Hello, friends! Many of you know that I write about mental health. I try to be open and authentic to serve myself and serve my community.
So let me start out by saying that post-publication depression is absolutely a thing. When you google this phrase, a lot of article titles draw you in with “is it a thing?” Yes, it’s a thing, so we’re getting that out of the way. This post is mainly here to offer my experiences, what has helped me, and some tools you can use to either navigate or prepare for this part of the writing process.
I also want to begin by mentioning that this is not a chance to diagnose anyone, especially if you experience seasonal or regular-degular depression. I hope that this post does not diminish the real experience that many people face. When I talk about post-publication depression, the point is to name it, research it, and let people know that we’re not alone. It’s good to know what’s normal and what isn’t.
So I’m about to dive in. Maybe bookmark this post if today’s not a great time to read about depression in any of its forms.
How I Knew I Was Really Not “Okay”
As many already know, I’ve been an aspiring author for decades, so I imagined quite a huge party waiting for me at the finish line. I imagined that anyone who knew me or my dreams would become instant fans.
When I published my first book, the reviews were very lukewarm. Not only were people not connecting with my story but a few close friends told me that there were still many glaring proofreading errors. As an editor, I was embarrassed, y’all. After grieving my less-than-stellar release, I spent a year editing my book again and released a second edition of my book instead of working on the sequel. I knew I couldn’t move forward in my author journey unless I could put my debut novel behind me.
Then I published my sequel in 2020. Again, sparse attention. If you know, you know: it was so difficult to promote a book during such a globally stressful time. I couldn’t host in-person events and I was hella worried about surviving a pandemic, another major election, and a lot of empty/disingenuous discussions about race, gender, and sexuality.
This was all hard on its own. But I knew I was beyond “stressed” or “sad” because I felt really, deeply disappointed. I worked my butt off to polish, promote, and publish a book while balancing a full-time job. And since I’m self-published, it felt like there was no one to blame but myself.
Now, you might be wondering a) “I never knew about this.” b) “But you’re always so happy!” or c) “Aren’t you being a little harsh/hyperbolic?” To which I say, a) I’ve spoken about this many times b) I’m not defined by my emotions c) anxiety and depression have a way of magnifying negatives and ignoring the positives. Regardless of what happened, I don’t regret publishing my books and I wouldn’t change the process—I learned what I needed to learn.
But Travis and I could tell that this was more than just your average dose of sadness or disappointment because I considered shutting everything down. Stop writing, stop posting online, stop sharing my experiences—all of it. I wanted to throw up whenever someone did buy my books because I was worried they would hate it (and hate me). That felt very out of character for me and against my life goals. Together, we determined that this depression was deeper and therefore needed additional solutions thrown at it—including monthly therapy check-ins.
Now as I’m approaching my third publication, things already feel different—better. I know what could send me in a spiral and I’ve been able to handle things amicably. I’m not perfect but I’ve matured as an author. As my girl, Shania Twain, sings I can “only go up from here.”
How You Might Know You’re Not “Okay”
Before we dive into this, I want to remind you that post-publication depression is not the same thing as clinical depression. Depression is usually a more chronic, deeper condition. I’ve noticed with post-pub depression, I can get out of it pretty quickly—within a year and through life changes. However, if you continually had “sad weeks” or nothing seems to boost your spirits, consider talking to a therapist or a psychiatrist.
Okay, so how can you know if you’re susceptible to post-pub depression? It’s usually not a sudden thing; you tend to notice after a few days or a week that you’re not your usual self. Perhaps you’re facing these common signs:
- you’re more withdrawn—online and in person
- you are beyond exhausted—physically and mentally
- you can’t keep up with your usual author platform stamina
- you feel resentful towards yourself, your book, your readers, other authors, etc.
- the negative clouds over/swallows up the positive
If you’re the kind of person who tracks things like food, movement, water intake, menstrual cycle, or daily tasks, I’d recommend tracking your mood and energy levels. Maybe create a rating system that makes sense to you. Perhaps you’ll see trends that indicate that certain parts of publishing are particularly difficult or stressful.
Our bodies have a way of telling us something is not right. Perhaps your publishing plan is too short and you have to push yourself to meet your pub date. Maybe real life matters are zapping you of time and energy. Or perhaps your publishing expectations do not match your reality. You ultimately know what you’ve got on your plate; I strongly recommend that you take a “temp check” now or before your pub date so you have an easy time transitioning into your next project.
The hardest part about post-pub depression is that it could seriously affect your next book—you may have unrealistic expectations or zero energy or desire to “start over” with outlining or drafting. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t do as an author. Perhaps after a decent break, you can get back into the swing of things and publish books that truly make you happy.
Tips for If/When You’re Depressed (or Don’t Want to Be)
I know that you aren’t immediately “cured” just because you now know you aren’t alone. This isn’t the “just be happy!” post. So I hope these tips help in a meaningful way. I’d love to hear which ones help or which ones I’ve missed.
1. Realign your relationship to your books
I really like how Jessica Berger Gross puts it: “Publishing a book is a singular, special, and exhilarating experience that should be savored. But a book, no matter how best-selling or how acclaimed, no matter how much it moves readers, is not going to bring complete fulfillment, validation, or inner peace. So don’t be so hard on yourself, or put quite so much pressure on publication.”
Here, I’m learning that it’s wise to establish your own worth outside of your book. Your books are an extension of you but they are not you. Since this advice is a bit abstract, I would recommend reminding yourself of this expectation—boundary, really—and ask a loved one to remind you of this. Yes, even if it’s upsetting or annoying to hear. The book reviews are not an indication that you are particularly better or worse than others. We are deeply feeling people, so the point is to not hurt our own feelings when we’re at our most vulnerable.
2. Create healthy reception expectations
Specifically, I would highly recommend that you avoid the assumption or expectation that everyone who’s ever known you will suddenly support you before, during, and after your publication. You and I are not the only ones who don’t have particularly supportive family members. I was surprised when some reached out and others didn’t. You’re going to suddenly learn who doesn’t considers themselves a “big reader.” This is just another painful pill to swallow.
This is not a sign that you or your books are not good enough. We can instead set better expectations by focusing on our target audience and be pleasantly surprised if anyone else resonates with our work. So whenever someone supports me, I try to really let them know just how much I appreciate them.
3. Write—or don’t
You can’t make me write if I don’t want to. But there’s a common misconception that writers must always write to keep up their skills and release a new book very soon. I’m not a parent yet but I can partially relate to that feeling of “just leave me alone—enjoy what I’ve already done or given!” You just pumped out 200-some-odd pages and the people want more? In this economy?? You’ve just given your all in the hopes that someone will buy some copies. Most of us cross our fingers that we’ll eventually break even on marketing, editing, and formatting costs.
So if you feel drained or remotely resentful, you have my full permission to take a break! But if you physically can’t relax or slow down, I’m not going to tell you to stop writing, either. This is the part where we get to decide how our publishing schedule will go—not the inverse.
4. Do something beyond bookish interests
I’m calling myself on this one. Whenever someone asks me what my hobbies are, I break into a cold sweat. What am I doing besides reading, writing, or editing books? Pokémon Go and working out, I suppose. The point is that books don’t have to be our whole world. We have communities outside of our book lovers. I’ve found that if I make time for other activities (aka use other parts of my brain), I can return to my author platform with a bit more optimism and energy. Importantly: do something every week or every day, if possible. This isn’t the bottle of bubbly you save for pub day. This is tending to your mental health every day so you don’t ever feel like it’s a “break glass in case of emergency” moment.
Resources & Further Reading
- I Just Published a Book: Why Am I Depressed?
- Is Post-Publication “Depression” Real?
- Post-Publication Depression? The Months after a Book Release
- Post Book Launch Depression Is a Thing
- Why Writers Are Prone to Depression
- Self-Publishing Can Be Depressing As Hell
- How To Deal With Post-Creation Depression
- The Joyful Writing Podcast by Kristen Kieffer
- The Write Now Podcast by Sarah Rhea Werner
More Mental Health Discussion on W&T
- How to Be Super Bold, Brave & Vulnerable Online
- 4 Ways You Can Feel Happier Now—Or Soon
- How to Track Monthly Cycles for Better Writing Productivity
- 8 Ways to Stay Strong During Major Life Changes
- 5 Vital Steps for Writing During Difficult Times
- Setting Publishing Goals That Fit You & Your Books
- Settling 4 Real Author Fears
If any of this resonates with you, I want to give you all the digital hugs. I always say that I wouldn’t wish these feelings or experiences on my worst enemy. And yet, it’s oddly comforting to know that other people I admire also have their down days or weeks. If you need to talk to someone, I do what I can to be a listening ear and offer the support you need. I hope you feel less lonely when you’re with me.