Imagine for a moment that you’ve just published a piece of writing into which you have poured your heart and soul. It might be an essay, short story, poem, blog post, or book.
As it goes out in the world, you start to have second thoughts. The wind leaves your sails.
The very moment at which you should start marketing and promoting your work, you want to crawl under a rock. The first negative review comes in, or sales drop to zero, and you begin question whether the effort was worth it.
My friend, you may be experiencing the Post-Publication Blues.
Have courage – you’re not alone.
Don’t look for this in any medical books, you won’t find it. But it happens. As with postpartum depression, people don’t talk about it.* We debate cures for writer’s block, but are embarrassed about feeling low after publishing.
New authors are supposed to bask in their success and achievements. If not, we feel like failures.
We are plagued with thoughts like:
- I poured my heart out on this book/blog post/essay, put it out in the world, and nobody cares.
- I finally published my life-changing book, and my life hasn’t changed.
- What if everyone hates it?
Although every writer is susceptible, the risks are greatest for authors. We labor for months or years to get a book out into the world. Once it’s published, the doubts, fears, and disappointments can rush in and fill up the now-vacant mental space and time.
Let’s de-stigmatize this affliction right here and now. If you know that it might be coming, you’ll be prepared to handle it.
Possible Reasons for the Slump
Many factors contribute to the post-publication slump. Some are easier to address than others.
Let’s start with the simplest: unrealistic expectations.
Many first-time book authors have no idea what to expect post publication. They envision life as a published author as a glamorous string of book signings and speaking events. That may happen, if you work like crazy or have a great publicist.
The world doesn’t usually beat a path to your door; you’ll be knocking on the doors yourself.
That brings us to the second reason for the slump: changing roles.
When you finish drafting and polishing your masterwork, you’re far from done. Indie authors make a thousand decisions about publishing and distribution. Even traditionally published authors must do the heavy lifting of promoting their books.
The skills that brought you this far aren’t the ones you need going forward. You may feel like a beginner again, and that can be demoralizing.
We cannot blame the post-publication slump entirely on the realities of the publishing landscape. At its root, it’s an entirely natural reaction to completing a project that you’ve labored on and have to let go. It’s a combination of two emotions:
- The natural let-down after a long period of intense, focused activity
- Fear engendered by losing control of something that you have invested so much in
Not everyone experiences the let-down. But if it happens to you, here are some ideas about how to get through it.
Acknowledge the fears
What are you afraid of?
When you confront your fears, they often lose their power. So write down everything you can think of. For example:
No one see what I’ve written.
People will think it’s unnecessary, unoriginal, poorly written, stupid, …
People will misunderstand it
Some of these fears may come true – not everyone will love what you’ve written. Not everyone will understand it.
Luckily, you’re not writing for everyone. You’re writing for a smaller subset of people – your ideal readers. If some of them find it and find value in your work, then you’ve found success.
Get emotional distance from the work
Your work isn’t finished until someone reads and interprets it – only then is it a true communication. At this point, it belongs to the readers, not you.
As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic, “Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby.”
Writing changes you. Acknowledge and embrace that reality, but realize that you are not your writing.
Celebrate the completion
Don’t go full tilt into marketing or promotion without acknowledging your achievement.
You have published something, completed something. That’s a major achievement. To quote Elizabeth Gilbert once again: “Mere completion is a rather honorable achievement in its own right. What’s more, it’s a rare one.”
Give yourself a break
For my latest book, I orchestrated a launch plan that required every ounce of my organizational and planning skills. Once the first few weeks had played out, I still found myself waking early in the morning and making lists. It was hard to back down from “high alert” mode. Happily, we had a trip scheduled to the mountains. Nature is a wonderful balm. It’s even better without cellular data.
If you have been working nonstop to publish and launch your new book, you may need a break to find a slower, healthier pace.
Embrace the new challenge
Your work as an author is just getting started with publication, because now you’ve got to support the book.
Embrace book marketing with the same sense of creativity and adventure that you brought to writing. Treat it as a puzzle or a learning adventure. Commit to working in it and growing in this role as well.
And by all means, start writing your next work.
*Please note, I do not mean to minimize postpartum depression, which can be quite serious.