Navigating Burnout Culture in the Publishing Industry

When I first expressed interest during university about entering the publishing industry as a book editor, my wonderful mentors at the time were all busy, passionate people. They held multiple jobs, ran side hustles, offered volunteer work, sat on committees, and attended every book launch and literary soirée. They encouraged me to do the same, suggesting that this keen, no-rest-for-the-ambitious attitude was the ticket to landing a publishing job.

They were right. After earning my degree, working two volunteer internships, and taking on more unpaid “exposure” projects than I’d care to count, I was hired for my first in-house position.

I noticed immediately that my new colleagues inside the industry (editors, publishers, directors, designers and sales reps alike) operated with the same zeal—even though they had been in their positions for years, if not decades. It was the norm, I realized. It all looked exciting, and I romanticized the idea of exhaustion in exchange for a fulfilling career.

Fast-forward five years, and I came to a second realization: I was burnt out. I had sat on the committees and networked at the soirées, took on the side hustles and accepted every collaboration that popped into my inbox. Not everyone is cut out to survive off literary glory and caffeine, it seemed. How could I admit that, though, in an industry where burnout culture is not only accepted but widely embraced?

To be clear, like most editors and publishing professionals, I’m grateful to have found a career where on most days the work doesn’t feel like “work.” But what seems forgotten is that it is still work, that some semblance of a work–life balance is necessary for us, too.

Largely missing from the recent conversations about workaholism have been useful solutions. Perhaps the onus is on each of us to recognize and manage our personal limitations.

For me, I am evaluating which freelance projects, volunteer work and committee positions are of real personal or professional value, while learning to say no to the others (and reminding myself that missing that literary wine-and-cheese night is not likely to derail my career).

I am also learning how to set healthy workplace boundaries and ask my employer for what I need, such as scheduling a few hours of weekday “me” time, deleting my work email account from my phone, and actually taking my lunch breaks and holiday time—moves and requests met with complete support by my superiors.

Finally, I am trying to be a better mentor and colleague to those around me, sharing not only my insights about getting ahead in the industry but how to recognize the signs of burnout and how to practise self-care while staying competitive.

Since opening up about my own burnout, I have connected with many editors, authors and publishing professionals who have felt the same stress. While there may be no single solution to changing this culture, I continue to hear one clear aspiration: physical rest and mental wellness are no longer viewed as professional complacency. As editors, it is our job to exercise active voice not only on the page but in our own lives, too.

2 Replies to “Navigating Burnout Culture in the Publishing Industry”

  • Meagan! Thank you so much for sharing this. I can definitely relate, and I think we need to talk about this more. I LOVE your statement about how taking care of yourself is not professional complacency. Well said.

  • I’m a Communication student who really needed to hear this. Lately I’ve been under this immense fear that the pressure to go all-out all the time will only get worse after I graduate.

    Like any human, I know I do my best work when I’m rested and healthy. But the arts have moved into fast-forward just like journalism, tech trades, and basically everything else. We really need to talk more about self-care and work-life balance in the creative arts if we want to keep putting our best feet forward.

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