THE POST-DEBUT BLUES: THREE REASONS WHY YOU'RE BUMMED OUT
Updated: Mar 18
If you’re like most writers, having your first novel published is a lifelong dream. For years or even decades, you’ve been dreaming of walking into a bookstore or a public library and seeing your name on the shelf. And then, finally, after years and years of hard work, honing your craft, and revising your stories within an inch of their lives, you finally get your first book deal!
Publishing is slow, so once you sign that contract you have to wait a year or two for the book to actually hit shelves… but when it does, you will just be OVER THE MOON forever and ever.
WHAT ARE THE POST-DEBUT BLUES?
This post is going to be a vulnerable one for me, and maybe a bit of a bummer for you. Sorry.
It’s still something I’m working through myself, but through my own experience and through talking with other debut authors, something I’m starting to learn is that, no matter how excited you are to see your book wing its way out into the world, and no matter how grateful you are to have this chance to share your story with readers, as the glitter and confetti of your debut day start to fade, you may find yourself feeling strangely… empty.
Your friends and family know how hard you’ve worked for this moment, and everyone keeps saying things like “you must be so happy!” or “you have to be so proud right now!” You know those things should be true, and in a lot of ways they are! But at the same time, you feel a gaping, debut-novel-sized hole in the center of your chest, seeping the life and excitement from you.
But why? I’ll be honest, I am not 100% sure myself. But I do think I have managed to narrow it down to a few likely culprits:
CULPRIT 1: IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Ahhh, impostor syndrome. The source of my undoing 98% of the time. For anyone lucky enough to be unfamiliar, impostor syndrome refers to the general feeling that you don’t belong where you are. That you’re just faking it and that, someday, everyone else around you will figure it out and expose you for the fraud that you are.
For most writers, impostor syndrome is an inconvenient fact of daily life. I have felt the sting of impostor syndrome pretty much daily since my first round of query letters back in 2014. But I will say, as the publishing process has moved forward, my impostor syndrome monster has only grown more teeth.
Well, for starters, more people in my life know I’m trying to do this whole “writing’ thing now. In the beginning it was pretty much just my husband and my mom. Now I have old high school teachers tagging me on Twitter, and I’m getting emails from friends I haven’t seen since college. This is all amazing, mind you - I’m so blown away by the support! But it also means that if I am outed as an impostor, there are now a lot more witnesses to my failure.
I am fully aware, logically, that if I do fail these people will just go about their lives and they won’t really care one way or the other. But emotionally, it feels like a lot more pressure to prove them all right - to show everyone that their support and belief in me is well-placed.
Another reason that impostor syndrome tends to rear its ugly head at debut time is comparison. I’ve talked before online about how much I hate feeling jealous of other authors, but sometimes it is inevitable. I love seeing people succeed. It gives me warm-fuzzies to see any author’s dreams coming true! But when I see other people making lists I didn’t make, or quitting their day jobs when I still staunchly need mine, it can make me feel like I don’t belong in this exclusive club we call “authors.”
The fun part is, no one else is worrying about whether or not you “belong” in the group. They’re just doing their own thing. The only one worrying is you.
That doesn’t make it any easier, though.
CULPRIT 2: THE MOVING TARGET OF “SUCCESS”
If you told five-years-ago-MJ that she would get a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and that her book would be on shelves in the US, the UK, Australia - all over the world - she would have jumped up and down, screaming with joy.
So, why do I not feel that way 100% of the time now that it’s happened?
The evils of the moving target of “success,” that’s why.
Basically, this concept boils down to the idea that, the more we achieve, the more we expect from ourselves. It stems from “if only” thinking. For example, “If only I get an agent, then I’ll be happy… If only I get a book deal, then I’ll be happy… If only I earn out, then I’ll be happy…” and on and on it goes, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie-style until you lose all sense of joy and wonder at what you’ve achieved.
I think the solution here is to try to remind yourself of two things:
Where you started
Why you started
We started with a blank Word document and a dream. And we started because we fucking love writing. Everything that has happened since is details. If I can get back to that blank Word doc and that dream, I’ll be able to work on my next project instead of being bummed out about my debut.
But… yeah. Actually accomplishing that is harder than it sounds.
CULPRIT 3: TANGLED SYNDROME
Okay, I’ll fully admit, I just made this name up. But for the Disney fans in the house, remember the part in Tangled where Rapunzel has finally made it to see the lanterns, and she gets sad and scared for a moment? When Eugene asks why, she describes waiting for this moment her entire life, and her fears about what happens if it’s not what she wants it to be? Or, perhaps worse - if it is what she wants it to be… and now it’s just over?
For me, I think getting my debut novel published has had a similar feel. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was a kid. I’ve been actively working toward that dream for almost a decade. And then, in the space of a single day, all of that anticipation and hard work finally came to fruition…
Well, I know the answer to this. Now I get to work on another book, and another book, and another book. But there is still an odd sense of melancholy to the end of such a long, drawn-out period of anticipation. Maybe that’s normal.
SO… WHY ARE WE BUMMED OUT?
Are any of these things the true culprit of the post-debut blues? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless of what causes them, just know that if you’re feeling down following your book release, it’s okay. Even if it feels like everyone in your life expects you to be glowing with pride and ecstasy 24/7, just know that many of your fellow authors have felt the same way you’re feeling.
And it’s okay. :)
If you want to connect and lament your post-debut blues with a friend, feel free to chat with me on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok @mjkuhnbooks.