Why I Gave Up Writing Fiction Books

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Charles Dawson

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*DISCLAIMER: I do not wish to offend anyone nor crush dreams about their choice of being a writer. I am simply reflecting on my time writing and publishing through the lens of a businessperson and entrepreneur.

I started writing seriously in 2014 and publishing 4 books up until the end of 2017. I spent hours doing research on what successful writers did and how to make your books most likely to succeed. I watched hours of writing lectures and read book after book about plot structure, dialogue, conflict, making good characters, and just about every other element of fiction. I studied the best movies and read psychology books to really get into the head of my characters. I would get up an hour earlier than usual, make my coffee while everyone else was still asleep, I would get to creating the beautiful, imaginary world for my readers. I would sharpen dialogue, then cut out lame scenes and insert new and exciting ones. I drove up the tension and stakes at critical parts and polished my story as near to perfection as I could. I published poetry, fiction, and young adult books. I paid top dollar for my books’ covers, editing services, marketing, building a website, etc. I would be elated after finishing a great chapter or coming up with a sharp line of witty dialogue and look forward to the day when all that work would *pay* off and I would reward myself with something. I would’ve been happy with a set of nice writing pens or something else relatively inexpensive.

But then over the course of the next four years, reality set in…

These are some of the ugly truths about being a writer, publishing, and trying to sell your books. There are countless articles, books, videos, and other things that are upset at former writers like myself and would-be writers for ‘crushing’ writers’ dreams. Just Google “no money in fiction”, “how to make money writing fiction”, or “realistic earnings for writers” and you will get evidence for both sides. We as humans tend to hope for the best and overestimate our chances of success (a bias I will address later). I didn’t predict my short writing career would end like this but I am glad I left before I started to hate writing. Of course you may not experience any of these in your writing career, but I am going to share my story with as much detail as possible.

Everyone wants a free book

I was able to get a few people to buy some paperbacks at my book signing (provided by a local, indie bookstore) but with Amazon (namely Kindle) allowing the eBook prices to be set so low, a lot of writers have given up on the idea of charging for their first book at all! Professional writers recommend serializing it and then charging $.99 cents for book 2 and maybe $1.99 for book 3! Am I the only one that sees something very, very wrong with this? Someone (a writer) has taken their time to *craft* a story or work, edit it, and publish it for the whole world to see. Maybe I am biased and only looking at it from the writer’s perspective and not the reader’s. I ask perhaps readers have become too spoiled expecting free books of high quality? Maybe it’s the oversaturation of published books? The number of books published in 2017 hovered around 338,000 books, according to statista.com. It’s like books were diamonds in the past (worth more) and now that everyone can write a book, and an increasing number of people have written one, the supply is driving down the demand for each book.

Another thing that happened over and over again that really showed that readers aren’t willing to pay for books is that I was meticulous in posting excerpts on pinterest, instagram, facebook, phone apps for readers, forums, and more outlets and people would share it, like it, and comment on it praising its literary merit but HARDLY anyone spent a dime on it. That was a moment that was truly, truly disheartening. These people raved about the deepness and richness of the story and then wouldn’t turn around to spend $.99 on the ebook! Imagine what that feels like for a writer that has poured their soul onto paper for the world to see, and the world smiles but then prefers to buy a $3 cup of Starbucks coffee than spend a third of that on your art … that they already like!! It really felt like a slap in the face as a writer, like the reader was saying, “I really like your writing, but you’re expecting me to pay for it? What? Be grateful I’m even reading it.”

I sent out free paperback and ebook review copies for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, money that I happily spent (for the books, bookmarks, and shipping) and I got solid reviews hoping it would lead to *SOME* sales. And nothing. I kept mailing more out and thanking people for reading my work when they could be reading anything else and then … nothing. I was giving away free paperback copies of my books on Goodreads every month and now I realize that I was just hemorrhaging money.

I am completely open to the idea that I could be totally wrong about this whole thing, and part of me hopes that I am, but this is what it looks like from where I’m standing.

Few people read anymore

I don’t know about your circle of people, but mine don’t have time/energy/motivation to read, myself included sometimes! I realize the irony and problem here: “How can you write and not read?” Well it’s a little more complicated than that: I have a degree in English (I’ve read A LOT and analyzed tons of books) and have taught English courses from grades 6-12 here and abroad. I have read classics, kids’ books, young adult, and many others. But now I feel like I don’t time to read as much with a family, work, and life! I have been listening to audiobooks a lot more recently and even then they are only nonfiction. Then it occurred to me, how many other readers out there feel like they have had their fill of fiction and focus more on reading/listening for practical knowledge? Which brings me to my next question...

Have we run out of good or new stories?

Don’t get me wrong, there are masterpieces of fiction out there that I will continue to re-read from time to time until the end of time. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Frankenstein, and a whole other collection of books that were truly transformational and life-changing for me. But realistically, not to sound negative or cynical, I just want to be objective, is there a cut-off point where we find enough fiction books to satisfy us and kill the need to find more? Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots suggested there are a finite number of story types of course, but maybe we are simply just re-telling the same stories over and over and only changing the names.

How many new fiction books are written that come close to those beloved books that have stood the test of time? I realize that some books only become popular much after they are published but the principle is the same: can we run out of stories? Can we run out of good and new stories? I know that goes against everything the creative writer believes and has been taught, but we must be careful of the confirmation bias (only looking for evidence that supports our pre-existing beliefs).

More things are competing for people's attention more than ever

Netflix, Hulu, cable TV, and more and more phone apps are some of the reasons I think contribute to the dropping number of people that actually read for entertainment. After a long day of work, if I am going to read it has to be something super, super compelling that no amount of exhaustion could keep me away. A gripping book on logic and fallacies did it for me, and that was to the get me to my personal and professional goal of thinking more clearly and not falling victim to cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Now, more than ever, new television series, YouTube series, podcasts, and more avenues for entertainment are available to consumers and I feel like writers and authors are getting left behind, relatively speaking not in absolute. Basically, writers are getting an ever-shrinking slice of the pie.

It takes a LOT of time for even a 1/10000 chance

The moment of true clarity I have to attribute to two books:
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash by Timothy Caulfield
The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

These two books gave me the slap of reality that I needed to finally look at the possibility of living off of fiction for what it was: a very, very improbable thing. Let me be clear: it is a noble calling to create worlds for readers to lose themselves in and escape reality for a bit. Writers weave a wonderful world of whimsy (I love alliteration, by the way) and that is a beautiful thing! But will it pay the bills? Probably not. In The Art of Thinking Clearly, Dobelli addresses all (most?) of the cognitive biases and logical fallacies that exist with concise chapters that explain each error along with examples. It helped me see how I was applying some of the biases and fallacies to my dream of being a ‘successful’ writer.

Ever heard of the Sunken Cost fallacy? It’s when people keep doing something just because of how much effort/time/money they have already invested in it. For example, someone that pays $15 for a movie and even though they think that the movie is terrible and it has absolutely no hope of improving, they will sit through the whole 1.5 hour movie simply because they already paid for it. It’s a gut reaction but our intuition isn’t infallible. Sometimes we have to know when it’s time to cut our losses and move on to the next project.

Another fallacy that I think we fall into is the Survivorship Bias fallacy: when we only notice success stories because they are showcased more than the losers. Triumph is more visible than failures. Take the NBA for example: we see a relatively large amount of players on the roster (max is 450 to be exact, 15 players max for 30 teams). The NCAA calculates a male’s chance of getting into the NBA as 1.2% (and that’s after playing in the NCAA!). We don’t see the extremely long list of players that “applied” to get into the NBA to begin with. We just see the finished product: the adored NBA player shaking hands as they come out to the court. We don’t see the hours of training, natural ability and genetics, along with sheer luck that it took for them to get there. It really is a super-super-rare occurrence.

How does this apply to writers? Let’s aim to be the next Stephen King. He came to popularity in 1973 with Carrie and there are several factors that make it irreplicable today. There was no internet, smart phones, book pirating, ebooks, phone apps and self-publishing. Basically, there were more gatekeepers for books and people had less options for entertainment so books were a solid option to boredom. It ain’t like that anymore! If the number of published books and writers continue to grow, along with a shrinking percentage of people reading for leisure, what are the chances one of us will reach Stephen-King status? There is only one Michael Jordan and there is only one Stephen King. Sure we could reach some level of success, we don’t all wish to be Stephen King, but I didn’t have the patience to stick around and hope when there were clearer, more feasible paths to making money. I can only imagine how much more time, money, and effort I would’ve spent if I had turned a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence around me telling me I probably was never going to make even minimum wage for an hour of my writing time. The truth may hurt but it shall set you free!

I like to think that I gave it a good four-year try, realized the probability of success (at least my definition of it), and decided to abandon ship. To get a clear idea of how much money, time, and effort it takes to really eek out a living as a writer I would recommend The Science Fiction & Marketing Podcast YouTube video series by a trio of professional independent self-publishing writers that make a living from their science fiction books https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2s1FUe9xzE

Hard Truth: Writing is one thing but most of it is re-writing

Just how much time went into writing? Some of my books were written over many years and only published quickly after I had decided to truly focus on making money writing. It’s hard to calculate those but the YA novel I wrote was a story that I was very, very passionate about. I wrote and published that book in about 9 months. It was an amazingly satisfying frenzy to write before and after work, on weekends, and any other spare minute I had. Writing the first draft was a lot of fun and very tedious but I was surprised about how hard it was to go back and polish the story and get it ready for publication. That’s when I discovered something I feel a lot of writers struggle with: a love of writing but a strong hatred for re-writing what has already been written.

So...what now?

I am happy to say that since quitting writing I have moved on to starting a small business (which does involve some technical/business writing so I get my fill) and it’s becoming more and more lucrative. I can’t help but think that with all the effort I was putting into writing novels, fiction, and other books I am ACTUALLY SEEING RESULTS. Numbers don’t lie and since I stopped writing fiction and focused only on growing my small business. I work as a freelance writer writing advertisements, brochures, commercial dialogue, and tutor students in English courses. I am happy to say that I have made more money in the first 2 months of 2018 than I did in my 4 years of writing fiction from 2014 to 2017. Sure, I sold some books and made some money but after calculating my expenses (travel, producing the books, paying for editing/covers, bookmarks, etc.) I was a few dozen dollars in the green. I didn’t want to depress/exert myself by dividing that money (well under $100) by the amount of hours I had spent writing and re-writing the books. The data is clear: writing fiction was not a feasible route for making money outside of my day job.

When I started this I wanted to be wrong…

If you have dreams of living off your writing keep at it! If one day something clearly makes you feel like you should stop, then follow your heart but listen to your head, too. That’s what happened with me. We all have different breaking points and different definitions of success. If you have patience to write and write write and market and market and market, then more power to you! It’s always a gamble but the more you can do to increase the odds, the better. I read somewhere that the average ‘successful’ writer had to write an average of eight books before making it. I just wasn’t motivated enough to put all of that into something that *MIGHT* pay off *SOMEDAY*
Like I mentioned my morning routine in the beginning, I enjoyed every minute of it and may even return for a few short bouts of creative writing except that this time my expectations of the work and outcomes are much, much more realistic. Not pessimistic. Not optimistic. REALISTIC.

I've done enough self- psychoanalyzing to know that I could just be rationalizing my lack of writing skill, but hey, take this post for what it's worth, use what you can, and disregard the rest. Thanks for reading!

Please share your experience or comment below. I would truly like to hear what your thoughts are!
 
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cornflake

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*DISCLAIMER: I do not wish to offend anyone nor crush dreams about their choice of being a writer. I am simply reflecting on my time writing and publishing through the lens of a businessperson and entrepreneur.

I started writing seriously in 2014 and publishing 4 books up until the end of 2017. I spent hours doing research on what successful writers did and how to make your books most likely to succeed. I watched hours of writing lectures and read book after book about plot structure, dialogue, conflict, making good characters, and just about every other element of fiction. I studied the best movies and read psychology books to really get into the head of my characters. I would get up an hour earlier than usual, make my coffee while everyone else was still asleep, I would get to creating the beautiful, imaginary world for my readers. I would sharpen dialogue, then cut out lame scenes and insert new and exciting ones. I drove up the tension and stakes at critical parts and polished my story as near to perfection as I could. I published poetry, fiction, and young adult books. I paid top dollar for my books’ covers, editing services, marketing, building a website, etc. I would be elated after finishing a great chapter or coming up with a sharp line of witty dialogue and look forward to the day when all that work would *pay* off and I would reward myself with something. I would’ve been happy with a set of nice writing pens or something else relatively inexpensive.

But then over the course of the next four years, reality set in…

These are some of the ugly truths about being a writer, publishing, and trying to sell your books. There are countless articles, books, videos, and other things that are upset at former writers like myself and would-be writers for ‘crushing’ writers’ dreams. Just Google “no money in fiction”, “how to make money writing fiction”, or “realistic earnings for writers” and you will get evidence for both sides. We as humans tend to hope for the best and overestimate our chances of success (a bias I will address later). I didn’t predict my short writing career would end like this but I am glad I left before I started to hate writing. Of course you may not experience any of these in your writing career, but I am going to share my story with as much detail as possible.

Everyone wants a free book

I was able to get a few people to buy some paperbacks at my book signing (provided by a local, indie bookstore) but with Amazon (namely Kindle) allowing the eBook prices to be set so low, a lot of writers have given up on the idea of charging for their first book at all! Professional writers recommend serializing it and then charging $.99 cents for book 2 and maybe $1.99 for book 3! Am I the only one that sees something very, very wrong with this? Someone (a writer) has taken their time to *craft* a story or work, edit it, and publish it for the whole world to see. Maybe I am biased and only looking at it from the writer’s perspective and not the reader’s. I ask perhaps readers have become too spoiled expecting free books of high quality? Maybe it’s the oversaturation of published books? The number of books published in 2017 hovered around 338,000 books, according to statista.com. It’s like books were diamonds in the past (worth more) and now that everyone can write a book, and an increasing number of people have written one, the supply is driving down the demand for each book.

Another thing that happened over and over again that really showed that readers aren’t willing to pay for books is that I was meticulous in posting excerpts on pinterest, instagram, facebook, phone apps for readers, forums, and more outlets and people would share it, like it, and comment on it praising its literary merit but HARDLY anyone spent a dime on it. That was a moment that was truly, truly disheartening. These people raved about the deepness and richness of the story and then wouldn’t turn around to spend $.99 on the ebook! Imagine what that feels like for a writer that has poured their soul onto paper for the world to see, and the world smiles but then prefers to buy a $3 cup of Starbucks coffee than spend a third of that on your art … that they already like!! It really felt like a slap in the face as a writer, like the reader was saying, “I really like your writing, but you’re expecting me to pay for it? What? Be grateful I’m even reading it.”

I sent out free paperback and ebook review copies for reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, money that I happily spent (for the books, bookmarks, and shipping) and I got solid reviews hoping it would lead to *SOME* sales. And nothing. I kept mailing more out and thanking people for reading my work when they could be reading anything else and then … nothing. I was giving away free paperback copies of my books on Goodreads every month and now I realize that I was just hemorrhaging money.

I am completely open to the idea that I could be totally wrong about this whole thing, and part of me hopes that I am, but this is what it looks like from where I’m standing.

Few people read anymore

I don’t know about your circle of people, but mine don’t have time/energy/motivation to read, myself included sometimes! I realize the irony and problem here: “How can you write and not read?” Well it’s a little more complicated than that: I have a degree in English (I’ve read A LOT and analyzed tons of books) and have taught English courses from grades 6-12 here and abroad. I have read classics, kids’ books, young adult, and many others. But now I feel like I don’t time to read as much with a family, work, and life! I have been listening to audiobooks a lot more recently and even then they are only nonfiction. Then it occurred to me, how many other readers out there feel like they have had their fill of fiction and focus more on reading/listening for practical knowledge? Which brings me to my next question...

Have we run out of good or new stories?

Don’t get me wrong, there are masterpieces of fiction out there that I will continue to re-read from time to time until the end of time. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Frankenstein, and a whole other collection of books that were truly transformational and life-changing for me. But realistically, not to sound negative or cynical, I just want to be objective, is there a cut-off point where we find enough fiction books to satisfy us and kill the need to find more? Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots suggested there are a finite number of story types of course, but maybe we are simply just re-telling the same stories over and over and only changing the names.

How many new fiction books are written that come close to those beloved books that have stood the test of time? I realize that some books only become popular much after they are published but the principle is the same: can we run out of stories? Can we run out of good and new stories? I know that goes against everything the creative writer believes and has been taught, but we must be careful of the confirmation bias (only looking for evidence that supports our pre-existing beliefs).

More things are competing for people's attention more than ever

Netflix, Hulu, cable TV, and more and more phone apps are some of the reasons I think contribute to the dropping number of people that actually read for entertainment. After a long day of work, if I am going to read it has to be something super, super compelling that no amount of exhaustion could keep me away. A gripping book on logic and fallacies did it for me, and that was to the get me to my personal and professional goal of thinking more clearly and not falling victim to cognitive biases and logical fallacies. Now, more than ever, new television series, YouTube series, podcasts, and more avenues for entertainment are available to consumers and I feel like writers and authors are getting left behind, relatively speaking not in absolute. Basically, writers are getting an ever-shrinking slice of the pie.

It takes a LOT of time for even a 1/10000 chance

The moment of true clarity I have to attribute to two books:
Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash by Timothy Caulfield
The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

These two books gave me the slap of reality that I needed to finally look at the possibility of living off of fiction for what it was: a very, very improbable thing. Let me be clear: it is a noble calling to create worlds for readers to lose themselves in and escape reality for a bit. Writers weave a wonderful world of whimsy (I love alliteration, by the way) and that is a beautiful thing! But will it pay the bills? Probably not. In The Art of Thinking Clearly, Dobelli addresses all (most?) of the cognitive biases and logical fallacies that exist with concise chapters that explain each error along with examples. It helped me see how I was applying some of the biases and fallacies to my dream of being a ‘successful’ writer.

Ever heard of the Sunken Cost fallacy? It’s when people keep doing something just because of how much effort/time/money they have already invested in it. For example, someone that pays $15 for a movie and even though they think that the movie is terrible and it has absolutely no hope of improving, they will sit through the whole 1.5 hour movie simply because they already paid for it. It’s a gut reaction but our intuition isn’t infallible. Sometimes we have to know when it’s time to cut our losses and move on to the next project.

Another fallacy that I think we fall into is the Survivorship Bias fallacy: when we only notice success stories because they are showcased more than the losers. Triumph is more visible than failures. Take the NBA for example: we see a relatively large amount of players on the roster (max is 450 to be exact, 15 players max for 30 teams). The NCAA calculates a male’s chance of getting into the NBA as 1.2% (and that’s after playing in the NCAA!). We don’t see the extremely long list of players that “applied” to get into the NBA to begin with. We just see the finished product: the adored NBA player shaking hands as they come out to the court. We don’t see the hours of training, natural ability and genetics, along with sheer luck that it took for them to get there. It really is a super-super-rare occurrence.

How does this apply to writers? Let’s aim to be the next Stephen King. He came to popularity in 1973 with Carrie and there are several factors that make it irreplicable today. There was no internet, smart phones, book pirating, ebooks, phone apps and self-publishing. Basically, there were more gatekeepers for books and people had less options for entertainment so books were a solid option to boredom. It ain’t like that anymore! If the number of published books and writers continue to grow, along with a shrinking percentage of people reading for leisure, what are the chances one of us will reach Stephen-King status? There is only one Michael Jordan and there is only one Stephen King. Sure we could reach some level of success, we don’t all wish to be Stephen King, but I didn’t have the patience to stick around and hope when there were clearer, more feasible paths to making money. I can only imagine how much more time, money, and effort I would’ve spent if I had turned a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence around me telling me I probably was never going to make even minimum wage for an hour of my writing time. The truth may hurt but it shall set you free!

I like to think that I gave it a good four-year try, realized the probability of success (at least my definition of it), and decided to abandon ship. To get a clear idea of how much money, time, and effort it takes to really eek out a living as a writer I would recommend The Science Fiction & Marketing Podcast YouTube video series by a trio of professional independent self-publishing writers that make a living from their science fiction books https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2s1FUe9xzE

Hard Truth: Writing is one thing but most of it is re-writing

Just how much time went into writing? Some of my books were written over many years and only published quickly after I had decided to truly focus on making money writing. It’s hard to calculate those but the YA novel I wrote was a story that I was very, very passionate about. I wrote and published that book in about 9 months. It was an amazingly satisfying frenzy to write before and after work, on weekends, and any other spare minute I had. Writing the first draft was a lot of fun and very tedious but I was surprised about how hard it was to go back and polish the story and get it ready for publication. That’s when I discovered something I feel a lot of writers struggle with: a love of writing but a strong hatred for re-writing what has already been written.

So...what now?

I am happy to say that since quitting writing I have moved on to starting a small business (which does involve some technical/business writing so I get my fill) and it’s becoming more and more lucrative. I can’t help but think that with all the effort I was putting into writing novels, fiction, and other books I am ACTUALLY SEEING RESULTS. Numbers don’t lie and since I stopped writing fiction and focused only on growing my small business. I work as a freelance writer writing advertisements, brochures, commercial dialogue, and tutor students in English courses. I am happy to say that I have made more money in the first 2 months of 2018 than I did in my 4 years of writing fiction from 2014 to 2017. Sure, I sold some books and made some money but after calculating my expenses (travel, producing the books, paying for editing/covers, bookmarks, etc.) I was a few dozen dollars in the green. I didn’t want to depress/exert myself by dividing that money (well under $100) by the amount of hours I had spent writing and re-writing the books. The data is clear: writing fiction was not a feasible route for making money outside of my day job.

When I started this I wanted to be wrong…

If you have dreams of living off your writing keep at it! If one day something clearly makes you feel like you should stop, then follow your heart but listen to your head, too. That’s what happened with me. We all have different breaking points and different definitions of success. If you have patience to write and write write and market and market and market, then more power to you! It’s always a gamble but the more you can do to increase the odds, the better. I read somewhere that the average ‘successful’ writer had to write an average of eight books before making it. I just wasn’t motivated enough to put all of that into something that *MIGHT* pay off *SOMEDAY*
Like I mentioned my morning routine in the beginning, I enjoyed every minute of it and may even return for a few short bouts of creative writing except that this time my expectations of the work and outcomes are much, much more realistic. Not pessimistic. Not optimistic. REALISTIC.

Please share your experience or comment below. I would truly like to hear what your thoughts are!

Wow.

Ok, honestly, I'm sorry it didn't work out, but you seem happy to have found a different business to be in. I think you kind of went about this endeavour all wrong, with expectations that didn't fit reality, didn't really understand much about the specific business of self-publishing, and have now looked for explanations to fit what you've decided on as the reason your plans did not come to fruition.

People don't read or pay for books anymore?

Have you been in a bookstore lately?
 

Bing Z

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My experience has been miserable so far, but it doesn't matter. I'm still trying. Hopefully one day I'll make it.

A couple of thoughts for you, Charles Dawson:

a) It doesn't matter how much time authors have put into their works; as a reader, I want to read compelling stories with interesting (good or bad) characters. I don' t care if the authors finish that fiction in 3 weeks or 30 years. You may spend your entire life working hard and don't get result. OTOH you may get to #1NYT list on your next book with a sociopath MC you write out of frustration. There is no guarantee though.

b) As an example, Stephen King had been a failed author (in terms of fiction) for a decade, until Carrie was picked up. IIRC a stretch of that period he worked two jobs and wrote in the laundry room at night. Three years of failure is nothing IMHO.
 

Enlightened

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Three years of failure is nothing IMHO.

Brandon Sanderson noted he wrote 13 books before he sold his first. He said he'd rather write a new book than do revisions though. He also noted, in his lectures, that it may take 10 years before you sell your first book.
 

Cindyt

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I failed at giving it up. My stories would not leave me alone, and I was mean and miserable. I started back this morning and plan to never give up again.
 

Curlz

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The majority of budding writers won't find success. Just like the majority of budding actors, or scientists, or astronauts, or painters, or lawyers, or surgeons, or billionaires, etc, etc. That doesn't mean there is no point of trying to be an actor, scientist, astronaut, painter, etc or even a billionaire. Some do succeed in getting their dream job as you can see all around. It's not easy winning an Olympic medal, yet some people do. It's a tough competition. Writing is tough competition and you just have to be better than the rest. And that's tough, too. But it's not impossible. Lots of people don't win Olympic medals but that doesn't make the Olympics obsolete or pointless and shouldn't discourage anybody from trying.
 

stephenf

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Hi
You are describing writing as a commercial enterprise. Basically a process of creating a product for sale, with the goal of making a profit. All commercial endeavours are difficult. There will always be competition and difficulties that need to be overcome. Self-employed writers have similar problems as all self-employed workers. It's a business. Part of the business of writing is tapping into the millions of people who want to be a writer. Software companies, websites and publishers are all selling the idea that you can be successful as a writer. Most won't, as you have discovered.
 
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Charles Dawson

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I could be a victim of confirmation bias, or couldn't we both be guilty of that? Again, I prefaced this post with this:
*This was just my experience.*

I don't expect the successful writers to agree with me; they're living proof that it can be done! I wrote this more for the writers that struggled and looking for someone else who went down that same path. Thanks for the reply!
 

Charles Dawson

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I failed at giving it up. My stories would not leave me alone, and I was mean and miserable. I started back this morning and plan to never give up again.

Hats off to you, mate! You're a better writer than I'll ever be!
 

Charles Dawson

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You are describing writing as a commercial enterprise. Basically a process of creating a product for sale, with the goal of making a profit. All commercial endeavours are difficult. There will always be competition and difficulties that need to be overcome. Self-employed writers have similar problems as all self-employed workers. It a business. Part of the business of writing is tapping into the millions of people who want to be a writer. Software companies, websites, publishers are all selling the idea that you can be successful as a writer. Most won't, as you have discovered.

Well said! I read somewhere that people make more money from writers wanting to write than actually writing; i.e., teaching creative writing, coaching, books on writing, talks, etc.
 

Jan74

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^^^ I second that!

I'm not sure where to begin with this....but as an unpublished writer I will offer up my own thoughts. First off, I think it's fantastic you have FOUR completed works under your belt...that is nothing to sneeze at. Obviously you're expectations haven't been met, and that's too bad, it's a free world and you are most certainly free to quit and hang up your hat.

As for readers not willing to pay for books, that simply isn't true. Granted, if I want to read a book the first thing I do is check my library, if my library doesn't carry that author(which does happen with many of the newer self pub books) then I do buy it on my e-reader. I don't look for .99 cent books...why would I? If an author has snagged my attention and retained my attention then I will pay whatever that author is asking.

Here's my opinion on pricing....I will NEVER sell a novel for .99 cents, even if I have the worst book in the world, .99 cents is devaluing your work and tells the reader that you don't think it's worth much. Why would anyone do that? However I'm not naive enough to think I can charge what a seasoned author with a dedicated following does either. There is a middle happy ground.

I look forward to the publishing side, regardless if it's self or traditional, I think I will learn a lot during that process. I'm itching to try the self pub because I'm creative and I want my sticky hands in the design of my cover and my lay out, however if I did land an agent I will recognize that there are pros out there that are far more knowledgeable than I when it comes to design etc.

The word that comes to mind when I read your post is....disgruntled. I get it. I can hear your frustration loud and clear. But there is an old saying that I believe fits well here....when life hands you lemons.....I'm sure you know the rest.

So for any newbie like me, who is struggling to finish.....have a little faith, believe in yourself because if you don't nobody else will, and just keep writing. Don't be discouraged, nobody said it would be easy. I tell my kids that failure is a part of life, in fact...failure is the most important part of life, take the Great Wayne Gretzky I'm willing to bet he missed more than he scored....and yet you would never deem him unsuccessful. So maybe you...general you....need to redefine what success is. For some landing an agent is success....finishing the last page is success, selling one copy is success. The most important thing a writer can do is define what success is to them.

I do have to say I find it strange that your first post in a writing support forum is "why I gave up writing fiction". But to each their own.
 

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...failure is the most important part of life, take the Great Wayne Gretzky I'm willing to bet he missed more than he scored....and yet you would never deem him unsuccessful.

I absolutely agree! Failure is not a reason to give up; it's always a learning process. You can't give up on something just because it didn't work the first couple of times (I mean, you can, but that's where passion comes in: when you're passionate about something - take Cindyt's example above - you don't take no for an answer. You get back in and try again, try differently, try better, learn more, and hope that it works.)

I'm an unpublished writer too (haven't even gotten an agent to look at my work yet, and I've been writing for more than seven years, which isn't really much - just a decade, right?;)), and I'm not giving up. I always know I have a better story to tell, or a better way to tell a story, and there will be people who will love to read it. And I know that sooner or later (hopefully sooner) I will achieve my goal of being published and actually making money from it. But seriously, I'd do it even with no promise of returns.

The thing is, in general when you start something with the intention of making money from it, but you're not really pursuing it for its own sake, it's hard to keep going when the obstacles and failures finally come (as they always do). That's why there's this almost cliched advice that successful people often repeat: be passionate about what you do, because when you are passionate, you persist longer than the average person in any field.

That said, I admire the OP's planning and hard work. I'm glad you've found a better way to achieve your goals in an area that is fulfilling and financially satisfactory.
 

SciSarahTops

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*

Few people read anymore

I don’t know about your circle of people, but mine don’t have time/energy/motivation to read, myself included sometimes! . But now I feel like I don’t time to read as much with a family, work, and life! I have been listening to audiobooks a lot more recently and even then they are only nonfiction. Then it occurred to me, how many other readers out there feel like they have had their fill of fiction and focus more on reading/listening for practical knowledge?

I don't agree with you on this, when my energy is low I read fiction.I spend money on it too. There's no single trend. My son just discovered reading for pleasure, he's had the thrill of spending his pocket money in a bookshop.


*

Ever heard of the Sunken Cost fallacy? It’s when people keep doing something just because of how much effort/time/money they have already invested in it. For example, someone that pays $15 for a movie and even though they think that the movie is terrible and it has absolutely no hope of improving, they will sit through the whole 1.5 hour movie simply because they already paid for it. It’s a gut reaction but our intuition isn’t infallible. Sometimes we have to know when it’s time to cut our losses and move on to the next project.

I genuinely worry about this. I have one completed novel. I have worked on it endlessly for a few years, failing to complete the other stories I start because of this. I think some of why I can't give it up is the sunken cost/time fallacy. Having said that I know that every time I work through it it gets better. And I really enjoy it. I would love (beyine most other things) for other people to enjoy it to but for now me enjoying the work, and the story is just about enough. I do feel like a chump and a looser a lot of the time though.
 
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Charles Dawson

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I absolutely agree! Failure is not a reason to give up; it's always a learning process. You can't give up on something just because it didn't work the first couple of times (I mean, you can, but that's where passion comes in: when you're passionate about something - take Cindyt's example above - you don't take no for an answer. You get back in and try again, try differently, try better, learn more, and hope that it works.)

I'm an unpublished writer too (haven't even gotten an agent to look at my work yet, and I've been writing for more than seven years, which isn't really much - just a decade, right?;)), and I'm not giving up. I always know I have a better story to tell, or a better way to tell a story, and there will be people who will love to read it. And I know that sooner or later (hopefully sooner) I will achieve my goal of being published and actually making money from it. But seriously, I'd do it even with no promise of returns.

The thing is, in general when you start something with the intention of making money from it, but you're not really pursuing it for its own sake, it's hard to keep going when the obstacles and failures finally come (as they always do). That's why there's this almost cliched advice that successful people often repeat: be passionate about what you do, because when you are passionate, you persist longer than the average person in any field.

That said, I admire the OP's planning and hard work. I'm glad you've found a better way to achieve your goals in an area that is fulfilling and financially satisfactory.

Thank you for your post! It was very well written and certainly speaks to truth on both sides. :)
 

Charles Dawson

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I don't agree with you on this, when my energy is low I read fiction.I spend money on it too. There's no single trend. My son just discovered reading for pleasure, he's had the thrill of spending his pocket money in a bookshop.




I genuinely worry about this. I have one completed novel. I have worked on it endlessly for a few years, failing to complete the other stories I start because of this. I think some of why I can't give it up is the sunken cost/time fallacy. Having said that I know that every time I work through it it gets better. And I really enjoy it. I would love (beyine most other things) for other people to enjoy it to but for now me enjoying the work, and the story is just about enough. I do feel like a chump and a looser a lot of the time though.

Regarding the sunken cost fallacy I refer back to Stephen King's great advice on when to give up on a story: he basically said the story that stays in your mind for a long time is what you should pursue. Writers get tons of ideas but not all our worth your time writing, only ones that really stay in your head. Time is a great filter for crappy stories. Thankfully, his complete book On Writing in available as an audio book for free on YT and read by the master himself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6xwA2M5Dqs

best of luck!
 

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On Writing may be free, as an ebook (for those interested), from your local, public library.
 

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Regarding the sunken cost fallacy I refer back to Stephen King's great advice on when to give up on a story: he basically said the story that stays in your mind for a long time is what you should pursue. Writers get tons of ideas but not all our worth your time writing, only ones that really stay in your head.

I dunno. I kind of feel like this is an example of the survivorship bias fallacy in its own right. Really, you don't have any choice but to write the stories that stick in your mind because you've forgotten the others, and if you can't remember an idea, how do you know it wasn't amazing?

I jot down my ideas wherever I happen to be. (I often text or email them to myself). When I sift back through those older ideas I find that I've forgotten a lot of them, some lousy, but some pretty darn good, and I've gone on to write solid stuff based on the good ones.

If I hadn't written them down, they would have vanished into nothingness.
 
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OP, I am glad you're found something that works out for you. I know nothing of self-publishing but it strikes me as very difficult.

It also strikes me that people write for different reasons. IMO, to write with the primary idea of making money is flawed. We all know that writing doesn't pay well unless you end up with a blockbuster on your hands or you're very lucky. If you focus solely on the money you are going to be disappointed. I also think, if you want to be a published author, writing solely for enjoyment is not the next approach - not if you want to build a career. You have to be commercially focused, too - not necessarily in what you write, but in how you deal with yourself as an author, and how you deal with the industry.

I've published three books, with a big five publisher, and looking back I wish I'd viewed my career with a commercial hat on, rather than the "wow, aren't these people nice to publish the stories I've loved writing" hat on. I did well, moneywise, from my debut, and had a decent advance for the other two plus overseas deals, but even so, it wouldn't have been enough to give up the day job, and neither did I expect that. If I'm lucky enough to publish a fourth book, I'll do everything in my power to make it a commercial success, but am I expecting to make much money out of it? No. The best I'm hoping for is that it is successful enough to enable me to move onto the fifth book. Yet even knowing these pitfalls, I can't not write, so I keep coming back to crafting stories, even after having my fingers considerably burned. I suspect for many of us here on AW, who have dealt with disappointment, that's why we carry on writing and trying: we can't not.
 

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I dunno. I kind of feel like this is an example of the survivorship bias fallacy in its own right. Really, you don't have any choice but to write the stories that stick in your mind because you've forgotten the others, and if you can't remember an idea, how do you know it wasn't amazing?

I jot down my ideas wherever I happen to be. (I often text or email them to myself). When I sift back through those older ideas I find that I've forgotten a lot of them, some lousy, but some pretty darn good, and I've gone on to write solid stuff based on the good ones.

If I hadn't written them down, they would have vanished into nothingness.

I think it is similar to the bias except in a true case of the survivorship bias we *do not* see or know about all of the rock bands that never made it, we just know about the Guns n Roses and Aerosmiths of the world. But in our mind we were aware, at least at one point in time and to some degree, of all the stories that bubble up in our minds, but will only focus on those that keep repeating themselves to us. So we could estimate a percentage of the stories we actually write VS how many ideas for stories we had. It's not to say they will be successful either, it's just ones that stay close to us, presumably because the theme/character is so close to who we are and our values, perhaps. So the survivorship bias only lets us see the success stories without the failures, but in our minds we see all the stories, the ones we write and the ones we don't.
 

Charles Dawson

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OP, I am glad you're found something that works out for you. I know nothing of self-publishing but it strikes me as very difficult.

It also strikes me that people write for different reasons. IMO, to write with the primary idea of making money is flawed. We all know that writing doesn't pay well unless you end up with a blockbuster on your hands or you're very lucky. If you focus solely on the money you are going to be disappointed. I also think, if you want to be a published author, writing solely for enjoyment is not the next approach - not if you want to build a career. You have to be commercially focused, too - not necessarily in what you write, but in how you deal with yourself as an author, and how you deal with the industry.

I've published three books, with a big five publisher, and looking back I wish I'd viewed my career with a commercial hat on, rather than the "wow, aren't these people nice to publish the stories I've loved writing" hat on. I did well, moneywise, from my debut, and had a decent advance for the other two plus overseas deals, but even so, it wouldn't have been enough to give up the day job, and neither did I expect that. If I'm lucky enough to publish a fourth book, I'll do everything in my power to make it a commercial success, but am I expecting to make much money out of it? No. The best I'm hoping for is that it is successful enough to enable me to move onto the fifth book. Yet even knowing these pitfalls, I can't not write, so I keep coming back to crafting stories, even after having my fingers considerably burned. I suspect for many of us here on AW, who have dealt with disappointment, that's why we carry on writing and trying: we can't not.

Thanks for the post. Have you ever heard of Chris Fox and his Write to Market books? He's the guru of writing for niches and success. Just thought I'd mention it. :)
 

SciSarahTops

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Regarding the sunken cost fallacy I refer back to Stephen King's great advice on when to give up on a story: he basically said the story that stays in your mind for a long time is what you should pursue. Writers get tons of ideas but not all our worth your time writing, only ones that really stay in your head. Time is a great filter for crappy stories. Thankfully, his complete book On Writing in available as an audio book for free on YT and read by the master himself! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6xwA2M5Dqs

best of luck!

I've read it. :) This is a little ironic conisdering your "everyone wants books for free" comment!
 
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Elenitsa

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Hi
You are describing writing as a commercial enterprise. Basically a process of creating a product for sale, with the goal of making a profit. All commercial endeavours are difficult. There will always be competition and difficulties that need to be overcome. Self-employed writers have similar problems as all self-employed workers. It a business. Part of the business of writing is tapping into the millions of people who want to be a writer. Software companies, websites, publishers are all selling the idea that you can be successful as a writer. Most won't, as you have discovered.

I agree with this. This is your mistake: unrealistic expectations and not the right angle to approach writing. Writing should be art, not business. You have opened a new business in the meanwhile? Congratulations! This will pay your bills, this will bring you financial success. And you can focus on writing in your free time. Write for the sake of the story, not of the sales. Pull it out of yourself, and offer it to others to read.

Yes, many people want free books. And if they like them, they read them. They might even review them. I have uploaded for free my first novel in electronic format, to expand my readers and get some blog reviews. I will be happy to receive reviews and comments and to interact with my readers, eventually replying them about documentation, inspiration, etc. Once eliminating the money from the equation of producing art and sharing it with others, it is liberating. It is showing success in another form.
 

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I voted and strongly disagree. I admit I only skimmed the post but saw enough to know I didn't agree. Still, I respect your decision and if you aren't happy with writing then you should definitely give it up. Life is too short for you to waste your time if you're not getting pleasure from it.

Good luck to you!