The Road to 100K via Burnout

The Road to 100K Via Burnout

I mentioned in passing both on social media and in my posts, and even in an interview with the lovely Phil Parker, that burnout had been a very prominent feature in my blogging (and personal) life in the past almost 6 years. I kept saying that I would write a post about it one day, but somehow I never found the time or the motivation (*waves to burnout*). Now that we’ve hit another (huge) milestone, I decided this was the right time to write that post. It kinda became a habit with me – commemorating milestones with huge ass rambling (and sometimes deeply personal) posts. Look, I don’t often write these, so when I do, you better have a lot of snacks at hand. So, let me tell you about my road to 100K via burnout.

A Queen Eating Her Own Words

On September 4, 2023, Queen’s Book Asylum hit 100K views. I knew this day was coming, but I estimated that this milestone would be reached sometime in March 2024, close to our 6th anniversary. When I talked about my expectations for this year in my 5th-anniversary write-up (which I highly recommend reading if you want to learn about my blogging milestones so far), I wrote

“Right now the goal is to reach that specific milestone, but unless we’ll get our best year yet in 2023 (which is not very likely) probably will happen around the 6th anniversary.”

Which shows, that sometimes a Queen has to eat her own words as well. Not only did we reach 100K 6 months early, but 2023 will definitely be our best year ever. It already is. We will reach (and surpass) the 25K threshold on annual views which I’ve been chasing for years. And it’s only September. We’ve been hitting our monthly bests for about 4 months now, and who knows where the end is? Or when our lull will be coming (probably November/December when Phase 1 of SPFBO 9 ends and our posting volume will drop)? STILL. In the past few months, I’ve been staring at various screens in disbelief, watching the numbers rise, asking “What the fuck is going on here?!”. I’m certainly not complaining though.

But how did we get here? As I said in the aforementioned anniversary post, the road sure was bumpy.

Burnout – That Sneaky Bastard

I’m pretty sure most of us are familiar with burnout to an extent. Some of us are luckier than others. This post will be about my personal journey and experiences, and how I coped with it. It might help you too, or it might be a warning, but whatever the case, I only hope that everyone can take away something from it.

Burnout doesn’t happen from one day to the next. There are definitely stages and signs, most of which we are prone to ignore – at least I was. It’s easy to dismiss it until you are so deep into it, that you have no idea how you got there. You stop enjoying and even caring about things, the smallest effort makes you cringe and you’d rather do literally anything else than what you are supposed to. And even when you think it’s over, it most certainly isn’t. It’s way too easy to fall back again.

Buckle Up Friends, We Are Launching

So, to understand where I’m coming from, we’ll have to go back to the beginning of my blogging journey. I promise I’ll keep it as short as possible as I know I recounted these events a number of times already. Suffice it to say, I came into blogging from a huge reading slump – not exactly the best of starts. After a couple of years of not reading much, I started reading intensively in 2015, completing a “52 books in 52 weeks” challenge. After 3 years of doing that, I’ve hit my limit in early 2018. I needed a break. Can’t say it lasted long as QBA launched in March of that year.

As I got to know more and more people, my name got around, and my review requests started coming in, I decided to be smart, and have a schedule, putting every new request in there. I knew my limit was 4 books a month (I wasn’t into audiobooks yet, that came later). I was proudly patting my shoulder for being such a genius. Until… Turns out I’m not very good at following a schedule I forced on myself – without any regard to future upcoming books or my mood and mental health. And let’s not even talk about SPFBO. That certainly was a huge lesson I learned. Overbooking oneself with either ARCs (I know we want all the shinies on NetGalley), or review requests is the surest way to lead oneself down the burnout road. Knowing one’s limit and staying within said limit are two very different things. It’s something I see a lot of people struggle with.

Naturally, I fell behind which made me guilty, which stressed me out even more, and so on. Eventually, I had to let go and some requests I never got to – I’m still very sorry, but I just couldn’t. Especially how 2019 turned out to be. I had some personal stuff going on toward the end of 2018 and by February 2019 I was mentally, physically, and emotionally absolutely exhausted. I don’t think I’ve ever been so low in my life. People who knew me then can attest to this, I certainly was no fun to be around. But I also made friends around this time who became a permanent fixture for better or worse (looking at you Bjørn). I firmly believe I needed therapy back then, but I never made that last step to seeking help actually. It probably still affects me to this day.

Every Road Has Its Fork AKA My Short Freelancing Gig

So 2019. By May I was not only totally drained, I also felt I needed a change. I’ve been at my workplace for 3 years at that point, and I contemplated moving on. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t feel good, I wanted to do something I loved. Around that time the only joy I had came from blogging. That was my solace. My sanctuary. I couldn’t imagine my life without it. I seriously considered getting my logo tattooed on me. That’s how committed I felt toward this teeny tiny corner of the web. I mean, it’s still not entirely out of the question (I’ll settle with cool merch until such time comes), but I want a different tattoo first. Anyway, my burnout at this time was more due to personal/emotional stuff, than blogging. And I needed new outlets and distractions to move forward.

I was blogging for a year, I made some connections, I enjoyed being in the community, and a voice at the back of my mind whispered that I should seek out a way to make one of my life dreams come true – the only thing I ever wanted to be (besides a brief time when I wanted to be an interior designer or a teacher) was an editor. I also wanted to be an author, but by this point, I knew that wasn’t my calling anymore. So I wracked my brain and decided the best way forward would be to go part-time with my job and start to do freelance beta reading/proofreading.

Now, you can see that I was already self-conscious enough to know I couldn’t call myself an editor. I didn’t have qualifications, experience, or even enough self-confidence in English (or myself) to even attempt to try. I aimed lower. I had a couple of beta readings under my belt for friends which I loved, I knew I was good at catching typos and spotting plot holes. Ask my friends who received very long lists of errors I spotted while reading their ARCs. I asked said friends to give me endorsements, which they gladly did. I talked to my boss and told her I needed a change. She was nice enough to agree to let me work only half-time. I was still living with my parents, I had no bills or worries about finances, so I could afford to give this endeavor a try. I had very low prices, but I thought this would be good for gaining experience and confidence in my work. It was also nerve-wracking because you can just never know who will contact you and whether you’ll connect with their work. In hindsight, I should have enforced doing free samples. Oh well. Maybe one day if I attempt to give freelancing another go I will be smarter.

At first, I was bursting with joy and pride. I did what I loved, and some people were willing to work with me. I was also preparing to attend my first (and last) WorldCon in Dublin which made me super excited. But there were things I did not contend with in regard to freelancing.

  • Doing something out of love and doing that thing for money are two different wheelhouses. While I loved helping friends with beta reading for them, when money is involved it puts extra pressure on you. It’s one thing reading for people who you know to a degree and already know their style, their personality, what they are looking for in your feedback, and most importantly, there is already a level of trust, where you know that you can be absolutely honest, holding no punches. Dealing with a stranger in a position where trust is essential, is no joyride. And let’s not even talk about deadlines…
  • You need to have much more self-confidence than I have. I kept second-guessing myself. Since you don’t get feedback on your feedback, you can only hope you didn’t disappoint and the client won’t think they wasted their money on you. I have way too many insecurities to begin with, so the uncertainty whether I delivered on their level of standard, and most importantly on mine – and I have a high level of that. I don’t think I can ever live up to to my own expectations of myself. So in a way I think I stopped trying. I let my doubts win over me and dropped out of freelancing.
  • People don’t really want to pay for beta reading, which is fair, if you already have a set of trusted people, why the hell would you hire someone you don’t know? As for proofreading… while I know I’m good at catching typos and errors, I also know that I just don’t have the level of understanding of the language and grammar that I consider sufficient to be a proofreader. If I was looking for a proofreader, would I hire myself? I’m not sure.
  • Freelancing, if you want to do it for a living, is a hustle. Much like with blogging, you need to heavily lean on networking, self-advertising, word of mouth, etc. I talked about this in other posts, but I really don’t enjoy this aspect. Maybe if I stuck around and made more effort, I might have been able to build a career out of it. Maybe. Either way, you need to be able to handle stress and uncertainty.

Looking back, I definitely wasn’t in the right frame of mind to handle all this, so in the end, it’s not much of a surprise that I gave in to pressure and decided to walk away. It took me a good while to do any beta reading again, except for my favorite author, to whom I’ll never say no. Funnily enough, in 2023, I already did 3 beta reading for different people (all friends) and had fun with them – though giving feedback still stresses me the fuck out. I still enjoy the process and the knowledge that someone gives a fuck about my opinion in the first place. Whether I can give useful feedback is up to debate, but since there is at least one person who’s been willing to work with me for years now, I guess I can say I’m not so hopeless. Plus, if nothing else, my short freelancing journey gave me two close friends whom I wouldn’t exchange for anything.

Burnout Doesn’t Get Cured by Being Overworked. Surprise!

But back to burnout. 2019 was also the first year when I was an SPFBO judging team leader, and we decided to sample each 30 books and decide which ones to move forward. So, dealing with emotional/mental stuff, freelancing (and all the issues above), plus the SPFBO workload, not talking about requests and ARCs I picked for myself… well. It’s not very surprising burnout came knocking on my door. I just had no fucking idea about it. Despite some of the experiences and good moments, I still consider 2019 to be the worst year of my life so far.

Then came 2020. By the time Covid rolled in, I was already working remotely, so it really didn’t change my life that much. Since I have no friends locally, I was usually stuck at home anyway. My biggest concern was that freelancing didn’t really take off, my part-time job didn’t pay much and at 32, I was more than ready to have my own space. I just couldn’t afford it. So, once again to distract myself from my own unhappiness with life, I joined forces with my friend, Justine Bergman, a fellow book blogger. We started a blog tour/promotion business, Storytellers on Tour. In the beginning, we had a blast. I loved brainstorming, to organize things, to keep a tight ship with schedules and timetables, and it was so fucking easy to work with Justine. We had the same values and the same way of thinking. I think we wanted to do it in the long term.

And yet, we closed shop in less than two years. I wrote about blog tours in THIS post, so I’ll keep to the short of it. We are both maximalists. And when you aim to do whatever you do on the highest possible level, it takes a shitton amount of time, work, and dedication. We poured everything into SoT. Justine probably more than me, but we basically had no days off. It sure was a full-time job I did next to my part-time one. But it became hard. As much as I wanted to help as many people as we could, and as much as I enjoyed bringing indies to people, it was EXHAUSTING. The number of emails, website updates, social media posts, graphic design work, form creation, schedule making, etc. feels like there is never going to be an end to it. Once you would want to stop to breathe, the whole thing starts again from the start. I have all the respect for book publicists for what they are doing because it demands 110% dedication. Or probably more. And sometimes for little rewards.

But, SoT and Covid pressing down prices allowed me to finally move out and rent out a flat in the Autumn of 2020. To say I was ecstatic is an understatement. With freedom also came responsibilities and a new set of worries – finances. My days of birthday traveling for a week each year somewhere ended as the most I could save for was (is) a weekend at BristolCon each October. Covid thankfully left my family alone so I consider myself lucky we didn’t have to deal with the extra stress. Life dealt other problems though.

Final Stop – The Crash

Enter 2021. Life with SoT is extremely busy, I’m getting super unhappy with my job as I get a new manager I really don’t get along with. Tension is high. Covid is still raging and it’s getting harder even for me to be stuck at home alone at all times. Mentally I started flagging again. I quit SPFBO, partly because I clearly felt the burnout and needed the break, and partly because I didn’t want my participation to be a conflict of interest with SoT, as many of our clients were also in the competition. Who the fuck needed some people randomly throwing a tantrum about it? I had my share of fights already, and I certainly was in no state to have more on my plate.

By the summer of 2021, it was clear that things were not going well. One day I just got so fed up, that I went and quit my job. We struggled with SoT as it outgrowed us at a rate that I don’t think we expected, let alone prepared for. There were times I even resented it as there was just no respite from it. At this point, we had so many SoT events, that the blog had more SoT promo posts than not.

I was pulled in different directions and I stopped enjoying blogging. Things still can trigger me when it comes to promotions, and it’s been two years… It probably didn’t help that I got disillusioned by people and some of the community. It became a demanding job. I still have periods when I can’t make myself care about the blog and feels like a habit rather than a hobby. Something I have to do.

We decided to shut SoT down at the end of 2021, which meant I only had a couple of months to find a job so I could continue paying rent and bills. Job hunting is stressful in itself, especially when you just have zero idea what you want – preferably not a boring to tears desk job.

Hindsight Is a Bitch

It wasn’t until 2022 October, 10 months after starting my current job and taking a step back from the community and blogging that I realized how much worse SoT made my already existing burnout. Instead of taking a longer period of time here and there to relax, do other things, and come to terms with my burnout symptoms, I spent nearly 5 years running myself deeper and deeper into it without even realizing. How the fuck did that happen?

I utterly failed to notice how deep I got, and no fucking wonder that now in September 2023, I’m still coming to terms with it all. It took until this March to draw up any kind of enthusiasm to do something with the blog (naturally that turned out to be a complete overhaul AND inviting a lot of people to do features – work in short, lol). Sure, we had posts throughout 2022, but it wasn’t a priority anymore. I focused on my job, doing some other creative stuff, playing games, and generally walling myself off from the community (interesting how quickly people forget you, when you stop being a promotional tool, ha). I also tried to find my enjoyment in reading and I returned to SPFBO because I just missed the competition. Hey, any reason I can get to spend time chatting with my amazing team I can call friends. Plus, our pick won SPFBO 8, so… I choose to take that as a good sign.

As I only just started to see the light at the end of the burnout tunnel and started putting a bit more effort into the blog again, it’s both astonishing and validating to see the stats growing. I returned to spotlighting our SPFBO 9 authors, which surely helped, but this year’s competition seems to have more enthusiastic vibes, and that’s really good to see. And to think how many times I came close to shutting QBA down…

After all those years, I’m much more mindful of how much time I spend blogging, and also make sure to have at least the evenings and weekends off from it. I also don’t feel pressured or guilty to push out content – if we only have 3 posts a week or two, that’s fine. Although with all the SPFBO content we are absolutely covered. As always, I’m trying to keep a better balance both in my personal life and with the content – I don’t want another SoT situation, and become a mouthpiece for one certain thing. This year I also started making monthly reading plans keeping in mind to leave just enough breathing room and adapt the best I can.

A Lesson for You All – KNOW YOUR FUCKING LIMIT

Taking 2022 easy definitely helped as I had some of my best reading months so far this year. But it’s easy to think burnout is over. I need to keep a very close eye on myself and my reactions/feelings because it can just sneak up on you. It’s easy to dismiss it as a slump, or a bad period in life. I don’t know if I ever will fully come out of it, to be honest. I just never know when something will trigger me.

As a book blogger, it’s way too easy to pressure ourselves to read as much as we can, and review as many ARCs/books as we can, but the trick is, as I said before, knowing your limits. And that needs cautious testing. Burnout is no fucking fun, people. Never, ever let anyone pressure you into anything. The only person you owe anything to is YOU. So, take care of yourselves and don’t end up crashing like I did. Pushing yourself a bit harder in hopes you’ll get through it might work in the short term, but probably isn’t going to be healthy in the long run.

A note to authors: Please be mindful when dealing with book bloggers! Sometimes we can’t deliver on our promises for reasons out of our hands. Believe me, we do feel guilty by default, we don’t need you to put extra pressure on us by demanding a review/response/whatever. Sometimes we just have too much to deal with and forget to respond to your message, so please kindly reach out again when that happens. (Even then, I really am struggling with responses after spending nearly 2 years with SoT emails). I can speak for everyone when I say, that kindness and politeness will get you a long way with us. The past couple of years were hard on everyone on many levels and some of us might need more time to find a way back to ourselves, to blogging. Just as you might be writing besides a daily job, we are doing this literally as a side job as well. And sometimes it feels like a job too. We want to help, but we can’t tear ourselves apart no matter how much we try.

Even now, after having some exceptional reading months, thinking I was over it, life happened, and I’m struggling to find my way back. But I know I need to be patient with myself, and I also know I have a small group of very supportive people who will have my back even if I need to take a step back again. I don’t think I can ask any more than that.

So that’s my personal journey with burnout. Admittedly, I didn’t make many smart decisions and pushed myself when I shouldn’t have, but despite all the hardships, the doubts, and the lack of will to go on, we still hit the 100K milestone. It’s a miracle in itself, but now I know we can do it. So, here is to the next 100K, all going well!

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