You Can Fool Some of the People . . .

by Tracy Barrett

So, you sold a book? Congratulations! The standards for kiddie books aren’t very high, are they? Imagine trying to sell that to an adult audience! But girls will read just about anything as long as there’s a cute guy on the cover, am I right?
Oh, you sold another one? Wow. They’ll publish anything these days, won’t they? When do you think they’ll start looking for quality instead of just publishing the latest hot thing?
A rejection, huh? Well, it was bound to happen. Just be glad you got those other books out there before they figured out that they wouldn’t do very well.

If you’ve never heard that mean little sabotaging voice, you’re lucky but you’re also in a distinct minority. Most of us have suffered at one time or another—some of us constantly—from Imposter Syndrome, where you’re convinced that your only talent is the ability to fool people into thinking that you’re accomplished. Sooner or later, they’ll figure you out and you’ll find yourself back at the middle-school talent show, with everyone laughing at you for thinking that you actually were good at something.

Even if you think you’ve killed that voice, it pops out of its grave at the least provocation: a bad review, a comment from a fellow author, another rejection. It doesn’t help much to recognize that the reviewer regularly pans books without reading them, the fellow author is smarting from too many rejections, the editor you submitted to isn’t accepting anything in your genre right now. No, it feels like someone has found you out.

One reason we’re so susceptible to this nastiness is that we’re sometimes guilty of doing the imposter thing, aren’t we? I know I am, and I was caught. The first paper I wrote in Mrs. Taylor’s tenth-grade English class came back with a C+ on it. C+??? I didn’t get C’s on English essays! Not even B’s! What was her problem? I flipped through it looking for red marks. Nothing. Not until the end, where she had written, “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And she was right. I had written the essay—I think it was about The Great Gatsby, but I can’t check because I certainly didn’t keep the evil thing—with flair and style, but hadn’t really said anything.

So I’m always waiting for another Mrs. Taylor to come along and expose the flaws in my work and show me for the poseur I secretly fear I am.

This isn’t only a bad thing, though. This fear makes me dig deeper as a writer, looking for what I really want to say, probing the sore places, coaxing out the hidden things that don’t want to expose themselves. Never again do I want to be forced to cringe in recognition at such a critique.

p.s. Timehop reminds me that exactly one year ago I mentioned this blog post by best-selling author Chuck Wendig on the same topic. Looks like this is something I think about regularly!


  1. Yes, I feel impostor syndrome so hard! It's something I've mused on a lot because it can be so tough to kick. After my first two books, I didn't sell anything for five years and that is when it was the worst. My cure for this right now is that I just continue learning more and more about the craft. As long as I continue to study, I know I'll continue to improve and I can remind myself of that when I'm feeling like an impostor.

    1. I also like to remind myself that multi-award winning people often feel the same way. Not all of them, though: Tomie de Paola tells a story on himself that when the ALA called to tell him he'd won a Caldecott, he said, "Well, it's about time!" But that's Tomie.

  2. I also just accepted that anything creative is a constant learning process...we never know it all, do we??

    1. That's what I tell myself, Holly, and I usually get there after a while, but it's hard!


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