IABOS: Independent Author Burn Out Syndrome

IABOS21 March 2016

IABOS: Independent Author Burn Out Syndrome. I invented the phrase. I invented the acronym (patent pending). I diagnosed it myself (ex nurse so I can do that). I expect there are many Indie Authors who have been at it for as many years as I have who will recognise what I’m about to describe.

First, a brief history of my writing career. Well, maybe not so brief. Definitely more than 25 words.

I have been writing stories since I was six. I had no encouragement from family, friends or teachers – with one mistimed exception. The day I turned 16, I left school because I hated it and couldn’t wait to get out. As I was going, I got bailed up in the quadrangle by my English teacher, Miss Law and berated for leaving because “I had the talent to be a successful writer and should go on to university and study English literature.” Really? Why hadn’t she told me that some time during the four years of High School instead of yelling at me, humiliating me and singling me out for constant criticism? Sorry, Miss Law, but you left it a bit late and I didn’t believe you. But then, that’s the way school was back in the 60’s, especially in the country. So I got a job as a shop assistant, married at 18, first baby at 20, three more in the next eight years (no regrets there, my children are still my pride and joy), divorced and began a complicated, convoluted, unsettled life for the next twenty years. Until I met my present husband and found that rare gift – domestic bliss.

But I never stopped writing stories. Even when I wasn’t scribbling ideas in notebooks, I was writing in my head with an imagination that I felt I had no control over unless I could put it down on paper. Kind of a sanity saver for an over active imagination. I learned over the years that I saw the world differently to most people, didn’t like groups, hated being told what to do, and often preferred to observe rather than participate. I now know many writers share these same qualities, and they are qualities, not disadvantages, if you are a writer. I firmly believe writers are born, not made.

I taught myself to type with my brother’s school typing manual on a golf-ball typewriter that kept breaking down and which my son kept soldering back together again. I completed my first full length novel in 1988 at age 35, sent it off to a major English publishing house (before countries closed to foreign submissions) and bugger me if it wasn’t accepted! Yep, first cab off the rank. Seemed so easy. But I was about to begin my lessons in dealing with the publishing industry and some of those lessons were brutal.

I had contact with two editors who had approved my book for “the list”, editors with lovely English names and charming manners. They asked me for some specific revisions which I duly did and sent the revised manuscript to them. This was before computers, so the revised ms had to be completely rewritten on the broken typewriter and took me three months to do. Then…nothing. Nada. Not a thing for months. I sent off letters. No response. After quite a wait, I finally rang the publishing house in England in the middle of the night (my night as I’m in Australia) only to be told that they had been bought out by a wealthy and well known Australian no less, the traitor, and most of the old staff replaced. I burst into tears. The receptionist took pity on me and gave me the home phone number of one of those lovely editors. I rang her and she was dismayed that I hadn’t been contacted. She and the other editor had been replaced as Fiction Editors and the new guy didn’t like my book. And that was that.

Back to the drawing board. Having been accepted by one publisher, I assumed I would be accepted easily by another. Not so. I did the rounds with no success. Then overseas publishers stopped taking foreign submissions and local publishers stopped taking direct submissions from authors. The rules had changed. I needed an agent.

Didn’t take me long to find an agent. She told me my book was “the best thing to cross her desk in two years.” She proceeded to send out letters etc, but without success. After six months, she left the agency she worked for and went into another line of work, but left me with a list of people I could follow up with.

Then illness hit my family and I had a year of dealing with real life issues. When I was able to pick up that list again, I found the people on it had either left the industry or moved into other jobs within the industry. Another lesson learned – this industry is fluid. It never stays the same for long.

I kept writing and sending out manuscripts and letters to agents/publishers and built up quite a collection of rejection letters. At the same time I bought my first computer. No, that’s not right. I rented my first computer because I was too poor to buy one. I borrowed ‘Computers for Dummies’ and taught myself to use it. We’re talking the 80’s here. What a revelation that computer was! I no longer needed to retype the whole manuscript every time I made changes.

I kept writing and getting rejection letters. Then I found another agent who made a big fuss of me – to begin with. She promised me marvellous things and delivered nothing, then dropped me, but forgot to tell me she’d dropped me. She just didn’t answer my calls or emails. I finally got the message. I was on my own again.

I kept writing and kept trying. I was a single parent of four children with a full time job and writing in my spare time, which I didn’t have much of, so I put in a lot of late nights. Fast forward to 2006 and Lulu.com arrived, borders and Trad Pub rules disappeared and the world opened up to writers. I published two paperback novels there at no cost to me (not the first ms that “almost” got published, that’s still sitting in the back of the cupboard) and began my journey as an Indie Author. Not a lot of sales and not a lot of outlets for marketing and promoting back then, but it was the beginning and my lessons in the industry continued. My first novel, A Place In Time, was shortlisted for an Australian literary award, but I considered my second novel, Damaged Goods, to be better and indeed it sold more. Sales were few but my books were out there at last. And there ain’t nothing sweeter for an author than knowing strangers all over the world are reading and enjoying (or not) your books.

Skip to 2010 and Amazon Kindle arrived. Glorious, wonderful, miraculous ebooks that could be downloaded onto Kindles and tablets in an instant for a fraction of the cost of a hard copy book. Along with ebooks came marketing/promoting outlets, again without borders – Twitter, blogging, Facebook, Amazon and Smashwords. I became one of the Indie Author ebook pioneers, connecting with other pioneers on Kindleboards Writers Cafe. It was exciting back then. We were all learning at the same time and helping each other out. Some of us went on to big things, like the wonderful Amanda Hocking (something in the surname perhaps?), but most of us continued with modest success and if they were lucky like me, they were happy with that. I sold books in varying numbers every month, got regular royalty payments and considered myself successful. I worked every day on new stories and marketing and promotion, whilst still dealing with real life around me and all the trials and tribulations that brings.

I had a new dramatic fiction novel ready to launch, a children’s series (The Aunt Edna Stories, still to come) and a humorous novel all ready to go, and then real life intervened as it so often does. I had an accident and was laid up with splints and bandages and antibiotics for a year. Those books didn’t get launched and by the time I was well enough to get back to a computer, I thought they all needed a rewrite – The Curse Of The Author when reviewing “completed” work. They always look like they could be improved despite seeming perfect last time you looked at them. So I worked on the dramatic fiction novel, Home To Roost and launched it in early 2013.

And then a miracle and a disaster happened at the same time. I woke up one morning and discovered one of my books had made it into Amazon’s Top Ten. Good Golly Miss Molly, did I ever celebrate! A week later, the second novel was there, and a few days later, the third. I had arrived! The royalties were sweet indeed, but when I checked my stats and saw that I’d sold books in seven different countries – well, that was as sweet as it gets.

As for the disaster – at the same time as I launched Home To Roost, Amazon went on their review culling mission, now known as the Review Scandal of 2013, and in the first week after the launch I saw eleven 5 star reviews appear and disappear overnight. I stopped looking, so I’ll never know exactly how many reviews were taken down, but I emailed Amazon (along with all the other authors this was happening to) and got some very nasty responses accusing me of paying for reviews, using family and friends to put up reviews and doing deals with other authors to exchange reviews. Amazon threatened to cancel my account if I continued to challenge them. Amazon was still my biggest sales outlet, so I stopped complaining and decided to wear it – another lesson learned. Just when you think you have total control over your work as an Indie Author, you discover you don’t.

I decided to wait it out while more cashed up authors challenged Amazon in court, the review culling and the nasty emails to authors stopped and I hoped that the reviews would begin to appear again for Home To Roost. But the Review Scandal did its damage and even though the book still sells, as I type this I only have three reviews for it.

I turned my attention to the humorous book and the children’s series and real life intervened again, this time in the form of a long term (but treatable) illness. I kept writing and marketing and promoting as much as I could. I researched my new book, Sarah Ann Elliott for eighteen months and started writing it, published the first chapter on my blog and felt on track with my career.

And then one day late last year I walked into my study and my head began to hurt. I walked out and it felt better. Hmm. Odd. I lay down for a rest and slept for four hours in the middle of the day. Odder. Tried to go into my study again the next day. Same thing.

I thought I was just tired, so went with it and took a few days off. Then discovered my passion for my garden was missing and I’d lost interest in my Bonsai, two things that I had long been devoted to. And I felt terribly tired, really fatigued in the head as well as the body. I wondered if I was depressed, went to see my very good GP who knows me well and was told I was not suffering from depression, but possibly was simply burnt out from working and trying so hard for so long. She advised me to simply take a break from everything – and I did. No writing, no thinking about writing, no marketing or promoting (I hired someone to do that for the first time ever, what a waste of money, saw my first ever month in ten years without a single sale), no gardening or Bonsai-ing. I was taking long service leave from all my passions.

I slept, ate, watched movies (didn’t even have the energy to read all those books I’ve been looking forward to getting to), stayed at home and became a proper dag, and loved every minute of it. I’m fortunate enough at 63 to not have to worry about money, I have a wonderful husband who was quite happy with his frumpy, boring, sleepy wife slouching around the house, and there isn’t anyone out there demanding anything from me – no deadlines because I set my own, no touring or book signings because that’s the past, no readers pestering me because I simply ignore their emails if they do (sorry, readers, but I’ll get to you eventually), and the best part of all is that whatever talent/skill/ability I have as a writer is not going anywhere. It will be there when I am ready to partake of it again. Which I feel may be soon.

This blog is the first time in four months I’ve been able to walk into my study and turn on the computer without my head hurting. Earlier I went into my garden and smelled the roses. Yes, they are still growing despite my lack of attention. And my Bonsai are still small and healthy, thanks to the shade house and automatic watering system. Am I over the IABOS? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ll take one day at a time. But just writing this bit of stream-of-consciousness has felt good, so I’m making progress.

But I’ve had enough for today. So I’m going. If anyone reads this, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. If an Indie Author reads this and recognises a little of themselves in my story, I will not be surprised. If they don’t, well we are all different and writers should be different. Right?

So I’m going now. Got a movie to watch and a nap to take. But I think I may be back tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try reading what I’ve already written of Sarah Ann Elliott and pick up the flow and add a little more to it. Or maybe not. We’ll see. IABOS is, IMHO, a very normal part of being a hard working Indie Author. Now that I recognise it and know how to manage it, I will never worry about it again. If I burn out, I’ll simply stop for awhile. And when I’m not burnt out, I’ll write, market and promote. It’s not rocket science.

Ciao for now!

%d bloggers like this: