Author On The Edge: Why the publishing business can be tough on your mental health

As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. It was my first ambition, and I wrote my first book in grade school, submitted it to Harper & Row and received my first rejection postcard. I wasn’t deterred, though. I knew, with the sort of certainty only an eleven-year-old can muster, that I was destined for authorhood.

Life got in the way of that dream, replacing it with other equally as dear and important dreams. I went through school, got married and became a mother. I used my passion for writing in other areas of life, like editing my kids’ school papers, my husband’s work and our churches’ newsletters. I wrote homeschooling curriculum during the years we homeschooled our kids.

When the universe finally worked things out that I had the time and attention to give to fiction again, I was forty-one years old. The same year I finished my first novel was a pivotal year in the publishing industry, because Amazon had released the Kindle in 2007, and KDP had joined Smashwords and other smaller outlets that made publishing a book on your own possible. However, indie publishing wasn’t mainstream yet. I didn’t even consider going my own way until I’d tried everything I could on the traditional side of publishing.

But in December of 2011, I took the plunge and became part of the indie publishing wave. I have no regrets about making that choice. It has allowed me freedom and control and the ability to shape my career in a way that works for me. I wouldn’t change that path to go the traditional route for anything in the world.

And yet . . .

The last six and a half years have contained some of my highest high points–the proudest moments of my life aside from marrying my husband and delivering my four children. I’ve seen my books climb charts. I’ve seen stories that started as a momentary bit of fantasy in my brain morph into words on a page, both paper and electric. I’ve interacted with readers who told me that my stories helped them or cheered them or helped bring them closure. I’ve met readers who have become friends. I’ve met authors who have become friends.

But these years have also contained some of my lowest lows, days of doubts and fears and so much anguish that I wasn’t sure I could go on. There have been so many weeks when I was sure I wasn’t good enough and never would be. There have been months when I’ve felt like the biggest failure as not only an author and businesswoman, but also as a mother and wife, because I’ve dedicated so much time to my work that I have missed out on things with my family.

One of the great things about indie publishing is the community, and I have been blessed to sit at the virtual feet of some of the authors I have admired for a long time. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for all of it. At the same time, though, one thing I’ve learned is that everyone is on her own path, and so when I ask for advice, it might not be exactly what I need. It might not work for me. It might–but there’s just as good a chance that it won’t.

I’ve increased how often I release . . . only to be told that real success comes from making readers eager and anxious for the next story by releasing less frequently. So I’ve slowed releases.

I’ve increased prices to show that I value my work . . . only to be told that free or 99 cents is a better way to go.

I’ve tried different genres of romance when one didn’t work well, only to be told that I need to stick with one so as not to dilute my branding.

I’ve joined groups where authors with quantified success tell others how to translate what they did into similar success. I’ve read the books everyone says we should read. I’ve listened to the podcasts and gone to the conferences and taken advice.

I’ve tried Facebook ads, BookBub ads, AMS ads, only to be told that advertising is pointless. I’ve spent what is to me a lot of money, and I’ve seen almost no results, because, I’m told, I need to spend more to see more.

I’m not someone who has to be led, who needs someone to tell me what to do. I’m strong-minded. I’ve raised three strong daughters and one strong son, and I’ve run a household, I’ve handled my parents’ very complex estates, I’ve been an Army wife who can organize a move, a dinner party and emergency care for disasters.

But this is breaking me.

I’ve had down times in the past. But nothing has been as bad as the past few months. You see, until last January, while my book income was definitely helpful, it wasn’t crucial. Now it IS. Now, we live and eat and pay all our bills on that book income. And that income isn’t growing with each new release–in fact, despite the fact that I work an average of nearly 20 hours a day 6-7 days a week, that income is dropping steadily. It’s the way the business is trending. There are too many authors, too many books and too much noise. Some of us are still doing well, but some of us are not.

Talk about pressure . . .

Am I whining? Maybe. Am I complaining when I shouldn’t? Maybe. Do others have it much worse? Oh, without a doubt. No question. I know this.

But this is my reality and my struggle. My path. I also know I’m not alone. I’ve talked to authors who are feeling the same, authors who are wondering if they can make it.

Brutal honesty time: I have been questioning, over the last few weeks, if this is worth it. I wonder if it’s time to give up on the dream, stop subjecting myself to the constant rollercoaster ride that is releases and promotions and sales numbers. I’ve been closer to complete despair in the last month than I have been in over two decades.

I’ve been writing this post for a while. I’ve almost deleted it more than once. If I do share it, the only reason will be so that another author who is out there struggling as I am will know she is not alone.

Today, I’m not giving up. Today, I’ll write some more words, and I’ll do something for my next release (my 59th release, which is this coming Saturday, on my 51st birthday). Today, I’ll chat with my reader friends and I’ll hope something I say makes a difference. I’ll reach out to other authors and try to help.

For one more day, I’ll believe that something, somewhere, is finally going to work, not only for me, but for all the dreamers who keep on working and hoping.

Peace, love and romance~

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