From the Desk of Jessica S.-
Last week, I left a message to my authors that I had 140 notifications and about a dozen private messages and emails I needed to respond to before the end of the month. This brought on several memes of encouragement and about two dozen more private messages looking for reassurance that the message wasn't indicative of overload and emerging burnout. So, I thought I would take a moment to talk about burnout and ways I've found to prevent it within this unique world of hurry up and wait, hope but don't expect, and to nudge or not to nudge (that is the perennial question). Hurry Up! (and wait...) Stephanie already did a great post on this topic, offering tips and tricks of what to do while you wait on the publishing universe. It can get very tiresome, though, and overwhelming if you're mentally obsessive as I am. It's like a never ending child's game of asking someone what the definition of suspense is... and then walking away. Or when someone drops a hint at a question that they want you to ask. "Guess what happened today?" (And then they're silent, staring at you, waiting for you to ask, but you don't play that game, so you're silent, waiting for them to decide to either tell you or go away, but they don't seem to get that you're not going to play, so they stay silent, staring at you, and you have to decide if you'd rather just ask or just walk away...) For me, the trick to not getting burned out in the wait is to focus not on the active filling of the void, but rather on whether I am doing my job. Am I properly prepping submissions? Am I sending submissions or getting too caught up in prep to hit send (as an over-analyzer, this sub prep can be akin to quick sand for me)? Did I hit my submission sub goal? Did I follow-up properly? As long as I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, I have to let go and trust that what comes next is what comes next. Hope (...but don't expect) I think this is where the majority of the burnout comes from. Within the world of publishing and book distribution hopes and dreams, hoping is not a passive activity. If you truly hope your book will do good, you have to do all the other expectation prep items, whether or not it all comes to fruition. Are you writing your next book? Are you working on your author brand? If your social media was a pet, would it appear to be thriving, or would passerbys be thinking about calling animal control to do a life check. Does it matter to you? Will it matter to your publisher? Should you avoid it all together so you don't get burned out before you even get your own fire started? What kind of marketing plan do you have in place? Should you spend your time thinking about that when you might just be creating a list of all the things you never got to do? Will that make it worse? Will it all be worth it? How do you know when to give up hope? In publishing, sometimes it seems more like a world of hope but don't expect... but act like you expect so that you're prepared in case what you don't expect happens like you hope it will. It's pretty easy to see where that cycle can cause some burnout. For authors, I suggest making a list and understanding the items within it. Use the hope but not expect period to become educated on opportunities. Do you understand how everything works within your hypothetical marketing plan, so you can utilize it if and when you're ready to? Building an author brand is important, and later you can incorporate a book brand into it, but in the meantime, the wait time is a great place to really find out first hand why being authentic is so important. If you're not you, how long are you going to be able to maintain not being you? You don't need to appeal to everyone, so don't try. Be you, and let those who will support you become your community. Above all, your author brand should be authentic. So, take the time you're waiting to find out what that looks like for you. Some people are much more comfortable with putting their personal lives and opinions out there than others are. This waiting period is a perfect time to find that balance for you. To Nudge or Not To Nudge (...that is the question) Publishing sometimes feels like a virtual reality outside of the real world. What are the rules for nudging people that you don't know (but can easily reach over the internet)? I like to use that mindset as a way to determine when I nudge and when I prefer to be nudged. If this wasn't the internet, would you be nudging me right now, or would you feel like waiting may be more likely? If the only way to reach me was by phone, would you pick it up and call me, or would you probably hold off a little longer? Take away the added trepidation that comes from being an introvert, and you'll probably be spot on when it comes to whether it's the right time to nudge or not. However, that's not the point of this post. The point is how to deal with burnout. How this thought process often goes:
How many times do you nudge someone before you give up?
Is there a specific time period writers/agents usually wait?
What happens if you nudge too soon?
What happens if you nudge too late? Will they assume there's no interest and lose interest themselves?
How many no responses do I have to handle before I'm justified in throwing my hands up in the air?
Would it help if I threw a tantrum all over an email and hit send with a sledge hammer?
Does the world just not like me?
How is it fair to go through all this work and no one seem to care whether I get a response?
Why should you have to work so hard to get someone to answer you? Is it worth it?
Is it indicative of the quality of my work?
Does it even matter anymore, anyway?
Why am I doing this to myself?
(Burnout exists in the extremes, with questions getting more and more introspective and focused on inner doubts, so that's why I'm taking it that far.)
In Regards to Me, Personally As an agent, I send things out all the time, and I'm constantly in a state of to nudge or not to nudge. I'm even nudging authors about upcoming projects to plan ahead in my schedule (then annoyingly getting off schedule, to the distress of both me and the author who were both super excited about my supreme queen planning and schedule organization abilities). In fact, my authors aren't always sure when the best time to nudge me about a project deadline/follow-up, either. So, again, this is an area that is conducive to a lot of frustration, and subsequently, a lot of burnout ("I'm done with this" type of thinking). Which brings me back to the origin of this post. Many Golden Wheat Literary authors recently received a notification that I had a lot of notifications to get through (some are deadlines, some of full documents that are ready to be reviewed, some are just reminders of upcoming dates, some are notifications of an open chat, etc.). The number was not unusual, but when you don't know what the notifications are attached to, time-wise, just the number itself can be overwhelming and alarming. It also doesn't include anything outside of current client activities. It also doesn't include anything that I already have on my schedule. The number only corresponds with new items that have popped up or been added by an author (thus, the notification). So, knowing that, when would be the right time to nudge me, specifically? The answer is almost always any time. So long as your expectations don't run right past the reality of the current situation. If I'm making my way down a list of items, if I stop and answer all the things that pop up right this minute, I'm nowhere closer to getting to the items that have been waiting. Which can be frustrating... and cause burnout with the whole process. Conclusion So, in a process that has many avenues that can lead to frustration and burnout, how do you find a balance that allows you to keep moving? My best tip is to let yourself see life in its seasons and in its moments. Nothing lasts forever, and as long as you're waiting, the best is still yet to come. Yes, that sounds a little frilly and idealistic, but it's a nice mindset to help you breathe through the moments of frustration before they lead to burnout. Does it take away from the reality that you still need to be responded to? Does it take away from the reality that you're still hoping for more, and sooner rather than later? Not at all. This is a season of waiting. Or this is a season of hurrying. This is a season to step back and reconnect with other parts of my life. In this moment, is there something else that I could be doing? In this moment, have I done everything I can? So, to answer the question, do 140 notifications and handfuls of private messages leave me overwhelmed, possibly to the point of burnout? No. Quite to the contrary. When I see that many notifications, I know that the systems put in place are being utilized, and I know that everyone is active and doing and growing and trying, and that fills me with motivation and drive. Sometimes that means I have to stop and temporarily adjust my schedule before I can keep going, but it's during those times (when authors are thriving and actively utilizing the systems in place) that I'm able to find or regain my own balance through a sense of purpose and usefulness.