Burnout in the Publishing Industry

Literary agent Kortney Price explains how burnout affects people in the publishing industry—it's a real issue, and you are not alone!

 Burnout is something I think most people in the publishing industry are quite familiar with. Me and burnout? We’re on a first-name basis.

Before earning the agent title, I interned with a small press and four different literary agencies. I typically held multiple internships at once along with a full-time job or two. At one agency, I was expected to read five partial manuscripts and one full manuscript each week, maintain the agency’s social media accounts, and act as the agency assistant.

It was an unpaid position.

What’s unfortunate is that, in the publishing industry, this workload is pretty normal. Working a day job (or two) while using all of your free time to try and “make it” as an author, agent, or editor is seen as some sort of right of passage.

Problem is, once you’ve “made it,” you’re starting a brand new-career already flirting with complete and utter burnout.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is defined as the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion felt due to prolonged stress. Creative burnout is a particularly scary prospect for anyone who makes a living off of their art. The pressure to produce quality work in order to make a living, however, creates tons of stress which is the perfect environment for this type of burnout to manifest.

So, what can we do to battle burnout in the publishing industry? Here’s a list of some of my favorites from over the years:

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  1. Rest.

    Needing a break doesn’t make you weak. Taking a break doesn’t make you a failure. Sometimes we need time to recharge. If you’re in the throes of burnout, take a break. A day, a week, a month… whatever you need. Need to take a break and not work on weekends? Don’t work on weekends. Need to not work on Mondays and Tuesdays instead? Don’t work on Mondays and Tuesdays. Again, do whatever works best for you.

  2. Create for YOU.

    Remember the good ol’ days when you got to sit in your room and write for fun? Go back to that place. If you can’t, try another creative outlet where you have no pressure to produce quality work. I’ve had a small tub of play dough in every desk I’ve ever worked at for this reason. Not into sculpting? Try painting, coloring, baking, cooking, drawing, crafting, woodburning, crocheting, knitting… if you don’t know how, there are YouTube videos for everything these days. Pick something that sounds interesting and get to creating!

  3. Find your people.

    I think it was Brené Brown who said something along the lines of shame cannot survive in the light. When we talk about how we’re feeling, we take fear and isolation out of the equation. Everyone feels burned out every once in a while. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that way. Talking to people you trust about how you’re feeling will help you to find support and maybe some new strategies for getting back on your feet.

  4. Build a tough-day kitDuring college I had a “Bad Day” email folder to which I’d add any uplifting emails I got. On tough days, I could just open it up for a confidence boost. My creative writing professor told me that I “have a good eye for story.” Added it to the folder. Another professor (who I idolized) told me that my biting review of the movie adaptation of The Book Thiefwas so good that I might consider “working in film review.” I still have that email saved. For you, it might be a list of accomplishments or a reminder to remember how far you’ve come. It might be a Pinterest board of hilarious or adorable animal memes (check out mine here). Maybe a playlist with only songs that you can’t help but dance to would be your literal jam.
  5. Be gentle with yourself.

    Creative burnout isn’t a forever thing. It’s more like a sign that you’ve strained your creative muscle and now it needs to recover. Just because you’ve created a new schedule or reworked your office space for maximum efficiency doesn’t mean that you’re magically healed. Just like a strained muscle, you need weeks of recovery time and a way to ease back into activity. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably reinjure yourself at least once or twice. ~Seriously, ask my high school track coach. I spent two seasons nursing the same injury because half-speed wasn’t a concept I understood.~

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Find Strategies and Approaches that Work for You

The point of taking time to ease back into activity is to find strategies and approaches that work for you. If something is causing you stress, how can you rework that task so it no longer falls on you? Or, if you’re stuck with it, how can you make it less stressful? Can you break it up into smaller pieces? Or reward yourself and get something good out of it? There’s a lot of trial and error to finding a balance that works for you, but it is definitely possible.

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Learn to set boundaries and say no to things you know you can’t take on.

Set Your Boundaries

Once you’ve found strategies that work, hold on to those for dear life. Learn to set boundaries and say no to things you know you can’t take on. Little by little, you’ll inch back toward taking the world by storm. Better yet, you’ll actually be able to enjoy the journey. 

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