writer burnout

(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe.)

Those of you who have been following me for a while probably know that I’m very new to this indie writing career, and parts of it have been challenging. It’s of course hard to put yourself out there in general, but I’ve also been struggling with the tension between creativity and business, authenticity and the need to make a living. I never want to be the type of author that sacrifices her sense of self and craft just to be more “marketable” and appeal to a broader audience. (Nothing wrong with that! I do respect the hustle. It’s just not me!) And if that means my cozy, witchy reader community takes longer to build and grow, I’m okay with that.

In life and work we sometimes have to choose our long-term vision over short-term gains.

A speaker at an indie writer conference I just attended in Madrid told the audience that readers don’t care about your “art.” They just want to be entertained. He said not to be a diva. You can’t get attached to any deeper meaning in your work, and instead it’s better to give readers what they want and hit the selling tropes. That is, if you want to be a six-figure author, which was the topic of this talk. He meant well. He really did. He was a blunt, to-the-point German guy just trying to be honest about how the market works and what books *usually* have the best chance of success. And he had the income to back himself up. But his words stirred up a lot of my deep-seated fears: that no one cares about the deeper spiritual ethos of The Lost Witches of Aradia, the universal spiritual principles I’m trying to communicate about compassion, community, balance, belief, introspection, and reverence for the natural world.

These books aren’t just steamy paranormal fantasy to me. They’ve helped me understand more about who I am and who I want to be. My characters have encouraged me to face my shadow, know when to ask for help, communicate better with those I love, and to be bold in sharing all that I have to offer to the world. I don’t mind if some readers only stick around for the kinky witches—not at ALL. What bothers me isn’t that some people won’t really care about the artistic and spiritual choices of my work; what bothers me is the idea that there is only one path to success, and that being attached to my art means I’m less likely to succeed.

I know that my books aren’t for everyone. My 1-star reviews are proof enough of that. I know that if I were to cut out the flowery writing, metaphors, and hidden meaning, and replace it all with marketable tropes and more steam, then I might have an easier time growing my business. I understand that if I were to be the kind of person who posts frequently on social media, sticks to an easy, sellable brand with clear messaging about myself and my books then maybe I’d be a better marketer.

But that’s not who I am. I’m not trying to cast a wide net; my books aren’t for a general audience. They aren’t always going to be to-market, on-trend, or easy entertainment. My books are absolutely an escape (and hopefully entertaining), but they also speak to real-life struggles: trauma, mental illness, the pain of being extremely empathetic in a world marred with cruelty and apathy, holding on to hope and faith in the darkest of places, addiction, loss and grief, and everything complicated and messy about being alive. My art can be sexy and fun and difficult and deep and easy and escapist and real and anything we need it to be. We, as in me AND my readers, because it’s about all of us. I’m not just writing for me. And I’m not just writing for readers or the market either. It’s a balance.

It’s always a balance.

From the very beginning, before I studied the book market from a business perspective and built my marketing plan, I knew that my path to success would never follow the common (and very effective) advice of crafting a series that is exactly like the other beloved books in the genre. The books that are easiest to sell are the ones that have similar titles, covers, and plots as the other best-sellers. That’s just the truth. That’s exactly how the conference speaker told us he made it to six-figures: He picked a sci-fi book at the top of the charts, and he crafted a similar cover and story and stuck it on the shelf right next to that book. And it worked! You will never hear me shaming authors for following this model. That’s just not what wanted for my career. Because the books that set the trends for years to come don’t follow the mold. That’s the whole point!

I want my books, my art, my writing, to be beloved not for what they are like, but for what sets them apart. Alcoholics Anonymous might call that my terminal uniqueness, and this lovely German author might call it me being a diva (seriously no shade, just jokes, I know he didn’t mean it like that!), but this is my path. I gain a couple newsletter subscribers to my author list every day. It’s a slow and steady gain, but because of how I set up my business infrastructure, I know that the subscribers I gain are my true fans. They aren’t just following me because they want to win a giveaway or get free books. They follow me because they enjoyed my stories and genuinely want to either hear about new releases and news or receive bonus content in The Lost Witches of Aradia world.

I need to make a living. But I also need to feel artistically fulfilled in my writing and my reader community. I want to connect with readers who do care about my art! I want readers like me. And if there are 200 of us out there (my current newsletter subscriber count for my author site), then there are 200,000. What I lose when I don’t write to-market in the short-term I will gain in the long-term when my career is exactly how I always dreamed it would be.

There is nothing out there exactly like The Lost Witches of Aradia. There are millions of beautiful stories, but not one of them is modeled after mine. Maybe one day a story will be.

I would love that.

(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe, like, or leave a comment. This newsletter is currently 100% free, but if you want a way to support me you could always share my posts with your friends or Buy Me a Coffee. Or you could buy my kinky witch books!)

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