The Post-Book Blues

By Caroline Crampton,

Published on Jun 12, 2024   —   4 min read


Back at the bottom of the mountain again.

For a long time, I would always get sick on the first day of a holiday. Having remained functional through the final weeks of a long school term or period at work, it was only when my time was at last my own that my body would make its problems known. This effect was especially pronounced towards the end of senior school when every exam carried that "the results could affect the rest of your life" heft. The first few days of every break were spent in bed, clutching my stomach and/or mopping up snot. It was just the way I was made, I thought.

Funnily enough, this is actually how I came to be diagnosed with cancer when I was 17 (readers of A Body Made of Glass will know more about that), because I finished a very long and arduous school term, took to my bed with my customary malaise once the Christmas holidays began, and then didn't get better on my usual timetable. Three weeks later, I was still laid low, which is why my mother took me to a doctor who ultimately referred me to an X-ray clinic and then a haemato-oncologist, who then saw me through the next five years of treatment and recovery.

I don't experience this pattern of illness anymore. I am lucky that my life is no longer structured so rigidly into terms and holidays or periods of hellish office labour interspersed with much-needed moments of paid time off. It doesn't feel anymore like I am running on a treadmill that I cannot adjust until it stops at an appointed date far in the future when I will be able to safely collapse.

But I do still experience a sort of long-range time blindness when it comes to big life events. I become so focused on a highly anticipated moment in the future — the day of the house move, the start of a new job, the arrival of a guest — that I cannot visualise what might happen once that event has occurred. There is only a void, a cliff edge off which I will have fallen. Will I even still exist? Will anything? My brain cannot conceive of it.

This is how my mind approached the publication date of both my books: 6th June 2019 and then 11th April 2024. Years of work went into preparing for each of these days. Work on a book doesn't finish when you finish writing it. That's just when you switch into a different mode, preparing how to frame it for marketing and review. You toil for months on trying to generate as much interest as possible, all focused on that one day of release. And then, if you are part of the 90+ per cent of authors who do not make their full-time living from writing books, you are supposed to get up the next day and carry on with your life unchanged, almost as if all that effort and preparation had meant nothing.

Both times, this has given me something akin to emotional whiplash. It was less severe in 2019, I think, because the comedown from publication day was more gradual. I had lots of literary festival events booked for the summer that I travelled for, so there was more of a transition period from "book life" into real life. This time, it has happened more dramatically. I spent a few weeks doing nothing but book work, with sometimes five or six interviews and online events in a day. And then it dropped to none at all. I have a couple more in-person gigs in the calendar, one in July and one in August, but that's it. The contrast is jarring, to say the least.

The last few weeks have been blue. It's difficult for me to articulate why, when I have been so fortunate. In terms of real-world benchmarks, the book has surpassed all my expectations. It was serialised on BBC Radio 4 and reviewed in the New York Times! I can't name a single piece of publicity that I would have wished for but didn't get. That is not something I will likely ever be able to say again. I have been incredibly lucky. I feel guilty about feeling anything less than ecstatic.

Why do I feel so down? Why am I struggling to concentrate on anything and feel might cry every time I catch a glimpse of my book either online or in person? Why, having mostly avoided the comparison trap for months, am I now upset by literary festival listings and social media posts? I have been wrestling with this question and still don't know the answer.

A clue arrived, though, in this newsletter:

"Post-publication depression is a real thing. Writing a book requires a gut-gouging quantity of emotional vulnerability, isolation, and uncertainty. Most people are exhausted by the time they cross the finish line. Most people are not even positive when they can stop running."

It's not just me, then. It's the system. The writer, Anna Sproul-Latimer of the Neon Literary agency, goes on to describe the post-publication period as being characterised by "the dissolution of a survival fantasy". Authors get through the tough years of writing alone by thinking that all the exciting communal fun they will have once their book is on sale will make the misery worthwhile, only to get to that magical moment and find that it falls short.

Perhaps a beloved bookshop isn't stocking any copies, maybe the reviews aren't what you hoped, or there aren't as many readers or events or interviews as in your dreams. Then comes the disappointment, amplified by the fact that it represents the dashing of long-held hopes. There is no quick fix, either. The only way to "do better next time" is to climb the mountain from the bottom again and spend another several years writing alone.

For myself, I think a lot of this feeling comes from being unsure about what comes next. Should I even write another book, if I'm going to feel like this once it comes out? Part of my brain has been thinking about how I should be "working on my book" every day for the past eight years. I am curious to know what it would be like to be released from that mental load, but I also have ideas I would like to work on and ultimately share with others. Which is it to be? When I find out, you'll be the first to know.

Thank you for reading. Any (kind) feedback or requests for future subjects are welcome via reply to this email.

This was a personal essay, but there will be other types of posts coming on this list. If you would like to adjust what you receive from me, you can do that in your account menu.

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