The Emperor Has No Emotional Pants, Either.

I’m posting this in honor of some writer friends whose debut novels will soon head out on submission to publishing houses — and for everyone else who could use a reminder that none of us is as alone as it may seem.

Published authors are always successful, and never afraid of anything. Once your books appear “in print” – in physical format or as ebooks — your life becomes a unicorn-riding, glitter-showered extravaganza laden with admiration, critical honors, and all the free booze and cupcakes you can stomach.


One of publishing’s biggest surprises is that most (sane) authors still feel fear. Some might call it “apprehension,” while others favor, “nervousness” or “concern” — but at the heart, those words boil down to fear. 

When we send our newest manuscript off to our agent (or editor), we have concerns about a return email that starts, “Dear author … We’ve made a terrible mistake in humoring you so far…”

When that manuscript passes muster, and heads off on submission to publishing houses, we fear the email that asks, “Why on earth did you think I might want this talentless hack…”

When the deal is sealed, but the contract takes a couple of months to deliver, we have fleeting (and not so fleeting) thoughts that maybe they’ve come to their senses and changed their minds….

And when the book is finished, and our readers finally see it … of course, we worry that everyone will think we’ve given birth to an unusually creepy, nasty-looking child.

But to those on the outside, looking in, its glittering unicorns, wine, and roses. (Hint…it’s mostly wine…though if you drink enough, you might see a unicorn or two.)

I cannot count the number of times that debut authors have asked me how to “get over” the fear that nobody will love them, or love their books, as if that fear was unusual–or shameful–or unique to them alone. In the twenty years I’ve practiced law, and the two I’ve been a published author myself, I’ve probably heard variations on that question a hundred times.

Which is why I’m taking a moment, here, to pull back the curtain and explain that the emperor isn’t just naked–he’s emotionally pantsless too. Every author who cares about his or her work is nervous when it goes on submission and nervous when it releases. That’s true even when we know we’re releasing the best book we could possibly write, or the best book we’ve ever written. Sometimes, we’re especially nervous then.

Authors deal with nervousness differently. Some panic over small details, while others do better at handling fear, and we generally get better at handling it with each release.

Perhaps, by the time we’re twenty books in, we find ways of inoculating ourselves against the various fears–but I’m not counting on shedding it completely. In fact, I doubt that any number of books will solve the problem altogether.

I think that fear–or nervousness, if you prefer–is a sign that an author cares. We only worry about important things (or things which seem important at the time–and for this purpose, they’re one and the same).

So the next time you’ve got a nervous feeling, or worry about someone telling you that you or your work aren’t good enough…remember that this is normal, and remember you’re not alone. Reach out to someone else on the path. Find a friend who understands. I won’t tell you “that will make it all better” — you’re still going to feel the fear — but you may also find it easier when you don’t have to feel it alone.

Authors: have you ever felt fear when submitting a novel, a story, or a poem, or when it releases into the world? Does the very thought make you nervous? If you’ve walked through this fire, I’d love to hear how you found the strength to move through it, and if you’re still on the edge, I’d love to hear that you’ve got the friends you need to walk through it with you.

4 thoughts on “The Emperor Has No Emotional Pants, Either.

  • August 18, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Fear is a killer, and unless you’re about to be beaten by a mob or eaten by sharks or walk off a cliff, etc., it’s generally unproductive. I know this in my rational moments. In the irrational ones (which are more frequent than I ought to admit), I’m terrified right down to my toenails every time I hit send on a submission or even think about contacting a publisher, and fuggetaboutit when I think about self-publishing. :shudder: But then I remind myself fear never got anyone’s books read and I keep trying. Unsuccessfully so far, but I’m not letting the fear stop me. (Not entirely and not all the time, anyway.) Otherwise, it would just be me writing stories to myself and that’s not what i want out of my life.

  • August 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    When your second novel in the series is darker than the first, you can’t help but wonder about acceptance. I don’t know if I really “feared” any possible reactions, but the acceptance letter from the chief editor (and, of course, signing the contract) lifted a weight from my shoulders!

  • August 18, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    My seocnd book releases in 10 days, and I am like the nervous bride with the jitters. What if the reviewers think my book baby is hideous? What if something goes wrong at my launch party? It is comforting to know I’m not alone.

    • September 9, 2014 at 8:17 am

      It’s so normal to be nervous – and so few of us talk about it. I’m glad this post was able to make you feel like you’re not alone.

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