Have you written a manuscript–or several–but can’t bring yourself to actually hit the publish button? This week, J Thorn and Crys Cain dig into the roots of that fear and give actionable steps to help address it.


Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost J Thorn. How’s it going? 

J: Hey, it’s going great. How are you, Crys? 

Crys: I’m all right. This has been a low writing week. As I have been running around doing life errands shipping my kiddo off to the States for three weeks with his dad to visit grandparents and do some stuff up there.

So I am probably going to be working a lot this month.

J: Three weeks. How are you going to manage? 

Crys: I don’t know, he cried that he wasn’t at mommy’s house last night and I just about fell apart. So we’ll see. 

Ah. So we got quite a bit of response to the episode that just went live on the difference between novels and short stories and what people enjoy writing. And one of the things that were said in our private Slack was a comment that someone was firmly in the novels camp because it gave them space to tell the stories they wanted to tell, which I thought was a really good insight.

J: Yeah, definitely. You have to find the medium that best suits you. And even if you expand that beyond the written word, you might be a storyteller who is better suited to short stories or novels or maybe songs or maybe film. 

I think anytime that you have an inkling that this is the medium or the delivery mechanism for you, that’s definitely worth paying attention to.

Crys: Absolutely. And there was another comment in favor of short stories, being that they got that burst of energy from completing something quickly, which I think is honestly one of my favorite things about short stories. 

J: I, yeah, I agree. I think it’s a confidence booster. It’s a quick shot of confidence.

It feels good to complete something, even if it’s a short story and to use the running analogy, it’s short stories like doing sprints or stretches in anticipation of a longer run. So it’s not the same thing, but it’s certainly good training for longer form storytelling. 

Crys: Absolutely. I just realized, I forgot to ask you how your week was, cause I’m all up in my space about my kid being gone. How was your week? Let’s return to that for a moment.

J: My week’s been pretty average, meaning that I’ve just been doing my thing no big spikes or anything, like nothing, no fires to put out uneventful, I think would be a good way to describe it.

Crys: The week of a life well lived. 

J: There you go. 

Crys: The question this week moves past the writing point of the writing life and into the publishing. And that is: how do I get over my fear of publishing? 

We have so many people that we have met who are in our group, who have the trunk. They have the trunk full of completed manuscripts, half completed manuscripts, and yet they have not yet clicked the publish button because of the fear.

 I guess first we should actually talk about where does that fear come from? You’ve seen a lot of people come through that you’ve helped through this whole process. Where do you see that fear coming from? 

J: This is completely anecdotal. So this is not scientific evidence by any means.

But I find a lot of the time it’s not… The assumption would be that people are fearful of failure. I find it’s the opposite. 

I find a lot of people are fearful of success and what that means.  It sounds awkward, but what it means is, what if I have to really face this either talent that I have, or this passion that I have? What if it gets read and my friends and family find out about it and they’re not supportive or they don’t think it’s important?

It’s strange. I almost see as many people are afraid of publishing and it changing their lives as they are to like publishing and nothing happening. So I think it could run a pretty big spectrum on what that fear really means. 

Crys: I could, I can definitely relate to that. That’s one of the reasons that I think my main unique pieces of advice that I don’t hear many people give out is to publish something you don’t care about under a pen name before you publish under the name you want to lay claim an identity to.

J: Yeah, you’re right. I don’t hear anyone else saying that, and that’s something you’ve been saying for a long time. So maybe you could walk us through some of the benefits of taking that approach. 

Crys: Absolutely. 

First of all, you don’t have to hold this name forever. You don’t have to tell anyone about it ever in your life. Which means that you unlock a freedom and a boldness that you otherwise would have difficulty accessing. 

It takes a lot of skin hardening to put yourself out there as the human you present yourself to the world as, and say, here is a piece of my soul. That is my writing. I care very deeply about my creativity and the ideas that I am attempting to tell. And then have people actually see it, regardless of what their response to it is. That’s terrifying. 

When you use a pen name, you are literally putting on a disguise. 

It makes me think of that singing show, where they have the super famous singers dance up in giant costumes and sing.  Then the whole show seems to be about guessing who’s behind the costume. But they also go through like the normal getting eliminated in everything.

They often try things that they might not have tried as their public persona because they’re behind this mask. And they’re also trying to fudge who they are so people don’t guess until the last, like that’s part of the joy. 

That’s what having a pen name that you don’t tell anyone from reminds me of. It lets you explore ways of telling stories, the kinds of stories that you would be uncomfortable knowing that people know it’s you.

There’s a positive and a negative to that. I think that a lot of people write about things that they really dearly care about, and they’re really afraid of people judging them for that thing. And that’s part of that success thing is they get well enough read that people are actually reading them, and then get negativity from people who they care about.

And. I really want everyone to be at a level of freedom and audacity where they can do that as their real self, but that is not available to everyone.

J: So let me, I think I know the answer to this, but let me vocalize a question that someone might be having. What if you do that, and that pen name or that story really has some success? And it’s not the pen name you wanted to use, or it’s not the story you wanted to tell. What can you do at that point?

Crys: There’s a few things you could do depending on what your goals are. You could either adapt that pen name and say, “yo, this is actually me,” and reveal it to be you. You could continue to write it in secret. Or you can use that validation that what you are writing appeals to people.

This is the path I’m taking. What I was writing appeals to people. I have the skills. And using that confidence to then start writing the stories that I truly want to tell as myself

J: Excellent. I fully agree. I think that is, that’s such a good approach. I think it does address a lot of the fears people have around publishing, whether they’re successes or failures, if you have that layer of protection between it. 

And really, pen names are not like they’re not controversial. People have been using pseudonyms for hundreds of years. So it’s not a big deal. And like you said, you can always reveal yourself, you can change it. You can write such and such writing as such and such. There are a lot of options there. 

So it almost seems like a way to approach publishing if you’re brand new to it that doesn’t have a downside.

Crys: Absolutely. And if it is stuff that you want to associate with yourself at some point, this is another option I didn’t cover that. I know some authors who started out and tried pub where they were forced to use pen names for different genres, but they want to consolidate them.

They might do a relaunch under their real name and then they use that originally written as the original pen name. And have  both names, real name and pen name on the book with that relaunch. So you can always cohesively move. 

Granted, you have an opportunity cost when you do this, which we’ve talked about in a previous episode. You will probably lose some readers who aren’t following closely what you’re writing. But long-term, if you’re doing this fairly early on in your career, the first five years, it probably won’t matter that much.

J: Yeah.  There’s one more aspect to this that I wanted to mention around the fear of publishing. It’s advice I’ve heard myself giving and I wish I would have taken it or heard it when I started, which is “publishing” doesn’t necessarily mean you have to roll out a nine book series in a rapid release model over six months. 

Publishing could literally mean a single 2000 word short story. Whether that’s on Kindle or Radish or Vella. Whether it’s on a blog. Whether it’s an audio version. 

There’s so many ways you can “publish” just to break the seal. To understand how the platform works, to understand what the technical requirements are, with very low stakes and without a lot of investment.

And I know for a lot of writers that. That fear of publishing is often a mindset thing. It’s a form of resistance. It’s a form of imposter syndrome. Who am I to publish? 

But if you have something small, something manageable, and you just hit that button. There’s just not a lot at stake. And now you’ve gotten that out of your system. 

So when I hear authors asking like what should I start with? Should I write a novel or short story? Or should I start podcasting? And I’m like, it doesn’t matter. Just start with something really small kind of break the seal on it. And then you’ll be over that hump, which is where 85% of the people, whoever want to publish anything, get stuck.

Crys: Absolutely, 100%. 

In software development, we have the phrase “automate the pain away.” And what that means is that if something is painful, you do it more often. And if you have to do it more often, generally with us, we’re coding things so that we don’t have to do it at all. 

But with writers the same approach still applies. If this is painful, do it more often. It’s like numbing yourself to the pain because it no longer becomes something new and scary. It becomes a natural part of your business. 

J: Yeah. And the flip side to that is a conversation that literally came up an hour before we hit record on this one, which I think might be a future episode, which is what if you’d hit publish, and then There’s no big deal.

There’s no celebration or I don’t, I feel meh about it, but that’s a whole nother topic, but that’s kinda, I think that’s the mindset you wanna have when you haven’t published yet, is get to the point where it, maybe boring is not the right word, but where it becomes a routine or it becomes automatic.

And you don’t have that fear every time. In anything else, whether it’s writing or exercise or singing, the more you do it, the easier it gets. And again, it’s so important just to get that first seal broken, however you do it. That’s the best approach. 

Crys: I absolutely agree.  I think we could delve into that because I think that’s a huge part of it is that, especially with traditional publishing, we have been taught that should be a big event. It should be a milestone, every book that we publish. 

But the fact is only some books are milestones in the grand scheme of things. Your first book is absolutely a milestone, your first ending of a series, another milestone.

I think that if you change your brain around to, like you said, this being routine and recognizing that not every book is a milestone, this also translates really well into having healthy expectations that not every book is going to be a best seller. 

J: I think the Pareto Principle is probably a little heavier in publishing. 2 out of 10 seems really good to me. I’m thinking like maybe 1 out of 10 would be more real realistic. 1 of your efforts was going to produce 90% of your results. 

I don’t know. That’s been, has that been your experience? It’s certainly, it’s probably less than one for me, but… 

Crys: It hasn’t, only because I had one successful thing very early on that I have not left. 

J: Right, right. 

Crys: That’s the only difference there, but I agree cause I have published under other pen names and I have had very low expectations of them because I know that I haven’t put the time and effort into them that I have this one main pen name that I’m on that is the successful one. 

And I know that when I start publishing. As myself as Crys Cain, my expectations are low. My hopes are high, but my expectations are low.

J:  Well said. 

Crys:  If I could get new authors to adopt any particular mindset around the fear of publishing: Expect nothing. Hope for the moon, but expect nothing. And then you’ll be pleasantly surprised for anything beyond that. 

J: Nice. 

Crys: I think that pretty much wraps up our experiences with this, but I would love to hear for people who have already published what got you over your fear of hitting that publish button. And if you haven’t, where do you think your fear comes from?

J: Great question.  

Crys: Thanks for joining us this week!  If you would like to be part of the conversations in real time, you can join us at The Author Success Mastermind.