June 21, 2022
By Maggie Smith
I thought I’d prepared myself.
I thought I knew what to expect.
I was wrong.
My novel, Truth and Other Lies, released into the world in early March. It was a labor of love for four long years. I lived through fifty agent rejections before signing with a small press which then proceeded to go bankrupt. I dusted myself off, sent out more queries and signed with another small publisher. I ran two GoodReads Giveaways, got shout-outs in Marie Claire, Pop Sugar, and Nerd Daily and had been a guest on dozens of writer podcasts. I shepherded my own audiobook into existence, hosted a fabulous in-person launch party and appeared on the local TV morning show.
Wasn’t I supposed to be ecstatic? I achieved my dream. I published a book. I should be whistling a happy tune every morning when I woke up, a smile on my face, a bounce in my step.
So why did I feel listless? Bored? Even a bit down? I took afternoon naps, avoided the gym, turned down social invites and binge-watched Hulu instead. I buried my nose in other people's books. My social media posts dribbled to a standstill. I couldn’t find the energy to work on my next novel. I missed the deadline for my April newsletter.
It didn’t take an expert to recognize the symptoms (and besides, I’m trained as a psychologist so physician, heal thyself). I was sliding into debut novel depression, the stage your publisher, your publicist, and even your fellow writers fail to mention when they prep you for your book’s release. No one tells you that once your launch is over, the energy dies down. Your podcast appearances drop to one a month. Your favorite bookstagrammers move on to the buzzy new releases. Summer’s coming, meaning romantic beach reads are now the rage, not your women’s fiction story of a daughter stuck between her mentor and her mother.
It’s like you’re standing in the shower, water splashing down so hard you’re almost choking, and then poof, someone turns off the spigot and you’re dripping wet and shivering and all alone.
It’s the stage every writer goes through when your published book has to stand on its own and earn its keep. Your hope is that word-of-mouth kicks in and people at book clubs, in libraries, and at home find time to read your novel and talk about it with their friends. But what about you? What are you, the writer, supposed to do?
Here are three ways I’ve found to shake off the doldrums once the parade moves on:
Reclaim your social life
Odds are you neglected activities in your regular life during the six months leading up to your launch. That’s understandable and rest assured the important people in your life understood and wished you well. But now that your book has launched, re-examine what you let slide, whether it’s those monthly luncheons with good friends, your kid’s school activities, or weekend getaways with your partner. Did you beg off the after-work gatherings at the local hang-out because you had blogs to write? Did you pass up invitations from neighbors to join them at the Saturday farmer’s market? Are there new restaurants downtown you haven’t had a chance to visit? How long has it been since you spent quality time with your sister who lives in the next town? Now’s the time to get back in touch with those friends and family members you put on hold while you concentrated on book promotion. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how reconnecting with these folks can lift your spirits.
Find time for self-care
Another area you probably let slide was taking care of your body and your spirit. I know I put off visits to the gym or walks through the local park—I had social media posts to create and guest articles to write. As a result, I packed on additional pounds, ate more fast-food, and disrupted my regular sleep routine, all in the service of taking maximum advantage of marketing opportunities in the months before launch. A quick shower took the place of more leisurely bubble baths. I found it hard to relax as my head churned with items on my to-do list. Well, now that list is much shorter. Add back the activities that bring you joy, be it a lap at the pool or an afternoon photo-shoot. Or something totally decadent, like putting in your earbuds, shutting out the world, and listening to your favorite tunes.
Get back to writing
Most writers I’ve talked to were like me—they got little to no new creative writing done during the build-up to their launch. Oh sure, they wrote newsletter copy or social media posts. They submitted articles to regional or national media or doodled around with plot ideas for future books. But actually sitting their butt in the chair and working on their next novel? Not so much.
Unless you want to be a one-book and I’m done writer (I’m looking at you, Harper Lee), you’ve likely got another story brewing in that brain of yours. One that hopefully has waited patiently for you these last few months and now is ready to spill out onto the page. It’s time to rediscover why you call yourself an author. Your last creation is out there, for better or worse. It’s time to turn your attention to the next one
So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last week. I took a good look at myself and realized I’d missed the satisfaction of nailing a great sentence, of figuring out a tricky plot point, of realizing something about a character that previously eluded me. Now I’m back to work on my second novel, tentatively titled BlindSpot. It’s the story of an ambitious district attorney hunting down the stalker who’s threatening her and her teenage daughter, only to wind up accused of murder when he turns up dead (how’s that for an elevator pitch?). It’s still in the draft phase but I’m excited about the story, since it’s a psychological suspense/women’s fiction, a genre I like to read. And it’s got some serious twists and turns I hope you don’t see coming.
If you’ve got other hints about how you pulled yourself out of the post-launch doldrums, please share them in the comments! We’re all in this together.
Maggie Smith’s debut novel, Truth and Other Lies, was published by Ten16Press in March 2022. She’s the host of the weekly podcast Hear Us Roar (available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google) where she interviews debut women’s fiction authors about their novel and their path to publication. Her first-ever short story, The Devil You Know, appeared in the 2018 anthology False Faces and she’s also a regular monthly blogger for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. A board member of the Chicago Writers Association, she serves as managing editor of the literary publication Write City Magazine. She makes her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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