Handling Publishing Stresses

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

A new year is a good time to think about what you wish you could change. One item that immediately came to me was how stressful publishing can be.

Stressful occupations

I remember decades ago reading a survey about the most stressful occupations. Right after fire fighting, police work, and some medical professions, publishing was listed. Since I was just dipping my toes into publishing, I gasped in surprise. How could a simple love of books have landed me in the midst of Stressville!?

What causes publishing stresses?

In case you wonder what is measured to determine stress, here are the job qualities that were evaluated for the 2017 list (which did not put publishing in the top 10, by the way).

• Travelstress sign
• Career Growth Potential
• Physical Demands
• Environmental Conditions
• Hazards Encountered
• Meeting the Public
• Competition
• Risk of Death or Grievous Injury
• Immediate Risk of Another’s Life
• Deadlines
• Working in the Public Eye

I’m seeing several aspects of publishing here!

Why is publishing more stressful than ever?

Over the years, the trend in publishing has been for greater stress and more work. With the economic downturn in ’08, everyone in publishing (who still had a job) had to do the work of everyone who lost his or her job. The workload grew for individuals. And while that’s been alleviated some, publishing’s growth each year since the recession remains relatively flat, resulting in little job growth.

The stress to make right decisions about which books to publish has grown as well. I’ve talked to decision-makers at publishing houses who have literally groaned as they’ve agonized over whether to take a project to committee. Too many wrong choices, and the results become dire both for the person backing the wrong titles and for the publishing house that must bear the financial loss.

Add to the mix the rate of change in the industry via electronic publishing, self-publishing, and the Amazon effect; the demise or potential demise of  formerly stalwart outlets through which to sell books; and the need to figure out how to promote books in the ever-changing online world, the publishing stresses ratchet up another notch or three.

Writers and publishing stresses

Writers, of course, struggle with the limited chances they can maintain a successful career in publishing. It’s the rare author who makes sufficient money not to have to supplement–or completely rely on–other jobs.

Meeting the public and working in the public eye (via social media, book signings, speaking at writers conferences, having your work publicly evaluated via reviews) certainly add to a writer’s stress. That’s especially true when we consider that most writers are introverts by nature.

Competition comprises a significant aspect of publishing, too. Writers compete to get published; to get noticed by readers; for marketing dollars; to make the best-seller list; for awards…Yeah, competition is a constant.

And, of course, deadlines persist in a writer’s life. Not only writing a manuscript on deadline but also meeting production deadlines once the book is given to the publishing house. That’s followed by meeting the marketing and promoting deadlines, some of which are self-imposed while others are imposed by the publisher.

Then we have launching into writing your next book while still promoting your recent release. Yup, writers’ lives are laced with deadlines.

What’s a person caught in this whirlwind to do?

I deal with publishing stresses by setting aside throughout the week to concentrate on the big picture rather than spending most of my time on the small stuff (which leads to lots of stress since the larger issues never get addressed). Making the big stuff what I dedicate a good portion of my day to helps because I feel like I’m making progress. But if I spend my day responding to emails, while that work is important, it isn’t satisfying–nor is it necessarily the highest priority for me.

Asking oneself, What is the most important part of me job? helps to focus one’s attention on the top-of-the-stack responsibilities.

For me, that’s making sales. If I don’t make sales, I’m not setting everything else in motion that I do–negotiate contracts, intervene when the publishing process goes awry, help to build writing careers, etc.

I also find it helpful to set aside time each month to dream. For with all the changes in the 21st-century version of publishing, opportunities to succeed reside. I want to take time to dream about how to succeed in ways I might not have thought of before. I don’t want to miss out.

Which publishing stresses list do you feel the most? How do you deal with them?

By the way, I’m going to be traveling with an author to her visit her publisher this Monday (add travel to the stress list!) so I won’t be able to participate in the conversation. But I’ll read your comments when I return to the office.


#Publishing stresses and how to handle them. Click to tweet.

What makes #publishing stressful? Click to tweet.

51 Responses

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  1. Hope this acrostic for reducing stress might help someone –
    Emotional investment;
    * I think most people underestimate the time they need to complete tasks; I know I do, so I generally add 50% to what I think is a ‘reasonable’ guess at how long I think something will take.
    * Most of the things that offend us aren’t really meant personally, and taking the attitude ‘never ascribe to malice that which can adequately be ascribed to ill-breeding’ helps me a lot. A gentleman’s manners are never out of style.
    * Clutter multiplies like Star Trek Tribbles; I used to use Post-It notes on the margins of my screen until I had trouble actually SEEING the screen. A whiteboard that I could reach from my chair cured that. Now I put the Post-Its on the whiteboard.

  2. May your travel be low-stress, Janet, and high-reward.
    * Jesus worked in the public eye and faced frequent criticism and competing demands — with grace and perseverance. In this, too, he is my example.
    * In my workaday world, my organization was acquired by another company. Mega stress = my workplace. I told my boss, “If it isn’t going to come up for conversation when I stand before the Throne of Grace, I’m not going to sweat it here and now.” That works for me, but, I fear, it brought her little comfort.

  3. Carol Ashby says:

    Stressed = desserts spelled backwards. That suggests that eating more deserts could reverse your level of stress. I think that might be more likely to work if the deserts are based on dark chocolate.

    • I have lately learned the true wisdom of the old adage – “eat dessert first”.
      * My way of getting my just desserts, I suppose.

    • Carol, I love the reminder of what stressed spelled backward says. I wonder if I would get more done if I focused on desserts first? 🙂

      • Carol Ashby says:

        Jeanne, from years of personal experience, I recommend chocolate chips popped one at a time into your mouth to melt away while you work at the keyboard. Wait between chips until flavor fades before eating the next.

        *Minichips have the advantage of lots of flavor with fewer calories per chip. Ration the amount by using an empty mini M&M tube that you can get at the gas stations. It’s perfectly acceptable to eat the mini M&Ms to get the empty tube. Fill container no more than 4 times in 1 day (I’ve been known to eat 10 ounces in one night working quantum mechanics problems in grad school. Good when you’re 22; not wise at 44, and at 66? I’m not there yet so I don’t know. I look forward to doing the experiment.)

        *Dark chocolate is good for the heart, and it has the advantage of containing some ingredients that discourage tooth decay. That’s important if you’re going to eat candy, I mean health food, all day long.

      • Grinning big, Carol. I forgot how meticulous you are. I love your plan, and your reasoning. Now, to go buy some mini-M&M’s. 😉

    • Peggy Booher says:

      Dark chocolate sounds wonderful to me, Carol!

  4. My name is Michael, and I’m standing on a concrete slab at this perfect second, crooning, “I understand stress.”
    I don’t think I should say further. Classes await, plus purchase of textbooks, plus signing of forms, plus correcting timetable, plus knowing the lecturers, plus…

  5. Janet, I hope your travels go well also.
    *I’ve got plenty of stress in my life too. Can’t go into detail but there are days when I am not sure how I’ll get through. But for the grace of God . . .
    *I find the writer’s stresses the one that gets me more at this stage of my journey. Trying to build my platform takes time. Writing takes time. I sometimes end up sacrificing my writing the demands of real life and trying to maintain a social media presence. Real life takes first priority.
    *Your reminder to focus on the big picture is something I’ve been coming back to recently. If I have no book, the social media presence is kind of useless. So, I’m currently working to find a better balance in my writing life.

    • Carol Ashby says:

      It might not be useless to others, Jeanne. What you share may be exactly what someone else needs to read that day. A burden on us might be a blessing to someone else.

      • Thanks for reminding me about this. It’s not useless. I don’t think I intended it to sound the way it did. I am just thinking about how to keep the main thing the main thing, and social media isn’t my first “main thing.” I appreciate your encouragement!

  6. I love hearing people say they have potential stories tucked in a file. I don’t have that. I guess I don’t work that way. I usually get one story at a time. I finish one, and then another story comes to me. This is always a little stressful for me. Will I be able to establish a story I love and get to writing? Will another story come to me? Again? 🙂 Sure it will. Will it? Sure it will. Will it? But I love that it draws me nearer to God … seeking, asking, begging.

  7. The thing I find most stressful about writing is creating a villain. I really don’t like having to get into the thoughts of the antagonist. The ‘bad guy you love to hate’ cuts no ice with me, either as a writer or as a reader.
    * When having to write the antagonist, I try to keep C.S. Lewis’ dictum before me, that bad is not bad for its own sake, but perverted good. It does help.
    * Anyone else feel this way?

    • Carol Ashby says:

      The definition of “good” is awfully flexible in society today, Andrew. At the very least, the evil that the antagonist embraces has to have a believable motivation flowing from the fundamentally selfish nature of humankind.
      *I recall reading somewhere that C.S. Lewis was asked to write more letters from Screwtape. He declined because he’d found it too easy to slip into the villain’s mindset, and he didn’t want to spend any more time there.

      • Peggy Booher says:

        When I started reading The Screwtape Letters, I put it back down. Screwtape’s thinking was too easy to accept. It will have to wait until I am more spiritually mature.
        *On the other hand, I can handle the evil presented in The Chronicles of Narnia.

    • Hehe, I could easily pick any of the roomies I see each morning and spin a villain of them.
      But, would it be fair to all concerned?
      As someone said, “I am my own hero. I am my own villain.”

  8. Thank you for the insight of your post, Janet. Stress management is something I have been working on for a few years. It’s not always easy. Stepping out to see the big picture, as you mentioned, can be difficult to do at times.
    I love that you take time to dream. (I think I need to make an appointment with myself in my calendar to do this.) But I do wonder what such an accomplished agent would dream about. 🙂

    Safe travels!

  9. Jenny Leo says:

    When I’m feeling stressed by the writing-and-publishing circus, I love to read biographies of my favorite authors. Seldom did they have an easy path, yet their works are still in print today and beloved by many. By reading their biographies I learn how plucky writers combined writing and day jobs, writing and parenthood, writing and illness, writing and…you name it. It makes me feel in good company and less isolated in my own struggles.

  10. I hadn’t calculated it by the calendar, but it’s interesting that I gained an agent (the fabulous Wendy Lawton with the fabulous Books & Such Literary Management team) and my first contract the very year of the financial downturn of 2008, with all that means for publishing. So I came INTO the publishing world at the beginning of a high stress season. No room for the faint of heart in the publishing business. No reason for worry, because that is a stressor, not a solution. No fear, because I’m not a slave to fear, but a servant of the God who sustains, enables, equips, and restores (I Peter 5:10).

  11. Learning as I go can occasionally make me loco.
    But to be honest, at this very moment, other than editing and finding mistakes, not much stresses me out. That may change tomorrow, but right now? I’m fine.
    Why? Because I live a life as a family member of a person who has one of those MEGA stress jobs. No, I won’t say which one.
    Comparatively, nothing is as stressful as real life.
    Also, a sweet hockey mom (whose son played with our oldest), one of those women that everyone loved, a person who always looked out for me, but who I hadn’t seen in a while just because life is life and we all moved on after the boys finished their high school hockey careers, was killed Friday night when her husband lost control of their snowmobile. They were both thrown, but she hit a tree. She died a few hours later.
    As my husband said, the guilt will be catastrophic.
    As I sit here and read about work stress, I feel like saying, “Yes, but that is all temporary.”
    Then it hits me, we write so that people will see God in our words.
    If all I can offer a hurting world is my words, then bring on the stress of doing so.
    But how do I deal with the stresses? I do my best and try to surrender before the fight, so it isn’t as hard.

  12. Jerusha Agen says:

    Thanks for this post, Janet. I especially found your tip about focusing on the big tasks very helpful. I’ve been getting caught up focusing on the small stuff lately and end up feeling very unproductive and frustrated that I’m not accomplishing the bigger job that most needs to be done. Thanks for the tip to refocus!

  13. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Janet, thank you for this post. Your strategy re: big picture (also dreaming!) is very helpful. At times I think I should wrap up a bunch of little loose ends so my mind (and desk) will be more free to concentrate on the big task. But that really doesn’t work because those “little foxes” never end.

    I heard a story of a sojourner in the desert who doesn’t keep checking his compass and ends up walking in a circle. I think the same happens to me if I don’t take time to re-visit the big picture. Then discouragement hits. Thanks for this reminder. I’m going to find a photo & put it up on my version of Andrew’s whiteboard.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Like you, I’m often sent whirling off into the detail work in hopes of finishing it and then moving into the deeper work. But that just means I never get to the deep stuff. Your example of the desert sojourner who failed to keep his eye on his compass is a perfect metaphor for how lost we can become if we don’t set aside time for bigger picture work.