by Kate McMurray
TIP: Think big and take risks!
I read a really fascinating article recently about “imposter syndrome.” I suspect a lot of creative women suffer from this particular ailment. In a nutshell, imposter syndrome is feeling like you’re a hack or a fraud despite the contrary evidence of your success. As women, we’re often taught to downplay our accomplishments, to never boast to loudly, so I think a lot of us have internalized that to the point where we don’t think our successes are deserved no matter how hard we work for them.
A related problem for creative people is not aspiring to bigger things. There’s this notion of being a starving artist and the assumption that comes with it that being successful is somehow a betrayal of art or selling out. One of the things that I find particularly notable about RWA and the chapters I’ve been involved with is the way we’re all so supportive of each other. We celebrate success. Our successes deserve celebration. I love that and it’s one of the reasons I stay involved. Writing a novel is not an easy thing to do, nor is publishing one, and we should all celebrate those accomplishments.
I think we should also aim higher.
Here’s where imposter syndrome comes in. I was talking to a friend of mine recently who is considering selfpublishing. He told me he didn’t care if he made money from the book; he just wanted people to read it. That’s noble, and if you’re not looking to make a career from writing, maybe it’s the right attitude. But there an awshucks-iness about that, too, the attitude of, Well, I’ll never be Stephen King or Nora Roberts, so if I only sell five copies, that’s fine. I don’t know about you, but I have bigger dreams than that. I’m fond of telling people I want to be Nora Roberts when I grow up. Why not aim big?
The way publishing works now, you can make a decent income by publishing regularly and being smart about marketing. Maybe you won’t be Nora Roberts famous, but you can earn enough to live on. That’s true even if you publish in a niche like LGBT romance or write in a genre that seems to be slumping like historical. Every time one of my writer friends quits his or her day job, I am so psyched for them. A book angel gets her wings, I think.
There are a few ways to break out of the imposter syndrome rut.
First, write your crazy idea. By the time this is printed, National Novel Writing Month will be over. NaNoWriMo is a breeding ground for crazy ideas. That forced writing time means sometimes you think, “Well, this is nuts, but word count, so I guess I’ll write it.” Genius is born in those moments. Why not run with them? “But no one’s buying lesbian historical sci fi,” you argue. Nonsense. No one knows what the next big thing will be, so why not give it a stab? The books that have lately really stood out from the crowd do things a little differently They’re historicals that take place in unusual settings—not the Regency, in other words—or genre mashups—Paranormal creatures in the Jazz Age! Romance on a starship!—or they take that crazy idea and turn it into a compelling story. You want a book that stands out, not that blends in.
Second, try new things. Not just with your writing. Try a new marketing plan. Go to a conference you’ve never attended before. Offer to guest post for a blog you’ve never written for. Try self-publishing or submitting a story to an anthology call or doing something that defies the convention wisdom.
I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing what’s safe and familiar. It’s easy, too, to settle for the first offer. We worked so hard to get published, and the first time someone says, “I want to publish this story,” you want to jump for joy and say, “Yes!” But are you really making the wisest choice for your career? Or, once your book is out there, you tend to stick to promotional spaces where you feel safe—your own social media accounts, author loops you belong to, etc.—but don’t branch out. It’s important to let your fans know you have a new book out, but it’s important to find new readers and grow your career as well.
Think big and take risks! Books always benefit from innovation and authors trying new things, so why not be on the cutting edge of that?♥
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She’s currently serving as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.