The Help Desk: that terrible feeling when you've finally reached your goals

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

The good news is I published a book last year — something I’d always wanted to do. The bad news is, it came and went with virtually no attention at all. This feels to me like what postpartum depression probably feels like. All that work I put into my book, all that time, and it seems like nobody cares. For years, publishing a book was all I wanted to do with my life. But now I almost wish I’d never published a book at all. It makes me want to never write again. Do you have any inspiration for someone who wrote a book to thundering silence?

Alison, Fauntleroy

Dear Alison,

Congratulations! Publishing a book is a huge accomplishment that many writers will never experience. Earlier this week, I found an old pair of 2-carat gold Joe Camel earrings and a matching Joe Camel shower curtain bought for me by my father with his carefully hoarded Camel Cash to celebrate the arrival of my first menses. I believe my pride at becoming a woman is as close as I will ever come to experiencing the pride you must have felt holding that first book in your hands.

But you have a right to feel depressed. Unfortunately, like my first menses, only relatives seem to care if you're a published author — selling 3,000 copies of your first book is considered a success, according to this article. Even well established, award-nominated writers are not selling books, and now more than ever, authors are expected to shoulder the burden of marketing and promoting their work themselves. It seems that the system is set up to see most writers fail at their dream job.

What do you do? First, continue to congratulate yourself on meeting a very ambitious goal. Then find a new goal. You say you feel like you may never want to write again, so don't for awhile. (Not even your family wants to read work that you didn't enjoy writing.) Take time off to refocus your energy on a new hobby and come back to writing when you feel compelled to. When that happens, think about who you write for and the best ways to reach that audience — perhaps a book isn't it. But whatever your platform, stop judging your success by the size of your audience, as that is the quickest way to set yourself up for failure (unless you want to start including spiders in that number, as I do, in which case move to a basement and your literary life will be so fucking successful).