Monday, January 23, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: For The Debut (Part 3)

Congratulations! You've gotten that agent, said agent has sold your book, and you're set to debut in 1-2 years! Or, you've finished prepping that indie book, had it edited and designed and formatted, and you're ready to hit "publish" and see what happens next.

Welcome to being a published author and all the new stresses that come with it!

Not to say that being published is all bad, but as I said in Part 2, even good things can be stressful because they add more tasks to your life and you have to figure out how to get them all in. This is especially true as you start your path down the Published Author Road.

If you haven't prepped as an aspiring author to handle the stress, debuting may put you over the edge. The stress can be so overwhelming. I've seen friends' bodies melt down under debut stress (mine included). I've seen authors get hives right before launch, Bell's palsy (where one side of your face become paralyzed), shingles, horrible colds, intense bouts of anxiety or depression or both, panic attacks, or even just crying "for no reason" they are so stressed out.

Let's review the added stressors for the Debut.

Sources Of Debut Stress
Please note that these are added ON TOP OF what is listed for the Aspiring Writer. You have to keep doing all those Aspiring Writer things because they're really just writer things. The stress of creating, editing, and submitting a novel never goes away.

• Pressure to do well. You feel it about four hours after you get that call/email that you have an offer from an editor (or a couple editors, or a slew of them!). Or you've just hit "publish" on your Indie title and now you have to sell it to readers. It's hard to put in words just what it feels like, but it's sorta like you want to impress people and somehow prove that you were worth the investment. Except much of this is out of your control but you don't know it yet. You honestly think you can make your book successful and you WILL do it.

• Realization of the Publisher's "Author Monetary Ranking System." That's not a real name, it's just what I'm calling it. They don't really rank just feels like it. Because you will start hearing stuff—this author at your publishing house got five times your advance and is a lead title, that author went to auction and for a six figure deal, that other author is getting rushed publication because their house is so excited about their book, etc. and so forth. You might start to think, "Why didn't I get that? Do they think my book sucks? Is my book going to FAIL?" Enter stress monster.

• The strong urge to compare. Speaking of comparing your book deal to others (or lack of a book deal at all because you went Indie), there's about a billion things you can start comparing when you are a debut. Covers, print runs, marketing plans, who's going on tour and who isn't, swag, contests, reviews, blurbs, conference appearances, signing audience sizes, how many bloggers are talking about your book, and the list goes on. You can fall into this and begin to think that your work will never be seen or how in the world do you stand out in all the noise? It can get ugly fast if you aren't careful, and this kind of toxicity can stress you out and kill your creativity especially.

• Taking criticism you can't fix. Once it's published, you can't go back and change it. Then you get a one-star review—and you're naive enough to read it though most authors will tell you not to—and it guts you. Of course you pretend it didn't, but the words repeat over and over in your mind. That person HATED your book. And they flamed it. With gifs, even. And lots of swear words. Other people will read that review and might not read your book because of it. And there's literally nothing you can do.

• Marketing. On top of writing books, you are now expected to talk about those books and sell them as much as possible. Some people are super good at this and aren't stressed at all. Others, like me, dread this and melt their brains over how they could possible talk about their work without sounding like a conceited idiot. It's hard to know how stressful it'll be for you until you get here.

• The sheer busyness that will crash on you. Because you're supposed to be WRITING ANOTHER BOOK during all this! While you're distracted with interviews and promotions and contests, you're also supposed to write that sequel or the next book. Oh, and live the rest of your life that isn't writing.

• The feeling you have to best yourself. It feels like a miracle that you even pulled off the first published book—now the next one has to be even MORE awesome and MORE everything. And how did you even write a book in the first place? You can't write another one that good. People are bound to be disappointed in you, right? Cue negative thought spiral while watching Netflix.

Results Of These New Stressors
Mayhem. I mean, I wish I could say that debut is a perfectly graceful time for some writers, but from what I've seen everyone is a tense ball of terror and stress. It doesn't matter what kind of publishing you pursue—it's NEW and your FIRST TIME and thus it is a frenetic, joyful, awful, confusing, hilariously clumsy time.

Yes, you ARE going to make too big a deal out of stuff. You are probably going to be jealous of at least one author and probably more. You will have doubts about if your book will ever be read. You will feel like crap over a review. You might not handle any of this well.

I think that's where the stress gets even more compounded—Debuts are usually trying really hard to be the PERFECT Debut. They don't want to be THAT Debut, the one I just described that is a mess and crying and stressing and losing their mind over all this. And in trying to hide all this stress and pretend it's not there...

Well, you're gonna make it worse.

There's an interesting phenomena in humans. We think that if we stuff the emotions down that they will eventually go away. Spoiler: That is never true. If you're pretending you're not jealous of anyone, if you're pretending you feel like your publisher loves you the most, if you're pretending that those means reviews don't cut...eventually all those bottled up emotions are going to burst.

And then what might have been a small outburst three months ago becomes a huge outburst instead. For some reason you're yelling at your mom for reading said bad review and bringing it up and WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO CARE STOP TALKING ABOUT IT. Not that I've done that...Or your friend or spouse or kids get the outburst instead of your mom. And after you feel really bad and why can't you control yourself?

So you double down on hiding the stress because you need to be the Perfect Debut and this is certainly not Perfect Debut behavior. You're supposed to be better than this.

Reducing Debut Stress
With the pressure to be the Perfect Debut being probably the overarching stress, I think the biggest way to reduce stress if to talk it out. Find a safe space, safe people, who you can TALK to about all this stuff. Maybe it's another writer, maybe a friend who isn't a writer, maybe a spouse or a parent or a sibling. But find someone.

Because just talking about all these feelings helps reduce stress. Notice a lot of debut stress doesn't necessarily come from outside, but instead from inside. Yes, there are additional activities to add to the schedule, but really mentality takes a big role in this. Some do better at staying positive and hopeful than others, some death spiral into doubt and despair long before the book even comes out (that would be me).

So find someone. Say these though thoughts OUT LOUD. Say you're jealous of so and so even though they're the nicest person, but you wish you had that book deal. Say you're scared everyone will hate your book. Say you have a sneaking suspicion none of these interviews you're doing will actually help sell your book.

And then pick up and move on, feeling a bit lighter.

The wait can be long for traditionally published debuts (not as long for Indie, but that fast pace comes with it's own stressors!), so don't forget to slow down! Debuts were just recently Aspiring Writers who had control over when to send out queries and when to write a new project and get it critiqued. Now? You have to wait for your editor. And they can take months before you see that first edit and another few months before the next. It can feel stressful to have nothing to do all of the sudden!

So have things prepared. Projects you can do as you wait—they don't have to be writing but they can be. But be prepared to "sit on your hands" with writing and maybe do something different. Don't feel guilty about it! Take it as a reward, a break now that you've sold a novel.

Another important thing to do as a debut is to cut stuff. Debuts tend to think maybe they have to do everything to promote their book, or they have to go to everything, or they have to always be online replying to every comment. Where Aspiring Writers have to learn to fit the basic writing tasks into their life, debuts need to remember to KEEP the basic writing tasks as a priority. The rest doesn't matter nearly as much.

It's more important to write the next book than to hold a contest for your arc. It's more important to edit your sequel than to do a Q&A. It's more important to love writing than to let that love die because you have to sell those words.

Take a deep breath. Turn off the internet (even me). And never forget why you got into this mess to begin with. The words should always come first.


  1. I should have read this 2 months ago and not tonight (24 hours after a spectacular meltdown- - I think my body didn't know how to process the anxiety and genuinely positive but emotionally overwhelming experience of launching)