The BURNOUT Chronicles - Part 1: Lost in the Dream
Updated: Oct 6, 2021
Those who have been in my VIP Readers Group for a while and have been following my author journey will be aware that, back in late 2016/early 2017, I went through a spot of burnout.
I thought I'd share a little about it here in hopes that it might be useful for authors and readers alike.
I've never written in any great detail about my burnout phase, but I suspect that my journey isn't unlike that of many authors, so reading this may be useful for struggling or newbie authors in particular. Helping to spot the signs of an impending burnout early on is super important if you want to avoid it.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND…
Prior to 2011, when I first self-published, I'd written or partially written a few books but didn't quite know what to do with them. Then I heard about the 'ebook revolution' - the fact that you could publish books yourself - and that changed everything.
At the start of my 'author career' (or whatever one might call it), I was super enthusiastic, writing on whatever topic interested me. Early on, I published books based on my life experiences: Cycling Widows (a humorous take on living with an obsessive cyclist); Campervan Capers (about our first year campervanning); and The Jacaranda Trail (a return to my Australian birthplace in my twenties, where I got more than I bargained for). More books and stories followed, of course.
All sounds good, right?
And it was. I was working part-time to support my writing, 'following the muse', going wherever my pen (or keyboard) would take me.
I eventually left my part-time job and took time out to focus on my writing for a while, although at some point later, I worked on and off, doing temp office jobs to bring in a bit of extra money.
LEARNING THE ROPES
I lapped up writing podcasts by top authors like Joanna Penn, hopped on board one of Mark Dawson's courses for authors, and learnt a lot from his Facebook community. For the support I received there, I'm truly grateful. It helped me realise some of my covers weren't going to cut the mustard for the genre I was writing in. It also helped me to see that, to make success more likely, I should write at least three books in a series.
The reason being?
If a reader likes book 1, they're more likely to go on to read other books in that series. If you write standalones, it might be a harder sell.
So I wrote 3 books in my Campervan Bushman Mystery Series starring young Aussie, Scott Chevalier, who's part campervan-surfer, part Crocodile Dundee.
Not only did I put in a lot of hard work into researching and writing my three mysteries but I upgraded my skills to design the covers and pulled out the stops to promote them, too.
PROMOTION = NOT ENOUGH
Towards the end of 2016, I put book 2 into a cosy mystery anthology called 25 Mysteries to Die For, along with (you guessed it!) 24 other authors. Having spent 3 months helping out on that project (I designed the cover and set up blog interviews for all the authors), I was pretty exhausted by Christmas - release time for the book. I had a lot of promotion work to do, which meant that I didn't switch off over the festive season at all.
This is the point at which things started to go (noticeably) awry. For a while, I'd been having this inner voice nagging at me to ease off the pedal a bit, but by now, it was getting pretty loud.
So why did I ignore it?
Because I was determined to be successful, to achieve my dream of earning a living being an author.
I had good intentions of writing book 4 in my mystery series - I had it all planned out. (In fact, I have several books outlined beyond that, and if sales ever noticeably pick up, who knows, I might take up that series again.) Anyway, book 4 was going to be set on an alpaca farm, so I visited one here in Cornwall, England, to do some research.
But soon after my return, I had to face facts. I wasn't seeing much in the way of sales or sell-through for the other books in the series, and the inner voice was shouting ever louder at me: "STOP! For heaven's sake... Just STOP!"
READER SURVEY - A DISAPPOINTMENT
Through my promotional efforts, I'd built up a mailing list of several thousand readers, so I decided to do an anonymous reader survey and find out how engaged my readers actually were.
With engaged readers on board, you're more likely to be able to make a living from your writing. But the results of the survey were so disheartening, I can't convey… Many of the readers I'd picked up along the way were only interested in free stuff. Even 99c seemed a huge stretch!
On the bright side, however, I did get some really positive feedback. There were some core readers who were more than happy to sling me the price of a coffee for the months of hard work I invested into getting a book into readers' hands.
Hallelujah for that, at least!
Sadly, though, it wasn't going to be enough to achieve my dream of making a living from my writing.
Now, I know the situation isn't looking too dandy at this point, but I'll give you a hint: things didn't turn out all doom and gloom. But what actually happened after I did my reader survey?
I've written about that in Part 2 of the Burnout Chronicles: Getting my Mojo Back…
See you there!