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09-23 Getting to Know Leah Hammond, author of RISKY LIES

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Busting Burnout

by M. L. Buchman

I've been seeing a very disturbing trend here in early 2016—I'm losing writing friends. They're still friends, but they're dropping out of writing.

"I'm just not selling enough."

"Look at xxx's huge successes. If I can't sell a 10,000 copies a month like them, what's the point?"

Or they just go quiet, really quiet.

Having burned out of careers in the past (more than once), I've done a lot of thinking on this. And with friends "disappearing" around me, I've had to stop and look at myself as well. Losing my job, career, and house again and then being such a mess that I decided the only sensible cure was to go on an 18-month solo bicycle trip around the world—it's just not a place I want to go to again. (Though I did see some incredible places and meet some cool folks along the way.)

A Japanese family who invited me in so that they could practice their English.
Badly losing a beauty competition with a 2,000 year old Indian statue.
I think the problem is three-fold:

Fold #1
The gold rush days of indie publishing are over..and have been for a year or so. Indie publishing hit with a splash. The "Kindle Christmas of 2011" brought the revolution into the mainstream. For 3 years after that people were making big splashes with $0.99 books and then mega-bundles and then... In the last year all of those have faded away. We're now to the point where indie publishing is as mainstream as traditional and (depending on whose numbers you read and how you read them, almost as large). This means that the get-rich-quick crowd, or even the get-a-major-jump-start contingent are now headed only for disappointment.

In traditional publishing it often took years to get a contract (I have 440 rejections over a 13-year period in a file somewhere). Then another 2-3 years to release after contract and we hoped that we could, over the next 10-20 years, turn it into a viable career and "retire" into full-time writing. Even my most time-advantaged and gifted traditional writing friends took a minimum of 5-7 years. The Kindle Christmas was only five years ago.

Fold #2
Some of us can run a small business and some can't. Traditional publishing took most of the mechanics out of our hands, along with most of the money. I find that the time investment for a traditional versus an indie book is little different, but they took care of finding copyeditors and designers, etc. The tasks were equally time consuming, but the details were handled for us. 

I've often heard that indie publishing is simple, it's just not easy. Sorry folks, it just ain't true. Being a writer is hard work. And then to have to found a business and enjoy that part of it as well...that's knocked a lot of my friends out of the running. 

Fold #3
Validation. It used to be that we were validated (stamped and marked as the anointed who were "good enough") by a traditional publishing contract. But in the indie world, what's our validation? The Amazon engine that says "Your book will be available in 24-48 hours" doesn't quite cut it, does it? Nor Kobo's "We'll take it from here."

Finding that motivation to drive yourself forward, sans validation, is one of the hardest tasks of all. It must come from inside. It must come from the writing. 

Friends who ask me how to keep going, I tell them they must go back to the beginning. Write. It is the reason you started this in the first place was to tell stories. Do it. If you're in it because you wanted to get rich quick...good luck with that, but don't whine to me when it doesn't work out.

Unraveling the Folds
By this time, if you haven't "folded up," you're wondering how to survive at all. I can only speak from personal experience. When I've hit the wall before, it was when my career became too important. It sounds weird, but there it is. I would work ungodly hours and apply unreasonable pressures on myself to succeed. I often crossed 100-hour work weeks (before the burnout bike trip I had done it steadily for 7 years).

There is supposed to be joy in life, at least that's what they tell us. Well, guess what. When there isn't joy, everyone can see it. It was as obvious when I was leading million dollar projects as it is when I'm writing a short story.

On The Voice this year, Pharrell Williams said something to a contestant that I think lies at the heart of this matter:
Show them how much fun YOU'RE having!

Because frankly, if you aren't having fun, you will burn out; that's a guarantee. I still work 70-hour weeks and I feel none of the edge-of-burnout that I know so well. Why? I love what I do, all of what I do. That's my guideline. That's why I do so little social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc, just don't bring me joy). But I enjoy business. I like the occasional mindless tedium of publishing, and I love visiting new places and new characters with the written word. My books are where I go to have FUN! And as long as I keep doing that, I expect the burnout will stay at bay. 

Follow the joy, I highly recommend it.

Look for my latest form of fun on February 2nd.
My newest Night Stalkers novel.

M. L. Buchman has over 40 novels in print. His military romantic suspense books have been named Barnes & Noble and NPR “Top 5 of the year” and twice Booklist “Top 10 of the Year,” placing two titles on their “Top 101 Romances of the Last 10 Years” list. He has been nominated for the Reviewer’s Choice Award for “Top 10 Romantic Suspense of 2014” by RT Book Reviews. In addition to romance, he also writes thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction.

In among his career as a corporate project manager he has: rebuilt and single-handed a fifty-foot sailboat, both flown and jumped out of airplanes, designed and built two houses, and bicycled solo around the world.

He is now making his living as a full-time writer on the Oregon Coast with his beloved wife and is constantly amazed at what you can do with a degree in Geophysics. You may keep up with his writing by subscribing to his newsletter at www.mlbuchman.com.

4 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Hear!!! Hear!!! Anticipation of the next chapter if not the next sentence brings me to my computer with a smile on my face each morning.

Sarah Raplee said...

Exactly! In my Bio it says, "I write because I can't help it, and it's more fun than most of the alternatives." I think you are correct about the Big 3 that are pushing writers toward burnout. If we can't recapture the joy, THAT'S when there's no point.

Kristin Holt said...

TRUTH. All of it. From your assessment of the Indie market to the awareness of authors burning out and going elsewhere, seeking other opportunities. Very happy to hear YOU have found the joy you need in order to press onward and upward (because BY BREAK OF DAY) just landed on my kindle.
With warm appreciation,
Kristin Holt

Joy Spraycar said...

Slow and plodding wins the race. I have seen author's chasing the hottest genres thinking if I write what's hot it will sell! Doesn't work that way either. If you're not writing in the genre that brings you the happiness discussed, you've already killed your writing career.

To build a following, you need to make sure that you are building a readership as well. But if you write whatever is hot, you're losing readers. Stick to writing the stories you love.

Keep plodding along like the turtle. The only thing you have control of in this industry is writing a great book. I too often see writers in a hurry to produce their next novel, and in the process put out a substandard product. Nothing rubs a reader more wrong than lots of spelling errors or shoddy formatting, or a story that simply isn't as good as you could have made it had you taken the time to edit, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite.

In the end, if you keep writing those great books, you readers will be there for you.

Happy writing.