Imposter Syndrome

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last blogged! I’ve been running on low spoons for weeks because of all the huge changes in my life—namely, moving across the country and starting a new job, plus many Adult Tasks and adjusting to living with my sibling’s family. So it’s been a lot!

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about imposter syndrome.

I don’t have a lot of confidence in myself. There are many reasons, I’m sure, including the fact that as a neurotypical-passing autistic, I’m always faking around other people to a certain extent. I always feel like an undercover detective or spy, acting like someone I’m not and being worried about tiny tells that could “give me away.” On a certain level, I’m always worried and obsessed about not being good enough (which I hate because it’s so bad for anyone’s mental health, you know?).

I got a new job (which I just started this week) that is so much better than my previous jobs, and yet for days now I’ve had this weird feeling of imposter syndrome, like I don’t think I can actually do this and my boss will realize and kick me out, based on no real rational evidence (and my position is considered an entry level position anyway).

Now I’m feeling that with regard to my writing, too, which has only heightened my overall anxiety.

I pitched my book on Twitter this week for #DVPit, an event for marginalized creators to pitch their work for agents to express interest. I did it as kind of a “why not” gesture, and also to gain experience regarding how best to pitch books on Twitter in general—since, aside from Twitter contests to find agents, I also pitch my own work a lot for marketing purposes, and I’ve realized there’s an art to that as well.

Then I got a fair amount of agent interest—not a ton, but more than I’d expected. And some of them were huge agents in the publishing world.

And now, weirdly, I’m panicking.

I’ve tried to temper my expectations for my third novel, after the hard lessons of my first. It was the book I never planned to write, the queer romance after I swore to myself I would stop writing in this genre, the scarily autobiographical story about an autistic, mentally ill Chinese American like myself (and for a long time I’ve steered clear of writing autobiographical characters because they could turn out either well or VERY terribly). It’s all about the Chinese American experience, but not at all catered to the white gaze, and it’s very obviously critical of the performative allyship I saw so much of from white authors in my community, because that’s what hurt me for so long as an author and what was literally driving me out of the genre I started in. And that’s a choice I definitely fear some white agents may not like.

I consciously tried to remove any expectations for this book. I thought I would try traditional publishing, but constructed detailed backup plans for indie publishing, as well as plans for the next novel I’d write in case Third Novel failed the way First Novel did.

So to see interest from phenomenal literary agents…I feel like I should feel validated, but I’m terrified instead?

Disappointed hope is what nearly destroyed me when I queried my first novel. I started with essentially no experience regarding traditional publication or the querying process, but confident that I could get an agent, and I found out how utterly wrong I was.

It’s so, so tempting to see those likes from agents and hope they’ll all turn into full manuscript requests and numerous offers…but if I want to go through this process with my mental health intact, I have to temper my expectations. I have to.

I have to be prepared that maybe all these agents will reject me after seeing my manuscript.

Because that’s where the fear comes from—being terrified of rejection after witnessing the initial interest. I literally rewrote my opening scene after seeing the results of #DVPit because I was convinced it wasn’t good enough for these agents. But the thing is, I just don’t have enough time to rewrite this novel substantially.

I hate not having full confidence in my work. It’s an unavoidable artifact of having drafted this novel in two months and revised on a deadline specifically to be able to catch #DVPit (for reference, my other two novels so far each took almost a year to draft and revise to a form I was comfortable with. A year!), while also simultaneously juggling way more life changes than I had during previous novels. I wish, so badly, that my prose were more polished for this book, because there’s a part of me that’s afraid it’s not going to wow agents enough, and that I had more time to review the novel for clarity. I’m starting to second-guess myself on all my creative choices.

But these are factors that are out of my control at this point.

And I have to remind myself, too, that I’ve also seen plenty of authors on Twitter who received sky-high agent likes and yet who didn’t seem to end up with offers of representation. So even if that happens to me, I wouldn’t be the only one.

Is my novel good enough or does it suck? At this point, I don’t know anymore. All I can do is jump in headfirst and make sure I’m mentally prepared for whatever my journey with this novel will bring, be it success or resounding failure.

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Changes

You know you’re autistic when you just landed a dream job in the city you’ve always wanted to move back to, but your excitement is tempered by the thought that “Oh, but now I’m also going to be stressed for weeks because all my familiar routines are being uprooted!!!”

Being an autistic adult who lived with their parents for almost 2 years gives me weird feelings. On one hand, I felt somewhat bad and pathetic for not living independently, and I also felt like my social life was stalled (not only because of living with my parents, but also because they moved to a city in which I found it hard to build a social life). On the other hand…the familiarity of being around my parents and all the stuff I’d had since childhood was also pretty nice? Better than when I was in grad school by myself with zero friends, at any rate.

Like yeah, I am going to miss movie nights with my parents even as I’m tremendously relieved to escape from my exploitative, abusive employment situation. These days, I often feel like crossing the threshold to “adulthood” is a bittersweet experience.

The bottom line is, I’m both excited and scared for this new chapter in my life. (Also, I don’t really know how I’m going to move all my video games and books with me D:)

How about NOT blaming authors for failures in marketing

While I anxiously wait for a job interview on Friday that may, may, luck willing, be the solution to my current difficulties, I saw a post in my publisher’s private Facebook group that essentially told us authors that we needed to do more marketing ourselves in order to increase our sales.

To which my only response is: *salty laughter*

I’m not good at marketing, it’s true. But since release, this is what I’ve done:

  • Personally reached out to 20-30 review blogs to review my book (only one of whom replied positively)
  • Reached out to several bloggers for interview features
  • Advertised on Twitter
  • Revised the blurb several times on my own to try to make it more attractive
  • Offered more review copies on Twitter
  • Reached out to an independent bookstore to ask them to carry my book

I may have been unsuccessful at several of these, but at least I’ve been trying my best.

Meanwhile, my publisher failed to even tweet about my book on Twitter.

So, I mean. Please don’t tell me I’m not trying hard enough.

Also, these are things that are outside of my control that my publisher *could* help with, but doesn’t:

  • Reevaluate the cover to see if it’s not matching the genre and therefore driving people away
  • Reevaluate the blurb to see if it’s not generating any interest
  • Advertise, and especially spend more effort advertising queer books that aren’t category romance to the right bloggers/influencers

The thing is, if I had self-published, I would, in fact, have more control over the cover and blurb. But I don’t have (complete) control over these things. And I suspect based on my low response rate whenever I’ve asked for reviews and offered free review copies that the blurb and/or cover art are turning people off, which makes it especially critical for me to be able to fix those things, except I can’t/don’t have the expertise how.

I’m very much against author advice that berates authors for not being better at marketing. That actually devalues marketing as a specialized skill for which companies competitively hire people. I mean, there are reasons the Big 5 publishers have their own marketing teams and don’t just always outsource it to the authors to do themselves, you know?

Yes, self-published authors have no choice but to shoulder marketing themselves—but to me, mandating that indie authors get better at marketing feels similarly to telling self-published/indie authors that they should be obligated learn how to draw/design their own covers. It’s a specialized skill for a reason.

Like with cover art, if an author can do marketing themselves, great! Amazing! More power to you. But blaming authors for not being able to do cover art or marketing themselves honestly does nothing except make people feel bad.

Especially from an indie but still traditional publisher, considering authors who seek publishers usually do so because they know how difficult marketing is and need help.

Hopelessness in dark hours

Right now, I feel like I’m in one of those dark corners in life with no idea how to get out.

In February, my employment situation took a massive downturn due to a misunderstanding with my supervisor. I’m still employed, for now, but there’s a 50-50 chance I will be fired in a few months, and that’s causing me enormous mental stress.

I spent the past few weeks applying to a job I was very hopeful for…only to have the rug pulled out from under my feet this Monday when I came in to interview and the job they described didn’t sound like the job listing at all. So that opportunity was a bust.

So I’m back to square one, shooting resumes into the void, even though I flip-flop between overqualified or underqualified for most of the positions I apply to, because changing your career is not exactly easy to do. And the pressure is so much worse because I may be on a timer to get out of my current job before I’m fired.

On top of that, I’ve hit a snag in my writing career. I’ve been waiting for several months for my publisher to respond to me about whether they want to publish my second novel or not, and it’s gotten to the point at which I’m being consumed with paranoia that they may decide not to because my first didn’t sell well. I don’t think it’s professional that I’ve been waiting for so long, but I don’t feel safe to complain about it, either.

I have another book, one that I think has a chance of getting a traditional publishing deal. But while there is the urge to rush because of my current situation, I know I can’t. I can’t query it before I’ve polished it to the best of my ability, because that would be such a waste.

And yet it’s hard to summon the mental energy required to make that last, necessary push for this book when everything else is burning down around me.

And even if I do get an agent, the road to traditional publishing is long and unpredictable, and I doubt I’d get a large advance or anything.

I wish I was only dealing with one fire at a time instead of everything going wrong at once, because it feels like I’m going to crack under the strain of it all.

Why marginalized authors give up

Kind of an addendum to yesterday’s post about my publishing journey.

I’ve always found it hard to find a space to talk about my difficulties with publishing. On a professional account, authors are expected to be happy and grateful, and there’s always the fear that being too negative can sound like whining for attention or sour grapes syndrome. I haven’t been able to find a private group to vent to, either; the few times I tried, I also tended to be met with “stop complaining” types of responses.

So my only option is to use an anonymous blog.

I’ll be honest: I’ve had a lot of emotional downs since I published my book. I’ve been feeling better since the new year began, but just yesterday I felt knocked down again by the fact that I pitched my book for reviewers on Twitter and only one responded.

One.

I thought, “How bad could this be? I’m offering free review copies of my book.”

And still, only one person responded.

I don’t know if my Twitter skills suck or if, at this point, the issue is that my book truly has content no one wants to read. The latter seems more and more likely. (Either that, or people think the cover art is so ugly they don’t want to even touch the book. If I had self-published, I could control that, but through a publisher, I can’t.)

And…I have to be honest. That thought sucks.

It sucks because my first novel is a personal story of my journey through depression, wrapped up in an action-packed assassin story, and I guess no one wants to read it.

It sucks because, through my small press, I have zero marketing guidance. Maybe if I marketed it a different way, people would want to read it? But I have no more ideas at this point.

The part that hurts most of all? Was seeing plenty of other (white) authors from my publisher pitch their queer books and drown in review requests and new followers, while I got nothing but crickets chirping.

This is the kind of thing that makes me, an author of color, want to give up.

(Not give up writing at all, but give up writing in this genre.)

I hate begging for readers/reviews. I hate it. I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to go to Twitter and say “I have not yet made $100 from my novel, I make almost a poverty wage from my day job, and I’m a disabled person of color, so pleeeeeease buy my book?” That’s completely anathema to me.

But honestly, I’ve reached the point at which it’s either beg or give up. So yeah, I’ll kind of have to give up.

The worst thing about marketing failures is not being able to figure out what’s going wrong. I love troubleshooting and figuring out problems. But again, I just can’t tell what I’m doing wrong. I can’t even tell if it’s something within my control or out of it.

And it kind of feels like…why bother trying anymore?

Why bother being a POC who writes about QPOC when people are clearly more interested in books about QPOC written by white authors, racist representations and all?

Why bother spending so much time thinking about ethics and responsibility, trying not to depict queer characters salaciously or as titillation, trying to push for sex-averse asexual representation, when the reality is that explicit gay sex is what sells?

Why bother constantly trying to bring attention to myself and other (Q)POC writers in this genre when no one on Twitter ever retweets or really gives a damn?

I mean, just…why do I bother? There’s no point.

So, again. I’m still set on moving away from this genre after I finish my latest novel. I’ll try to get an agent for it (and go indie again only as my very last resort), but I’m not going to hold my breath, and I’m making contingency plans for the novel after that in case I once again fail to break into traditional publishing.

I love writing, and writing queer books has given me comfort in a way nothing else has. But goddamnit, I will go back to faking my way through writing straight people if I have to.

Honest thoughts about publishing with an indie press

No shade, no tea, just honest thoughts about where my publication journey with an indie small press has led me. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have pursued this route. At the very least, I hope my knowledge may be helpful to other fledgling writers out there trying to decide what to do with their books in the brutal industry that is publishing.

Indie presses are similar to traditional publishers in the sense that they won’t charge you for editing, cover design, marketing, etc. (*but more on that later). However, because indie publishers run on much smaller budgets, they often don’t have the money or reach that Big 5 publishers do, which means that, de facto, an indie-published author still has to shoulder a lot of the marketing on their own.

Before I begin, I want to lay down some factors that led me down this route:

  1. I was unemployed at the time that I was seeking publication. This is a big one. Traditional publishing is, quite frankly, a very classist institution. Querying agents takes months if not years. Getting a book deal takes further months if not years. At the time that I was seeking publication for my first novel, I did not have a fantastic day job or family obligations to occupy me in case publishing didn’t work out; I had no income whatsoever. I tried querying agents, but got all rejections, and then I just wasn’t in a position to continue to put myself through months and years of waiting. I was in a position in which I kind of needed an answer right away.
  2. My first book was very personal. I would say this was a mistake, in retrospect, but honestly, I know I don’t often control what stories I write. But this made it harder for me to take rejections from agents, and it also made me afraid of getting an agent but not a book deal. I wanted this book to be published.
  3. My book was written in a genre in which indie publishing had established more of a foothold. If, for example, I had written a YA that I couldn’t get an agent for, I probably would’ve just shelved it and moved onto the next thing. But because indie publishing has had a large presence in the realm of queer lit, it was an option I was more willing to entertain.
  4. It was my first book, and I was inexperienced.

All of these factors combined created pressure for me to seek indie publishing as the route for my book. And although I wish I had made different decisions, I do realize that some of the factors above were beyond my control, so I try not to blame myself too much.

But this is what I know now that I wish I’d known back then:

  1. If you can’t snag an agent’s attention, you’re not going to be able to snag readers’ attention. In other words, if you have trouble getting an agent, you’re probably also going to have problems marketing your book when it’s published by a small press.
  2. For some small presses, the marketing they do is almost nonexistent, which means you’re in almost the exact same position as if you had self-published anyway.
  3. Marketing is difficult. Marketing sucks. Shouldering the marketing burden means you have to be prepared for a LOT of rejection. It’s like going through the querying process all over again, except almost worse, because marketing never ends.
  4. I understand why I felt pressure to publish ASAP; however, ultimately, rushing the process led to some major mistakes that have overall made it harder for me to advertise my book after the fact.

Also, my expectations for my relationship with my publisher were, in fact, not borne out in reality. This is another thing I don’t blame myself for (because really, I couldn’t have known, and all the testimonials I had heard from authors there were positive), but had I known these facts, I wouldn’t have settled for that publisher so easily.

  1. Delays. I experienced numerous delays in the publication process. I don’t even know why (I had real-life obligations at the time that kept me busy enough that I wasn’t constantly trying to chase them down). This actually ties into the rushing point above–if my publisher hadn’t delayed my book, I would not have ended up rushing, making mistakes, and essentially not having any time to get advance reviews.
  2. Cover art mistakes. The biggest issue with the fact that I was rushing was that there was a cover art SNAFU. The details are too long to get into here, but suffice it to say, several months after release, I do think that the cover art doesn’t clearly reflect the genre and may be a reason why there is tepid reader interest in my book. I made some mistakes, but I also felt at the time that my publisher wasn’t willing to work with me, especially because the artist seemed to not actually even know what my book was about at all which caused a lot of confusion and miscommunication.
  3. Marketing changes. When I initially signed on with my publisher, they paid for each book to have a blog tour with the biggest review blogs in the genre. Later on, however, they switched to something else that requires more “opt-in” participation from review blogs, and they asked authors to pay an extra fee for a blog tour. In fact, I only saw a grand total of *one* review blog feature my book during release week. I was not happy about this change, honestly, because I did not sign up for a traditional/indie publisher just to have to invest money in *standard* release marketing.

So this is, as concisely and succinctly as I can make it, a summary of how my publication process has gone and the major cons I wish I knew before I took this route.

As a show of good faith (and because I do genuinely like my editor), I was willing to have the same publisher publish my second book (and, until recently, the last queer romance I planned to write). However–although now isn’t a great time for me to explore other options due to Real Life Problems getting in the way–I’m starting to at least think about exploring other publishers in the genre, especially since I’ve been waiting 2+ months and I have not received any answer from my editor yet about my second novel.

For sure, though, after my second novel, I will not be seeking indie publication again.

Giving up genre

My memory is garbage and I can’t remember if I’ve blogged about this before, so if I have and I’m repeating myself, I apologize.

I really, really want to give up writing queer romance.

And the reason is because this sub-genre has zero support for authors of color.

Because I reliably get far more attention on Twitter when I tweet about queer issues as opposed to race issues.

Because as a reviewer, I reliably get almost no attention on my book reviews that point out race issues in queer books.

Because I am one of the few identifiable authors of color writing in this genre, yet after sending my first book to something like 30 review sites, I only got one site who was kind enough to agree to review it. One.

Because my publisher was willing to go to bat to defend a white author whose book was criticized for representation that was not #ownvoices, but not for criticism I received for my #ownvoices book.

Because my publisher didn’t even advertise my book at all. (To be fair, this was an issue with other books as well for a four-month period or so, not that I was the only one affected. But they haven’t taken any remedial action to date.)

Because even advocates for diverse books on Twitter still hype up queer books by white authors more than by authors of color.

I wanted to give up after finishing my second queer romance book, even though I initially had sequel plans for that book. But because I’m an author who doesn’t always choose what stories I write, here I am again, writing a third queer romance.

And still I swear I’ll quit the genre after writing this one.

It just hurts too much to feel like I have to fight ten times as hard to get people to pay attention, even in the age of people advocating #ownvoices stories and talking more openly about race issues in the publishing industry. It hurts so much to feel like I literally have to beg people to give my book a chance, even though it’s in a genre that traditionally sells well.

Some might say I should fight if I want to be a “real” author. But fighting for attention is too demoralizing for me, and I’d rather just write other books instead.

I’m just tired.