Staying Sane in a Crazy (Self-Publishing) World Publishing Writing

IASG2 and FLOMHow do you keep yourself from going crazy? It probably helps if you are reasonably well-balanced in the first place, but, for the rest of you, I have some advice today from Susan Kaye Quinn.

As many of you will know, Susan is the author of the bestselling Mindjack series, and lots of other books too, including the highly regarded Indie Author Survival Guide – the second edition of which has just been released.

She"s also releasing a companion book for more experienced authors in mid-July which has the intriguing title of For Love Or Money: Crafting An Indie Author Career and it"s available now for pre-order.

Here"s Susan on how to stay sane in a crazy (self-publishing) world.

Susan Kaye Quinn:

I fight a war every day.

My adversaries are distraction, fatigue, and the demands of ordinary life. They include things I love (my husband and children) and things I loathe (laundry and shopping) as well as an oft-neglected need for renewal (of mind and body). The battlefield is littered with rabbit holes of distraction and fallen warriors afflicted with sales-checking fever. The ever-present siren-call of the Internet wails in the distance.


It feels just like this.

I fight the war every day so I can do the thing that feeds my soul: creative work.

I know you"re engaged in this battle too—every writer is.

When I first started writing, my brother (the true writer in the family) told me something that"s stuck with me: “If you can create something, then you have a moral obligation to do so.” I laughed (nervously) at the time. These are just stories – what is this talk of moral imperatives? In time, though, I completely understood what he meant: our stories are our unique contribution to the collective human imagination. We have to do this.

The world is a better place when people fulfill their creative potential.

But creating art isn"t easy (see The War of Art for a deeper understanding of the forces of resistance) and surviving the publishing process is even harder. So here are a few weapons to help you in the battle.

FIRST: Nail Down Your Fears With A Steak Knife

Writing is hard enough on the ego; self-publishing those words comes with a whole truck-load of fears.

Am I really a hack?
What if my book doesn"t sell?
What if my story is too dark or too sexy or too naive?

Fear of failure; fear of success; fear of writing too dark… I"ve personally experienced every permutation of terror possible in this indie publishing business. In my battles, I"ve learned two key things:

1) fear, like pain, is a signal—it"s a sign you"re taking the risk of being vulnerable in the world. Which also happens to be exactly what a writer needs to do to reach their creative potential. It means you"re on track.

2) the only thing that defeats fear is action—simply pushing through the fear often doesn"t help, not when you"re waking up in cold sweats at midnight. Fear is an anticipatory emotion, and taking action in the face of it (creative action is best, because it"s inherently life-giving) will diffuse the power of a (bad) future that hasn"t happened yet.

I made a webinar on Facing Your Fears, because this can really hold writers back.

“The courage to be imperfect. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”—Brené Brown

SECOND: Arm Yourself With a Plan and Stick To It

A lot of the anxiety of self-publishing comes from having so many choices, so many decisions, and then just when you"ve got it all figured out… the ground shifts again. It can easily lead to constant second-guessing.

I"m a big fan of planning because it separates decision-making from execution. Sure, you"ll want to iterate and circle back and fold in new knowledge, but too much of that dithering, and you"ll just be a puddle of indecisive ooze in the jungle.

1) Create a Mission Statement—this is your compass, pointing you toward the true-north of your core values. Take the time to create it… you don"t want to spend years of your life scrambling up a hill, only to find your happiness lies on another mountain altogether.

2) Make a Five Year Plan—this is the map of the terrain ahead. Distill your mission statement into objectives. Identify concrete actions you can take to move in that direction. You can"t control sales, but you can control how much IP (Intellectual Property) you create, what kind, and how often.

3) Don"t Constantly Tweak—the paralysis of analysis can keep you from reaching any goal. Dedicate time to making your goals and plans, then stick to it during the execution. There will be time for re-evaluation later. I set time aside every month to check sales, plan strategies, evaluate ads and generally think big thoughts. In between, I focus on execution.

Separate planning from execution to keep the crazy to a minimum.

THIRD: Don"t Follow Every Rabbit Down The Hole

Man, I am really bad about this. You want to stay on top of everything, but that"s seriously a full-time job unto itself—and you have books to write! My solution to this is using Scrivener to organize my marketing. Whenever I come across something that seems like a grand idea, if only I had three assistants and a clone, I throw it in my Scrivener marketing file. Then, once a month, when I"m in planning and marketing mode, I look over what"s new and see if I want to incorporate it into the plan.

Most times, I don"t.

There simply isn"t time to do everything, and you have to be ruthless about letting go of the things that only make a marginal difference in your business. Figuring out which things are Big Levers (new releases, pricing, ads) and which are Small Levers (social media, facebook parties) is key to focusing your time on the 20% of things that really impact your career and letting go of the 80% that don"t.

Staying sane = staying focused on what matters most: mainly writing.

FOURTH: Spend More Time Writing

Sustained creative focus is tough work—after an hour, I need a mental/physical rest. If I stretch, walk, or get a drink… I can return and do another hour. If I check Facebook, I am lost. Studies show that even a fifteen minute break for social media reduces your productivity by half—the impact is far more than the actual time away. That"s because you"ve killed the momentum and immersion that creative work requires. Check out my post on Tools for Writing More for ways to increase your productivity.

Creative work is inherently life-giving and soul-feeding. Becoming more productive with your writing is a key way to reduce the craziness of the publishing side… and happily moves you closer to Big Lever things like new releases.

Block out time for your creative work.
Turn off all email, social media.
Track your wordcount/page count (for editing) daily.


Every day I track my wordcount and mood. In 2014, I logged over 500k.

I"m happy when I"m writing.
I"m happier when I"m writing more.

FIFTH: Focus on Renewal

summer fail 3

I know how the cat feels.

Physical Renewal
I"m the world"s worst practitioner of selfcare. Only dead people are more sedentary, I habitually get too little sleep, and I"m a maniacal work-a-holic. My idea of regular exercise is getting out of bed in the morning (which, seriously, is a triumph some days). If this sounds like a recipe for success… it"s not. It"s a recipe for an early grave. Lately… I"ve been doing better. More sleep, regular bedtimes, a little Tai Chi and treadmill to remind my body that it actually can move. I"m still not a fan of exercise—I"m in it entirely for the mood-altering drug-effect. But the results are amazing: energy up, stress down, more blood flowing to the brain. Take care of yourself and your self will be more adept at weathering all the vagaries of indie publishing.

Mental Renewal
Creative types like to live in their stories 24/7. But that never gives your brain much-needed downtime. Plus, a mom who is both discussing the events of the day with her teenage son and worrying how to solve a plot point is doing neither very well. Trust your subconscious to work those problems for you (see Training Your Intuition) and bend your conscious mind to attending to your teen. Or fixing the dishwasher. Or deciding which ingredients are needed for tonight"s dinner. Even relatively mindless tasks allow an opportunity for stillness, which the mind also needs. Creating that mental separation can be difficult, especially for people who love to live in their worlds. Which is every single writer ever born.

Creative Renewal
While your brain needs times of stillness, it also needs to actively engage in creative works. Reading, free writing, watching movies, TV, engaging in erudite discussions—all of this feeds the creative well. It will fill your subconscious mind with the raw stuffs you will use to create your work when the time comes. This isn"t TV-as-distraction or a brain-dead-reception of whatever is put in front of you, but an active, voracious consumption of creative works.

Take the time to renew and your productivity will soar.

SIXTH: Be Kind to Yourself

summer fail 4

This is me, trying to balance ALL THE THINGS every day… and never quite catching that spoon.

We are imperfect. It"s what makes us awesome, actually, but wow, is that frustrating for someone who wants all her books to be bestsellers, all her reviews to be 5-stars, and all her children to be perfectly-raised examples of budding humanity (yeah, that"s me). I have to really kick my perfectionist self to the curb to stay afloat in this business. It"s simply not possible to do ALL THE THINGS. Hell, I can"t even do 20% of the things, most days. It"s a triumph every day I wake up and do it again.

Failure is what happens when we"re trying.
Success is what happens when we try again.

Turn off that voice in your head that says you"re never working hard enough, achieving enough, being successful enough—you wouldn"t say that to your best friend, would you? Don"t say it to yourself.

Take creative action in the face of your fears.
Make a plan and avoid distractions.
Dive into your writing and renew your love affair with your work.
Don"t forget to breathe, fold laundry (occasionally) and enjoy life (every day).


And when the successes come, dance like no one"s watching.


For more tips on how to survive—and thrive—in self-publishing, check out my newly-released Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition) as well as my upcoming book for advanced-ninja authors, For Love or Money. The Indie Author Survival Guide has both inspirational advice and nuts-and-bolts details about how to take the leap into indie publishing. For Love or Money looks at parlaying those first few books into a career.


Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition) now available
For Love or Money: Crafting an Indie Author Career – preorder for 7.14

Susan Kaye Quinn 300 pixSusan Kaye Quinn is the author of the Singularity Series, the Mindjack Trilogy and the Debt Collector serial (as well as other speculative fiction works) and has been indie publishing since 2011. She’s not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: she’s one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. The Indie Author Survival Guide is based on her experience in self-publishing fiction—the First Edition was published in 2013, the Second Edition in 2015, updated to account for changes in the industry. It’s a guide to help her fellow writer-friends take their own leaps into the wild (and wonderful) world of indie publishing… and not only survive, but thrive.

Facebook | Tumblr | Website | All of Susan"s Fiction

46 Replies to “Staying Sane in a Crazy (Self-Publishing) World”

  1. I"m not “reasonably balanced”; therefore, I thank you for addressing me personally in this article. Yes, I"ve been dragged, kicking and screaming, down the path to authorship. I, of meager talents, who struggles to string coherent thoughts together in the guise of words, as I plot away in solitude…
    Let"s face it: You have to be a little “nuts” to be a writer. I need to read Susan Kaye Quinn"s books. Maybe I"ll regain a bit of sanity!

  2. oh, man… I know exactly what you were talking about in the video. How on earth can I see the negative reviews for the story I haven"t even published, when I haven"t even published it? But I can.

    1. We"re astoundingly good at visualizing our own fears – we"re writers after all! Spinning horrific stuff out of thin air is what we do for a living. But writing it down, naming it, then taking action in the face of it, really does work wonders.

      Best of luck to you!

  3. Susan, it sounds like we could be twins! Thank you for a terrific post that was just what I needed to start the day – off to make my 5 year plan now, and then turning off social media and getting back to my writing. Thanks, David, for huge wisdom, as ever, on your great blog.

  4. I enjoyed this article allot! I"m going through a trough as we speak but I know the writing will start flowing soon. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Susan,

    Thanks so much for this article (and thanks to David for having you here where we could find you). I really look forward to your book coming out in July.
    I had a minor question – in the link about Scrivner used to collect research and promotion ideas you mentioned you didn"t use Scrivner for writing you novels which made my inner nerdy geek go "so what does she use?". I was just wondering because it will bring peace to my inner geek who hates lose ends and will keep me up at nights with rather trivial things.
    Thank you again.

    1. Sorry to leave you tantalizingly hanging, but I"m afraid I have a tremendously boring answer: I use Word.

      I have this twitchy superstition about using anything else, so I can"t say it"s a super-rational choice – but Word is pretty standard and makes it easy for my beta readers and editor to mark up with comments. Plus there"s something about having the whole thing in a single document that feels right to me – like the thing has a shape, and I can sense it better in that form, just like the final product will someday be. Again, very touchy-feely! Do what works for you. 🙂

      1. Ah, good solid choice. I tend to open up whatever I happen to click on when I first get an idea which is rather haphazard since it can be Word, Scrivner, or this notebook program I got many years ago (which is pass code protected and I realized recently I forgot the passcode – I mean I wrote it down, but apparently I must have gotten the exact code wrong some how – so yeah).

        Anyway, long way about saying thanks for sharing.

  6. Fabulous post, I could see so much of myself in it, (had to laugh at the mom half listening to her teen while churning a plot over in her head. Yup, I"ve done that, too). Reblogging .

  7. Pingback: Monday Must-Reads [06.08.15]
  8. Thank you for sharing ….. am looking at self publishing non fiction in the next 12 months ….this has given me some food for thought. Again thank you.

  9. Love everything you said, especially the "write more" part and the "just fifteen minutes of social media cuts your productivity in half" bit and couldn"t agree more! Your brother was very right when he told you about your moral obligation, I may have to print that quote and stick it on my computer screen..

  10. Thanks so much for your article, I really enjoyed reading it. And it was funny!!! I especially loved this: "The world is a better place when people fulfill their creative potential". Oh yeah!! This speaks volumes to me. I feel so awesome when I am being creative, and I intend to keep pumping out the awesome creative inspiration as much as I can. I want to publish too so I will look into those books you have suggested. Thanks 🙂 Anita

  11. This post hits so close to home – speaks to all the creative types who struggle with structure and yet need it desperately. I see creative expression as a gift for all involved. Takes work, though. Enjoyed this!

  12. Reblogged this on J.D. HUGHES and commented:
    This a good post describing the daily struggle to get words onto paper, or electrons onto the ether, or whatever… since I haven"t written a blog post in a long time, it makes me look good, as if I were actually awake.

    ps. I haven"t read the author"s writing guides, so cannot comment on them.

  13. Hello ,
    I am very new at blogging, although I am young I hope you will consider looking at my blog. It is nothing amazing or artistic ,but it is simple and i write every Wednesday. URL:

  14. Pingback: 11 Tips For The Care And Feeding Of Your Muse: A Writer’s Guide - Anne R. Allen's Blog... with Ruth Harris

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