quality, no quality. At least if someone else who has spent a career in publishing vetted and shaped and approved me as a traditionally published writer I could take a whole lot of that risk out of the mix. 

Or, could I?

What I do know is that my professional anxiety keeps my ego in check, my desire to race through the process in low gear (steep learning curve is humbling). My understanding of all of that allows me to leverage the fear of screwing up to keep going. I cover my bases, invest in the necessary tools, don’t scrimp in areas that I know I have absolutely no expertise. I seek out advice, lean into the support of my writing friends, savor the moments when my kids are proud of me. I’m building a publishing house and a brand here. I’m not wasting all of this worry by quitting.

So, here I am at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, still in my pyjamas, on my third cup of strong black coffee, Ramin Djawadi’s movie soundtracks giving me all the feels, powering through today’s wave of anxiety. 

Later, I’ll make a TikTok about something book related, write half a chapter in my latest novel, take a webinar on WooCommerce for Idiots. I’ll probably panic again over having no clue how to set WooCommerce up on my website. I’m working on getting used to being really, really scared. I’ve worked my whole life to not suck at this novel writing thing, for that moment when Woman On The Wall goes on sale and I slide a copy of it onto my shelf. The Sibylline are my absolute obsession. Their stories are what I have to share with the world. I keep telling myself I can’t let the anxiety of the risks take me down. 

So, I look at my daughter’s words again and again and remind myself that it is okay to be scared every moment of every day as long as it’s all a part of leveraging your professional anxiety for a greater purpose – and achieving dreams is the most sacred purpose of all. 

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