The Inevitable Identity Crisis That Happens After Publication

I wasn’t going to write this post. But after talking with numerous published authors over the past year and reading Elana Johnson’s post last week about her struggle after publication, I decided I needed to open up the topic.

Most authors don’t talk publicly about the after-publication crisis that happens. We put on our happy public persona and just keep going. But in reality, most of us experience an identity crisis at some point after publication where we question everything and wonder what in the world we’re doing. I know have. On more than one occasion.

Writerly crises are triggered by any number of things: a bad review, a low royalty check (or NO royalty check), an unexpected or difficult rewrite, low sales figures, not getting reader emails, dismal Amazon rankings, long dry spells without hearing from your agent or editor, bewildering advice, etc., etc., etc.

The trigger unleashes a gush of emotions and questions. We start asking ourselves things like: Why do I strive so hard? Why am I am putting in two hundred percent when there’s often so little to show for it? Is it really worth the pain, the sweat, the tears, and the uncertainty?

The questions beat against us.

But we can’t complain. At least not publicly.

First, if we publicly complain about any aspect of our publication process, we might inadvertently place publishers or other industry professionals in a negative light—and we don’t want to jeopardize our working relationships with anyone.

And second, if authors publicly complain, we sound ungrateful for being published. We know there are many other writers who would gladly trade places with us—problems and all. We think, “What right do I have to complain? I’m published. My dream came true. I shouldn’t be ungrateful.”

Thus, we keep shoving our complaints deep inside.

Until we reach the breaking point—when the pressure of everything builds up and explodes.

Before publication, most of us have dreams of what we think being a published author will be like. And the more we rub shoulders with other writers and fan the flame for publication, the larger our dreams become, until we’ve made being a published author into this HUGE, BIG deal—perhaps bigger than it really is.

Isn’t it that way with most things out of our reach? We long for something. But the more it’s denied us, the more intensely we want it. And we start to think it will be SO fabulous when we finally get it.

Our expectations grow with our longing, until eventually, our expectations are slightly (or maybe greatly) out of proportion with reality.

Now I’m not saying that being a published author isn’t wonderful. It is. I’m thrilled and grateful to have two books on the shelf and a couple more heading down the publication pipeline. I adore hearing from readers. And I love being a part of the publishing industry.

But I’ve also realized that the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the published author side. There’s still an incredible amount of hard work, rejection, uncertainty, and waiting. There’s very little glitz and glamor. The hoopla never lasts very long. And I’m still just an ordinary person.

So, what have I learned through all my writing crises?

• An identity crisis or reality check is fairly normal for most writers, especially after the first book or two. We can’t help but question who we are and what we’re doing.

• We need a couple of closer writer friends with whom we can be completely honest, who will listen and not condemn us when we face uncertainties.

• We need to keep our expectations grounded. It’s hard to put aside those huge dreams we have of published author life. But the more realistically we go into publication, the better.

• Use those crises for evaluation. I let my difficult times push me to evaluate what’s working, what isn’t, and what I might need to do differently.

• When things get rough, we can’t have the “if only . . .” mindset. “If only I’d self-published, I’d be making more money.” Or “If only I’d traditionally published, things would be so much easier.” We may think having a different publisher, editor, agent, etc. will cure our insecurities. As I said above, the grass won’t necessarily be greener on the other side. I rub shoulders with enough authors in various publishing scenarios to know everyone has their share of problems.

• Realize that if you’re expecting instant fame and fortune, a writing career may not be for you. Instead, be prepared for a slow, steady upward climb.

So there you have it. If you’re a published author, have you experienced an identity crisis at some point? And if you’re not published yet, are you keeping your expectations realistic enough about life after publication?

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