When you start to think about writing a book, especially a book built off of your very own expertise, point-of-view, and thought leadership — there can be a seemingly endless series of obstacles that will rise up and get in your way. 
While your specific experience will of course be unique to you, the general obstacles that show up are so incredibly common that they verge on universal. 
This first article in a series uncovers one of the most common obstacles that get in the way on the road to writing your book — that not-so-fun-feeling of self-doubt.

 

psst… Prefer to listen? Here’s my podcast on this same topic.

“I seek strength, not to be greater than others, but to fight my greatest enemy, the doubts within myself.” 

— P.C. Cast, New York Times bestselling author 

So you’re thinking about writing your first book. 

If you’re totally honest with yourself, your #1 goal is to write a book someday. 

You want to take the work you love, the practices you do with your clients, the particular flavor of expertise you’ve developed over time, your message that resonates with so many — and you want to turn that into a book. A book that will go broader and deeper, and will reach a whole lot more people.

And yet, when you think about getting serious and prioritizing this book project idea of yours — this book that’s your #1 goal…. a rush of self-doubt washes over you in a way you haven’t felt in a long time. 

You are finding yourself questioning your years of experience and wondering if maybe you need more letters after your name in order to be taken seriously by the New York publishing world.

You’ve been comparing yourself to others in your field who have gotten book deals and you’re finding yourself coming up lacking.

You’re wondering who the heck you think you are to even consider writing a book…after all, when was the last time you wrote anything longer than a blog post?

If any of these messages are sounding familiar to you, just know that nothing is more normal when you are thinking about putting yourself and your ideas out into the world in the form of a nonfiction book, than a rising sense of self-doubt.

Self-doubt can feel like waves of uncertainly, lost confidence, fear, anxiety, imposter complex (aka imposter syndrome)… however it’s showing up for you, it’s 110% normal. 

There are others out there who will say otherwise. Others will say that you just need to ignore or shake off those feelings, and “fake it ‘til you make it”.

I am not those people.

What you need to know is that it’s healthy and normal for feelings of self-doubt to rise up when we are challenging ourselves to do new things, things that are important to us and are requiring us to put ourselves out there.

Rather than push aside or ignore those feelings, instead, take a listen to what they have to say, and sort through what is legit and what you need to let go of so you can create the headspace you need to write your book!

 

 

The 5 most common messages self-doubt send about you and your book and what to do about them.

 

 

Self Doubt Message #1:  You’re Not “Expert Enough” to Write this Book

What it’s about: Wherever you are in your book project journey — whether you’re just starting to think about writing a book, are on the cusp of developing your book proposal, or about to send out your first query letter — a feeling of self-doubt around your expertise is generally about putting yourself at risk, about potentially exposing yourself to something unsafe. You’re questioning your expertise as a way to protect yourself from doing something scary and risky like sending out a book proposal and potentially getting rejected. 

How to respond: Remind yourself why you want to write this book and that you are safe and prepared to manage the process of putting yourself out there. Re-visit your expertise with clear eyes. Dig up all those thank you notes and client testimonials that are proof of your expertise already making an impact. Be honest with yourself if there are gaps in your knowledge that you want to fill; not master degrees to add letters to your name for sake of letters, but useful knowledge to expand your ability to make an impact with your book.

Actions to try:

  • Make a list of your expertise to re-visit when self-doubt shows up. One of my favorite teachers,Tanya Geisler, recommends making a “Yum & Yay” folder to remind you of all your wins and brilliance! Whatever you do, keep it handy!  
  • Work with a book coach who can help support you through this journey.

 

Self-Doubt Message #2:  Your Book Idea Isn’t Good Enough

What it’s about:

If you find yourself questioning if your book idea is “good enough”, then there’s probably some comparison going on. You’re taking your idea and comparing it to other books, or you’re comparing yourself to other writers. It’s incredibly natural to compare ourselves to others and with social media, so embedded into our lives these days, it’s also really hard to avoid. But it can get in the way when we compare ourselves to others and find ourselves coming up lacking.

Yet, as an aspiring author, it’s crucial to stay plugged into what is going on in your genre, and what other books are new or coming in your space. That constant connection with what other writers are doing in your space may be causing the comparison-itis… 

How to respond:

Protect your book idea with everything you’ve got. If comparison is what is getting in the way of how you feel about your book — then look for where you find yourself comparing.

If you’re following a bunch of others in your space on social media and you find that their posts randomly popping into your feed is causing you angst — then what could you do differently? If you know you want to stay in touch with what’s going on in your space, but want to feel less of the icky feelings, what could you do differently? How can you keep the focus on yourself?

Actions to try:

  • Be intentional about your social media. Create a separate social media account just for following those in your space. Schedule market research time on your calendar to check it and see what’s going on. 
  • There is huge power in action. Put the focus on yourself and declare your book idea good enough by taking a step towards starting your book project. Join a writing group or commit to your book by starting your book proposal.

 

Self-Doubt Message #3:  You’re Not Popular Enough

What it’s about: 

Google “how to get a traditional book deal” or just about anything to do with developing a book proposal and you’re bound to be overwhelmed pretty quickly by the concept of the “author platform” how important it is to your chances of getting a book deal with a traditional publisher.

It’s no secret that the publishing industry loves an author with a built-in audience. This is why you see so many celebrity cookbooks and memoirs — because publishers know that celebrities have millions of followers on Instagram, TikTik, and YouTube ready to shell out $25 for their book.

I’m assuming if you’re reading this you probably do not have Glennon Doyle-level followers and you’re wondering, how many do you need to have? The answer is, it depends. There are definitely agents and publishers out there who won’t look at an author with less than 100k followers. But that’s not everyone.

But what you do need to have is a well-established follower base with who you are actively engaged. So, the reality is, you might not be popular enough for SOME, but what you want to be is popular with YOUR people.

How to respond: 

If the message you are hearing is that you don’t have a big enough platform to ever get a book deal then be real with yourself. If you have 50 followers on Facebook and most of them are your friends and family, then I agree with you, you have some work to do.

If you have 2,500 followers on Instagram and they are actively engaged and you’re also building your following on TikTok or YouTube or Twitter because that’s where you’re people are, and your goal is to get to 10k (which a big and hard goal!) then you are on the right track. Not everyone will ever get 100k or even 10k.

And… not everyone is ever even meant to get a traditional book deal, there are lots of ways to bring your book to life, traditional publishing is just one.

Actions to try:

  • Be real with yourself. To get a traditional book deal you will need to show an established, active, and growing platform. You might not be ready to pitch your book idea yet — if you could use some guidance, consider working with a book coach to get a clear picture of where you are now and how to get where you want to go.
  • Are you spreading yourself too thin across many platforms and growing nowhere? Prioritize one or two social media platforms and focus there.
  • Grow your email list. Social media is out of our control, but your email list is always yours.

 

Self-Doubt Message #4:  Who You, a Writer?

What it’s about:  As a first-time, aspiring author of a nonfiction book, I’m going to venture to say that you probably don’t think of yourself as a “writer” first and foremost.

Clients I’ve worked with recently have been social workers, educators, coaches, cooks, and they write as part of their work or their business. So while they might write a regular weekly blog or even longer-form articles for publications in their field, they don’t think of themselves as “real writers”. 

If you find yourself getting hung up on this one, just know that there are writers out there with a regular writing practice and 10 published books who would say they still question whether they are a “real writer”. You are a “real writer” when you choose to be. 

How to respond: 

Do you want to bring this book to life? Do want to learn how to be a writer, or learn how to be more of a writer?

Are you willing to try new things and make some sacrifices and take some risks? Yes? Great! You are a writer.

Actions to try:

  • Identify where you are right now as a writer and what your goals are for your book project. Write these down on a piece of paper and then list out all the things you think you need to do to help you get from where you are now to your end goal. This might be a  very short list or a very long one. If you need help, consider reaching out to a book coach for guidance.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded others — joining a writing group.
  • I recently started a monthly virtual co-writing hour because I find that writing at the same time as others helps me focus better. Get the monthly invite in my newsletter.

 

Self-Doubt Message #5:  You’re Too Old to Be a “First-Time Author”

What it’s about: 

First of all, I think you know deep down that you’re really not too old.

So I’d go back and revisit #2, and see if there’s some comparison going on — maybe you are comparing yourself to a particular voice in your space who is more digitally native than yourself. Or, maybe there’s a story here about what people of your particular age are “supposed” to have accomplished or how they are supposed to be living.

Related, but not exactly the same — I worked with someone once who struggled with her author photo and how she looked in it — she felt she not only looked aged but also heavy and this brought up a lot of feelings making it difficult to feel excited and confident about the author bio section of her proposal. This is one that is sure to have roots pretty unique to your own lived experience, yet at the same time, I can say 100% is not true.

How to respond:

First of all, with all my love, nope you’re not too old. But ask yourself why this is coming up for you. Why does it matter to you? What do you want to do about it?  Be totally and completely honest so that you can make some space to clear this one away. 

Actions to try:

  • Write down all the reasons why you think this matters to you. Keep pushing until you get to the one that takes your breath away.
  • When you find the one that deeply resonates be gentle with yourself. Then ask yourself if it is true/accurate and what you want to do about it. For example, with the person who didn’t feel good about her author photo, we decided together that a new photo would not just help her feel better about her author bio and submitting her book proposal, but it would help her feel better about herself in the world — she found a friend to take new photos and it made all the difference. 
  • If you are in midlife like I am, there are some wonderful voices out there, check out Sara Smeaton’s Midlife Manifesto and Lou Blaser’s Midlife Cues newsletter & podcast

However self-doubt has been showing up and getting in the way of your becoming a published author plans(!), now you know that you are far from alone in how you have been feeling and you have a whole bunch of actions you can take to clear those feelings out.

I would love to hear how this article has landed for you. Are these suggestions and actions helpful? What progress have you made? What new questions has it brought up? Follow me over on Instagram and let me know.

More in this series: