The Burnout Publishing Culture
It's just a fucking book!
I lost my writer voice five years ago, and I'm only slowly growing it back now.
Please bear with me while I choppily put words on your screen.
I started publishing my books back in 2012, when self-publishing was still kinda new-ish, and all the internet trolls had a party torching independent writers because we didn't go through the holy gatekeepers of proper literature, aka "traditional publishers." We dared to do our own thing while showing the holy gatekeepers our middle finger.
Oops, did I forget to mention that independent publishing is much older than Amazon? But that's a story for another time.
My self-publishing journey went a lot better than expected. I'd hoped for 800€ per year (our vacation budget back then), but in my good years, I managed to make enough to support my family of four as the sole breadwinner.
For comparison: I'm traditionally published in several languages, and every year since I started writing, my annual revenue in traditional publishing - German, Spanish, French, and a bunch of other languages combined - is less than my monthly revenue in self-publishing (English only). That fact alone is responsible for my general disinterest in trad publishing. It’s just not worth it for me.
But there's a downside to self-publishing — a massive black hole that sucked out all of my creativity: Marketing.
Yep, I'm creating stuff professionally so I should do at least some marketing. I get that. But the mistake I made was carving out more and more time for social media ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads, learning about ads, optimising my existing ads, optimising my newsletters, trying to tame the ever-changing Amazon and Facebook algorithms… The list is endless. But a girl’s gotta eat, so…
There was a feeling of impending doom, 24/7. I felt like constantly being on the verge of failing my family if I didn't hop on the newest trends in marketing and social media.
For a time, the stress paid off. I was 100% self-employed as an author, and we didn’t have to turn every penny.
By 2018 I spent 50% of my time selling my shit, 40% worrying about selling my shit, and only 10% writing my shit.
I wasn't an artist anymore, I was a nervous wreck of a book peddler.
And that's when I stopped writing. I had no voice left because I’d twisted myself into a version that could sell more books.
BUY MY SHIT! I'd learned to say in various eloquent and un-eloquent ways, while my little, burned-out writer soul kept whispering: It's just a fucking book, dude!
And so for 5 years, I didn't write a peep. It did funny things to my brain because to me, writing is thinking. Not writing felt like my ex-scientist brain managed only mumbled one-word sentences instead of concise narratives.
I fucking hated it.
Although I'm finally back at hammering stories into my laptop, I’m still not completely out of my burnout hole, and I still have the feeling of insufficiency and impending doom because I'm not marketing the hell out of my shit on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Amazon, BookBub, and whatever else is trendy right now.
But I learned to turn up the volume of my little writer soul that keeps yelling at me: "It's just a fucking book!" And I’m still learning to be kind to myself — at least once in a while — to protect and nurture my creative spark.
I realised that I’m happier writing for myself and a small group of readers who love my fictional characters. I don’t have to write for everyone. I don’t need to make algorithms happy, nor do I need to be a bestselling author.
This right here is enough. I am enough.
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