4 Emotional Obstacles That Trip Writers Up, Plus How to Work Through Them

A Guest Post from Literary Agent Maria Ribas

Editor’s Note: I’m delighted to host Maria Ribas on the blog today. Maria is a literary agent and blogger, specializing in nonfiction, particularly the areas of cooking, home, health/diet, personal development, business, psychology, and memoir. Having worked as an editor for Simon & Schuster, Harlequin Nonfiction, and Adams Media, she knows both sides of the biz. She blogs at cooksplusbooks.com.

Maria RibasI often laughingly say that the job of a literary agent is to be a therapist and coach as much as a negotiator and advocate. It’s funny, but it’s true. On an average day we’re just as likely to be talking an author off the ledge as negotiating a contract.

Through this I’ve found one thing to be unfailingly true: the creative process can drive you batty.

I see how authors pour their entire hearts and souls into their books, sometimes sharing the deepest parts of themselves with the world. And I’ve seen how this often leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of fear and doubt. But I’m a firm believer that 80 percent of the creative battle is won in the mind. That’s why authors often need the perspective and encouragement of a friend and agent to talk them through the particularly tough parts.

After walking dozens of authors through the publishing process, I’ve come across many of the same emotional sand traps, just waiting to swallow up an unsuspecting writer. So today let’s pretend we’re sitting across from each other, sipping lattes and catching up. Let’s talk through some of the emotional obstacles that may come up on your path as a writer.

Emotional Obstacle #1: Attachment to a book concept that may not align with your larger goals

What This Looks Like:
“I have an idea for a book, and I’ve been wanting to write this book for so many years. Why should I listen to you and rework my concept?”

What I Would Say:
You certainly don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, and I would never try to make you! But it is worth thinking long and hard about what your goals are in writing this book. If your goal is to write a book because it’s something you’ve always dreamed of doing, then absolutely, go ahead and write it exactly as you please. There are so many wonderful options for self-publishing these days, and you should never feel obligated to go the traditional route if it doesn’t align with your goals.

However, if your goal is to partner with a traditional publisher so you reach as many people as possible with your message, I encourage you to get very focused on what readers want and need.

Book ideas live in a vacuum inside our heads, but books live on a bookstore shelf (or an online search listing), right alongside similar books on your topic. It’s crucial that your book add something new and significant to your topic, or readers won’t feel compelled to select your book instead of the one right next to it. More importantly, they won’t come away from your book feeling like they just read something life-changing and powerful.

So if your book isn’t offering something unique, let’s work on it together until we make it an irresistible new addition to your field. After all, we want readers to come away feeling delighted, changed, and satisfied that your book was worth every penny of their hard-earned money.

If you’re not sure if your book concept is unique enough, try this 6-step brainstorming process coupled with this approach to market research.

Emotional Obstacle #2: Fear of losing creative control when working with a publisher

What This Looks Like:
“I’ve built my brand for years, and my audience is expecting a book that stays true to who I am. I don’t want to cede creative control to a publisher.”

What I Would Say:
I completely understand, and that’s the last thing I would want for you, either! Working with a publisher doesn’t mean you’re signing your creative control and business away—it’s actually quite the opposite. A partnership with a publisher can do tremendous things to grow your business, flex your creative muscles in different ways, and vastly improve your access to the kinds of readers and customers you want.

A publishing partnership is built on collaboration—it’s about two entities coming together to create something greater than either party could do on their own. And publishers rely on authors to bring their built-in audience to the book, so the last thing they want is to create a book you’re not proud of. That is every editor’s and agent’s nightmare: ending up with a book the author isn’t thrilled about.

That’s why we work so closely from Day One to make sure we all agree on the vision for your book. The publisher’s hope is that they can use their expertise in book selling in tandem with the author’s topical expertise to help create a book that’s even more wonderful than the one the author had originally envisioned.

However, sometimes we don’t all agree. We’re human—it happens! So in situations where differences of opinion do come up (for example, you hate that shade of red on the cover, or the subtitle just isn’t doing it for you), my job as an agent is to make sure we open it up for conversation until you and your editor arrive at an option that everyone can live with. (This is what we call “meaningful consultation,” and it’s something we require in all of our publishing contracts.)

So think of it as a mutually beneficial partnership, not a constant power struggle. And rather than entering the publishing process holding tightly to certain ideas, try to keep an open mind and allow new ideas and perspectives to shape your book into something you’re even more excited about.

Emotional Obstacle #3: Feeling anxious and intimidated about talking to editors

What This Looks Like:
“I’m really nervous about talking to this editor, and I don’t want to screw it up. I’m naturally introverted and shy around new people.”

What I Would Say:
I get it—I’m naturally introverted, too. Little secret: most people in publishing are. Why else would we have spent our childhoods with our noses stuck in a book?

But you’ll be surprised at how warm, welcoming, and straight-up unscary editors are once you start chatting with them. Trust me, I used to be an editor, and I am not scary. (Chad, are you scary? Nope, didn’t think so.)

When an editor wants to speak with you during the submissions process, it’s because they already love what they see in you and your proposal. They come into the call eager to hear more about how wonderful you are and just as eager to win you over so that you’ll chose them over another house.

So yes, you still want to be prepared (I suggest prepping a few key selling points you want to highlight about yourself), and you still want to treat it like any other professional interaction. But go ahead and relax, be yourself, and make a real effort to get to know the editor.

As we always say in agenting, so much of our job is match-making—finding that editor who’s a great personality match for an author. So the more you can be yourself and get to know editors, the more equipped you’ll be to choose the right match for you and create a lasting and happy relationship with your editor.

And if you’re struggling with introversion while building your platform or marketing your book, try these 5 mindset shifts.

Emotional Obstacle #4: Discomfort with marketing and promoting your work

What This Looks Like:
“I don’t like self-promotion—it feels icky, like I’m bragging. So I’ll let the publisher handle the publicity and marketing while I focus on writing a great book.”

What I Would Say:
Ugh, I hate icky self-promotion, too. There are already too many flashy, shout-y people on the Internet, and we don’t need any more, thank you.

But remember why you wanted to write this book in the first place? You have something to say that you think can make people’s lives easier, better, and happier. That’s why we’re in this: to get your book into the hands of the people who need it most. But in order to do that, people have to know your book exists!

So let’s work together to create a book you’re bursting with excitement to show to the world, and then let’s share it in a way that feels authentic and honest to you.

Start by thinking about the other people in your field you love hearing from, whether it’s through a newsletter, social media, podcast, video channel, or anything else. Why do you like those people, and why are you happy when they pop up to share something new with you?

Make a list of these influencers whom you admire and write a few bullet points about why you like them. Then take a close look at the way they’re communicating with their audience, including avenues, content, frequency, and tone. How are they telling their audience about their new projects? Which of those strategies feels like a nice fit for you?

Now, with your sense of purpose in mind, go out into the world and share your good work.

For more help with working through marketing discomfort, read this and this.


Are you feeling emotionally exhausted after all this obstacle-dodging? If so, take a break and try this 2-minute writer’s retreat to clear your mind and replenish your energy.

I hope this has been helpful, and I hope you come away imagining me right alongside you, insisting that everything will be okay (because it will!). If you have any questions, fire away—I’ll check in throughout the day to respond and say hello to you all.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Amelia Evans

    Before any of you got published- did you have others you love – ie spouse or mother or mother inlaw or others- keep saying things like “when will this book of yours ever get finished” or “Are You EVER gonna get done with it?” Or any version of these type of very discouraging comments-???? These comments often make me want to throw in the towel and quit trying-

    Does this happen to any of you and if so what advice do you have- because I beat myself up enough and I feel enough self doubt on my own without these comments from those closest to me….
    *** note: I feel I can’t finish because I have always had to write with a houseful of people always needing- wanting- and demanding my time to tend to the daily needs of others- yet they can’t understand why I haven’t completed any of my books yet… Only been trying full time for less than a year- SOOO AM I using THIER daily interruptions and so on as a crutch and excuse or is being interrupted and never more than a few hours alone the problem for me not finishing a REAL problem that you would also find it hard to complete a book… #feeling discouraged 🙁

    • Chad R. Allen

      Amelia, I hear you, and I feel for you! Chances are, the interruptions you reference really are a problem and they really are a crutch too. Have you taken some time to think through how you could possibly get away for a day or two or more to make some serious progress and momentum? Have you taken some time to think through how you can get, say, 30 minutes to an hour on most week days? If not, I encourage you to try! Your book is worth it!

      Take care,

      • Amelia Evans

        Thx Chad for your reply- Yes I have begged to get away for several YEARS but my non creative “9 to 5er’s” family members don’t seem to understand my need for time alone to complete my work. So I have decided to FINALLY DO something about it- I’m gonna take my dads old advice- “sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness instead of permission”- lol… I’m gonna find a way to “disappear” for a week or two- and prove my therory- and get it done- because my book IS worth it- and I have to get away to finish- I figure that if I still fail then at least I gave it my all for the time in alone- and if I succeed and complete at least one of my projects then I not only proved my point but I achieved my goal and then maybe next time I will get permission from them to go… Lol –
        Btw all your advice and ebooks and blogs have been a wonderful help and blessing to me- so thank you again- God Bless 😉

        • Chad R. Allen

          Amelia: Hope it goes well for you! Would love to hear about it afterwards. And I’m grateful for your kind words about my content. Thank you!
          Take care,

  • Steph Penny

    Hey Maria, great blog! I totally agree that our battles are won in the mind. It can be hard to keep believing in a project that takes so long to see the light of day. I would have to say that’s my greatest struggle – but a little bit of support and encouragement goes a long way!

  • Heather

    What a fun and insightful read. You had me in the job description of coach and therapist. I liked your perspective as the editor. Also appreciate the additional links and have clipped them into evernote to use as needed. Awesome!

    • Maria Ribas

      Thank you for reading, Heather!

  • Liz

    Such great information and encouragement here! Thank you, Maria!

    • Maria Ribas

      Glad it was helpful–thanks for reading, Liz!

  • Jackie Layton

    What a great post. Thanks for sharing, and it’s nice to meet you, Maria.

    • Maria Ribas

      It’s nice to meet you, too, Jackie! And thank you for reading.