Mental Health Monday #56: Author George M. Johnson on Tending to His Self-Care While Chasing a Book Deal

Photo by Gioncarlo Valentine

Photo by Gioncarlo Valentine

Welcome to another round of Mental Health Monday, your weekly dose of stories, resources, and motivation for your everyday life. Last week's Mental Health Monday featured a powerful essay by author/teacher Junot Diaz on overcoming childhood trauma, Rupen Gahir Kalsi explores how stigmas keep South Asian men from addressing mental health challenges, and much more. Check it out.


Holding onto all your Sonic Rings and balancing professional and social obligations with the rising price of oxtail in the Age of Presidential Gargoyles is hard enough. Managing while doing the Book Deal Boogaloo and full-time freelancer amidst institutional hateration in the Check Dispatching Dancerie (aka "Accounts Payable") is a far more stressful endeavor. 

Author, speaker, activist and spokesperson for HIV Equal's "HIV Stops With ME" campaign George M. Johnson talked to about how he steers clear of Iyanla's couch as a prepares to write and release his first book.

Extraordinary Negroes: How would you rate your self-care at the moment on a scale of 1-10?

George M. Johnson: I'm at about a 7 since signing the book deal and beginning the HIV Equal campaign, which has brought a new level of attention as well. I've taken the past weeks to do some adulting and working to get myself on a schedule to write this book. Paying off bills. Getting a better rhythm going. It's really helped. My time management has gotten a lot better.

I'm being more intentional about my time.

What are you doing well for you right now?

I'm actually using my calendar. All these years I've had the app and I have never used it. The past two weeks, everything goes on the calendar: what time I take my meds, when I go to the gym, meetings, everything. It's helped me schedule my entire life. It has allowed me to see time differently. I can see wasted time and see productive time. I've been really good in the past week in terms of writing and engaging regularly on social media.

This has been my most productive time in a while, now that I'm using the calendar.

Now, when I wake up, I don't immediately jump into the day, I just lay there and get my thoughts together. I used to wake up, jump out of bed, get my coffee and get to work. I don't do that anymore.

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What could you be doing better or differently?

Sleeping. I used to be a person who would easily work until 1..2..3....4 in the morning then get up early and go again. I'm being intentional about what time I go to bed, but can do even better.

I can do better about taking time to enjoy life. I get stuck in the house and don't even go walking or exploring.  I've been hanging with family more and spending time with them in Jersey on the weekends. I haven't done that in like 15 years. Seeing my family regularly is a new thing, but I like it. They like it too.

What has been the most stressful part of packaging your into a product to sell a book?

Ooh. The fear of what happens when you're Black and doing great. The things that made you great become the things people attack you for. I'm open about my life, but people will try to turn those vulnerabilities against you. I'm thinking about how things come off to the potential audience of this book. Will my publisher be happy if I'm talking about this online? What does my agent think about this?

Now, there are new people involved in the decisions I'm making. I've been pretty fearless in terms of sticking to my voice and what I'm saying. I'm just more mindful about and intentional as possible about the words I'm using. I know how easily things can come crashing down because of something taken out of context or from a tweet from five or six years ago when you were just learning about transphobia and feminism, for example. 

It's a lot.

What has this process taught you about yourself?

That speaking things into existence is real. That I can have the things that I want if I put my energy, time, and faith into the project. I was always nervous or looking at other people who are successful and getting the opportunities I wanted. Now I appreciate what I have.

This has taught me to be more proactive than reactive. I always thought people would come to me when they need me. This has shown me the importance of reaching out to people and being more aggressive about obtaining the things that I want.

What should people about this process?

The biggest thing I've learned is to have boundaries and not walls. I went into this process with a book name, dead set. I thought the book has to be named this, written like this. There is a lot of negotiation. If i had those walls up, it would have been a much harder process.

I had to think, "Okay, are you really okay with changing the name of your book?" And it's not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. The story is what is important.

Also, this publishing world moves very slow. Not like journalism or social media. Some books are shopped around for months and months. We started shopping this book February 7. We knew we had a deal on March 25, but that's quicker than normal. Patience is key. Asking questions is key. Researching is key. I Googled everything about the process. Royalty rates, movie rights. Everything. There is so much to learn, but knowing those ins and outs is important. 

The original book I wanted to write is not the book that's coming out, and this is a much better book. That wouldn't have happened if I weren't willing to compromise and negotiate.

What has this shown you about knowing your worth?

This has shown me that I deserve. I thought the publisher's initial offer was amazing. The agent said, "No, it can be better. You're worth more than that." He went back and negotiated a higher advance. And higher movie rights. 

He told me, "It's okay to push back. This is a great offer, but we want more. And that's okay."

I deserve because I've worked really hard.

I learned not to accept the first offer. I get asked to speak all the time. I'm not doing that for free anymore. There are people willing to invest a lot of money in you for the work you're doing.

As black people we undersell ourselves because we're just thankful for the opportunity, to be in the room. White people don't operate like that. I'm not basing my worth on my gratitude. I'm basing my worth on my talent. I know i'm going to sell a lot of books. I deserve.

I'm leaning more into my talent, and not tripping about rejections. If they have an issue with me pushing back and asking for more, it's probably not the right opportunity for me, anyway.

What's for me is for me.

All Boys Aren't Blue is hitting the streets via FSG (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Winter 2020.

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