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?


  1. I think this very thing was something I hadn't even anticipated until it suddenly hit me about four months after my book came out. I thought there must be something wrong with me, until I began to hear other published writers talk about it. The worse part was losing my voice, and not quite finding it in anything I wrote. It took me quite some time to get back to writing the way I was used to. Now it feels good, and I'm happy again.

    I'm glad you did write this post, Jody. Thank you!

  2. Hmmm . . . I already have a sense of some of this, and my book doesn't release for another four months. I was chalking my current insecurities up to writing-my-second-novel jitters, which my agent claims many new authors struggle with. Now I'm thinking it might just be the tip of the iceberg.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jody. It's encouraging to know I'm not the only one. :)

  3. I'm not surprised and the reaction seems to be inevitable. The build up to the release is huge it almost seems like there is no place to go but down esp. when the spotlight switches to newer authors. I can imagine.

    Unfortunately, enough authors have complained publicly that I did know about this. (I don't consider your post, nor Elana's, complaining. In fact, I love Elana's post, so honest and humble.) And you're right. It doesn't make the author look good at all. Just like I don't think authors should openly vent about query rejections.

    And I think any publishing path is going to have its ups and downs.

  4. Hey Jody, well I for one am glad you wrote about this. You and I have talked a little off record about this and yes, it's happened to me, and no, I wasn't prepared, and yes, it's taught me a lot about who I really am - my real identity. I agree with everything you've written here. It's astute advice and I don't think it will do anything to hurt your career. How could it? It's so genuine and honest. I haven't read Elana's post but now I'd like to. There's so much more to this author thing than a nice, easy life of luxury. We need to be realistic, while still allowing ourselves to dream. Staying close to God's will is a helpful approach, I've found. To God, our author identity means very little, and our child of God identity, very much. :) But if He believes our words are to be out there, He'll help us find ways for us to share them.

  5. Good morning, everyone! I truly appreciate all of your honest sharing this morning. That's what I love so much about blogging--being able to reach out to each other and know we're not alone in our struggles.

    Laura, I hadn't thought about "losing voice" coming as a result of the identity crisis. But that's such a great point. We can lose our voice or even experience major writing block. So thank you for bringing that up!

  6. Jody, this is one of the most important posts you've ever done, and that's saying something. Unpublished writers have dreams (which are good motivation) but they must be informed by the wisdom you present here.

    Yes, being published is wonderful and should be celebrated. But it is not Oz. It is in some ways a mild tornado. So hunker down and keep working. Be grateful, but don't let the inevitable winds take you by surprise.

    I'll also say it's the same with writing awards. One can place too much importance on them. Winning is nice, of course, but if we take it too much to heart it can affect us as much as something negative. We can't let that happen.

    Good old Kipling had it right. Learn to call triumph and disaster the two imposters, and treat them both the same. That is, with equanimity and calm, as you keep on writing.

  7. Wow - we're on the same wave length Jody. Because tomorrow I have a post all ready to go that is similar to this. The whole idea that we think publication will fulfill us.

    It won't.

    It's awesome. But it won't.

    Yes, I've gone through this crisis. And my book isn't even out on the shelves yet!!

    I'll post a link to this post on my post tomorrow.

  8. Thank you for being open and honest, Jody, I appreciate it. :) I hope that I have realistic expectations. I know I have them for the waiting process (again, I *hope*) but I can only grow in my realism from posts like this, so thank you! :)

  9. Great post Jody. And it applies to non-fiction writers too, I can assure you, along with doubts about the research and factual aspects.

    It all gets magnified if the book does well - or better than expected. My first book became a surprise No1 bestseller in Switzerland, and I just wasn't expecting the loss of privacy, the being-accosted-while-buying-tomatoes, and yes the (occasional) abuse. But to complain about that, or even feel unsettled in private, seems ungrateful.

    So I concentrate on the positive aspects, use my blog to make sure I don't lose my confidence, and focus on what I love about writing. And if that doesn't work, I just eat chocolate.

  10. Wow. I'm officially scared, but glad to know this is something totally normal for when it happens to me.

  11. I adore writing as honest and insightful as this. Thanks Jody. I have just completed Nanowrimo for the first time. I thought that it would be heaven on earth once I finished. But of course now I need to edit. It seems that being a writer is mostly about the hard but wonderful grind of writing, not about the all too brief afterglow of having written.

    Thanks again

    Albert I Next Small Step

  12. Thank you for helping those of us who are not yet published keep our expectations realistic. It's funny--I think I've been idolizing (not to an extreme, but just put up on a pedestal) published authors and striving toward that with everything I have. You've helped me to be more aware that writing is just like any job: there are ups and downs, pros and cons. The important thing is to love what you do and realize that YOU have to remain steady even if everything around you doesn't (and trust God to uphold us!).

  13. We may think having a different publisher, editor, agent, etc. will cure our insecurities.

    This is SO true, and lord help me, when am I NOT having an identity crisis? Ok, it's not quite that bad, but yes to all of this. And thank you for the wonderful post!

  14. Thanks for these words, Jody! It's nice to hear candid talk about the ups and downs of publication.

    Have a great day!! :-)

  15. I first got a glimpse of this letdown by reading Anne Lamott's writing book Bird By Bird. There she was waiting for the world to change at 10:02 am (after the bookstores opened for business), and it didn't happen.

    I highly recommend her book for insights on the writing life.

  16. Nice, thought-provoking post Jody. It's refreshing to see someone so open.

    I think a lot of the anxiety is about confirmation. We often need concrete proof or valuable feedback to convince us that we are making an impact and/or succeeding. Writers are a delicate people, and we like the comfort of validation from others. I say, never stop writing. If you don't ever make it big, at least you've validated your ability to persevere. Maybe one day someone will write about your determination.

  17. As others have said, this is one of your best posts yet, Jody. I appreciate your honesty.

    As you know, I've had my ups and downs before and after receiving my first contract offer. Since I worked as an editor in the past and saw the publishing world from the other side of the desk, I had a better idea what to expect than many writers. Even so, the emotional aspects of being contracted are something every published writer deals with. It's just part of the job. Sure, being contracted is a thrill, but there's still work to be done, doubts to be dealt with, and challenges to be overcome. Having friends to come alongside us who have traveled the path before us is a big help.

  18. Great post, Jody! I appreciate you stepping out there and sharing on a difficult topic.

    I couldn't agree more. I'm quickly learning that the grass isn't always greener.

    There are trials to every situation, whether published or not, but within those circumstances can also come great blessings and it's taking the hardships in stride and remembering to savor the great moments that helps keep the joy through it all.

  19. Thank you for this post Jody. As an unpublished writer, your words offer me grounded-inspiration, if there ever was such a word. THANKS:-)

  20. I didn't realize I thought the grass was greener on the published side of writing. Thank you for the heads up. It will be good for me to remember, and adjust accordingly. :)

  21. This is the main reason I strongly encourage debuts to get involved with some sort of author group. For me, it's the Class of 2k12 and the Apocalypsies. We can talk candidly to each other about the joys and uncertainties without worrying if we sound ungrateful or just plain goofy.

    Families are wonderful and supportive. So are friends. But writing friends get the experience and all the variations of the ways things unfold. We need each other.

    My prayer has been that however my book is received I'll have the strength to deal with it gracefully (...with the support of my author friends).

  22. I appreciate this post, Jody. As an unpublished writer, I go back and forth on whether or not I want to be a published author. I understand that life in the publishing world is not glitz and glamour -- its hard work, pressure, deadlines, and a lot of promotion.

    Sometimes I think I should just stick to blogging. I mean, there's an instant audience, and no pressure to get something done within a certain period of time. I even started blogging my WIP, thinking hey, next best thing to publishing -- LOL!

    But then I wonder if God wants to use my stories to impact the world through published I'm starting to query and see what the Lord will do or not do. :-) But I gotta tell you, if I do join the author ranks someday, I'm going to miss this "write how I want, when I want" life. :-)

  23. Ahh, yes. the pain of being published. Those not pubbed yet find it hard to understand that it's not easier once you are pubbed; we have different difficulties. I must admit to believing the "If only" syndrome. If you're not famous, infamous, well connected or well off enough to pay people to take care of some of the PR/admin problems, there are going to be downers. But we must persevere...

  24. I can definitely relate to this post! In fact, I posted last week, on this very topic, of trying to sort out who I am as a writer, and where I fit in the world of publishing.

    Thanks for the reminder that I am not alone in this struggle!

  25. I read Elana's post, and I'm so glad you chose to address this issue. And as always, you did it with wisdom and grace. :-)

  26. Jody, I'm so glad you opened up and shared about this struggle. It helps those of us who are unpublished know what to expect on "the other side". Thanks for an excellent post!

  27. I'm so glad you found the courage to write this post, Jody. I think it's such an important one. I'm not published, yet I can totally see this issue. I don't know if it's because I have friends who have been on all sides, or if it's because of my experience with clients in my career that have fulfilled dreams only to realize there are always more hurdles.

    Thank you for always sharing truth with us. It would be easier not to, but honesty, even when it hurts, is important.

  28. Excellent post, as always, Jody. I love hearing your heart in your writing.

    And thanks so much for enlightening those of us following along the publishing path. I think your points address the other artistic realms too.

  29. This is such a valuable post, Jody! I'm a long way from publication, but I think my expectations are pretty realistic. I love Albert's comment that "being a writer is mostly about the hard but wonderful grind of writing, not about the all too brief afterglow of having written." So true!

    Unfortunately sound, helpful posts like yours and Elana's are "preaching to the choir" and maybe won't be seen by those who most need to know all this. There's a lot written about the road to publication for beginning writers, but not much about what it's like after publication. Unrealistic expectations are bound to leave some people disillusioned. Then again, I expect no matter what they're told, the grass *will* always look greener just beyond where they're standing. Discontent is an unpleasant companion in any walk of life. I don't think it's limited to writing.

  30. Hi, Jody:

    I love your Christmas (online) letter. Do I get my own personal signed copy, too?:-) Your ABC idea worked very well, and your family is just wonderful to look at!

    I wanted to tell you that my Mom read "Preacher's Bride" and loved it! So I've bought her "Doctor's Lady" for Christmas. I'm sure she will love it as well!

    Have a wonderful Christmas, my friend!

    ~ Betsy

  31. This sounds right on. I'm really trying to keep my expectations realistic because I'm already feeling worried about different things. Or maybe I should say nervous. lol
    Thanks for the post!

  32. Been there, got the t-shirt, as they say. It's a strange contradiction, wanting everyone to love your work and - at the same time - wanting to hide in a big hole in case they don't.

  33. Jody,
    Thank you for telling it like it is --the good, the bad -- the reality.
    I am blessed (yes, blessed) to have mentors in my life who tell me the truth about the writing life. They have talked me down of the ledge multiple times. They have encouraged me and given me both virtual and literal pats on the back. But they have also given me virtual kicks in the pants when I've needed it too. (Thankfully there have been no literal kicks in the pants.) They are honest with me about the writing life.
    Because of them, I haven't quit --and there have been times when I've wanted to -- and my debut novel comes out in May 2012. But I've already gone this route in nonfiction, so I'm an experienced newby, if that makes sense.

  34. Well said Jody. The doubts never really abate and there's very little that you can do to deal with such things. As the old saying goes, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

  35. Thank you so much for this post - it's so important to be honest, and so important to know we're not alone.

    I cherish my friendships with other published authors, where we can share our doubts, insecurities, and even gripes without getting the "well, aren't you ungrateful?" look.

    One thing I wasn't prepared for was how my real-life friendships would be altered. People act strangely around me - fussing too much over me and looking up to me far too much. And yet now more than ever I need real friends who will hold me accountable and call out sins and faults in my life. I keep reminding them I'm the same old bumbling Sarah, but I never used to have to remind them - they knew :)

  36. Thanks for sharing all this. It is good to see the reality of being a published writer and how we all struggle- published or unpublished.

  37. See, it's things like this that unpublished authors need to know before-hand. Everything you've said makes perfect sense, but it's not something you consider until you're in the middle of it and it's too late. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse

  38. i appreciate this honest, insightful look into your world, jody. thanks for your transparency, and for heeding the call to go ahead and write this much-needed post. blessings to you this Christmas season!

    the character therapist

  39. Very helpful and valuable post. Thanks for taking the time and in-breathed focus to share this.

  40. Very well said and I guess it is nice to know I'm not alone. One problem I have in trying to address issues I deem to be important is how to modify my impression of the topic into a format that is more palatable and hence, more marketable. I hate to change the art to sell the painting.

  41. Great post Jody. The frill part is overrated anyway. I used to win lots of karate competitions, twice at national level, and its right back to business at the next meet. And that's great!

    p.s. A lady at the mennonite church is reading your book and then she'll tell everyone else about it in their meeting in January and hand the bookmarks out then. Lisa suggested giving the book back to me in case they just read and pass on. I'll keep you posted :)

  42. Thank you for this post.

    Yes, I did experience some panic after my first book, "The Dragon Forest", came out through OakTara publishing. I think my expectations were too high and I had some ill feelings that I did mention publicly...BIG mistake!

    So, my advide is to find someone to vent to and make sure that person is NOT a blogger or reporter who will mention your rant in their post or article.

    I am happy with my publisher and hope they will publish my next 2 books in the triology.

    Thanks again for this post!


  43. Great post, Jody. Sarah Sundin has touched on something I hadn't expected: the change in the way some friends treat you. Sometimes it isn't that they put you on a pedestal; it's that they profess to be thrilled for you but then disappear from your life, withdraw the support you had counted on. It's hurtful.

  44. Thank you so much for this wonderfully honest post, Jody. I'm still editing my first manuscript to perfection but it's so valuable to know what struggles might come in the next step of the journey. That way, you don't feel guilty or anxious if it does happen, because you understand it's a natural, common part of the process.

  45. Thank you for this! My "crisis" hit me in the form of self-doubt just before and after my first book was published. As I was writing my new novel, I had so many doubts about what I was doing. Did the story suck, would anyone care about the characters, did it make sense, what if no one wanted to read it, what if it wasn't publishable? I'd never had so many doubts while writing something.

  46. I found this post through Caroline Starr Rose's blog. This is such an interesting topic for me as I'll be releasing my first book in a little over a year. I guess I'm still in the giddy I'm-Getting-Published stage, but lately I've been having this ridiculous anxiety, worrying about when something will go wrong. So far everything has been just wonderful, from the time I started writing my book, to the present stage of editing with my editor. I'm not expecting huge things, and perhaps that is a reason why things have been so great, but I feel an explosion is inevitable. Somewhere down the line something will slap me in the face, whether it's a bad review or lack of sales or writer's block, and so I'm having a hard time focusing on the good in my midst and not worrying about what might go wrong. It's ridiculous; I think I need therapy.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing.

  47. Hey, Jody!

    What a great post! I quoted this post as well as your post about contradictory reviews on my blog Incandescent because I think it's so important for aspiring authors to hear this every so often. It helps keep us grounded. :) The link to the individual post is

    Thank you for the perspective! And thanks for the advice!


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