Burnout: No Cause for Panic, It's Just #AuthorLife
April 27, 2017
Burnout. It’s a real thing. It can happen in any job and any activity where you are giving your all. And, like many musicians and artists and fresh investment bankers (and countless others), many new authors give their all. The book market is incredibly saturated so it’s almost impossible to stand out – imagine being one face amongst millions each year. And, while trying to stand out, I’ve realized that there is an added hurdle of trying to be a “proper author” because, regardless of whether your book is available at Barnes & Noble and/or Chapters, you may not feel like a “real author” and there will be people who doubt your legitimacy as a “real author.” I understand that a reader’s time is a precious gift and, to those who have already picked up my book and used your precious spare moments to step into my story, I say the sincerest of thank you’s.
My book was released globally in January 2017, a mere four months ago. I have no previous publications other than a graduate thesis. I’ve worked primarily in corporate communications and have never worked in a position that had anything remotely to do with the publishing industry. And I’m not alone as a total publishing newbie! Everyone starts somewhere.
Like many first-time authors, I turned to Google to learn the ropes of publishing. I made decisions based entirely off what I had read and how I interpreted what I had read. But, I still feel like I’m swimming. For example, when someone asks me why they couldn’t find my book in a store in Somewheresville, Canada or Wheresthatplace, USA, I am SO excited that they’re asking for my book in stores but, aside from gratitude, I don’t know how to respond because I don’t know which locations carry my book and I don’t know how to find out. I don’t get notified. It’s a pleasant surprise if I do find out, somehow… Like when my editor walked into a San Diego B&N store and snapped a pic of my book as a featured Staff Pick (which is still the coolest moment ever). And there are a million other things I’m managing that I just feel like I’m grasping by the slipperiest of fingertips… It’s tough learning a new industry!
I’ve spent countless hours, with a pen in hand, brainstorming possible ways to get my book noticed, and then hours in front of the computer trying to learn how I can make those happen. I’ve thought of a lot of ideas, but I am always open to more. I love when my supporters give advice and I cherish their support. I often forget that four months is an incredibly short period of time for a new author and I get wrapped up in the never-ending spiral of “I should be writing this” and “I should be doing that,” and I start to wonder whether I’ve done enough in the past four months to set my book up for success. Should I have started trying to set up book signings from the very start? Did I miss some big opportunity while I was focused on making another happen? Did I completely do things out of order? But then I ground myself and think logically: some people take a long time to read books. Some people have favourite authors whose work will always come first before trying someone new. And some people have stacks of books they’re waiting to get to when the busyness of life calms down. I just hope to be considered for that stack!
Throughout this process, I’ve learned the value of patience and the value of just doing it. I started out overthinking everything – when and how to do something, who to reach out to when, etc. But now I just do it and I don’t think about time. If I find a journalist or book reviewer I think my book would resonate with, I reach out. And then I try not to worry when I haven’t heard back the next day. They most definitely are not sitting around waiting for my email… no matter how amazing I believe my book is! And it is a book. It will still be available one, two, even five years from now. There is no rush to report on it. I listened to one author speak who said it took three years for the first journalist to return his email… Three years. I have time.
And I have enough other things to do than to dwell too long on these types of uncertainties. When I decided to become a self-published author, I knew I was also accepting the role of marketer, sales manager, and project manager, along with the million other hats I wear, and I knew that there would be a learning curve. But, being new to the entrepreneurial life, I was surprised at how much I didn’t know about being in business for yourself. There is a lot to know even outside getting to know the publishing world! And, I’m trying to be creative because, as a regular 28-year-old, I don’t have the funds that a traditional publishing house would have to get my book out there, nor (maybe more importantly) do I have the contacts. This is my show and I have my finger in all the pots, and I am 100% responsible for everything. And, I’m not sure whether it’s the industry, my age, or whether it’s just the nature of being an entrepreneur, but there is a lot of conflict and a lot of rejection. Some days, my anxiety about the battles I have on for the day gets me into such a panicked state that I avoid it entirely – I refuse to look at my email or answer my phone. Or, I go through with the conversation and I end up being much angrier and less articulate than I could have been. But hey – none of us is perfect, right? It’s been a big learning experience, to say the least!
Being new to the industry and being the sole decision-maker is tough. I mean, I love it and it's been a fantastic experience, but it's tough! You don’t know who to trust and who to stay away from. You don’t really know the going rate of services or how things work, and you don’t know how to get some initiatives done. And this can get stressful. I’ve met my fair share of “helpers” (read: scam artists whose eyes light up with dollar signs when they meet a publishing newbie with a dream… some of whom will be disguised as legitimate publishing industry professionals. But such is life!). I’ve also worked with a few people who seem to believe in my book (and, still, thank you!)… But then I find out that they tried to con me into signing a contract or buying a service that, I later learn, is not actually industry best practice (as I'm often told), but rather a method of them trying to attach their name to mine. Ugh. I’m a trusting, bubbly girl… I’m not cut out for sniffing out the dishonest! And I can pretty guarantee that I will never have to come up with a code name at Starbucks to avoid fan debacles, so why risk ruining our relationship? Can’t we just be friends?
But there are people who will truly believe in your book. I cherish those people and embrace their support. It’s their support that keeps me going when I get shaky at learning someone tried to trick me or I have to have an unpleasant conversation with someone who didn’t fulfil their end of the deal. And because there will be those who try to tear you down. Not everyone will like my style, and not everyone will have kind words about my content. And, there will be people who have hateful words before even having read the book. But, I’ve got my thick skin on and an amazing group of loving family, friends, and readers who are dedicated and vocal supporters so I feel ready to take on this part of author life. But it's still tiring.
This is my exceptionally long-winded way of saying… people burn out. I burnt out.
I was chatting with a fellow author friend and she asked me, “How’s the pitch going? Have you started writing a potential screenplay for Unsealed? What about your next book… any ideas?”
These are all very reasonable questions that, a few weeks prior, I had been working on with all the gumption and energy in the world. But, at the time she asked me, I had literally done nothing with Unsealed (or any potential next book) for about a week. I could barely bring myself to post to Instagram. I did write a short story, but it was nowhere near my best work and will have to be seriously edited and refined before I let y’all read it, ha :)
So I told her, “Well, I’m working on a short story, starting a new job, and I’ve got a course to take for that new job which is taking up some extra time, and I’ve been busy with other life stuff…” And then I paused. I was making excuses. So I finished off by saying, “In short, it’s just not. The pitch, the screenplay, the book… none of it’s coming. I have, quite literally, done nothing for Unsealed lately.”
“Ah,” she said. “The burnout is real for us new authors.”
She was right. That’s exactly what had happened to me. I’d been chiding myself for being lazy, for not making the most of my time, basically beating myself up for not spending every spare moment on my author life… But I had a case of the burnouts.
Everything I’ve read about entrepreneurs, which is essentially what I am with publishing this book, says that entrepreneurs give up everything in their lives to make their dreams succeed – friends, social lives, gym sessions, sleep, healthy food, etc. I’ve given up a lot. Between this book and my brain injury, I don’t have the time or capacity to see friends very often at all. I still hit the gym, but that’s something I need for my sanity and, quite honestly, for my creative juices to flow (otherwise, they just get stuck in Netflix mode). I eat healthy because, that too, is important to me and my health. And I haven’t become a total social recluse (though I’m sure some of my friends would disagree… sorry friends!). But then I read articles by successful entrepreneurs about how work consumes your life and that to allow it to is the only way to succeed. I’ve worked in a start up, I know it’s true. People really do give up everything, including any decent amount of sleep, for extremely long periods of time. At that time, I had been feeling really guilty that I wasn’t able to sit down and commit every night, all night, or every weekend, all weekend, to this book. But then, I thought back to a conversation I had with the CEO of another, very successful, startup. He had a different philosophy. He told me that, there, they promoted a culture of work-life balance. He told me that it was his belief that people are more productive when they have time to recharge. So, there, people go home to their loved ones, they go on vacation, they take a sick day… himself included. It sounds like sound advice and I hope I can embody that philosophy to make the most out of all my endeavours because I need the balance!
With his advice in mind, I gave myself permission to take a vacation. I took one more week where I didn’t do anything related to Unsealed, and I gave myself permission to not feel guilty about it. Because, no matter how much I love, love, love my book, I needed a break like people do from any job. I hiked, I cuddled my dog, and I binge-watched Casual and The Walking Dead. I went out to dinner, I went to bed early, I read, and I even enjoyed a few glasses of wine! (I’ve been 95% dry for almost two months now and can rarely enjoy being in a restaurant… an unfortunate side-effect of the brain-healing process so these were big deals for me.) I lived. And it was fantastic. Sure, moments of anxiety built up in me about everything I could be doing, but I refused to let myself feel guilty. And then, a week later, I came back to it and have been incredibly productive since. I’m tackling some of the ickier tasks (like the really scary sales meetings I tend to avoid), I’m able to stay a little calmer when my distributor lets me down, and my ‘To Do’ list is getting more and more manageable every day.
Burning out is natural. It’s exhausting to be “on” all the time and to feel like you need to dedicate every, single moment of your life to something. And it’s exhausting to start something new and scary! So, work hard when you have it in you (and then some), but then let the burnout happen. Grab a glass of wine, your partner or a good friend, and get silly. Go to a bar, get to that yoga class, maybe even take a trip… Walk away and then come back to it. Everything is a whole lot clearer with fresh eyes.