If you’re struggling to get published, then this essay isn’t for you, yet. If you’re currently under contract, now is a good time to read this. If you have already been published and experienced what the above title indicates, then hopefully this essay will help you heal and realize you are far from alone.
You don’t need to be reminded how much passion, fortitude and raw energy goes into crafting your work, followed by the grueling process of getting it published. What you’re probably not prepared for is the possibility of post-publication blues.
No one directly discusses or recognizes this genuine condition because newly published authors are expected to be overjoyed and grateful for the achievement of being published. After all, each published author is amongst the fortunate “one-out-of-a-thousand” struggling writers who make it to the Big Show. In reality, people who reach the pinnacle of success in any field of endeavor will often feel an emotional letdown in the wake of their accomplishment. The feelings can be comparable to a state of mourning, as the thrill of chasing the goal instantly evaporates and is replaced by nothing. Writers are especially prone to wallowing alone, as theirs is a solitary process by design, and only other writers who have been through the same cavern can be truly empathetic.
Emotional let downs happen when results don’t fulfill expectations. Everything preceding the point of publication involves drama, excitement and anticipation. Butterflies flutter in the belly and endorphins soar through the brain. One day the writer’s goal will be manifested in the body of a published book, and the self-constructed dreams will be displaced by a reality that seems to lack sizzle. What follows might feel sad and un-nourishing. No matter how much is achieved, something crucial might feel left behind.
Achieving awesome goals is a reward unto itself, but it may not be enough to satisfy what’s needed. The writer’s imagination may have drawn fantastic pictures of glamorous celebrity parties, profound talk-show appearances, instantaneous fame and goblets of money. But just as the explosive passions and idealized assumptions of first love might experience an anticlimatic consummation, finally receiving the bound book in hand might prove to be surprisingly uneventful.
Sometimes the publication is everything the writer hoped for, which of course is a wonderful outcome. But for many it feels like nothing much happened at all. The media isn’t calling; few people show up for signings/readings, and perhaps most upsetting of all, friends and relatives report that the book can’t be found. Meanwhile, no one from the publisher is calling anymore and they act like their job is done. In truth, most of the publishing team is probably absorbed with publishing the endless flow of new books, whereas what’s already been published is quickly relegated to “yesterday’s list.” A chirpy in-house publicist may be available, but he/she may not appear to be doing or accomplishing much while adeptly saying imprecise things in a glib patronizing manner.
There’s abundant information available about how to be a proactive author and successfully compensate for the universal marketing deficits endemic to the book publishing business. But that’s not the purpose of this essay. For sure, it’s constructive to take practical steps for mitigating disappointments and solving existential problems, but such activities may also distract the troubled writer from the tender places crying somewhere inside. These feelings must be recognized and soothed separate from business-oriented solutions. It’s good to sell as many copies as possible, but unwise to turn away from needs radiating beneath the skin.
Seeking or initiating communities of “published writers in pain” should be what the doctor ordered. If done right, such personal connections will help level the loneliness and despair that defines post-publication depression. However, the community must consciously dedicate itself to a positive process. Nothing useful will be accomplished by reinforcing anger, resentment or sense of victimhood. Even worse is unsupportive competitiveness or negativity that pushes people down. And as can happen in any inbred community, distortions, misinformation and poor advice might circulate with a bogus badge of credibility.
Life is rarely a clear trail. If it looks to be, then unexpected destinations are likely to prevail. Writers will eat dirt and wear thorns in exchange for self-compassion and self-discovery. Pain isn’t punishment but a consequence that expands the writer’s integrity, authenticity and relevance. Post-publication depression is an item on a menu in a script written by the writer for the writer. Never fear the pain, just be prepared to live through it and learn it, and to help others do the same.
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