The Fear of Browsing

I have a confession to make. Being a children’s writer has taken away much of the joy in browsing the children’s sections of book stores.

Oh, I love book stores themselves–the brick ‘n’ mortar kind, plus anything online. But if I want to enjoy my book store visit, I avoid the children’s section. Until recently, I thought I was the only one who found the experience intimidating.

Book Store Phobia

I was reading in Eric Maisel’s book Deep Writing about a much-published, midlist women’s fiction author who wanted to “break out” and write a really solid book, but one that also had commercial success. “She finds her first step appalling but necessary: to spend an afternoon in a chain book store strategically browsing bestselling women’s fiction. She knows just which inner demons this visit will activate–feelings of envy, a vision of herself as a failure, a sense that others can effortlessly play a game whose rules she either doesn’t understand or refuses to understand.”

This phobia struck me early in my writing career, thirty years ago while I was still a student at the Institute of Children’s Literature. It happened when I did my assignments on studying the markets, reading children’s magazines and books. As instructed, I browsed book stores, seeing what kids liked and what publishers were doing.

Deadly Comparisons

At first, it was fun, but eventually I realized I was dreading the book store visits and magazine reading. It had stopped being fun. Instead, it left my already shaky self-esteem even lower. I couldn’t imagine ever studying my craft long enough to be able to write like the books I was reading.

After being published for several years and finding my books on the shelves in stores, I fully expected the “I’ll never be good enough” feeling to pass. But our minds, when left to themselves, are tricky things! If I found my books on the shelves, I’d wonder why they hadn’t sold. If I didn’t find my books on the shelves, I hoped they were sold out, but I never had the nerve to ask if they’d ever been on the shelf in the first place.

Back in the Saddle

The phobia seems to be a thing of the past–almost. While browsing now, I remember that the book I am holding is probably a collaborative effort between the author and his/her agent and editor. I remind myself that it undoubtedly went through a gazillion revisions even after it sold. Even if the process is intimidating, we need to know what is being published in our field. In other words, it’s like the book by Susan Jeffers that says Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.

Does anyone else deal with this book store phobia? I hope it’s not just me!

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