If the thought of sharing your ideas, voice, face, opinions or work online frightens the heck out of you, you're not alone.
This week I'm joined by poet and mental health advocate, Shelby Leigh. In this episode Shelby shares the journey of how she went from publishing her work completely anonymously online to becoming a published author, living out her dream career and sharing her thoughts, ideas, voice and face daily to an audience of over 500,000 readers.
If self-doubt or anxiety are holding you back, this episode is for you.
In this episode we also discuss:
✨ How self-doubt and anxiety held Shelby back from revealing her identity online, hiding behind the title 'anonymous' when she published her words.
✨ The work that Shelby has done to work through her self-doubt and anxiety to build the successful business she has today.
✨ How Shelby's business has transformed since she took ownership of her work online and what that means for her business moving forward.
✨ Shelby's top tips and small steps you can take today to help you overcome self-doubt and anxiety and take overship if your business.
Shelby Leigh (she/her) is a poet and mental health advocate who has been writing on the internet for 7+ years, amassing a following of more than 500,000 readers. She is the author of the bestselling book, changing with the tides, and the host of the mental health podcast, small steps to self-love. Her third poetry book, girl made of glass, was released in January 2023 with Central Avenue Publishing. In addition to writing poetry, Shelby hosts monthly poetry workshops and serves authors through poetry book editing and marketing strategies. Find her at shelbyleigh.co, Instagram and TikTok @shelbyleighpoetry, and Twitter @shelbyleighpoet.
Get Shelby's free self-love poetry print and affirmation cards: shelbyleigh.co/subscribe
Kristy: Shelby, welcome. I'm so excited to chat with you today. Welcome to the podcast. To start, would you mind please, super quickly jumping in and introducing yourself a little bit, telling us a little bit more about who you are and what you do.
Shelby: Sure. I'd love to. Thanks for having me. I'm excited to chat with you.
My name is Shelby Leigh. I am a mental health writer, I write in the poetry space. I always wanted to be a writer but I got started writing poetry in college and sharing my work online anonymously, which I'm sure we'll dive into in this episode. I had a lot of self-doubt and anxiety that held me back, but eventually overcame it.
I've published a few books. I worked in social media marketing and studied marketing in college, so I took that knowledge and started teaching other writers how to overcome that fear, that self-doubt. And market themselves on social media as well. So I have helped over 2000 authors through my courses, my guides, and one-to-one services as well to help them market themselves on social media as well.
So it's a little bit about what I do.
Kristy: Amazing. That's so interesting. It sounds like you've had a very varied career. Obviously you started in social media marketing, you studied marketing in college. But you're an author now. How did you get started with writing? You're now obviously a published author, so how did you become a writer and how did you get to where you are today?
Shelby: Yeah, I love that question. So I've always just been a huge book worm. That was always my thing growing up. I was always reading, going to the library, coming home with like stacks of books and I would just sit in bed and read.
And that was my, social time spent reading. And I loved it. And I always just envisioned myself being on the shelves, like in the library of bookstores. I wanted to be just like my favorite authors who were making such a big impact on me. It was my space to escape from the world from what I was going through, the anxiety that I was feeling, the sadness that I was feeling.
And I just wanted to do that for other people too. And so I wrote short stories and I wrote a couple novels in high school, and then I never did anything with them. I was much too scared to do anything with them. And then once college started, I really wanted to, kind of journal what my like transition to college and being on my own for the first time and like all of these big life events that were happening.
And that's when I found the modern poetry kind of world, which is a lot more freeing. It's a lot less gatekeepy type of vibes. And I absolutely fell in love with modern poetry and started writing it every single day. Just kind of documenting what I was going through at the time and at the end of that year, throughout that year was sharing it on Tumblr.
That was my first glimpse into social media, sharing it on Tumblr. I had grown somewhat of an audience. I was still anonymous. But I really was encouraged by some of my readers to put together a book. And that's the first time that I looked into self-publishing and learned about that. So since then, I put out that self-published book.
I put out another one. And then with the sales of that one, I was fortunate enough to have that republished by a larger publisher. And so since then I've done a mix of self-publishing and traditional publishing. And never ever thought, like whenever I said I was gonna be an author when I was a kid, never thought it was going to be these like super vulnerable mental health films about my brain and my mind.
But, yeah, knowing that they impact people and have helped other people feel less alone has helped me feel so much less alone with my anxiety, as well. So it's been an amazing, amazing journey. And, yeah, wild to me that that's. What I do now and tell people that I'm a mental health writer. I never saw that coming.
Kristy: How did you become a mental health writer? Was it through that process of, like you said, journaling and putting your own thoughts to paper that that sort of how it came about, like when you were younger and you pictured being a writer. What sort of stories did you think that you would tell? Did you think that they would look like this or did it sort of evolve into that?
Shelby: Yeah, I think when I was a kid, the mental health topic wasn't really there. It wasn't really prominent, and so I didn't really know until I was looking back. Later on, like, oh, I was using this as an escape for sure for my mental health, but I didn't know that at the time.
And then whenever I was writing these short stories and like, they were like fiction, kind of silly. I wrote one whenever I really wanted a dog, like two parents that bought their daughter, or adopted, I should say, not bought a, adopted a dog for their daughter. And like all this, you know, things that I wanted to happen in my life, but it was like a fiction story.
Yeah. Um, those were the types of things I was writing as a kid. But you know, using it as an escape. And then once I got into college and started. Journaling and writing these poems. I still didn't really realize what I was doing. I just thought, oh, this is, this is fun. And then I looked back and was like, oh, this was super helpful for me.
And all of these themes about my own anxiety are coming through. So I didn't really embrace the mental health poet, mental health writer label until a couple years ago when I really leaned into that being a huge part of my brand, I guess you could say. And leaning into self-love, because that's what I've been working on for the past like five or six years.
Myself. And so that's what has come through a lot in my writing and so I've kind of just embraced that and leaned in that direction cuz I think it's really, really important.
Kristy: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love the content that you are sharing and the words that you are writing and I. Completely. Like, I feel like it is, like you said, it's so vulnerable.
And I guess that also because of what you were writing, I guess that probably like you said, contributed to you publishing that anonymously because you did have a lot of self-doubt and anxiety, and things about that. So can you share a little bit more about that, like what did that look like when you started on Tumblr?
And you know, you weren't showing your face and telling people. Who you were? Like what did that all look like for you? What were you feeling? What were you thinking? What was going on for you?
Shelby: Yeah. I just remember not really thinking that this was going to be my path for writing, so I didn't really care that it was anonymous, like a lot of authors, of course, don't want their work to be stolen. They want their name to be all over it. And I was like, yeah, I don't really care. Like, I just don't want anyone to know that it's me. And so yeah, I just created a username. I started sharing my work without a name. I think I even put anonymous underneath it for a little bit.
Or just no name at all. And then once I started getting some feedback that was positive, which was great, I started to think like, maybe this could be my path and maybe I should start kind of building this up as myself. And so I still, it took me a long time to start sharing my face or anything.
It was whenever I actually released my book with my name on it that I said, this is my name. So it took over a year actually of sharing my work, and I think I had like 80,000 followers on humbler by that point, like nameless. Wow. And people were just following for these like anonymous little poems that I would post each day.
So I finally revealed my name and of course nobody cares. Like no one else is thinking anything of it besides me. I'm like, oh my God, everyone knows my name now. Like, this is gonna change everything. And of course it didn't tell anyone else, but it was a huge step for me. And then after that book came out and I didn't really know what I was doing marketing wise, even though I was studying marketing in school, I was like, this doesn't apply to books.
Like I don't know what I'm doing. And I didn't really see a lot of success. I said, okay, I need to get on other platforms, first of all, that are more prominent in the author world. That being like Instagram and Twitter at the time was what I started and was like, okay, I'm gonna show my face. I'm gonna like be on camera.
All these things, which was a huge step. And terrifying step, but definitely so worth it. Looking back, I'm glad that I didn't hold off any longer. But it's definitely super common, I think, in any industry. But the authors that I work with a lot, it's, it's very intimidating and scary, especially leaning into the video world that is more and more popular every single day on social media.
It's definitely a big change from writing a book, so it's an understandable fear for sure.
Kristy: Absolutely. And would you say like, do you still sort of have any of that self-doubt or anxiety around sort of sharing your work, and showing your face and sort of really owning that? Or do you feel like that's really behind you now?
I. I think it's mostly behind me, which is wonderful to say. There are still things like a live events and things like that. I'm still like, okay, this is a little different cuz now I'm so used to recording myself. Like the po I do a podcast like my guests on podcasts. I have YouTube, I get on Instagram stories all the time, so like, That sort of thing is just more, I'm more used to it now, so whenever I do look at an in-person book event, I'm like, oh my gosh, there'll be more jitters.
Whereas I think a lot of it's the opposite. For some authors, they feel so confident speaking in person or like being at a book event and they're not as used to that. Social media type of of world. But yeah, it definitely took time. I mean, for the first couple of years I would use like, maybe not a couple of years, but for a while I would use like teleprompter apps on my phone.
I would type out my whole script. I would have it like scrolling by on the screen while I just read it off, and it didn't maybe sound the most natural, but it worked for me because I was so nervous to speak on camera for a while. But, Now I don't, you know, do that at all and it's very, very natural. So it definitely takes practice, but, definitely worth it to, to try to embrace that.
Kristy: Absolutely. I definitely agree. It does take practice and I think for anyone, it's funny, like people, you know, often say I'm an introvert or, you know, and I can't do it. Or they think, you know, that. You know, it might be easier for other people than it is for them, but so many people, no matter like, you know, introvert, extrovert, no matter what their human design is, like anything like that, so many people do struggle with it.
I remember recording videos in my early days, like even just going back to like 2019, 2020. And I remember at the time thinking, this is awful. I just feel so unnatural. I look like, I dunno what I'm doing. I feel really rigid and I look back at them now and I'm like, it actually isn't even that bad. I was really hard on myself.
Do you sort of look back at some of those things as well and realize you were being really hard on yourself?
Shelby: Yeah, definitely. All the time. Yeah. I think whenever, and my voice was something that I was so hard on myself a lot about. And I hear that from a lot of people too, like. They hate the sound of their voice.
They don't wanna hear it played back to them and things like that. Whenever I first started on TikTok was like the first time that I started reading my work out loud and posting it and I would never listen to it back. I would just record it and I'm like, I hope that's good cuz I, I hope I didn't mess up cuz I cannot listen to this back.
And I would like make my, if my partner like was scrolling on TikTok, I'm like, turn it down. Cuz if my video pops up, like, I don't wanna hear it. I don't want you to hear it. I don't want anyone to hear it. Like it was just so, and it's so funny because Amy, I don't, not in love with my voice now, but I've become so much more confident just from people's feedback on it and people enjoying me reading in my poems out loud.
So we're just so hard on ourselves. When other people are not seeing these things at all, they're seeing us completely differently than how we see ourselves. And I just think like it's a shame to let that hold us back from what we're trying to accomplish or achieve, when our minds are, are so strong.
But, you know, our, our goals and our our achievements should be stronger than, you know, letting our minds hold ourselves back.
Kristy: I love that. That's really beautifully said, and I love your voice. I think you have a really thank you, a really beautiful calming tone, and I love listening to you speak, and I love listening to you read, as well.
So thank you. It is, like you said, it's, it's just one of those things where we do hear our own voices. We're like, is that really what I sound like? And I know I definitely went through the same thing when I started recording video and when I started doing the podcast, that was a big thing for me because I, I thought I was like, I feel like I'm speaking funny, but it is just, It's how I speak, and no one else thinks anything of it, do they?
Shelby: That's wild. Yeah. I've done a couple audio books now, so I figure like, you know, if people are buying that and asking me to produce that. Maybe my voice isn't so bad.
Kristy: Your voice is not bad at all. It's actually quite nice to listen to.
Shelby: Thank you. I same to you. I love your voice.
Kristy: Thank you. So how has overcoming this fear, this anxiety, or even just like moving through it, and getting more comfortable, like how has all of this, including showing your face, owning your work, all of those sorts of things, has that changed your business for you, do you think?
Shelby: Totally. Yes. Because yeah, whenever I first was starting and whenever I put this book out and thought that I knew everything about marketing and social media and all these things, I was so shocked when it didn't sell as well as I thought it would. And I think there were multiple factors to that, but not being myself and not being authentic and not having a human behind.
The book, I think really played a role in that and I really noticed that and confirmed it to be true whenever I did start being more myself and sharing myself more online. And you know, my second book ended up being my best seller and all of these opportunities came my way. I. And I felt so much more confident.
It wasn't even about the sales and the business, it was just feeling so much better about myself as well. And then of course, learning all of these things about marketing and branding. As an author, I. Helped me create this second side of my business book Marketing by Shelby. You know, if I wasn't showing up there authentically and teaching other writers how to speak on camera, I mean, I couldn't teach any of these things if I wasn't doing it myself and had all this experience.
So that's been a totally other, you know, shift that I didn't expect to take either. But, that's been amazing as well. So it's definitely changed just the course of what I thought I was going to do for sure.
Kristy: Absolutely. I think there's this real element as well, like, and I know we speak about it with online marketing and business and things like that, you know, like we love to know the people behind the brands and things like that, and I think these are your stories, these are your words.
And to actually see, oh, this is the person behind it. This is Shelby. You know, she's been through what I've been through. She can relate to what I'm going through. You know, this is what it looked like when her first book came out. Now I'm trying to release my book and I know that she can help me cuz she's been through it versus I guess like, you know, not knowing who is behind it.
It could be like this Dr. Phil type of character. Do you know what I mean? I'm just picturing like, you know, this 50, 60 year old man or something that's like, yeah, I help people do this. And you kind of, there's that missing layer of that connecting piece. So Absolutely. I think it's really nice that, yeah, that you can actually be there.
People know who you are, they can connect with you. They know your story, they know what you've been through.
Shelby: Absolutely, and it just feels so much more engaged. I don't know what the right word is that I'm looking for, but I didn't feel connected to anyone when I was. I was just posting these poems and then leaving, like I, nobody knew who I was.
Nobody knew my story. It's just so much more powerful when you can be yourself and tell your story and people still want to listen to you and still are even more connected to you and in your DM saying like, this was so powerful. You know, authors want to work with me because of my story. It just feels so much more of a community than whenever I was just like, Talking to my computer, you know, tapping into my computer and posting and leaving and just not getting any interaction.
It feels like I actually have a community behind me now, which is an amazing feeling.
Kristy: I love that you can own it as well. So like even if you're at a dinner party and someone's like, oh, what do you do? You know, you're not this anonymous writer and you don't wanna say, oh, like I have a a blog, or I write a book, or I do something cuz you don't wanna send people there because, You're trying to hide yourself.
ShelbyL Yeah, and I did that for a long time. You know, I would just, I was in college, so I would just say what I was studying, or I was working another job after college. So I would talk about that, but I would never talk about or embrace what I was actually doing and my main passion. So I'm glad that I have worked my way over that for sure.
Kristy: And for anyone, who is really suffering with this fear, this anxiety, this self-doubt around owning what they do, showing their face, using their voice, sharing their opinions, what advice do you have for them that might help them overcome this and like what sort of worked for you to get to this point?
Shelby: Yeah, I love that. I think. One, kind of giving yourself grace and reflecting on what it is that is actually holding you back. Cause I think that it's different for everybody. And some people it's like fear of like being too salesy or promoting yourself. You know, others, it's like, I hate my voice, or I don't like my appearance and I don't wanna be on camera.
Like there's so many different things that it could possibly be that's holding you back. So I think just reflecting on that, and what it could be. And then just like baby steps to push forward. Like nobody needs you to go live for an hour on Instagram when you've never done it before and you're terrified and you're shaking, like, don't do that.
Right? But like five minutes. Or maybe you just practice in front of the mirror by yourself with your phone pointing at you, but no one's actually there. Like, there's just ways to kind of work up to it and work up to those goals without going full force, cuz you don't wanna. You know, do it, and then it ends up not working as well as you thought, and then you're super discouraged.
So I think that, yeah, just like those tiny little baby steps that will get you further and further. My first step was sharing like I. A picture of me holding my book and I cut my face out of it. I'm like, it was barely showing myself. And that was my first step and it was so scary. This was probably like what, 2016? 2015? I've come a long way since then, but that was my first step.
And then like putting my name on my account and then changing my profile picture to my face, like I did the littlest, tiniest baby steps ever to work up to. Filming an Instagram story that probably took me like 30 retries before I thought it was good enough to post like just the tiny little baby steps.
But it's so worth it. You're gonna feel so much more connected to your audience. You're not too salesy, you're not too markety. You're trying to just get your work out into the world, which is so important. You created this for a reason, probably to help others. So that's my, that's my advice, is just kind of reframe and take little baby steps toward your goals.
Kristy: I love that. That is such good advice. Thank you so much for sharing. I think it's such a good reminder as well that, like you said, you don't have to jump into a one hour Instagram live. You know, baby steps are, you know, still amazing, they're perfect. Slow progress, you know, small progress is still progress.
And reminding ourselves that no one actually starts off like, I don't know anyone that jumped on video for the first time and went. I'm so good at this. I love this.
Shelby: No, definitely not. I would love to meet them if they're,
Kristy I think, I think we all go through it. And it's nice to know, reassuring to know that there are other people that have been through the same thing, or who are going through the same thing.
And it doesn't necessarily always look like this forever. And yeah, I love the baby steps. That's such good advice. Thank you. So before I let you go, can you please tell everyone where they can find you, how they can connect with you and yeah, where you hang out online?
Shelby: Yeah, absolutely. If you are interested in my mental health work, I'm at Shelby Lee Poetry on social media and Shelby lee.co is my website.
I've got my books on Amazon if you just search for my name and then if you are an author, I share book marketing tips on YouTube at marketing by Shelby, and then. You can find my book marketing stuff at the same website, Shelby lee.co.
Kristy Amazing. Thank you so much for joining me, Shelby. I will put all of those links and everything in the show notes as well so people have a quick link to you.
But thank you so much for joining me today. I have loved chatting with you and hearing more about your story.
Shelby: Thank you so much for having me and the amazing questions. It was so fun.