In the UK there is talk of mental health in the publishing sector, after in a survey carried out by The Bookseller last April more than half of the participating authors (54%) said they had a negative experience in publishing their debut book. On the contrary, 22% of the 108 interviewees described their overall experience as positive, declaring that they have maintained contact and received support from their publishers even a year or more after the debut.
Among those who reported a negative impact on their mental health, 47% were published by an independent publisher, while 44% were published by a large publishing group. The negative emotions cited most often are anxiety, stress, depression and low self-esteem, due to lack of support and clear, professional communication from your publisher.
As reported by the Guardian in a recent article, the well-being of publishing professionals is a very sensitive issue in the British publishing industry and it does not concern only authors but also publishing house employees. Publishing houses which, in response to the concerns raised by the survey, have moved together with trade unions and sector bodies to adopt a series of measures, including training and assistance, which can improve the situation.
Some examples? Independent publisher Canongate has confirmed the launch of a handbook for authors in partnership with the Society of Authors, as well as the decision to publish fewer books in order to spend more time with authors. The Orion publishing group has instead declared that it wants to establish an academy for new writers with the aim of “demystifying the process and ensuring clarity of expectations”.
British author Imogen Hermes Gowar told the British newspaper about her experience as a newcomer, describing her publisher and agent as “impeccable in support”, but declaring herself totally unprepared for what awaited her.
«I was 28 when I published my first book (…). I was suddenly treated like the most important person in the room and my mental health suffered. For publishing professionals, for whom book release day is just another day at the office, it’s easy to overlook the fact that for a first-time author, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. “Many of us feel powerless and excluded from the decision-making process. We are the product, but we are not part of the team and it is alienating to hear that decisions affecting our career are often not shared with us » she concluded.
Lily Dunn, a fellow author, said that most of the anxiety in her case comes from not knowing what to expect and waiting for a response from the agent or publisher juggling several books and can’t focus solely on one author.
The authors agree that more organization and formal support would allow them to face the process with greater confidence, although they recognize the great pressure that publishers are under. Which, in fact, are by no means excluded from the mental health crisis: Andrea Henry, editorial director of Picador, spoke of the overload of work to which publishing professionals are subjected, with exhausting working rhythms that also include evening hours and weekends. “We’re not at the forefront of the NHS, are we? However, it is a job that affects our private life. We are often told that it must be a lifestyle and for this reason it is very difficult to switch off ».
Sabah Khan, head of publicity for fiction and non-fiction at Simon & Schuster UK, also said publishers today were faced with particularly challenging circumstances. “I think the pandemic has blurred the boundaries of what work availability means, even though the entire industry has long been talking about burnout and mental well-being.”
As reported by The Bookseller, the issue is complex because while independent publishers are able, on the one hand, to maintain very close relationships with their authors – which is not always possible in larger companies – on the other hand, not all small publishers have the internal resources they would like to devote to each book. In any case, it is important that the relationship between publishers and authors is open and honest and that responsibilities are defined on both sides from the outset.
Publishers and agents are clearly not mental health professionals and it is therefore necessary to recognize the need for suitable professionals to provide support to authors, starting from an early stage of the employment relationship.
This article is originally published on giornaledellalibreria.it