2018 Golden Heart Finalist Kate Belli on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome!

We’ve got another Persister with us today: 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Kate Belli, whose manuscript A FEATURED AFFAIR is nominated for Best Historical Romance!

Kate Belli writes women’s fiction and historical fiction, including historical romance. A longtime Brooklynite, she recently relocated to the Deep South where she has learned to embrace football and biscuits, and to tolerate large insects. When not writing, Kate works as an art historian or a yogi, depending on the day. She is married to a New Englander of Italian descent and they have one son.

Here’s a blurb for A FEATURED AFFAIR:

Under the gaslight glamour of New York City’s Gilded Age ballrooms, Justine Stewart is a fish out of water. Though her eccentric family is old New York money and a decided part of the Astor 400 (the number of people deemed acceptable by the city’s matriarch of society, Mrs. Astor), Justine wants more than parties and suitors: she longs to make a name for herself as an investigative journalist under the pseudonym Polly Palmer. If she could break the story of the infamous Robin Hood of the Lower East Side, who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, she knows her editor would take her seriously.

Daniel McCaffrey, mysterious heir to a vast fortune from an old New York scion, is one the city’s most elusive and eligible bachelors. Despite his unknown origins, hostesses are desperate to have him, his rakish good looks, and his inherited millions attend their functions. Tortured by his past, Daniel is desperate to avoid the beautiful, witty, nosy journalist who has decided he might be a subject worth investigating. It’s terribly inconvenient, then, that he finds himself fantasizing about what she’d be like in bed.

From the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge to the brilliant lights of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Daniel and Justine play a game of cat-and-mouse amidst both an ever-growing attraction and an ever-deepening investigation. Justine is convinced that Daniel is Robin Hood, but she struggles to stay true to her professional ambitions once her heart is at risk. Daniel, in turn, must keep Justine’s inquiries at bay since he is determined to keep painful secrets from his past out of the papers at all costs. But he’s not quite as determined to keep Justine out of his arms. Can Justine set aside her professional ambitions for the sake of love? Can Daniel let go of his past enough to trust? Or will they both find their hearts stolen?

Ah! I’ve got shivers!! You had me at the Gilded Age New York setting, and my one-click-buy finger was twitching at since “he is determined to keep painful secrets from his past out of the papers at all costs. But he’s not quite as determined to keep Justine out of his arms.” Squeeee!!! Very exciting stuff!!

Folks, Kate Belli’s not just here to tantalize us with that blurb…she’s here to talk about a powerful subject that many of us wrestle with as writers: the dreaded Imposter Syndrome! She’s got a very personal story to tell, and lots of wisdom to share about how to embrace ourselves as writers.

 Take it away, Kate!


Every author knows the path to being published, whether traditional or indie, is rife with obstacles. Our Persister sisterhood has been talking a lot about those obstacles.

For some of us, the most difficult obstacle we have to overcome is ourselves.

I’m talking about Imposter Syndrome. It’s pervasive among writers. And I’ve had a bad, bad case of it for a long, long time.

It’s taken me a long time to write this book. It’s been so long, I honestly can’t remember when I started. I do remember relaying some semblance of what would turn into the plot to my younger brother as he helped me move out of a four-story walk up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Which tells me it was long ago enough that,  a.) I was still in graduate school, before I had a full-time job and could afford things like a building with an elevator and movers, b.) my brother, now a marketing executive, was still an under-employed actor and could be conscripted into carrying my furniture down four flights of stairs for pizza and beer, and c.) Williamsburg was still cheap enough that a graduate student could afford to live there – it’s certainly out of my reach now, full time job or not.

That was almost fifteen years ago, that hot day, when just the two of us carried all my possessions, my boxes of dishes and milk crates full of books, out of an overpriced railroad apartment with no bathroom door [seriously] and into a rental truck, my sweet brother continually asking, “What happens next?” in between flights.

It was a heady feeling, telling the story, and having someone else be entertained by it. I knew I wanted to write it down, so I tentatively began pecking away. Giving the world in my head shape on the page was an even headier feeling.

But I kept my writing a secret. Only a few select people in my life knew I had embarked on something as audacious as writing a novel, even though I was, quite literally, surrounded by writers. And right or wrong, being surrounded by writers, rather than inspiring me, fed into my Imposter Syndrome.

You see, that long time ago, in that other city far, far away, I was married to someone else. The details of that marriage, why it didn’t work, and how I found my happily-ever-after with the Italian, are another blog post for another time [though the fact that, as my then-boyfriend, the ex-husband was not helping carry the milk crates of books out of a four-story walk-up apartment on a hot day, probably tells you all you need to know].

My ex-husband was a writer. He worked with writers. He was friends with writers. Writers comprised almost his entire social circle, and by marital osmosis they comprised mine, as well.

I didn’t tell my husband’s friends about my novel. They were Real Writers, or aspiring Real Writers. Some of them wrote Important Literary Fiction. Some of them wrote Important Literary Non-Fiction, like travel memoirs. Many of them remain quite famous, and rub elbows with even more famous people, like movie stars.

These were not people who read genre fiction, and I was extremely self-conscious about writing romance. Somehow I’d absorbed the societal message that it was a lesser form of writing, even though I then and now credit my love of romance novels with a high score on the verbal section of the SATs (reticule, penchant, capricious). But perhaps that self-consciousness simply thrived in my isolation. When I started writing, Facebook and Twitter were brand-new, and I had no writing community in my genre.

I toiled uncertainly in my isolation, and the novel languished. For years, my New Year’s Resolution was to Finish The Book. I would write in fits and starts, going on a glorious spree for a few months and getting a few thousand words down, then not returning to it for an entire year. I thought about my characters almost constantly, imagining them standing on the corner of an old New York street where I’d left them, and implore them to be patient.

In retrospect, the Real Writers and Aspiring Real Writers would likely have been incredibly supportive, had they known of my endeavors [most, at least. I retain my doubts about some others, including a well-known writer who gave us her used dishes as a wedding present]. The one or two people I did tell were enthusiastic, and the ex-husband even surprised me one day with a book, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies, which was my first introduction to craft. I briefly joined RWA and the New York City chapter, and attended one of the first Lady Jane’s Salons, but even then doubts plagued me.

My novel isn’t even finished, a voice whispered at these events. I’m not a real writer.

The Imposter Syndrome was, of course, entirely in my own head. I had a case of it so bad I didn’t even realize I had it. Paradoxically, like writing, Imposter Syndrome was for other people. I heard others talk about it in their academic careers [mostly women in the humanities like me] and remained perplexed: how could you have a career as an academic and not feel like an academic? I was too blind to shine that light onto myself, and ask: how do you not feel like a writer when you write?

Eventually I extracted myself from the bad marriage, met and married my lovely husband, and relocated to the Deep South. Somehow, it was the birth of my son that prompted me to finish the book. I sat with him late at night, and breathed in that miracle scent from the top of his head, and thought long and hard about what I wanted life to look like with this tiny human in it. For me, that meant being someone who finished what they started. I didn’t want another New Year’s to pass with the same resolution.

So I took out my half-finished manuscript, and wrote and wrote until it was done. And I figured out how to query, found an agent, eventually entered the Golden Heart contest, and here we are. I don’t write in fits and starts anymore; I write all the time [of course, all that is also a longer story, and also another blog post for another time].

Most importantly, I began to find my own writing community. Social media had changed enormously since I first embarked on this journey. Around the time I dusted off the manuscript, I started lurking around the edges of Romancelandia on Twitter like the new kid in middle school, hoping the cool girls would invite me to sit at their table. And to my astonishment, they did. Unreservedly and without question. The romance community is the warmest, most welcoming group of professionals I’ve ever encountered, and the Golden Heart sisterhood is a special extension of that.

I haven’t fully been able to kick my Imposter Syndrome to the curb, but every time I write, that voice gets quieter. What’s even more powerful are the combined voices of this community, especially those that have arisen since I became a Golden Heart Finalist. That’s because, instead of hearing the voices in my head that question and doubt, I have the privilege of hearing the voices of my sisters, who know the magic words … What happens next?

What about you, readers? Have you suffered from Imposter Syndrome, in any aspect of your life? How did you overcome it, or is it a constant struggle? Has building a community helped?


Connect with Kate Belli on social media:




38 responses to “2018 Golden Heart Finalist Kate Belli on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome!”

  1. Welcome to the Ruby sisterhood, Kate. Great blog! Great story. I know the imposter syndrome very well. Even with ten works published there are days the feeling washes over me again. Sending our babies out into the world, pokes at that hidden seed of insecurity, I guess.

    I love that you’re story is set in the Gilded Era. I’ve always been drawn to it. Good luck in Denver.

  2. Julia Day says:

    I’m like Autumn. Nine books out–and I struggle with imposter syndrome every day. My current work-in-progress feels like the biggest pile of rubbish ever.

    My younger daughter struggles with it too (in a different career field.) When I was at a conference last Sept, given by CT RWA, I attended a talk by Kristan Higgins–where she mentioned her bouts of IS. So I asked her afterwards how to combat it. She said 2 things. Recognize that part of actually being good is wondering if you’re not… And the other–just push through it. Get to the other side.

    • Kate Belli says:

      I love this take, that being good is wondering if you’re not – I’m taking this to heart! 😉 Really, though, it’s a nice way to frame IS.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes, yes! A creative writing teacher of mine is college always said that the “this is a complete pile of sh*t” stage is an integral part of good writing.

      She said that when you just always think your work is stellar, that’s a sign that you have no real literary taste. (Makes me wonder about people who pump out a new book every month. Maybe they’re just geniuses…or maybe they don’t focus much on craft.)

      The key is to push through the doubt and JUST KEEP WRITING!! As another friend of mine says, “it may be a slog for a good long while, but suddenly, that’s when the magic happens!”

      And I’ve always found that to be true.

  3. Oh, how I know your struggles! Even though I’ve written professionally for websites, marketing campaigns, and even amusement park rides (!!), I didn’t think of myself as a “Real Writer.” In fact, after three GH finals, I’m not sure I think that, even now.

    But there’s something to having tenacity, and you (and your characters) sound like you have that in spades. I’m super-intrigued by your story, and I can’t wait to read it some day soon.

    • Kate Belli says:

      Hi Eileen! 3 GH finals? That’s amazing! Of course, I would never call any of my GH sisters anything other than Real Writers (I mean, we’ve all written books! You write professionally!) – why is it we’re so quick to doubt ourselves, I wonder? Congrats on final # 3 – see you in Denver!

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Sorry I slept in this morning…tomorrow we need to make an appointment to do some sprinting!!!

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    Congratulations on your GH final, Kate – and on finishing the book. 🙂

    Sadly, I think for most of us, imposter syndrome is a chronic condition. Even if it’s well-managed most of the time, sometimes it will just roar back out of nowhere, and whap us upside the head.

    I’m experiencing a bit of imposter syndrome myself at the moment – my latest book received an absolutely WITHERING score in a writing contest in which I usually do well. I’ve been at this long enough now to realize that my book just wasn’t the judge’s catnip, but… Oof, it stung. (Honestly? It still does.) But that’s where the community you mention comes in – offering support, data, and a big ol’ glass of wine. 🙂

    • Kate Belli says:

      Thanks Tamara. A big old glass of wine solves so much, doesn’t it?! And hrmph on that judge… I’m sorry someone was harsh. I keep reading about how many rejections and bad reviews some of my favorite authors get, and I think you’re right – we just have to remember not everything we write will be everyone’s cup of tea. Cheers!

    • Elisa Beatty says:


      The arbitrariness of judging can undermine anybody’s confidence.

      Of course you know it was just one of those East German judge things (or your hero’s name was the same as the guy who just broke up with her), but the sting still stings.

      Have chocolate!! And get back to that keyboard ASAP.

  5. suzanne says:

    I love, love, love your book premise. I want to get my hands on it right now and sink my teeth into your world — I had no idea about the Astor 400!

    I don’t know why we suffer from imposter syndrome. Is it the underbelly of self-doubt or we’re not good enough or how dare we dream? Joining a community of dreamers is what’s made me feel more connected, like the dream can be real. And writing. I think the more I write, the less I feel like an imposter.

    See you in Denver!

  6. Oh Kate! I have so been there. Right down to the railroad in Williamsburg (although, not to brag, mine did have a bathroom door.) Can’t *wait* to read this book.

  7. Oh, Kate, this post feels so timely! I’m in the throes of Imposter Syndrome with my current WIP and I just want to pull my hair out, lol. I don’t know if there’s any way forward except to get through the first draft and keep telling that awful, nagging voice to GO AWAY.

    Your story sounds lovely, by the way–the Gilded Age is one of my favorite time periods. 🙂

    Congratulations on finishing your book and your GH final (how you like them apples, Impostor Syndrome?)! Looking forward to meeting you in Denver!

  8. Your book sounds amazing, Kate. I can’t wait to read it.

    And I empathize with you on the Imposter Syndrome. It seems when we’re working in day jobs, even if we don’t know what we’re doing at first, we ARE whatever the job is. But when we write, we feel like we have to publish to be considered writers. And according to a lot of published authors, the syndrome continues even then.

    Hopefully we Persisters will at least move on to the next stage, and learn what it’s like to deal with Imposter Syndrome as published author. 😉

    Congrats on your final. See you in Denver.

  9. Tracy Brody says:

    I think I love your brother for his “what happens next?” comments and how that showed you that you indeed have a gift for storytelling.
    Glad you got your HEA on round 2 and haven’t let imposter syndrome make you keep your writing a secret any longer. Look forward to meeting you in Denver.

    • Kate Belli says:

      Yeah, my brother is awesome for many reasons. And he’d still help me move for pizza and beer, or for nothing at all. 😉

      I’m so excited for Denver! Can’t wait to meet everyone in person.

  10. C.R. Grissom says:

    I struggle with Imposter Syndrome every time I think about querying, writing a synopsis or envision a new story. Every time I have to revise my ms and look in the mirror. 🙂

    I loved hearing your road to finding your true love, and acceptance that the voice gets loud or quiet, but you’re still going to hit the keys and move forward!

    Can’t wait to meet you.

  11. Oh my goodness, so much yes! I *love* this post, Kate. You have a real way with storytelling, you know – you must be a writer! 😉 I love your brother for asking the right question and I love the romance community for enfolding you. And congratulations on your final!

    I have certainly dealt with a crapton of imposter syndrome. For years I wrote stories, but I was afraid to tell anyone I wanted to be a writer – it was like I was hiding this huge part of myself from the world. Joining RWA helped me overcome that, even if I continue to struggle with artistic insecurity in other ways. For me, I’m not sure it will ever go away entirely. I think I will always have those “not good enough” feelings – but I hope I will also keep finding ways to stop those feelings from hold me back.

    I’m so glad you could join us today. Good luck in Denver!!!

  12. Juli Anne Patty says:

    I have to gush because I’m so PROUD to have such a brilliant and talented friend. As a writer myself, I totally get how the imposter syndrome tricks us. But from where I sit, honey, you haven’t even the tiniest little imposter bone in your body. You’re the real thing!

    And for all of you who are interested in reading this book, I can tell you that you MUST! I was so fortunate to be a beta reader for Kate, and this is absolutely a book that you don’t want to miss. I can hardly wait to read it AGAIN in published form!!

  13. Elisa Beatty says:

    Sorry to be so late in stopping by today! School just let out a couple days ago, and I slept so late I was awakened by my town’s Emergency Siren test (which goes off every Wednesday at 11).

    Ah, the life of a teacher on summer break. (I was supposed to get up and write, but…oh, well. Tomorrow.)

    Anyhow….I love this whole post!!

    The ex and his writers’ circle, the way imposter’s syndrome plagues women in academia as well as writing, the way your son’s birth inspired you to get the danged book done (me, too!!!), the beauty of community in Romancelandia, and the way ACTUALLY WRITING is the best antidote to all our doubts and fears.

    Brava on dumping the ex and forging a happier life and writing path!!

    (Also, fair warning: I’m seriously entertaining the idea of getting you drunk at Nationals so I can find out the name of the writer who gave you her used dishes as a wedding present….)

  14. I am sold 100%! I want to read this book! Wow.

    Welcome, Kate. Your ms sounds so amazing. You had me at Robin Hood, although New York City’s Gilded Age had me drooling a little, too.

    Also, I am DYING to know which author gave you here used dishes as a wedding present. OMG.

    I gotta say, I don’t think imposter syndrome ever goes away. It certainly hasn’t for me. I’m sure I’m going to be found out daily and someone will call me out.

  15. Melanie Edmonds says:

    What a lovely blog post! Thank you for writing and sharing it with us. I think you’ve tapped into something we all feel pretty regularly. It’s why I still don’t post writer things on my Facebook account, tbh. It’s hard to come out of the closet and proclaim yourself a writer to your everyday, non-writer friends. So, how did I get through my own Imposter Syndrome? I’ll let you know when it happens.

    Can’t wait to meet you in Denver!!!!

  16. Jeanne says:

    Congratulations on finishing the book AND for turning out a Golden Heart finalist! I love the Golden Age. I can’t wait to read it.

  17. Your novel sounds wonderful, Kate. I love the Gilded Age, and can’t wait to read it one day soon. I’m looking forward to meeting you at the RWA Conference!

  18. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Hi Kate! I’m with everyone else here on these 3 points: 1. loving your story idea! The Gilded Era is a fascinating period and it sounds like you capture it perfectly. 2. fighting that fight against imposter syndrome. And 3. DYING to know who gave you the used plates! LOL–looking forward to meeting you in Denver, sister Persister!

  19. It’s heartening to see others who are multiple books into their writing careers admitting to this. I’m with you, Kate! It took me years to get to this point, with an agent and a GH finalist. And I feel like once I have a book published, people will read it and tell me I know nothing. So, hi my name is Alexia and I have imposter syndrome. But that doesn’t stop me from writing, I’ll keep persisting! 🙂

    LOVE the gilded age and CANT WAIT to read your book!!! I’ll be one of your fans asking ‘what happens next?’!!

  20. Jacie Floyd says:

    Congratulations on your final and thank you for writing a manuscript set in one of my favorite time periods!
    Imposter syndrome, yikes, I feel your pain and struggle with the same. I think it’s primarily a woman’s issue. Men don’t suffer as many self-doubts or they cover them up better. Or don’t discuss them. I fluctuate between being the best writer to ever put words on a page to being the worst of the worst. On my more rational days, I assume that it’s something in between. I have some knowledge and skill, but there’s still so much more to learn and accomplish.
    Enjoy Denver!
    Jacie Floyd

  21. Kate Belli says:

    You guys, thank you so much for all the responses! It’s so heartening to see others have struggled with this as well. I’m sorry I dropped off and stopped responding individually – my little guy is having some health issues and they set in last Wednesday when this was posted. But I think I’m still making it to Denver and Elisa has the right idea – get a drink or two in me and I’m likely to spill about who gave us the dishes. 😉 XO


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Jennifer Marvel: The noise came from just outside my window. I draw the curtain slowly to the side, a pair of red...
  • Darynda Jones: Love this, April! I could see this for any age. Your protagonist could be a child haunted by a...
  • Darynda Jones: Oooooo, this would make a great opening, Cynthia! Great job!
  • Darynda Jones: YES! Love it, Lydia! Creepy and dark. Two of my favorite things, and if that’s wrong, I...
  • Darynda Jones: BAM! There you go. Fantastic, Diane! Super creepy.