I know a lot of you are feeling…. stressed… and odd.
I have some experience with this, and I’d like to share. Some of this is going to be intensely personal, but I want to stress that my experience in traditional publishing wasn’t particularly bad. There was way worse. The way the system worked, publishers had very little data to go on; there was very little incentive to get the numbers right; the industry as a whole doesn’t seem to have any idea how to promote; distribution is strange…. etc. etc. etc. Plus they had no incentive to change, because there were enough writers dying to be published that it was easy to pay — in the nineties or early oughts — what they paid in the thirties and forties for a book. And it was easy to treat writers as disposable. For anything I know, it might still be. (I don’t understand the hankering to be traditionally published, but then I’m a dinosaur.)
Anyway, here’s the thing, and it’s not so much a complaint about traditional publishing, as a way to explain how I felt and why.
Back in 2003 or so, I realized I had absolutely no power to make my books be successful. The normal advice was “write a better book.” Which was fine, and of course all of us tried to do that.
But then you had to market the book to your agent. Your agent had to decide to market it as a top flight book, the publisher had to buy in on it and give you a big enough advance that the house feels forced to promote it. And even then and with the best intentions in the world, you might end up with a cover that doesn’t sell, a distribution messed up because oh, a major store went out, or a major national disaster happened just before the book was released. And if you had a few disasters under your belt, it became harder, no matter how good your idea or execution, to get a publisher to take you seriously. Or an agent for that matter. Instead, you were tossed into a filler slot in the spirit of a lottery ticket, i.e. “Maybe this will sell, inexplicably, with no promotion/push/distro.” Needless to say that might happen, somewhere, somehow, but I never heard of it, just like I don’t know any lottery winners.
It didn’t really matter how good your book is, if it never gets in the hands of the readers, it will never sell.
I kind of knew that in 2003. But there was nothing I could do about it. And there were kids to buy shoes and books and courses for. You see, at the time Dan made enough for us to live, but anything else, including our super-fantastic holidays (weekends in Denver when we lived in Colorado Springs) came from my writing, such as it was. Besides, I had spent thirteen years breaking in, and my resume was no longer relevant for any jobs. So….
So I lied to myself, which is a way to cope with this situation.
I told myself I just needed a better idea, a better book, to figure out how to promote (which, eh, is how this blog came about) etc etc etc.
Except every five years or so I’d hit the wall, and be profoundly depressed for months. And it kept getting worse. It kept getting harder to get the next book written, to get really excited about the next story.
My hair was falling out. My autoimmune was insane. There were weeks I couldn’t sleep. And writing became harder and harder.
About nine years ago, trying to get over apparently unbreakable block, I found a book. It was called something like “How to combat burnout.”
I’ll admit I never finished the book, because the first few chapters on what caused burnout made me so profoundly uncomfortable, and skimming the “solutions” had nothing that applied to me.
They defined burnout as a “being forced to continue striving for a goal, when you have no control on whether you’ll achieve it. And when any events and results are out of your control.”
The way to cure burnout was to take control, but back then I had no way to actually do that. I mean, there was indie, and I started dipping my toes in the pool of indie, but I was aware that I had no clue what I was doing and that it would be a while before I could support myself.
And most of the things suggested by the book — I skimmed — in publishing in fact boiled down to “write a better book, and pray.”
What I want to talk about has nothing to do with the situation I was in, or with the splendorous brokenness of traditional publishing.
It has to do with what comes after. I was, in fact profoundly burned out. And I’m still not fully recovered. Continuing to try to push forward, when everything in you wants to stop it, but you have no way to escape, is what I want to talk to you about.
Because it is in fact the situation all of us have been in for the last two years. And the situation we are still in, being dragged along by factors we cannot control.
Now, I’ll be honest, this is the fate of most humans throughout most of history. You really had no control over your life.
But this is not what we have been raised to believe. This is not the society we thought we lived in.
We expected our vote to count. We expect effort and dedication and hard work to have a result.
We do not expect to find ourselves under a two year house arrest at the decision of tyrants, for no reason that makes any sense. We don’t expect our kids’ education arbitrarily destroyed (not to mention what most found out about their kids education during the lockdown.) We don’t expect small businesses destroyed. We don’t expect unapologetic election fraud. We don’t expect the people who come to power that way to then do things like refuse to let our country drill for oil, or try to drive the country in the direction of technologies that don’t exist, thereby making it impossible to transport the essentials. We don’t expect to have to find ways to navigate daily life: it worked before.
We all know we’re heading for food and fuel shortages. We’re all watching things become more difficult. We can all predict the results.
But there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, particularly by our lonesome selves. And nothing can be done until the discontent reaches a critical mass, which, as we see from other countries, requires a whole other level of suffering, and a level of damage it will be hell to recover from.
And…. we’re powerless. It’s our lives, the lives of our kids. It’s our businesses, our communities, the careers we spent years building. It’s our ability to come and go at will, to visit friends, family. It’s our savings, our old age survival. It’s our medical care. It’s our ability to speak, to attend a demonstration, if we agree with it. It’s our ability to defend ourselves (ask the Bodega owner in NYC.) It’s plans we’d made, things we’d worked toward.
None of it is safe, all of it is in the hands of people we can’t trust, people who have other agendas than our best interests. (And far more sinister than any traditional publisher ever managed.)
And there is absolutely nothing we can do. Not yet. Not while we’re bound and delivered to our foes.
Yet all through this, we have to get up every morning, have breakfast, do our best to function. Cope with rapidly increasing prices for everything. Look after ourselves, our children, our pets. Clean the house (even ten year ago me would hate how rarely I’ve done that.) Cook. Work at our jobs (that too has suffered.) Try to get to a safe place. Try to prepare for a calamity. Network.
All of this without curling up in the fetal position, or screaming at the sky. That’s what the other side does, at minor contretemps, and no one judges them for it. But we know we’d be judged, and besides, we’re the adults, the responsible ones.
The entire country, to an extent the entire world, is spiraling into a hellacious case of burnout, to rival the one I’m not fully recovered from. And because it’s all of us, it amplifies. In case you’re wondering why people are at each other’s throats at the drop of a hat. Because it’s all of us, it makes society frail and stuff unstable.
Well, other than diagnosing it, what can I do? You’re still in a heck of a place.
I can’t help you, in the sense I can’t say “take charge.” You can’t. I mean, you can get out and work for non-poopy-head politicians, but the rot is much deeper, and cleaning things like the voting process is going to take a lot more. (At least now people are aware of it. Sixteen years ago even people here argued there wasn’t a problem.) And it might take a while.
And meanwhile we’re staring at the collapse of the food distribution system probably this winter, or not much further on. And we’re staring at blackouts and burnouts this winter, in dangerously cold weather.
So, what can you do?
Well, there are things you can do, things I’m doing to come out of burnout, things that I wish I had done back then.
1- Don’t lie to yourself.
Yes, maybe we’ll get lucky and get out of this without an explosion. Yes, some days you pray for an explosion, because at least it would end this. No, it wouldn’t be a good thing. There’s ends and ends. Swallowing a bullet is also an end, but one that makes things worse for the innocents around you and even your casual acquaintances online. (Trust me at this. We might yell at you, but this community cares.)
Yeah, we’re in a heck of a bind, and things will have to get worse before they get better. And you can’t hurry them. And you can’t really do anything right now that won’t just make things worse.
Sucks, doesn’t it? So you have to relieve the pressure.
Don’t lie to yourself. It’s not your fault. You can’t fix it. It’s not “if only I–” And it’s not “if everybody.”
At this point, though the trends are clear, we’re powerless.
2- There will be a time we’re not powerless.
Prepare for that time.
The first step is research. There is a book about the collapse and chaos in Argentina by someone who survived it. It’s called “How to survive” something or other, and it’s…. in the storage unit, and I can’t remember either the author or the title, but I’m sure one of my commenters does. Find it. Read it. It will give you a sense of how things might go.
REMEMBER that this was Argentina, not the US. Vastly different places. Account for that. Bu tit will give you an idea.
UPDATE: Thank you to beautiful young lady, but also occasionally a little grey cat Dorothy Grant, the book is The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse – by Ferfal.
3- And then prepare Whether it’s getting in better health (this should always be part of it, particularly going into unstable times), buying shelf stable food, learning to grow a garden, buying a few peeps. Buying extras of what you know you’ll use, that will only be more expensive next year or next. Shirts, shoes, underwear, paper towels, toilet paper, freedom seeds. Freedom seed dispensers.
If you’re in an area that’s highly likely to tip into famine (Large cities in states insisting on carbon neutral trucks would be one) or places prone to rioting (say your downtown was taken over by Buy Large Mansions) or places largely given over to feral homeless populations, try to figure out a route out. I know it’s not possible, or not possible fast for many of you.
But if it’s possible AT ALL, plan.
If you have to hurry up a plan you had for ten or five years in the future, and if you can do it, do so. Now. Don’t hesitate. This comes from someone JUST starting to unpack form a largely traumatic move. (look, I have kitchen, dining room and office. The rest is…. uh.)
The order is: Get safe, get stocked, get networked. Try to do it, or at least work towards it.
4- Do not throw everything over to get on with this.
Yes, it might seem like in the face of the disaster we face, we can throw over family, marriages, careers, and do whatever it takes.
You could do that. But then, you know, it wouldn’t work, because this is not in fact a movie. This is real life.
And real life disasters don’t work that way. We’re used to reading about the Weimar republic and thinking that everything collapsed.
Not really. People still went to school. People still had jobs. People still married and dated and all the other stuff. I know that seems crasy to you, but I swear that’s how real life is.
I heard tell — I don’t know — that life still went on in East Beirut (Sorry for typo) when it looked completely wrecked. People still had every-day concerns. And you know? Life went on in the middle of the French Revolution, which was probably crazier.
Life will continue. I can’t tell you for sure whether your career/profession/knowledge will be needed. No one can. It’s always the weirdest things that work, and surprise you.
So you keep doing normal life, until you can’t. But you know, people learned, and worked and had children, and survived through other heinous upheavals, and you can too.
5- You won’t always be powerless. Your power might be small. It might be a word at the right time. It might be standing up in a public meeting and speaking out about something. It might be laughing when someone says “trust the science.”
You’re not really fully powerless now, either. It’s just that you can’t grab the world by its collective shoulders and bitch slapt it into sanity. Instead, you have to do little subtle pushes, while trying to survive, while making your life the best you can under whatever the heck is coming our way, and while saving others who can’t save themselves.
Sucks, don’t it?
But it’s all we can do. (Like I should have been working seriously at indie before it was pushed on me. And then I wouldn’t be so burned, and would have more income.)
I KNOW you’re reading that and going “But it doesn’t solve it.” You want to scream at the sky. You want to stand in front of a tank. You want a grand gesture that stops the insanity.
Right now, right at this moment, unless you are in some kind of position where you can reach millions of people and wake them up — so, say, you’re one of those billionaires I keep joking about following my blog — anything you can do in a big way will make it worse.
So you’ll have to be contented with the small ways and with …. prepare, prepare, prepare.
Exercise helps. Particularly a punching bag. (I am not joking on this.) Planning helps. Something you didn’t plan for will, of course, happen, but you can always cobble two plans together.
Staying as calm and sane as possible helps.
Helping others stay as calm and sane as possible helps.
Be not afraid. In the end, we win they lose.
And yeah, perhaps we’ll get lucky. Perhaps it will be easier than we expect.
But easier or harder, we need you. However small the push you can give, the words you can say, the decision you can make, can be the determining touch that makes what comes after better.
It’s not your fault. And no one expects you to fix it all.
It’s not my fault either, and only I expect me to fix it (And I’m a well known crazy person on this.)
But we can and will do what we can to make sure we and ours, and other liberty lovers and Americans survive, and make it onto a better future.
America has a date with a better future. And it needs us to get her there.