Authors’ mental health and publishing: navigating an emotional journey

Authors’ mental health and publishing: navigating an emotional journey

by Suswati Basu
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Publishing a book is often seen as a dream come true for aspiring authors, but behind the scenes, it can be a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges that take a toll on their mental health. A survey conducted by The Bookseller revealed that over half of the respondents, 54% to be precise, reported that the process of publishing their debut book had a negative impact on their mental well-being. The survey’s findings shed light on the struggles faced by authors during their publishing journey, regardless of the genre they write or the type of publisher they work with.

The survey’s respondents comprised a diverse group of authors, with 61% primarily writing adult fiction, 19% focusing on non-fiction, and 17% penning children’s fiction. Interestingly, the study showed that around half of the authors (51%) were published by independent publishers, while the remaining 48% secured deals with one of the “Big Four” publishing houses (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan, and Hachette). A small percentage of authors (1%) fell under the category of “other,” which included self-published authors and those following the “hybrid publishing” model.

Among those who experienced a negative impact on their mental health, the survey showed that both independent and “Big Four” published authors were affected. 47% of authors published independently reported experiencing difficulties, while 44% of their counterparts with major publishers faced similar challenges. The remaining 9% belonged to the “other” category, highlighting that mental health concerns in the publishing industry cut across different publishing models.

Navigating the self-publishing world

One self-published children’s book author of the Magick in Me series, Cassandra Brooks, shared her crash course experience with the publishing world. She emphasised a glaring lack of support from the supposed teams meant to help authors succeed. Brooks navigated a landscape of publishing that overwhelmed her, leading to breakdowns in communication and creative struggles. She told us: “It was a struggle. There is an entire world of publishing rules and scams out there that can overwhelm you. It’s a lot to take in and little support to navigate the publishing world.“ She added even if she was fortunate enough to catch a publisher’s eye, it did not guarantee creative control.

Psychological challenges for authors launching a book

To gain insights into the psychological aspects of authors’ experiences, we consulted with Dr. LeMeita Smith, PhD, LPC, NCC, a mental health expert and psychologist. Dr. Smith noted that the process of becoming a published author can be exhilarating, but it comes with unique pressures, especially for first-time authors stepping into the spotlight. Speaking to us at How To Be Books, she said: “Creative endeavors, such as writing, can be deeply personal. Authors invest not just their time and effort but also a piece of their soul into their work. When their creations are exposed to the world, they are exposing a part of themselves, making it a deeply emotional process.” This vulnerability can evoke feelings of self-doubt and heightened stress, fuelled by the expectations of both the authors themselves and their audience.

“Authors invest not just their time and effort but also a piece of their soul into their work.”

Dr. LeMeita Smith, PhD, LPC, NCC, mental health expert and psychologist

Dr. Smith stressed the importance of mental health awareness and resources within the publishing industry. Offering counselling, support groups, and workshops focused on managing stress and coping with emotional challenges can be immensely beneficial for authors. Moreover, she added: “fostering a culture of openness and understanding within the publishing community can help authors feel supported and validated in their experiences.”

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Lauren Eckhardt, founder and CEO of Burning Soul Press, shared her experiences as a book coach and publisher working with first-time authors. She highlighted that the book launch stage is particularly difficult to navigate, often surprising authors with its demands and complexities and describing it as a “rollercoaster”. Eckhardt told us that authors “can tend to think of it as a finish line when in fact, it’s a ribbon cutting like the opening of a new business”. Eckhardt, who also runs the Burning Soul Collective, underscored the significance of extensive research and promotion to reach the right audience and create a lasting impact, as a book’s lifeline can extend far beyond its initial release.

“Because of the effort that goes into book launching, authors can tend to think of it as a finish line when in fact, it’s a ribbon cutting like the opening of a new business. Once a book is available for purchase, there’s still a lot of work to be done to promote the opening of this “business.””

Lauren Eckhardt, Founder and CEO of Burning Soul Press

Affect on authors’ mental health juggling writing and working

David Thalberg, President of marketing and public relations firm Stryker-Munley Group, provided insights into the diverse experiences of authors. He highlighted that being an author is a “full-time job” that involves much more than just writing the manuscript. Authors need to identify their core audience and develop numerous ways to reach them, even if they are self-publishing. He added: “They CANNOT just depend on their publisher – and that’s if they are lucky enough to actually have a publisher.” Wearing multiple hats, from editor to social media manager, can lead to an exceptional amount of stress for authors, impacting their overall well-being.

Rachel Baldi, co-founder of UpLevel Publishing and a first-time author with a book releasing in September, opened up about her mental health journey through the publishing process. While acknowledging that her mental health was indeed affected, she refrained from labelling it as wholly negative. The stress and anxiety stemmed from making important decisions and adhering to deadlines. She felt a heavy responsibility in respecting the subjects and themes in her book, “Lil Amina and the Adventure of Grief.”

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The end-of-life coach and interfaith advocate told us: “As a Muslim myself, I felt a lot of stress and responsibility to make sure I was providing correct information and honoring the faith in a way that would be welcomed by my Muslim community. I also felt a lot of stress to make sure the book would have the intended impact around providing understanding and tools for those experiencing grief.” The weight of these vital topics influenced her mental well-being, but she also found immense joy in seeing her dream come to life.

“As a Muslim myself, I felt a lot of stress and responsibility to make sure I was providing correct information and honoring the faith in a way that would be welcomed by my Muslim community.”

Rachel Baldi, co-founder of UpLevel Publishing and author of Lil Amina and the Adventure of Grief

Sandy Poirier Smith, CEO of book promotion agency Smith Publicity, discussed the pressures that come with book promotion, which can be overwhelming for introverted authors and requires having a “thick skin”. Critical reviews and interviews on sensitive topics, such as memoirs, can take a toll on an author’s emotional well-being. Furthermore, she said: “many authors struggle with comparing their success to other authors on milestones including securing an elite literary agent, dream publisher or sizable advance, reaching a bestseller status, or receiving literary awards.” After all, as she adds “authors are only human.” This can negatively impact an author’s self-esteem.

Safeguarding authors’ mental health through coping strategies

Thalberg also outlined a number of strategies that could help first-time authors including:

  • Start planning early. You’ve set a publishing date, now backtrack six months to begin investigating speaking engagements, book signings, readings, long-lead media, hiring members of your team to assist, setting up your social media channels and website, etc.
  • Research. Talk with other authors. Read what other authors are doing to reduce their stress and manage their publishing calendar.
  • Get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And this is also the time to go to those “friends” who over the years you have helped out in one manner or another. 
  • Plan for the stress. Being an author is stressful, but if you’re ready for it, you won’t have as many surprises.

In conclusion, the survey by The Bookseller and the insights shared by authors and industry professionals highlight the importance of acknowledging and addressing the mental health challenges that authors face during the publishing journey. Publishing a book is a remarkable achievement, but it is also a deeply personal and emotionally demanding process. The industry needs to embrace a culture of support, understanding, and compassion, while providing resources to help authors navigate the emotional terrain of book release. By prioritising mental health and well-being, the publishing world can create an environment where authors can thrive and continue to share their stories with the world.

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