Notes From A Burned-Out Book Mom


I recently wrote a post called “Tough Love—A Few Words on Rejection” in which I compared submitting manuscripts to raising children. There is the pride we feel, the apprehension, the shared pain, the lengths we go to in our abiding love.

But that’s just the beginning. Once our children find homes—whether through our efforts or a publisher’s—we must function as literary soccer moms: organizing the launch, attending the readings, trolling for reviews, reaching out to libraries and local bookstores, paying for incidentals. And don’t even get me started on the time spent creating what is referred to as an author platform. I’m not certain what this is, but it seems to involve thousands of social media followers as well as marketing expertise, previous sales, a robust readership and throngs of industry contacts.

Remember when publishers arranged and paid for everything? Me neither. But it must have been something to be a writer in the 50s, when authors like Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, E.B. White and Kurt Vonnegut were wined and dined and generally treated like royalty. Of course they were unarguably gifted, but even lesser known talents could depend on their publishers to procure an audience and offer fair compensation for the hard work of writing.

Book promotion is never finished, I’ve been assured, and who would disagree that books, especially sidelined genres like literary fiction, don’t fly off the shelves and doubtless benefit from regular cheerleading. Unfortunately, it takes a certain type of personality—optimistic, buoyant, outgoing—to succeed at marketing, and most writers are not comfortable in that arena. I know I’m not. I get clammy just posting a story link on my Facebook author page, afraid that readers are tired of hearing from me, or worse, not listening at all.

I’ll admit it: I’m weary of the circuit. I’ve written one novel, two story collections and a book of nature essays, and while I don’t begrudge the years I’ve spent on their welfare, I’m ready for some time to myself. You can find my four children on Amazon, in paperback or digital form, just a keystroke away from ownership (the same technology that has devalued our work has made it instantly available). My books have not changed the world, but they do represent my greatest effort. I think we earn our lives by giving the world whatever gifts we have, regardless of how they’re received.

I spent my childhood looking at bugs, trees, clouds, stars, frogs. I want to go there again. I want to break away from the tyranny of this computer and collect fall leaves, make a miniature diorama, hunt for fossils. My books are leading quiet lives of their own and can carry on without me; indeed I’ve not been much help to them. Maybe, freed of my worry and angst, they will make their own connections, surprise me yet. In any case, they could never disappoint me.

We have an abundance of book clubs and writing groups. Maybe there should be support groups for weary book parents. Comrades, you are not alone.


Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via / CC BY-NC

Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

7 thoughts on “Notes From A Burned-Out Book Mom

  1. You are incredibly talented my friend, never doubt that for a minute. Collecting fall leaves and hunting for Fossils sounds absolutely relaxing and stress free. I say, do what makes you happy.

  2. You know someone named Jinxie?!, I’m SO jealous.
    Sorry!, did I just think that out loud or type that out loud?
    As I read this latest Column, I’m at home midday which rarely ever happens. I looked out my window and saw a Circle Line boat that normally hosts 250 people. This boat had, oh, maybe a dozen people on its decks, if that. Does that make the effort by the Boat, it’s Captain and Crew, any less memorable for the dozen folks enjoying the Hudson River on a brisk Autumn afternoon? I should think not and, in fact, perhaps even more keen to each person on that boat that they got to ride around Manhattan without a crowd in the way of the view. (Wait!, is that Streisand on the front of that boat?!,…….no, silly…..) Stay with me, Jean Ryan. Now, let’s say Circle Line decides “Y’know what?, we’re taking a year off until all we can expect are throngs of people clamoring to get on our boat and cruise around Manhattan.” So, which is better?, A daily cruise that sometimes enjoys full capacity and all that implies or a lovely and serene float-about that includes only a few people enjoying the sights and sounds (and no doubt smells) of a ride on a boat? I make this comparison, Jean, because your beautiful books, short stories, columns and articles are not unlike that Circle Line. I expect it to be there in all weather. Not fair, but what we come to expect, simply. Me?, I look forward to the Leviathan that is your gift as a Writer. I understand, too, that maybe it sometimes feels akin to ‘what’s the point?’ if not writing to a capacity crowd. SO, with that, I think if you were to find the balance and meter out your writing to include the ever important staring into space, not checking emails for a week (I’ll be doing that in a few days when I arrive at the beach — no wifi!, there ain’t nuthin’ but good books, sunrise and sunset — dig it!), studying frogs and fossils and taking time for Jean Ryan, well, your audience will wait and go back to re-read what you have published until such time you issue forth your next salvo. In between such time, I ask you to listen to this song: I return to this song when I feel a bit burned out by my own biz. I dedicate this song to You, JR. Last note (promise!), back in those halcyon days (HALCYON?!) when publishers wined and dined Authors like Truman, EB White, etc., I can only imagine their 3 martini lunches and wonder ‘how the hell did they get ANYTHING done?!” I get crabby unless I have at least one liter of water at the gym and can’t imagine being half in the bag most of the time!
    Okay, REAL last note (….pants on fire…..), whatever you choose to do, Jean Ryan — take time out to watch the clouds roll by, whatever — I and all of your faithful fans will be waiting to see what you write as you tell us through the prism of your brilliant mind what those clouds looked like, what they could mean and we’ll be deeply grateful to have a favorite friend return in the form of your writing….or a ride on the Circle Line. XOXO

    1. My deepest gratitude for these kind comments. Loved the analogy between this post and the Circle One Line. You’re right, of course. If only the deserving were cared for, a lot of people would suffer, and if our world contained only lucrative endeavors, we would be impoverished. I adore your optimism, the way you look for the good and find it.

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