But I have an ISBN! Chapbooks and the Imposter Syndrome

As you might have heard a bajillion times, my first chapbook has now been published by Evening Street Press, and I’m really excited about it.

But.

If you’re a poet yourself, maybe you’ve read some things about chapbooks and how tough they are to place in bookstores because most bookstores really, really hate them. I didn’t want this to be true — but I’m finding it to be pretty true so far.

Likewise, I don’t know what I thought would happen when I opened my box of author copies. Maybe something like that scene in Pulp Fiction when they open the briefcase or whatever it is, and there’s a mysterious, almost celestial glow?

I guess I expected some type of self-validation, like the song in the Tony Randall movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? that repeats over and over that the main character has “got it made!” and just what a swell, successful guy he is.

Did I think I would no longer be as conscious of the fact that I lack an MFA, and that I am trying to combine my artistic life with a boatload of other stuff? Was finally getting a chapbook published going to put an end to my tendency to compare myself against others — to read contributors’ bios and imagine my fellow poets ensconced in their bookshelf-lined writing rooms or on rustic and deeply fulfilling sabbaticals when they’re not igniting the fire for the next generation of creative young minds? (I know, I know … my fantasy probably does not equal many creative academics’ reality.)

The truth is, whatever level of success I (and perhaps you, too) achieve with my writing, there will always be someone who’s doing more. Oh, look — I have a chapbook, but this other person has a book. Like, a full-on, 60-page book. It’s not much thicker than my chapbook, but there it is. It’s on the shelf right in front of me, in fact — because books do get on bookstore shelves. So what I really need to do is … get a book published. And that’s when I’ll feel like a real poet. Right?

Oh, imposter syndrome, I know you from so many other parts of my life, and yet you always seem so true.

So, how do I get out of this funk and back to being over-the-moon ecstatic about this great thing that has happened, this wonderful gift that I should never take for granted or downplay to myself? How can I quit — just for a little while — looking ahead to the next hurdle and the next and the next? That’s the million-dollar question right there. All I can say is stay tuned.

And if you’ve ever felt this way, too — that some other writer has achieved x, y, and z and is therefore “the real deal,” that there’s some magic something that they have and you don’t … just know that you’re not alone. This may be, in fact, as much a part of many creative writers’ lives as SASEs and submission fees. Maybe the key is to acknowledge that and just keep pushing forward.

(Note: I’m not putting in any links because I just want to get this out, but I encourage you to Google or YouTube both film references and “imposter syndrome,” and … OK, I can’t resist this one link, in case you don’t know the deal about my chapbook, and this other one because Evening Street Press deserves to be recognized.)

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6 thoughts on “But I have an ISBN! Chapbooks and the Imposter Syndrome

  1. Start with a rewrite of your bio. No one writes “Me, author of a chapbook titled …” Nope. That prepositional phrase is not needed. So, Marilyn Cavicchia, write, “Me, author of Secret Rivers (2014), …and let your public be impressed by you making it into print!

  2. I, for one, am wildly impressed with your publication success! We are both busy with wildly creative children – and finding the time to write and then, on top of that, finding the energy, time and dedication to submit – is Astounding!! Let me revel in that for you. One of these days, I want to publish a book of poetry too. I’m thinking that with all the work, extra work, farm work, kid stuff, house upgrades – painting, putting in new carpets and wood floors, which will mean we have to re-arrange furniture multiple times – while both of us are working two jobs or three – my book may not happen for a couple of years. You are amazing!

    • Thanks, Liesl! I’d love to see your book someday. 🙂 In the meantime, I admire your enthusiasm and success on the slam/performance front — that’s not my forte at all, and I know it takes guts.

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