Book Baby Blues

Note: I’m not a trained medical doctor, therapist, or psychologist. If you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety, please get help from a professional.

It doesn’t take long in the writing world to realize that this career is full of ups and downs. We all know the fear of negative feedback, the suffering of the query trenches, and the pain of rejection. But what about when you finally make it? You’ve scored a book deal or taken the plunge into self-publishing, the long wait and hard work pay off, and you hold your book baby in your hands. Then it’s all champagne and roses, right?

Sorry to bust your bubble, but I’m all about keeping things real on this blog. And the post-book-launch blues are real. Post-draft-completion blues are real too, something you might have experienced even before getting to the book launch.

My first book, a romantic suspense written under a different pen name, released in December 2019 from Harlequin Love Inspired Suspense. I’d labored over that book for years–writing, rewriting, polishing, submitting, revising, and resubmitting. When the call from New York came, I was over the moon. I could hardly sleep for days. My book was going to be published. People would be able to buy it in actual stores.

Over the next several months, my editor and I worked through the revising and editing process. I filled out the cover art sheet for the art department. The marketing team selected a title. Time alternately crawled and sped past, until an email arrived with an attachment for my cover. With my name on it. Then the books themselves appeared on my front porch, and there were my words, right there inside for anyone to read.

With an impending book launch, I crammed more work time into my busy days, finding a review team, mailing out books, doing interviews, and of course, writing the next book. By the time release day arrived, I dutifully sent out my social media posts and newsletter update, then sat back to…

Crash? Wonder why the day felt so much like every other day?

My kids still had to eat and do schoolwork. Reporters didn’t swarm outside asking for interviews. Nobody showed up on the doorstep with cake and flowers. Since my book was only a category romance, I didn’t have any book signings or a launch party. Sure, I knew my book was on the shelf at Walmart now, but unlike the excitement of opening the boxes, release day was decidedly anti-climactic. Worse, I felt exhausted, unmotivated, and anxious. Maybe even disappointed. All that hard work, and did it matter? Was anyone even going to read my book?

Friends, I wasn’t alone in my experience. It’s not something we talk about often, probably because it sounds ungrateful when so many other writers don’t have a published book, but a quick internet search will show you plenty of authors have felt some form of disappointment, anxiety, or sadness after their book launches. Maybe more so for debuts because we don’t know what to expect.

Why does this happen to us, right when we’re experiencing the huge achievement we’ve been striving for, possibly for years? I’m not trained in psychology or therapy, but I’ve got a few ideas:

  • Ups and downs of human emotion: We’re all familiar with the roller coaster of the human experience, the way you can feel on top of the world one day and down in the dumps the next. You can’t live forever at the high places, so it’s only natural to feel a little down and miss the emotional high when it passes. And believe me, getting a book published produces some big feelings!
  • Creative exhaustion: The entire creative process behind writing and producing a quality book is exhausting. You dig deep into your creative well and pour everything out to get this book to this moment, so naturally you’re wiped out. The well is empty. Feeling a little low is your body’s way of telling you it’s time to rest and recharge.
  • Burnout: Book launches are hard. Writers tend to be introverted and prefer lingering in the shadows to being in the limelight, but a book launch requires shouting to the world to make sure your potential readers know about your book. Considering most of us are doing this as a side gig on top of already busy lives, the potential for burnout is real. Case in point—I pushed myself way too hard in the weeks leading up to my first book release, and I paid the price with classic burnout symptoms. It took me nearly a full month to de-stress, shake off the doldrums, and teach my body to relax again.
  • The fact that non-writers don’t really understand: Not the way fellow writers do. Another writer knows how hard you worked, how long you persevered through rejection and slogged through the trenches, how many times you wanted to set your laptop on fire and give up, how miraculously amazing this thing is you’ve accomplished when someone else can buy your book and hold it in their hands. The reality is, other people have no clue. They’re excited for you. A few of them might be in awe. But most of them will say, “Wow, that’s great!” and go on with their day without giving it another thought. They might not buy your book. Many of them won’t ever read it. Even your closest family and friends might not buy or read it, although they’ll be proud of you. That can be very disappointing. Deep down we writers crave to know that we invested our time wisely, that our book is good, that our words made an impact. Naturally we look to those closest to us, and it’s disheartening when they don’t seem to get it.

So what can we do about the book baby blues? My second book came out this past summer and it was a far superior experience to the first time around. Hopefully some of the things I learned will help you!

  • Write through your feelings: We’re writers, right? One of the best ways to process emotions is to acknowledge them, whether by talking to someone else or writing them out. Admit what’s going on and see if you can identify your own reasons for why you feel the way you do. Then it’ll be easier to know what might help.
  • Have appropriate expectations: This one was huge for me. Knowing release day would feel “normal,” knowing I might even feel a little disappointed or sad, helped set the stage to make the day what I wanted it to be. And remember those friends and family who don’t really “get” your accomplishment? Don’t be hard on them. Accept the fact they don’t get it because they haven’t walked in a writer’s shoes. They literally have no idea what our experience is like, in the same way we’ve probably undervalued and trivialized some of their experiences. You’ll feel less disappointed if you don’t look to them for something they can’t give.
  • Recognize the time commitment: To avoid burnout the second time around, I did not try to draft a 50,000-word novel the month prior to my release date. Instead, I used my nifty planner to keep track of my book launch activities and scheduled in other writing projects as time reasonably permitted. I’ve also built in some rules for myself about rest, like quitting by a certain time each night and taking off other time during the week to make sure I’m reading or relaxing.
  • Find your own way to celebrate and make the day special: My latest book release fell on the same day as a popular local YA author who was releasing her second fantasy/ horror novel. The premise had caught my eye back when she made the deal announcement, so I preordered the book from my local indie bookstore. On release day, I took my little guy (he’s three) over to Schuler’s and picked up my signed copy of her book. We hung out in the children’s section and I let him buy a puzzle to take home. Since this bookstore doesn’t carry Harlequin books, we left with our treasures and drove to our local Meijer, where we found my book on the shelf. That night, instead of cooking, we ordered carry-out to celebrate at home. A book release is always worth celebrating, whether your book will have a full display at Barnes & Noble or you’re only launching it as an e-book on Amazon. If nobody else thinks of doing something for you, it’s okay to buy yourself flowers, chocolate, dinner out, or a new book to make the day special. Make the day memorable in a good way. You’ve earned it!
  • Set goals for your next project: After completing a huge task, it’s easy to feel a little lost. You’ve been pouring your effort into this one goal for so long, and now it’s done. It’s good to be intentional about taking some time off, but what comes next? What will fill the void? Well, that depends on your goals. Were you planning on only publishing this one book? Or do you want to keep publishing? What are your next steps for your next project? Make a plan now for when you’ll get back to work and what you’ll focus on, so you’ll be ready to jump in after you’ve recharged.

I hope these ideas and tips are helpful! Above all, remember it’s okay to feel negative emotions mixed in with the positive ones. You’re in good company.

Have you been through a disappointing book launch? How did you handle it?

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