The Bene Gesserit sisterhood of Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune recite a litany against fear that goes in part:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer
Fear is the Little Death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
These words can apply to pretty much anyone, but I think there’s an especially strong relevance to writers. We have to confront the fear of rejection if we try to sell the book to a publisher. We have to face the fear that no one will buy the book. We have to face the fear that even if they do buy the book, they might not like it and leave one-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I have known people who have let fear dominate them at any given step in this process. They quit after receiving a rejection. They quit after book sales didn’t do as well as they wanted. They quit after a bad review. For them, fear was indeed the Little Death that brought total obliteration.
Sometimes I look back at my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, and think how hard it was to get up the courage to send it to a publisher. That first publisher went out of business and I had to do it all over again when I got the rights back. To this day, this is a book that gets divided reviews. I’ve seen it get a one-star review one day and a five-star review within the week. There have been plenty of opportunities to let fear influence my decisions about this novel in particular and my writing career in general.
I recently had occasion to read the novel again. From the perspective of twenty years after I wrote it, I understand and even agree with much of the thoughtful criticism about the book. That said, I really appreciate those people who love the novel and I’m delighted that they had fun with it and decided to follow the characters into the sequels. Alas, some of the criticism I’ve seen hasn’t been so thoughtful—that I just do my best to shrug off.
On reflection, rereading my first novel left me with a good feeling. Overall, I think it still works as the fun pulp-inspired novel I’d intended, but I also see why it’s not for everyone. What’s more, I’m glad I’ve persevered and continued to write, explore other genres, and improve my craft. As the Bene Gesserit litany says at its conclusion:
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.