Reducing Stress as a Writer

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigfile0002062790027

Journalist Porter Anderson had an interesting article in Thought Catalog: “Author-Editor Relationships: An Endangered Species?” In it, he says:

“One of the things that makes the 2015-2016 transition interesting in the creative corps is a subdued, reflective, sometimes exhausted, and often pensive mood.

A lot of it revolves around marketplace fatigue.”

Smashwords founder Mark Coker states in his post “2016 Book Publishing Predictions”:

“Many full time indies will quit or scale back production in 2016.”

He explains this is due to authors who may have prematurely quit their day jobs and are now facing a much more challenging publishing landscape.

Whether it’s the need to write quickly or the sometimes overwhelming job of keeping our books and ourselves visible, writers are facing a lot of stress these days.

I’ve felt it too. I’m much less stressed out about the writing than I am about the “everything else.”  I was reflecting on the past year with a friend and I admitted that a lot of my problem is that I can do (nearly) everything myself.  I can do rudimentary (not cover) design. I can format books. I can update my website. I can create newsletters and schedule updates on social media. I know how to upload to retail platforms, share my calendar, create a slideshow for a lecture.

And, because I know how to do it, because I have the skills, and I’ve a tendency toward frugality, I do it all myself.

There were a few exceptions.  I hit the wall with my own accounting ability and stopped doing my own taxes a couple of years ago.  I’ve always had freelancers to help me out with covers, narrating audio books, formatting print and digital books, and editing. Sometimes I need help with my website issues (or just don’t have the time to figure out how to fix the issue myself).

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m something of a control freak. I don’t think I was always this way, but over the past 5-10 years, it’s definitely become more obvious.  I like things done a particular way. To ensure it’s done this way, I do it myself.

I’m frequently advised by both writer friends and non-writer friends to outsource some of what I do.  I have been very hesitant to do this.

But, in 2016, I’m going to give it a go.

I made a list of as many different things that I could think of that I do on a regular basis (daily, weekly, monthly, annually).  I kept saying I felt overwhelmed, but I also couldn’t completely account for my time or what I was spending it on. Some of the tasks on my list I almost enjoy. Some I dread doing—and the dread frequently isn’t equivalent to the size of the task….I dread updating Facebook, for instance. Where are my readers? They’re on Facebook.

Some of these tasks overlap. Some take only a minute or two (after I remember to do them). Some can take many hours to complete.  See if this list sounds familiar to you.

Update Amazon Author Central (US and worldwide)
Update my website with new books, new copy, new author photos, new bios.
Update Goodreads books and author info.
Run Goodreads giveaways
Update Facebook
Update Google Plus
Curate and schedule content for Twitter. Collect it and share on the blog.
Blog (3x weekly). Respond to comments. Visit other blogs
Promote my author newsletter
Send newsletters out to readers
Advertise on Facebook.
Respond to reader emails
Create author notes for Amazon and for the backs of my books
Update end matter in my digital books. Keep a copy
Respond to guest post requests
Learn new software
Watch webinars for business-related information (promo, learning software like Scrivener, etc.)
Respond to emailed requests for me to beta test software
Connect with and coordinate with editors, formatters, cover designers
Track sales and run promotions
Distribute new books to each platform: ACX, Amazon, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, IngramSpark, CreateSpace, etc.
Update stories weekly on Wattpad
Secure narrator for audiobooks. Listen to finished audiobook for errors. Upload to ACX.
Send promo copies and signed copies to readers.
Participate in Skype/podcast/written interviews. YouTube interviews
Update social media banners
Coordinate speaking engagements
Write guest posts and respond to comments when the post runs
Set up annual headshot and update social media with the new picture
Create PowerPoints for speaking engagements
Count 4 and 5 star reviews on both active series to use in the Editorial Reviews section of my book pages
Write blurbs for other authors
Write cover copy and ad copy
Update series bibles with each book
Pull tax-related items together. Pull year-end things together for accountant.
Organize items on the computer:  Covers in one folder.  Manuscripts in format-specific folders.
Back up. Back up my backups.
Maintain and use Amazon Affiliate links for all my books
Research for books and for promo

Glancing over the list, I realized there are some tasks I would be happy to relinquish doing.  And there are some things that I wouldn’t always want to relinquish, but I might if I were overwhelmed with work.

There are author assistants who will work for us on an hourly basis or a per-the-job basis.  Author Assistant Mel Jolly (I met her at the NINC conference where we were both speakers) has a directory of assistants on her Author’s Atlas site. I’ve heard excellent things about Kate Tilton and Authors Write.

I’m planning on starting out slowly with this outsourcing.  An hour here and there. We’ll see where it goes from there.  Some weeks I’m so snowed with promo-maintenance-writing-family-life that I’m in dire need of assistance. Some weeks I can handle it all and look for more. But the number of times I’m feeling snowed is definitely increasing with the number of books I write and (perhaps) with any increase in my visibility online.

There are other ways to reduce our workload and stress, if you haven’t reached this point. Schedule your social media updates using or a similar program. Set up your blog posts to automatically feed to Facebook or Google Plus.  Create an editorial calendar for your blog posts so that you don’t waste any time trying to brainstorm. Outline your book, if you’re open to it. Create templates for your reader newsletters.

How do you reduce your stress level as a writer? Have you thought about using a virtual assistant?

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38 thoughts on “Reducing Stress as a Writer

  1. I don’t have nearly that much and I still feel snowed under some days. (The break over the holidays was good though.) There aren’t enough clones to keep up with everything.

  2. Elizabeth, first, a very Happy New Year to you! I hope you have a great year of writing, publishing, and selling! Second, your list is impressive but intimidating at the same time, in terms of tasks and duties of a published or self-published writer, and especially a wannabe writer like me. Half the items on the list hadn’t even occurred to me, but I’m going to make a note of it all. This is education, thank you.

    1. Prashant–I think it scares me a little to look at my list, ha! But I really couldn’t account for half the business-related things I do until I made it. And now I can see more clearly where I could use some extra help. It’s all doable and maybe some of the things I’m doing are just “going the extra mile” and aren’t 100% needed? I need to assess it, for sure.

      Happy 2016 to you!

  3. No doubt about it, Elizabeth, writing, and keeping one’s name ‘out there’ are stressful. So is managing the business end of things for those who are successful enough to make money from writing. Just looking at your list is a good reminder of how much there is involved in writing, besides the actual storytelling. I think that just being aware of it is helpful. That, at least, prevents the ‘What’s wrong with me?’ syndrome. Once you really get a look at what you do as a writer, and break it down, it’s easier to figure out what to do to cut down on the stress.

    1. Margot–Such a good point. I’m frequently asked if I spend most of my day writing. I don’t. I spend, actually, very LITTLE of my day writing. I’m a speedy writer and can get my goal in a fraction of the time it takes me to do everything else. You’re right–this helps us see where the stress, the work, is coming from.

  4. Haha, no wonder I’m not a monetarily successful writer. This list is so intimidating and overwhelming. I’m so glad you are going to begin outsourcing some tasks. Stress is not a good thing. Happy New Year, Elizabeth. Good luck with this goal.

  5. Hi Elizabeth – what a great list you’ve given us .. thanks – first I must investigate HootSuite and take things from there … I’ve lots of goals this month – cheers and thanks for the update – good luck with your outsourcing … cheers Hilary

  6. Happy New Year, Elizabeth! This is an impressive list, and if you don’t mind, I’m going to use it to expand my own list in greater detail :) As I’ve already shared in the past and you’ve pointed out, I do Assisted Self-Publishing. My Marketing Guy takes care of covers, graphics, SEO, ads, and promotions–for now. He’s basically training me to take care of these things on my own, but the learning curve is steep–and stressful! We’ll see how I feel about it by the time I publish the next book this fall.

    I read the entire Mark Coker post, and it was one of the most depressing, expletive-deleted things I’ve ever read. Clearly hard work and good work just is less likely to provide a living than ever. Sigh. Reading stuff like that is stressful.

    The best thing for me to reduce stress, therefore, is to continue my minimalist lifestyle. The less I need to meet expenses, the more likely I am able to make ends meet as a writer, which in turn makes it easier to keep writing, and writing well.

    1. Meg–Absolutely! I hoped that other writers could use it to help them organize or outsource. I keep thinking of other things that I do–like purchasing and keeping track of ISBNs, etc. There’s just so much.

      I think it’s always good to *know* how to do it. I do think you’ve mastered the tricky part–knowing when you *don’t* want to know or do something. My response has always been, “I can do that.” And I *can* do most things. Every once in a while I know enough to make a huge mess. But there’s a danger in having the ability to do everything, too…that rising stress level.

      Mark’s got a depressing post, for sure. But I will also point out that Mark is coming at it from a particular point of view–and he’s going to be at odds, naturally, with Amazon’s plans to really take over as the world’s bookseller. And a smaller group of authors (if many quit, which I am sorry about) will naturally benefit those of us who stick it out. And downsizing, making our lives simpler–such a good recipe for stronger success, Meg. Great point.

  7. Thank you for a great post for the new year. I felt I could have written it, except the part about being a speedy writer! But my slow writing process does not frustrate me as much as the amount of writing business taking so much of my time. Creating a list of tasks has been on my to-do list but I put it off while I take care of other daily demands. Figuring out what to delegate to an assistant is second to finding the time to research/hire the right assistant for me.

    I am looking forward to the day when I can outsource the mundane tasks. :-)

    1. Gillian–I don’t think there’s a problem being a thoughtful, deliberative writer at all. Slow and steady wins the race!

      Sounds like you’re like me…the writing isn’t the stressful part. I didn’t even include writing on my list, ha!

      When you’re ready, Mel Jolly (who I think may be the patron saint of author assistants) has a lovely download that helps us learn what type of help we may need and how to interview an assistant…it’s a free download for signing up for her mailing list. I’m on her mailing list and she does offer some very helpful tips there (and she’s amazingly upbeat. I have a hard time being upbeat. Maybe once I’ve started outsourcing, lol!) And I promise I’m not affiliated with Mel…but I did spend some time with her in the airport transit on the way to the October conference. :)

  8. Two salesmen are sent to subsaharan Africa to see about the prospects of selling shoes there.

    One telegraphs back “situation hopeless stop nobody wears shoes here stop”

    The other telegraphs back “infinite opportunity stop nobody has shoes yet stop”

    I am thrilled when I hear that one-book authors and those who aren’t invested in a lifetime of craft will be going elsewhere this year.

    Because these folks, here in these comments, all of us: we’re long-haulers, and we’re gonna be bigger fish in a smaller pond come December.

    As of two months ago, Best Beloved convinced me to let her business (social media support for authors, by the way, over at carry the weight while I write, write, write. My web biz and my indie publishing biz are going to drift; not shut down, but not actively promoted. Outsourcing everything I can in order to focus 100% on writing mysteries and songs.

    I have too much art going on to be an administrator. I have people who can do a better job anyway, but nobody can create my art if I don’t do it.

    1. Joel–Exactly. The only thing that *no one* can do for us (well, except if we were James Patterson) is to write our books. It does make me feel less stressed to know that there is support when I need it for all the other stuff we do. Good to know your wife is in the biz now! Thanks for sharing the link here.

  9. I’m bookmarking this list to help me keep on track once I get there. Currently my life is snowing me under all by itself so I’ve not pushed myself to do more than I am. One day!!

  10. I have a similar list. Actually it’s more like a spread sheet so I can keep track (normal lists weren’t working for me). The tasks are broken down: daily, weekly, monthly. I needed to start doing this because I was forgetting to do things and generally being inconsistent in my marketing. It’s a lot of work, no doubt about it.

    I already outsource more than a lot of writers I know. I have an editor, formatter, website designer and cover designer. I use Lightning Source to print my books and distribute them.

    I’ve been thinking about a virtual assistant for a while. But I won’t do it until I’m really clear about what i want them to do (not quite there yet). But it’s definitely on my list for 2016!

    1. Victoria–The advice I’ve read is to start really small and to begin by outsourcing items that have a definable end. Then we can decide if the assistant is a good fit for us.

      I like the idea of your spreadsheet! I’ll have to incorporate that.

    2. Victoria, a good VA will analyze your workload and tell you where they can help, and it won’t cost you a nickel until you hire them.

      Waiting until the time is right is classic artistic Resistance. Find a VA through a source you trust, and get them to point out where they can do you the most good for the least cash. It is, after all, their area of expertise.

  11. Oh gosh, seeing my name here totally made me blush, what an honor!

    As an assistant, I often work with writers like yourself who can technically do the things I do but by doing so, they were losing the time they needed to write. I think of my job as a partnership where I work as another set of hands for the author so they can get done all the things they want to without losing writing time or family time (because those things you can’t have someone else do, they need to come from you).

    One of the things I love most about what I do is knowing it makes a difference for each and every author. Being able to take some of that stress away makes getting up to work each day a pleasure.

    Thank you again for the kind words Elizabeth, and best of luck with your new goals!

      1. Yes, having a partnership works best as your assistant gets to know you and your goals and can help you get there by doing the work and providing new ideas as they come across them. I’ve found working with more than one author sometimes means something I try with one author can then be done for another author so everyone benefits from this shared knowledge. It’s a really cool thing about my job. :)

        Thank you! I hope you have the best 2016 too!

  12. Great sharing of the list, though I’m sure some things are missing. I know for me between writing, teaching, and being part of an author co-op it gets harder and harder to keep all the balls in the air. Like you, I am capable of doing all the parts and do–except I learned long ago to contract out cover design. That means that some parts (e.g., social media, even with Hootsuite use, and marketing) get short shrift.

    Three months ago, I finally caved and did hire a VA. I started small with a few hours a month and doing social media postings that were brand reinforcing but not personal. I still do the personal ones. She caught on to my brand and did a great job. So, in 2016 I’m upping her hours to do some other things on the list. It’s hard letting go, but once you do it is soooooo freeing. 100% worth it.

    1. Maggie–I keep looking at my list and thinking there must be about 25 more things I should be adding to it. Like today…I finally became an Apple Affiliate and went through the painstaking process of replacing my Apple links with affiliate links. And then I realized that my box sets weren’t available anywhere but Amazon because I put it together right before my summer vacation…and then never picked up again where I left off. It’s like it never ends!

      I’m glad to hear that having a VA has worked out so well for you! That makes me feel good about my decision to try outsourcing. :) Feeling positive heading into the year.

  13. Yeah, a lot of the items on that list sound familiar. And they’ve been on that list for the last several years. :(

    You sound a lot like me. I tend to want to do everything myself, even when handing the task over to someone else would be pretty easy. I’m trying to get better at delegating stuff, especially in those cases when the other person is obviously better at the task than I am.

  14. Oh my gosh this made me so tired! It is a huge part of why I am committed to at least a portion of my stuff being traditionally published, at least until I am established enough to hire a bit of help.

  15. Wow, quite the list, especially when you think about everything else you have to do that’s outside your writing list.
    I was raised with a “if-you-want-it-done-right-then-do-it-yourself” mentality and as I got into that habit, collaborating with others on projects always worries me because I don’t have all the control and/or irritates me because the tasks aren’t being done according to “my” standards. But I just have to let things go, and when needed do damage-control.

    1. Red Wolf–I’m trying to let things go. :) This has got to be the hardest thing for me. I’m definitely *not* a perfectionist, but I do like things done on a particular timetable. I need to work on changing that mentality so that I won’t drive myself into the ground.

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