A few days ago I announced that I was retiring from writing and publishing. It wasn’t done for effect, or attention. It was a simple statement of intent on my part. Since that announcement, a surprising number of people have asked me why I’d give up a lifelong dream when I’ve achieved a decent success. Ironically, I don’t see success, I see a lot of work for little return over the past eleven years. People define their successes in ways as unique as they themselves are, so it’s all a relative question. I decided I’d try to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked by going back to my journalism and approaching this from the W5 perspective. With that in mind, it occurred to me only one of those Ws really mattered at this stage, the why part of the equation. Still, let’s do it right…
Who: That would be me, obviously.
What: Retiring from the dream of a lifetime job.
When: Effective almost immediately – I have two contracted stories waiting for final edits and release dates, and one more pending…
Where: Anywhere books are sold, social media, websites, etc.
And the big one, the really complex angle, the WHY of it all: I’m sure a lot of readers have seen blogs and announcements like this in recent years, and everyone has their reasons for setting aside the goals and dreams of a lifetime. I can only tell you why it’s come to this point for me.
I’ve spent eleven years building a network that includes some of the most talented and wonderful authors in the business, and fabulous readers and friends. It’s been the joy in a business that has grown increasingly difficult over the past decade. We all do this for different reasons, I’ve discovered. Most start out because they love the writing, the crafting of words into worlds and relationships that enchant readers and make them want to read more. I’ve been passionate about the written word for as long as I can remember, my house is overflowing with books and always has been that way. Sometimes to the dismay of people around me.
When I started writing it was magical, and so rewarding to me. I wrote fan fiction for almost twenty years, and there was no monetary return, only the appreciation of the people who read the stories, enjoyed them, and sometimes wrote to me to tell me I’d made them smile. I loved it. It was enough. But it fuelled a desire to do this professionally, to make it a career, and to be successful at it. In 2004, I got my chance to begin a new journey, as a professional author. I was beyond thrilled…and still marvel at the chance/luck that opened this business to me.
I’ll skip the rehash of the journey and cut to the chase for a change. (I’ve been told often I’m too wordy, and I know it’s true.) I’ve watched as the publishing business has mutated, shifted, struggled, and hit amazing highs, and equally amazing lows. I’ve seen quality disintegrate, rebound, and while it’s wobbly at the moment, I do believe we’re moving back to a place where good books are being offered to a public that is as jaded and discouraged as many authors are most days. The optimist in me likes to believe that trend will continue now that it’s begun.
Let me tell you some of the negatives that led to my believing there is really no place for me in this business. First, let’s talk about money, because when you look at a career, you expect to get paid for your work. In the past five years alone I’ve made less than a thousand dollars–on titles that add up to several dozen books. Piracy has cost me upwards of $10,000, and that’s on the sites that are bold enough to actually give a download count on the pages where my books are being given away free of charge. I can only guess at how much more it is when I factor in sites I don’t even know about. I’ve seen/heard a lot of arguments about piracy helping to get your name out to the public, even seen authors who think it’s something to crow over because it means they’re important enough to be pirated. I call it what it is, theft. Some people say these are not the people who’d buy your book anyway, and that could be true, but it doesn’t negate the stolen payment for the years of work put into this career. So, money is huge, especially when you know thieves are the ones collecting on your hard work.
Then there’s the search to find a niche in the market, an audience that is loyal to you and supports you. I have a tracked network of over 12 million via my social sites and websites, much as it amazes me. In spite of that, I can’t find a readership when new books come out. I gave up writing erotic romance, it’s a genre I don’t feel comfortable in anyway. I took time out, spent the past couple of years relearning writing craft. I felt confident and hopeful about starting over. That died quickly when my last novel was rejected for reasons that have little to do with my skill as a writer, and a lot to do with track records, readership–or lack thereof–and even a failure to have become less diverse over the years. To say that I’m discouraged is a monumental understatement.
In my heart, I want to write, to create beautiful, romantic stories that will touch the hearts of those who do read the books… by the same token, I struggle daily with the question of whether or not it’s worth the time and energy, and caring, that goes into this for me. I’m the only one who can answer that one, of course, and maybe it’ll be clear one day soon. The one driving force in all my writing was the pleasure others took in the stories, and when they were excited about what I was creating, I worked that much harder and drove myself to write the best story I could possibly dream up. I’ve even been spared the harsh reviews that most writers have to suffer, and say with complete honesty that about 90% of all my reviews are positive. That doesn’t excuse the ignorance that social media and the internet has bred with such abandon, and what I read in reviews makes me shake my head at times…
In the meantime, the question remains for me–is it time to retire? Will anyone give a damn if I never publish another word? I will…this is the one and only thing I wanted to do with my life, and until recently I believed with all I am that I could make a success of it… all I have at the moment are uncertainties, and confusion. And doubts… so many, many doubts…
At first, I had trouble believing what I was reading, because it sounded so very familiar to what I've been feeling for the past several years - and you've been considerably more successful than I have. At the same time, I can understand those feelings, again because they're so familiar. I had given up, at a time when my world was closing in so very tight around me, and all I could think was that I'd failed at everything in my life. Then, in part because of the support friends like you were giving me, and also because my mother would have been so very disappointed, I decided to try again. I joined a writers club, and I've gone back to stories I'd written in the past, to write them over. I don;t know if I'll ever be considered 'successful' as far as the professional writing world is concerned, but I enjoy writing far too much to throw it away because the publishing business is difficult. Maybe only friends will ever read the majority of what I write, but I need to keep creating, because it's a major part of who and what I am.ReplyDelete
You are such a gifted writer, Denyse, and I hate the idea of you giving up, however much I do understand why you're thinking of it. Give yourself a little time off; write some little pieces of fanfic just for fun; talk about writing to friends. Hopefully, your writing spirit will come back, I certainly hope it will.
Your Friend, Roberta
All I can say is: whether you write until your fingers fall off or you never write another word, I love you and will always be your friend.ReplyDelete
I understand what you are going through. As someone who has struggled with readership under two names and tried to build a second career it is heartbreaking when you get a $2 royalty check. It's demoralizing and it makes you question yourself. But the love to write is there. In many genres...I hope you keep doing what you love. Maybe a new publisher is in order.ReplyDelete
I wish you all the best in all you do... write or not... do something that leads you to passion and happiness. I gave up teaching to sub and while I'm not getting rich, I've found a love for children who want to see a familiar face and compassionate teacher. :)ReplyDelete
You have been a beacon to me over the years, and a gracious presence online. I will support you in whatever you decide to do. You are one classy lady and I will always be a huge fan of YOU. (hugs)ReplyDelete
When I logged in and checked my email this morning, I received a LOT of response to this blog... While I very much appreciate the support and love from all of the people who've commented or written to me directly, the thing I find the saddest is how many OTHER authors are standing on the same precipice, feeling all the same uncertainties and doubts - about themselves, their talent, and their desire to continue in a business that is devaluing their work and their confidence more each day. It's tough being a mid-list author, you're successful enough that people in the business generally know you to a small extent, but you're still a nobody to the mass market buying public, and that leaves you open to all kinds of struggle as you decide whether or not you hang in there or bail on what feels like a sinking ship. I have no answers, even now I'm torn between walking away and holding on by my fingernails and hoping... Thank you to everyone who has shared their thoughts, and whatever happens, please know how much you ARE appreciated. I wish this journey was easier for us all.ReplyDelete
Love and blessings, Denysé
I struggle with the same feelings. I'm still new - a debut author that has sold a few books through a traditional, but small publisher, and have made less than $50 in royalties. I have a day job and a side job, which leaves little time for writing, because writing isn't going to earn me a living. I have seen so much crap being published out there (not all of it self-published) and I despair of ever really being taken seriously AND ever making money at it. I spent so much in promotion when my book came out - more than five times what I made in royalties. I waffle between the importance ROI and the importance if writing because I like to write.ReplyDelete
All that is to say I have no decent advice for you. It is discouraging to put so much work into something, and have it languish in obscurity. It is personally heart-breaking.
I can understand your uncertainty, Denyse, but I am sorry it took you to this point where you question your value as an author, if not a person. You're right, we all define success differently. My thought is if you aren't loving every step of the journey, no matter where it takes you, then you probably need to reduce the time you spend traveling. There is so much competition today, that monetary success is more fleeting than a rainbow. Trying to capture it is nearly an impossible task. So, you need another reason to want to continue writing. If you enjoy the process, then find another publisher who loves your characters as much as you do and continue doing what you love. If you find you're beaten down and tired of the hassle (and publishing can be a hassle much more than the actual writing), then take a break, but please don't think you won't be missed, because you will. You bring a unique perspective to the world through your characters and stories that will be silenced through your absence. I wish you all the best in whatever you decide.ReplyDelete
Wow. Let's see what I can add to this. First as horrible as it sounds, there are lots and lots of other authors going through the same thing. And a lot of them aren't where they thought they'd be today. Now...do you have a newsletter? I think you do but if you don't that would be a good thing to build that up. Second, have you tried self-publishing? I don't remember if you have or not but that's my suggestion. It's not as costly as it sounds. I think editing and the cover would be the brunt of it as far as the costs go. I'm struggling with publishers. I don't like it that I'm not getting a royalty statement at least once a year. Makes me wonder what's going on. Another publisher went bankrupt on us. I bet in all the time I've had books out, I've made under $100. I got started on promoting authors and my books fell to the wayside. But during this time, I've been reading and doing my homework on what is working for some authors. Not that it will work for me but if I think back over the years what really worked, the most success I have had selling books was off my own website for a book that was $30 a crack. Lots have changed since then. The Kindle store opened and that's where I'm aiming for. I don't want to sell it from my website this go around and see if I can make a profit for an ebook that will only be an ebook for now. I'm keeping my expectations low but I'm developing some kind of campaign that will do the most good as well as other things like build up my newsletter so forth. The discouragement with publishers didn't have a lasting effect...it only made me determined to do it my way this go around. We shall see. If you have tried the self-pub route already and aren't seeing the results, that's probably adding to the frustration. I would recommend not relying on it for profit just so you have a cushion. I don't know Denise...I just know you're not alone.ReplyDelete
I'm just here to give you one very big bear hug <<<>>> ... because what can I say? I agree with everything you said? Yes I do. I honestly do and sometimes I have days where I'd like to echo your words, but Bob Marley once said: “love the life you live. live the life you love.”ReplyDelete
Hopefully, you'll only have a little break from writing and who knows, in a little while those fingers of your will be itching for more stories to tell.
Please don't give up on your dream!
I totally get this. I make a modest living from work for hire educational publishing, but almost nothing from my fiction, despite excellent reviews and strangers who tell me they love my books. When I started publishing romantic adventures for adults, I knew it would take multiple books to build an audience. But with five books out, it still hasn't happened. Every year I ask myself if writing a new book is the way I want to spend my time. Yes, I love the writing, but I enjoy other things as well, and they don't come with the same hard work and frustration.ReplyDelete
I won't offer advice to you. Simply know you're not alone and remember that your success or failure says less about you and more about the business. My non-writer friends are always shocked and baffled when they hear how publishing works.
I sympathize with your struggle. I pursued trad publishing for 20 years, won a Golden Heart but never got "the call" despite receiving more than a dozen revision letters for assorted manuscripts. Including two from Harlequin for the GH winner over two years. That made me decide to self-publish, for which I had to find and pay for an editor and cover designer, figure out distribution and marketing/promo. I've released 3 books (4 counting two versions of one), with another coming in May. While I get some KU pages and sell some if I run a .99 promo, it seems even $2.99 is too much to pay to try a new author. I see so many authors I know/finaled in contests with, etc. whose efforts pay off, so I know it can be done. I still pursue trad on occasion, and two projects are out on request now. The enjoyment after writing more than a dozen books has faded.ReplyDelete
You hit all the high points as to why,despite four different careers in writing, I've been struggling with ending the effort. The time, energy, emotional toll, and the imbalance between money spent and oney returned tilts the scales to walking away. Eventually you just get tired of trying to push the stone uphill. Enjoy the 'retirement.'ReplyDelete
As much as I'd love to say "don't quit," I totally get it. I think about quitting every single day and have given myself one more year before I throw in the towel completely. In the meantime, I've cut way back on my writing and promotional efforts since my ROI has been so crappy (I've actually lost money the past two years), and I need to refill my emotional well by taking care of myself and spending time doing things I enjoy with people I love. I still enjoy some aspects of writing (the creativity and reader feedback) but the soul-sucking business of writing has killed my passion for pursuing writing as a full time career. Rather than walk away from everything I've built, however, I think a "some is better than none" approach will help me feel less frustrated with the current state of the industry and help me keep my eye on the prize...which for me is producing books that touch the heart of readers and earning a paycheck commensurate with my work output. Time will tell! Best to you wherever the road leads and may we all be blessed with a best seller that fills the coffers and keeps us going!ReplyDelete
Do what you love, always.ReplyDelete
Do something else to pay the bills.
If you can combine them, it's a bonus :)
Oh, Denyse, you speak for me too. It's been a struggle for me for 16 years when I started writing and 11 since I was first published in 2005. I had all the same feelings for writing that you describe. I considered it "holy" work. I'm also surrounded by books at home and always have been. I've been publisher published and self published and my overall payments are dismal. One of your above commenters told me several years ago that I wasn't really considered published because it wasn't New York published. She is now self published herself. Her remark has always irritated me. This is something we've fought for years ever since e-pubs came into existence. Now we fight the slew of new books and new authors on Amazon and other sites. I'm very discouraged and can't imagine buckling down to write again. I'm now working on my dollhouse miniature projects. At least they're another creative outlet.ReplyDelete
I don't intend to drop out of the writing world completely because so many friends are there. And it sounds like most of your other commenters above are in the same boat.
Good luck to all of us. As I've always said, we belong to the centuries long list of authors, and we're a small group compared to all the other people in the world who say they too could write a book. But they haven't and we have. I'm very proud of my writing. At least I have that.
An excerp from Stephen Kings book "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft". The last of his * rules for writing.ReplyDelete
8. Write for the joy of it.
"Yes, I've made a great deal of dough from my fiction, but I never set a single word down on paper with the thought of being paid for it... Maybe it paid off the mortgage on the house and got the kids through college, but those things were on the side -- I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."