Writing Through Fear With Caroline Donahue

What are some of the common fears that writers face? How can we work through them in order to create more freely? Caroline Donahue gives her tips in this interview.

In the intro, How to avoid indie author scams [ALLi; Writer Beware]; Financial strategies and mindset [Self Publishing Advice]; Apple Intelligence at WWDC [The Verge; Marketing against the Grain]; “Not a chef, but an emotion creator.” Massimo Bottura on the Possible Podcast.

Plus, Spear of Destiny is on its last day; Thoughts on photography permissions for commercial use — and permission in general; Voodoo Vintners; Winchester pictures; Limeburn Hill vineyard pictures.

This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.

This show is also supported by my Patrons. Join my Community at Patreon.com/thecreativepenn 

Caroline Donahue is an author, podcaster, and book coach. Her latest book is Writing Through Fear: A Story Arcana Guide.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • The most common fears writers face
  • How the fear of not being considered a “real writer” holds you back
  • Overcoming the fear of judgement and being cancelled
  • Fearing things before you are anywhere near them in the process
  • Breaking down projects into smaller, more manageable tasks
  • Embracing the unpredictable nature of creativity
  • The challenges and reasons for rebranding a book
  • Substack as a podcasting platform and community tool

You can find Caroline at CarolineDonahue.com, her Substack at book-alchemy.com, and her podcast at SecretLibraryPodcast.com.

Transcript of Interview with Caroline Donahue

Joanna: Caroline Donahue is an author, podcaster, and book coach. Her latest book is Writing Through Fear: A Story Arcana Guide. So welcome back to the show, Caroline.

Caroline: Thank you so much for having me. This is such a treat.

Joanna: You were on the show back in 2019 when we talked about your background and writing with the tarot. So we’re just going to jump straight into the topic today.

Why did you want to write about fear? What sparked the book, and why structure it around Tarot?

Caroline: Well, I think that the topic of fear evolved because there were a couple of projects I considered doing before I landed on this one.

There was a desire to take a course I created during the pandemic, called Dream to Draft, and I thought, oh, I’ll make a book version of that course. I tried to do that for most of a year, actually, and realized that I couldn’t really recreate the experience of taking that course.

So I was trying to distill down elements of what made the difference for people of being able to finish a book or not finish a book. I noticed that they were able to overcome fears that they had while being in the course.

The main difference between people who were finishing books and delighted with their progress, and those who were getting kind of stuck in the swamps of sadness—if you’ll forgive the 1980s film reference of The NeverEnding Story—were those who just got completely mired in fear about their writing. So I thought, okay,

If I can help people to engage with their fear differently, then they’ll be able to write

— and I can do that from a distance. So that was what I ultimately got excited about. As for why I paired it with the tarot, for one thing, it made it a much easier book to write because I had a built-in structure. I had wanted to return to the tarot ever since writing the previous book, which focused on the first 22 cards, the Major Arcana.

I thought, oh, this is a great way to address the Minors because those are everyday life situations that people face. So I matched one fear to each card. Also, I could imagine people pulling a card.

I’ve already had one person who’s read the book respond that when they’re about to start a difficult scene or difficult project, they’ll pull a card and then read the corresponding fear entry in the book. This helps them get into the writing. So that was delightful to hear.

Joanna: That is one of the very useful things about tarot or any of these kinds of things that spark ideas by looking at images or thinking about symbolism. So I think that’s actually quite a good way into these fears. It feels like if you try and tackle it head on, it’s often much harder. Did the people in your course recognize their fears?

Caroline: I think in some cases, yes. In some cases, it looked like other things. When I studied psychology ages ago, you have this kind of fight or flight, or we now have freeze that we know about, and fawn.

There are different ways that people engage with things that scare them.

Sometimes they look like the cartoon Scream face, if you think of the horror movie, but not always. So I thought that I wanted them to increase their vocabulary of how they could think about fear, so that it wouldn’t feel like they had gone wrong and that this was a sign that they shouldn’t continue writing.

I mean, fear comes up inevitably when we write. As you know, looking at the shadow and writing dark fantasy and suspense, that’s part of the process of going into the fictional world, but that doesn’t have to be the end point.

Just because fear comes up, doesn’t mean you have to stop writing. So I wanted them to be able to move through that and get to the other side.

Joanna: Let’s identify some of the most common fears that writers face.

What are some ones that you’ve encountered again and again in your students, and also in yourself?

Caroline: Oh, yes, completely. I think if we had to boil it down, like if we could boil down almost every fear, underneath there is a fear of doing it wrong, that I am doing this wrong. There’s a lot that we can pick apart out of that because we have this weird language and belief structure around books.

We’ll read a book that we love in a bookstore, say, or we read one of the “classics”, and we perceive it like, oh, that book is perfect. It couldn’t have been written any other way. It had this exact shape and form that it was supposed to take, and that nothing about it could change, or else it wouldn’t exist as it does today. I don’t think that that’s true, but —

A lot of people have this fear that they’re going to make a mistake, or they’re going to do something wrong, and the whole thing is going to fall apart.

There are many flavors of this particular fear, but it’s like if you go back to the Robert Frost poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by.”

Most writers fear that two roads diverged in a wood, and they’re going to take the wrong one for their writing project, and then everything is going to fall apart as a result.

Joanna: That could be at different stages, right? That could be I’m writing the wrong genre, or I’m writing the wrong story, and then I made the wrong publishing choice, I’ve chosen the wrong marketing platform. I mean, it’s not just one choice, it’s over and over again.

Caroline: There’s so many. It can come up again and again. It’s like a whack a mole fear. It’s like, oh, I ended the chapter at the wrong point, this character should have this motivation, or the character has the wrong personality trait, or I’ve formatted the dialogue incorrectly, my grammar is wrong.

Like all of this sense is that “real writers”—I could write a whole book on that, this concept of the “real writer”—but that “real writers” do it the “right way”. I am scared that I am not doing it the right way, therefore, I’m not a real writer, therefore, I shouldn’t be allowed to write at all.

Joanna: So it’s interesting you picked that one.

How has this [fear of not being a “real writer”] come up for you?

Caroline: I think this used to really paralyze me. I mean, in my 20s, I wrote and abandoned about five or six novels, thinking that I had picked the wrong project. I thought that I had picked an idea that was unsalvageable, and I don’t feel that there’s any idea that’s unsalvageable anymore.

Part of that is because I read a book, it was a very short novel by an independent press, called Love Notes from a German Building Site. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the author in this exact moment. It was essentially a character’s musings and vocabulary lists. It’s an Irish author writing about working on an abandoned mall in Germany.

So it’s one of those ideas where if you presented it to me and said, “Would you like to read a novel about some guy hanging out on a mall construction site, and he’s just randomly thinking about his relationship and is not quite sure where that’s going?” that really wouldn’t get me going. However, I read this book, and I could not put it down. I loved it, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it for years. It’s always been my example that there is no idea that cannot be executed on. You may not want to execute on it, or you may not be interested in it, but —

If you’re engaged with the material, then you can keep going, and you can find a way through.

I think that I didn’t believe that was possible early on. So I gave ideas up when I got scared, or when I felt like, oh, this isn’t interesting enough, or I don’t know if it was going to work. I felt like this means I’ve done it wrong, I’ve gotten lost. I’m lost in the woods, and I’m never going be able to find my way back.

That was rather than seeing it as a challenge and thinking there is a way for this story to be interesting. How can I find the parts that I’m most excited about? How can I make the story about those? I didn’t have the ability to trust at that point.

I think the antidote for this fear is trusting that there is a way through.

Joanna: Yes, and this is so interesting as well being an independent author. So my first novel, Stone of Fire, I originally released it in 2011 as Pentecost by Joanna Penn. I’ve rewritten it like three times, and now it’s Stone of Fire by J.F. Penn.

The bones are still the same, but as my craft grew, I rewrote it, I learned about publishing, I learned about marketing. I mean, pictures of me with that book back then, I did do a lot of things wrong, but equally, I had to take some steps in a direction in order to fix things later.

I wonder if the traditional publishing model is why people get so scared about this. I mean, either you feel you failed because you didn’t get a deal, or you do get a deal, and then your craft improves, and you look back. You speak to a lot of traditionally published authors on your podcast, The Secret Library Podcast, which we’ll come back to.

Where do you see this being perhaps worse for traditionally published authors?

Because you just don’t get the chance to change things.

Caroline: I think this fear starts much, much earlier in life. I think it starts with the way our education system is organized. I mean, we have an education system that was built for an industrial age, which is not entirely relevant anymore.

I mean, I think back to Sir Ken Robinson’s incredible talk on YouTube about how creativity is as important as literacy, and we need to be able to get something wrong and be willing to change it.

Essentially, from a very young age, we have to take tests, and we get a mark, and then it’s determined what we should be doing, what we think we’re good at, what paths we’re allowed to follow. I think that that sense of being sorted into being an artsy kid, or being a science kid, or not being good at school, if that’s the case, can have a really strong impact.

It’s like, I have one chance to take this test, and I won’t have a chance to take it again. Or if I write a paper, and I misunderstood the assignment, then I just get a bad grade, there’s no chance to take that back. I think we internalize that message really, really early.

Since so much of our education when this happens is about writing essays, and writing papers that we then get graded on, I think it all comes back up when we write later in a way that’s going to be published. Yes, we don’t get grades, but we do get reviews, however we publish. I think that this is really deeply embedded.

I hope that we are more willing to write things, learn from them, and be willing to change, grow, and write more things.

Joanna: I think you’re right. Actually, this brings me to a fear—and I talked about it in Writing the Shadow—which is this fear of judgment. I was told as a kid, when I wrote in school a dark essay about a nightmare I had, I was told that really wasn’t appropriate to write and that I shouldn’t write these things.

So I still struggle with this fear of judgment. Like, what will people think of me if I write this? I feel like this fear, in particular, is amplified in our cultural situation where people worry about getting canceled.

So the fear of judgment is not just a bad review, or someone saying, “what type of person are you?” but it’s also, your career is over. I mean, people should probably fear not selling any books more.

What do you think about fear of judgment and fear of being canceled?

Caroline: I think it is very present, and it’s very loud, I think, in the world right now. I think the fear of being judged, I mean, to an extent, I have to go into putting any book out knowing that somebody is not going to like it. So somebody is not going to like my book, and I have to be okay with that.

If everybody likes my book, then I feel like I haven’t taken a real stand on anything. So there is that side of it. However, I feel like the fear of getting cancelled is a whole other can of worms. I am seeing that more, that kind of real, large-scale rejection of authors or writers in certain situations, in the arena of traditional publishing, for sure. That’s where you’re seeing sort of dramatic—not often, anymore—but whenever someone gets a big advance, then there’s a lot of pressure and everything gets amplified in that situation.

I think the other thing that happens is that a lot of people fear judgment and fear getting cancelled when they haven’t finished the book yet.

The internal critic yammering these fears in your ear tends to leap ahead to the next unknown step in the process.

I’ve watched this over and over and over again with students. So in the beginning, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can finish a whole novel. I don’t know if I have enough to say. I don’t know if this idea will carry a long enough story.”

So then we move forward, and they’ve written an entire draft. Then it’s like, “I don’t know how to revise. I don’t know how to do this.” Then they immediately forget how difficult writing the first draft was, and they just want to write a new book. They’re like, “Oh, it was so much easier. Writing first drafts was so much easier.”

I think, “Remember that part when you thought it wasn’t going to be possible, and it was totally impossible to do this?” It’s as soon as they get comfortable with revision, then there starts to be fears about publication, fears about rejection, fears about bad reviews. Sometimes this is quite far away from when the book is coming out.

I always encourage people to try any aspect of the story that they think should be included and that you can always decide later if you feel good about it being in there, if it feels right.

If you have a sense, “Oh, I think this character needs to go in this direction,” try it, because you’re always going to regret holding back and not exploring a deep line of story.

So I think that the cancelled thing is almost like a blown-up fear of people misunderstanding what you’re trying to say, fear of being misread, fear of being just wrong. I think, again, it’s a fear of doing it wrong.

Joanna: Yes, I agree. It’s funny you said that. I often get people who will email me, and they’ll be like, “I’m really worried that I’m writing this memoir and someone’s going to sue me, like one of my family is going to sue me. What if I say something bad?” I’ll often reply, “So where are you?” and they may not have even started the book.

Caroline: Yes, absolutely.

Joanna: It’s very, very common, and I think you’re right. So this comes to a fear—so we’re recording this the day before my next Kickstarter launches. Now, this is my third Kickstarter. By the time this episode goes out, it will probably have finished.

There is this fear, I have a great fear, this is my third one, I’ve been doing writing and publishing for 15 years, I am scared of failure, and like you said, doing something wrong. There’s almost a problem—it’s a good problem to have—but some people know who I am at this point. I do have people who will watch this.

That is kind of scary, because what if I don’t fund? What if I am a public failure? It is terrifying. What’s interesting is I know lots of people who will not even do a Kickstarter, and I was one of them a couple of years ago, because of fear of this public failure because everyone can see how much money you make.

So I wondered about you on this because I think I had said to you, why don’t you do a Kickstarter for this one or one of your other books?

What do you think about [a Kickstarter for] this book?

Caroline: I think some of it is about what kind of experience do you want to have putting this book out. I think that part of being a creative, part of the reason that we’re not accountants, which is always the profession I seem to gravitate to and use examples, is that things are unpredictable. We never know what’s going to happen.

We have to accept that we’re unsure how this Kickstarter is going to go. The question that I always ask, and this is one of the ones that I put in the book is, what am I making this mean?

There are two things that are happening here. You’ve got a book that’s coming out, and there’s a Kickstarter that people can support, and people may or may not support that.

There are lots of reasons why that might happen that has nothing to do with the value of your writing or your book.

I think that we are very quick to assign all the blame that something might not work on ourselves and to make it mean something global and permanent about us as writers.

When in reality, you know, let’s think about it, if we had a Kickstarter start the day various global disasters that we’ve had over the past few years happened, would that impact the Kickstarter? Probably. So that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a very well written exciting project.

So I think we take a lot of responsibility on ourselves, and we give a lot of authority to the outside world to determine the value of what we’re doing. I think that, in many ways, is what makes it so debilitating.

Joanna: Yes. So acknowledging these fears are an important part of it, and realizing that that might be a form of a block. Being scared of doing something is a block to our growth, even if it’s not a block to our writing. It might be the fear of publishing, as we said, or the fear of marketing.

What are some other practical ways to get past these fears, other than recognizing them?

Caroline: I find that breaking them down into much smaller pieces is very helpful. So if you have an item on your list—whether it’s a bucket list or your project list because you’re working on a project—that is so large you could not complete it in a day, let alone a week, let alone months.

So if there’s an item on there like “finish novel”, then that tends to create blocks because your mind doesn’t know how to engage with it at all. Rather than, okay, “make notes on chapter three about how this character is going to get stuck in a cave.” I just made that up. You know, that’s something that you can actually do in a sitting.

So I find that making sure to break things down into smaller bits helps to deal with blocks. Often blocks are not even about fear, they’re just about the brain is not able to process an item that large and has no way to engage with it productively. So that’s one thing that can happen.

Another thing that can happen is that there’s something going on underneath. I think that this Kickstarter example you gave is one of those examples. So it’s like okay, “plan the Kickstarter,” “execute the Kickstarter.” You’ve broken it down into little tiny steps, and it’s still not happening. I think that’s because there’s some sort of belief lurking underneath.

So if you find you’re trying to do something with your writing project, and that might be making notes about chapter three and how we’re going to get her stuck in the cave, and you just cannot sit down and make any notes about this cave, then I think it’s important to look at, okay, what am I making this mean in this moment?

What am I feeling underneath here? Where am I afraid I’m headed? Where am I afraid this is going to happen? With the Kickstarter, it could be, I’m going to be humiliated. No one is ever going to buy another one of my books again if they see this flop.

If you have this issue about making notes about going into the cave, it could be about that I’m afraid I’m going to make the wrong choice for the story. So whenever we get to the heart of what the fear is, I try looking at, okay, well what if that happens?

Don’t try to avoid it. We’re all like la-la-la with our fingers in our ears, and we don’t want to think about what if the Kickstarter flops. We can’t think about that. Or what if I make the “wrong choice” about the story?

What if we think about it like, okay, if the Kickstarter doesn’t work out for this book, then what will I do next? If we have a plan in place, I find that immediately it doesn’t feel quite as loaded because things that are unknown, and amorphous, and undefined are very difficult to engage with, in the same way that a giant to-do list item is very difficult to engage with.

If I say, okay, the Kickstarter fails, then I would probably go ahead and release the book and just not do the hardback edition or whatever I had planned to do with the Kickstarter. That’s probably what I would do.

Then we have to ask the question—I mean, I’m getting in the weeds with the Kickstarter—but it’s like, okay, what was I kickstarting? Is this more about people being strapped for cash at the moment than it is about book sales or interest?

Joanna: Yes, I think you’re right. Coming to that question —

What’s the worst that can happen?

With a Kickstarter, the worst that can happen is you don’t fund, and as you said, you have to figure out a different way of publishing. Sure, it’s pretty embarrassing, but hey, you can mitigate that by putting a really low number on your funding. You know, even now, I do.

I think what’s interesting, you said this earlier, that part of being creative is this unpredictable nature, and that is why we do it. As you say, if we wanted a repeatable monthly career, like in accounting or bookkeeping, that kind of monthly, it’s the same every month, and that’s not what we do.

If there wasn’t a level of on predictability, then I guess we would be bored, and we wouldn’t do this. I mean, one of the reasons people stop writing books in a series and they move to another series, or they change genre, is because they get bored.

I think embracing the unpredictable nature of creativity is part of the fun.

Caroline: I think we just have to remind ourselves that sometimes. One thing, this is a really weird neurological trick, is that the physiological symptoms of anxiety and fear and the physiological symptoms of excitement are quite similar. Sometimes you can reroute it because the nerves are actually quite close together that fire when this happens.

So I had a psychologist once say, “You know, you can get it to jump the track if when you’re feeling all of that pent up anxiety and excitement, to just say over and over, ‘I’m excited. I’m excited. I’m excited.’” Like, what if this is really about you being super excited about the Kickstarter, rather than scared?

Joanna: Yes, that actually used to come up in professional speaking, and most people are more scared of speaking in public than they are of dying.

Caroline: They’re more scared speaking in public than anything, like literally anything. They’d rather get their leg torn off than speak in public.

Joanna: When I did my training more than a decade ago, I remember — 

One of my professional speaking teachers used to say, “It’s not about getting rid of the butterflies, it’s about getting them to fly in formation,” so harnessing the butterflies.

When I’m about to speak, I still get a bad stomach, and I need the toilet every five minutes, and all of this kind of stuff. I still feel very, very nervous, but I try and reframe it, as you say, as excitement.

It’s interesting because with speaking, you’ve got that moment when you’re going to step onto a stage. So I guess for authors, it could be pressing like the launch button on Kickstarter, which actually is a launch button, which is different to setting up a pre-order, which isn’t quite so scary. I guess sending off a pitch letter, for example. Again, when you do that with publishing, there’s more of a time delay, right?

Caroline: Yes, yes.

Joanna: When we’re speaking, it’s like, there’s the stage.

You’re either on stage or you’re not.

Caroline: Exactly, and it’s so clearly defined, so I think it’s easier to deal with. The thing with writing is that there is a lot of lurchy process. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait.

I spent months writing this draft, then I went through the process of edits, then I went through the process of a cover designer, giving notes, all of this, and then formatting all the files and getting them uploaded everywhere. That’s all a lot of busy work. Then it goes out, and you just have to wait and see.

I mean, you keep talking about the book, you share it, but there’s really a point when you have to let go of control. I think that in many cases, at least for me, is the scariest part. Having to just sit and wait and be patient, and not know exactly how it’s going to go and not be able to do something constantly to influence that.

Joanna: Yes, well, coming to changing things later and the business side of things. This is interesting because you rebranded that first book, and you re-covered it to match this new release.

Tell us about why you rebranded the first book and the challenges of changing a book title and a book cover.

Caroline: Yes, I decided to rebrand the book, which came out as Story Arcana in 2019 because—this is one of those, why was this not completely obvious to you, Caroline—I subsequently launched a course also called Story Arcana, and then wondered why people were getting confused as to what content was included in the course and what content was included in the book.

They are quite different, so I was having to explain this constantly. So when this book was going to come out, I thought it would be really nice to have a cohesive look for a series of books. I’ve always admired your cohesive look on your series of guides for writers.

So I thought, okay, this is my chance to do that, and this is also my chance to really make it clear that this book is different than the course, and yet related. They’re all related to tarot, but there are different content in each piece. So that was the original thought process.

Then I wanted to dive into a look that felt more reflective of the Tarot aspect. So it was fun to get a cover designer to share the look and feel that I wanted. I wanted it to feel a little bit like a tarot card, and yet be linked in some ways to the brand that I have.

She used the same font for my name that I have on my website so that it was all sort of connected. I just wanted something that stood out more and that stood out as a unit. It ended up being a really satisfying process.

Joanna: So what are the challenges of doing it, though? I mean, like practicalities? I’ve done this multiple times, but people always are like, “Oh, my goodness, how do you do that? Don’t you lose all your reviews on the first book?” What were some of the more technical challenges?

Caroline: Oh, yes. What my big fear was, if we’re going into the fears, was that somebody would buy the book titled The Author’s Journey, get it, and then say, “This is just like the book I have already. What is this?”

One of the technical challenges was figuring out how to be very clear. So I put it on the copyright page, “This is a second edition.”

I have it listed as the second edition on all of the sites. So I had to find places to mention that it was a second edition, that it had been formerly published under this title. I wanted to be really transparent about that. So that was one of the challenges.

I think I was okay with losing the reviews because I just wanted to start fresh, and I just wanted it to feel different. So yes, you do go back to zero with those, but I was confident that those who had read the new book would then possibly want to read the old book or would just be able to jump over to that, and that it would just take care of itself over time.

Joanna: Okay, well, that is interesting because you don’t have to lose your reviews if you upload the files into the same Kindle. You do have to publish a new print book. With Stone of Fire, there’s reviews on there from when it was called Pentecost, originally.

So all I’ve done with the Kindle, and we’re just talking about Amazon, but all the sites are the same, with the Kindle book you can just change the title, you can change the author name, you can change pretty much everything. You can upload a new cover, upload a new file.

Print books, as you said, you have to upload a new print book. What I found is, because most of my reviews were on the Kindle book anyway, when you link a new print edition, it just links up like that. You have to use a new print book when you do all of that new. So you don’t have to lose it, but as you said, you were happy starting again. I think there’s a difference between deciding it’s a completely new edition, which is different to a new cover, basically.

Caroline: I didn’t want to mislead anyone, but I also changed the cover to increase discoverability. I now had people who were willing to blurb the book, so I wanted people to see a cover with those on it. I was hoping that this wasn’t about a pretty new addition for the existing reader, but that this would increase discoverability for additional readers.

Then the other bit was that previously I did all my distribution through Ingram, and this time I distributed through Amazon separately, in addition to doing distribution through Ingram.

Joanna: Okay, for your print. So you did eBooks through Ingram before?

Caroline: I did. Now, I have done again, just because I do not have this sort of enthusiasm that you have to separately go to Kobo, and Nook, and all of these places to upload files. I was like, it’s okay with me, it’s going go to all of them under that umbrella. I haven’t gone quite as wide, but I sort of shift that as I go. That was part of the reason as well, was that I had not gone through KDP the first time, and now I have.

Joanna: That makes sense. This is also interesting, it kind of circles back to the beginning.

You didn’t do it wrong. You did it the way you wanted to do it at the time.

Caroline: Yes.

Joanna: Then you changed your mind later on, and you wrote another book, and it emerged, and thus it became something different, and so you changed it. This is the magic, right? This is the magic of being in control. You can do whatever the hell you want. Yay!

Caroline: Yes, and that has been really great. I could dip my toe in and do what I was comfortable with in 2019. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I was excited to apply it, and so that’s what I did.

Joanna: Well, then on that—

Are you narrating the audiobook?

Caroline: That has been a fun question to consider because given that, and I’m sure you face this conundrum as well, given that I have a voice that people know from the podcast, I feel like I want to narrate it myself.

I have had someone offer to narrate it who has a lovely voice, and I have been going back and forth about that. I think in the end, I will probably do it myself, just because I feel like podcast listeners would expect my voice as part of it.

I think that with fiction, I do not plan to narrate my own fiction because I have a limited range of voices I can do, but most of them are impersonating my cats. I don’t think anyone wants to hear a murder mystery with cat voices.

Joanna: I don’t know. Cozy cat mystery is a thing.

Caroline: It is, but that’s not what I write. So, sadly, there’s a mismatch on that one. I think part of it is mostly just having the personal bandwidth to go back in and do this. So I think the audiobook is probably going to have to wait until the fall because I’ve got a novel up on deck to finish this summer.

I’m so excited to get back into that, that I don’t want any distractions from it. So I think the audiobook is maybe going to come out later this year.

Joanna: Yes, I think it’s a good choice to narrate it when it’s nonfiction, when it’s like a personal book, when you have a podcast and you’re used to doing audio. All of those are very good reasons.

So coming to the podcast, you are currently on season 10 of The Secret Library Podcast, which is great. People should go listen to that. You have recently moved to Substack as a platform.

Could you comment on podcasting and Substack as a platform?

As marketing platforms for new authors or for existing creators who are thinking about different options?

Caroline: Yes, absolutely. Well, there were many reasons why I wanted to bring the podcast over to Substack. I had spoken to a number of creatives who had done so and had had a positive experience.

I think that one of the first reasons was the sort of justification, or the original logic of creating the podcast, was to build a community around the topic, and also to build a community resource for writers.

I had done a lot of bizarre things which I don’t recommend, like I don’t recommend having multiple Substacks that are separate publications. I think that the sections feature is a better way to go. So at the end of 2023, I just decided I wanted one Substack to rule them all, which is now called Book Alchemy.

So podcast episodes go live, but I also write longer form, or not always longer form, but different reflections on writing life that feels like a blog. I very much enjoy that. So I wanted those two to live together, and I wanted there to be an opportunity for people to comment and to just have more conversation around the process.

As a podcaster, it can feel quite weird and lonely to just record a bunch of stuff and put it out there. Then people would write back to newsletters and such and say how much it meant to them, but there isn’t really a dialogue around the content. So part of moving to Substack was around wanting that conversation to happen.

That hasn’t entirely developed yet because I think after nine years of doing this podcast, people are really used to being subscribed in their podcast app, and they listen when a show shows up, but they are not really trained. I never really encouraged or trained them to click through to the show notes and interact. So I think that has been a slower process.

I think it’s more about encouraging people already on Substack to listen and then be in the conversation there. The people who read my articles are very eager to have comments and chat, and we go back and forth all the time. I love it. So that has been really nice. It’s just about getting the podcast into that headspace as well.

Joanna: Do you think your book sales are primarily from your existing audience? Or—

Have you found that Substack has been useful for the book launches as well?

Caroline: I think it has, in that I have done some things, like currently as we as we record this, I have a book giveaway open. So I’m going to give away three books in a couple of days, and they’re open to anyone who is an annual subscriber to my Substack. So I’ll be drawing.

So it’s sort of like, if you’re a member, you’re entered into this drawing. I plan to continue that practice because it’s really fun. With people who are on the podcast who have books coming out, we can do book giveaways for their books and such. So that’s been really fun.

People are really eager to reshare this kind of thing. If you have an event like that going, people are happy to share. It’s just a really nice supportive community that I’ve found in my corner of Substack, specifically.

Joanna: That’s great.

Where can people find Writing Through Fear, and your Substack, and the podcast, and everything you do online?

Caroline: Absolutely. I think the easiest place to go is CarolineDonahue.com. You can find the book page, there is a handy-dandy banner at the top that you can click on to get to the book order page.

The book is available on Amazon pretty much everywhere. It’s on Kobo all over the world. It’s at Barnes and Noble. Many, many outlets. There is a page for the book when you click through, and it has all of the places that are currently available in pretty much every English language market. So that is there.

Then the Substack is at book-alchemy.com. You can get to the podcast at SecretLibraryPodcast.com. It’ll forward you right to the podcast page, but you can search for the podcast on pretty much any podcast player and it’s there.

Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Caroline. That was great.

Caroline: Thank you so much for having me. It’s always a joy to talk to you.

The post Writing Through Fear With Caroline Donahue first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • June 16, 2024