Why I Gave Up Writing Fiction Books

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konstantineblacke

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I read 2-3 books a week that I PAY FOR. My wife does the same, so do my kids. My friends all read, and PAY for their books. The manager at the bookstore I go to to buy my books is thinking of expanding, because book sales have doubled over the past 12 months for her business. She is now remodelling her bookstore to feature a kids interactive section where there will be activities and story telling. And I don't write my stories to sell them, I write them because I enjoy it and it gives me the release I need after a busy week of running my own business. It's the only time I allow myself the luxury of being in my own head. So yeah, I suppose we all have different expectations. Yours are loftier than mine, hence your disappointment. Just my two cents.
 

cornflake

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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. :)

Uhm, no offense, truly, but if he's the guru and whose advice you followed and you got noplace... that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of his methods.
 

Fuchsia Groan

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When I was a child, a professional writer told me that you should only write for the love of writing, because you can't expect to make money with it. It stuck with me. I've been lucky to make a little money in recent years, but my reason for writing remains the same: it's a labor of love. I don't see that going away.

Some writers do like rewriting. I'm one of them. And it's lucky, because I've had to do a LOT of rewriting.

I don't know about the decline of readership, but I do not believe the world will ever run out of stories. Every new era, every new historical and cultural development — hell, every new person on the planet — will bring new stories into being. For people who love fiction (and not everyone does, and that's fine), it's a source of knowledge and solace, an education in how the world works, a proof that we're not totally alone, an escapist outlet, a release valve — any of those things and more. When I discover a new book I love, that book instantly becomes irreplaceable for me.

Sure, I also feel that way about favorite movies and TV shows, but sometimes I want words; sometimes I want visuals. They're distinct media offering distinct types of storytelling experience; they can co-exist.

Have you read New Grub Street by George Gissing? Anyone who's really interested in knowing whether making a living as a writer is tougher now than in the past needs to read this novel, published in 1891. It's about two ill-fated writing careers and one successful one, and the author is unbelievably dark and cynical about his chosen profession. This is a book where the decision to quit one's day job and write can lead to divorce, bankruptcy, and death. There's a lot of writerly self-pity in it, but also some great insights — for instance, we learn that even in the Victorian era, catering to aspiring writers was typically more lucrative than selling one's own fiction. Many things change, yet it's both sobering and oddly encouraging to learn that the core of writerly angst is not new.
 

Charles Dawson

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Uhm, no offense, truly, but if he's the guru and whose advice you followed and you got noplace... that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of his methods.

I never said I followed his advice...I'm not one for writing to market. I had my stories to tell and perhaps there wasn't a large enough audience or 'niche' but I told my stories my way. That was satisfying for me. But there are professional writers that are making a living off of his methods, by writing in targeted, under-served niches and that works for them so I would trust their advice, wouldn't you? It may be good advice but it's not the writing life I was looking for. I think you made some assumptions that led to a misunderstanding.
 

cornflake

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I never said I followed his advice...I'm not one for writing to market. I had my stories to tell and perhaps there wasn't a large enough audience or 'niche' but I told my stories my way. That was satisfying for me. But there are professional writers that are making a living off of his methods, by writing in targeted, under-served niches and that works for them so I would trust their advice, wouldn't you? It may be good advice but it's not the writing life I was looking for. I think you made some assumptions that led to a misunderstanding.

From your first post --

I spent hours doing research on what successful writers did and how to make your books most likely to succeed.
 

Charles Dawson

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From your first post --

That was in regard to writing schedules, word goals, story elements, and marketing your books AFTER publication. Chris Fox recommends finding an audience and THEN writing for them and what they wanna read, the opposite of what I did. I prefer to write the story I want to write not necessary what readers want to read, hoping there'd be some overlap.
 

Helix

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People are still reading. They are still buying books. They are watching Youtube and posting on Instagram and yelling "Get off my lawn!" on Twitter and they are reading books.

As in any endeavour, creative or otherwise, success is not an entitlement.
 

cornflake

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That was in regard to writing schedules, word goals, story elements, and marketing your books AFTER publication. Chris Fox recommends finding an audience and THEN writing for them and what they wanna read, the opposite of what I did. I prefer to write the story I want to write not necessary what readers want to read, hoping there'd be some overlap.

Ah. Ok.
 

Ari Meermans

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I'm sorry your fiction writing experience didn't work out, Charles, but I am glad you are successful at what you've now chosen to do. There are writing competencies other than fiction, and we have more than a few members who are writers of nonfiction and a significant number of freelancers, too.

I don't think, though, that four years is long enough to master the craft—unless, perhaps, one has independent means and can work at it eight to ten hours a day. Perhaps. Or, perhaps not. Hard to know and that's merely my opinion, anyway.

Writing fiction successfully isn't a matter of writing competency only, though. The writer has to be a storyteller. There are amazingly skillful writers who couldn't find a story on a clear day with a fluffle of plot bunnies at their feet no matter how badly they want to write. Others don't have what I call the storytelling gene; they have the stories in their heads, great stories they just can't seem to tell. They can't translate them to the page. (That's where I fall on the writerly spectrum, and it was lowering to find that out.) Writers of fiction have to be good writers and storytellers, as well.

I am, though, a voracious reader and I'm always looking for great new stories. So I'm grateful for those here who persevere.

ETA: I'd like to add, too, that should you change your mind and want to have a go at writing fiction again, we're here to help in any way we can.
 
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Tocotin

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Hello Charles,


How about "neither agree nor disagree"? You have described your personal experience with writing, explaining very clearly and eloquently why you think this particular path is not suitable for you. From what you've shared with us about your approach and your expectations, I'd say that it was only natural for you to arrive to the conclusion you did. I think your experience is valid and true for you and you alone.


I don't remember ever having made a conscious decision to write. In my case it wasn't, and never will be, a matter of choice, but rather something akin to contagion. I learned to read and write when I was 3 years old. My father was a writer. We didn't have a TV or a radio, we didn't play or listen to music, because he enforced nearly absolute silence in the house – all we had was books, in several languages. I read all kinds of stories, wrote my own, compared them to the published stuff, saw how bad they were, threw them away, wrote new ones, repeated the process over and over again. That was the whole extent of my writerly education. When I was in my early teens, I started sending my short stories out – sporadically, and because I never received any answer, I guessed they were crap and forgot about them. (I never asked anyone for opinion or advice before sending them.) My father wasn't encouraging. After some time he started treating me as if I were his rival, even though he was a published, respected writer, and I was a nobody; the idea he instilled into me was that a writer is always alone, and that they must hate and fear another writer. I've never studied the theory of the craft, never watched/listened to lectures, simply because I didn't know you could study writing. The only book about writing I've read was King's On Writing, but that was a lot later in my life, and I don't remember much of it.


In other words, compared to you, I'm woefully unprepared and perhaps even damaged, in a way. But I have a very strong desire 1) to read, 2) to write, and 3) to be read. I can't function properly without these three things. Money can come or not come after I publish, screw money, I only think of it a little when I'm fed up with my day job, but it is a secondary concern. I grew up with a very bleak picture of the publishing/writing/reading world, and it was my own father who painted it for me. But you know what, even though he told me all kinds of mean stories about writers, and even though he was banned in our country and could only publish abroad, he was still writing and I could see that. I'm not saying it was good or bad – it depends on your point of view – but that there are things you do because you can't imagine not doing them; they are a part of who you are.


You do what makes you happy. I wish you the best of luck :)




Have you read New Grub Street by George Gissing? Anyone who's really interested in knowing whether making a living as a writer is tougher now than in the past needs to read this novel, published in 1891. It's about two ill-fated writing careers and one successful one, and the author is unbelievably dark and cynical about his chosen profession. This is a book where the decision to quit one's day job and write can lead to divorce, bankruptcy, and death. There's a lot of writerly self-pity in it, but also some great insights — for instance, we learn that even in the Victorian era, catering to aspiring writers was typically more lucrative than selling one's own fiction. Many things change, yet it's both sobering and oddly encouraging to learn that the core of writerly angst is not new.


New Grub Street is a great book!
 

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A real author doesn't stop writing. The voices in their head don't go away.
 

novicewriter

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Hello Charles,

How about "neither agree nor disagree"? You have described your personal experience with writing, explaining very clearly and eloquently why you think this particular path is not suitable for you. From what you've shared with us about your approach and your expectations, I'd say that it was only natural for you to arrive to the conclusion you did. I think your experience is valid and true for you and you alone.

...In other words, compared to you, I'm woefully unprepared and perhaps even damaged, in a way. But I have a very strong desire 1) to read, 2) to write, and 3) to be read. I can't function properly without these three things. Money can come or not come after I publish, screw money, I only think of it a little when I'm fed up with my day job, but it is a secondary concern. I grew up with a very bleak picture of the publishing/writing/reading world, and it was my own father who painted it for me.

I feel the same way, too; I neither agree nor disagree because Charles was explaining his experiences. I didn't understand why there was a poll. I appreciate what he wrote, anyway, because for me, even though I don't feel the same way he did about certain things, now, I remember feeling frustrated at times like he apparently did when I first started writing and sending out my work; it helped remind me to keep my own expectations in check, and his post resulted in a discussion where others offered their own publishing experiences.

Tocotin, thanks for writing a bit of your writing experience; I'm sorry to hear that your father didn't seem to advise or help you learn about it, as a career. If you aren't aware, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami wrote about how he struggled with his writing journey in his autobiography, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and mentioned that he also began his writing career late.
 
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davidjgalloway

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Charles, are your books still available?

If not, that's my big question--why burn it to the ground? It costs nothing to keep books at POD retailers. Moving away from it and not spending any more time, sure, but keep them on there. Why not?
 

Charles Dawson

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They're still there, as I am proud of the work but I'm not holding my breath for large checks in the mail, haha.
 

cool pop

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A real author doesn't stop writing. The voices in their head don't go away.

So true. I could never stop writing fiction because I don't control my muse. It controls me. I'm just the vehicle. In fact, I'd probably be insane if I didn't write. I'm serious. I suffer from severe anxiety disorder (two of them) and writing (and medication) is what keeps my mind from worrying every second and literally keeps me from going bonkers. It's not only fun for me but extremely therapeutic. If I didn't have writing to set my mind at ease I'd have had a nervous break down before now. It keeps my nerves settled, which is a big part of my mental condition.

My mind is constantly telling stories even when I'm not typing them. I've always had a vivid imagination and I live in my head as most writers do. I always say this, I'd write even if no one else ever read my work. I truly would.
 
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cool pop

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Uhm, no offense, truly, but if he's the guru and whose advice you followed and you got noplace... that's not exactly a ringing endorsement of his methods.

Some authors say Chris Fox turned their writing careers around but his advice didn't fit me. I did get his book and he does look at writing to market in a unique way but I just can't write to market nor do I want to. Books like Chris' are for those who want money to be the main goal in my opinion. I want to make money of course but not to the point where I have to write stuff I don't enjoy. He says pick a market you like and then tailor it to your interests. Well, heck, I already do that so the book wasn't needed for me but many authors swear it is the "bible of writing". Good for them if it helps but this proves that advice and expertise does not fit all.
 

zmethos

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Well, you've come to the first big realization: not everyone who tries--no matter how hard--succeeds. The American Dream, as sold, tells us we'll get there if we just try hard enough, but that's not true. You can do your best and still fail. If you were doing it for the success, then it makes sense that you stopped. Though, who knows? The next book may have been the one. (Ah, the might-have-beens...)

I've had a similar experience to what you've described. But just this year (some 6 years after my first book), I'm seeing traction. And I don't think I'd stop writing no matter what happened. But that's me. You're you. Only you can decide when you've had enough.

In any case, congrats on finding the success you seek elsewhere. Sorry the fiction didn't work out for you.
 

Earthling

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Some authors say Chris Fox turned their writing careers around but his advice didn't fit me. I did get his book and he does look at writing to market in a unique way but I just can't write to market nor do I want to. Books like Chris' are for those who want money to be the main goal in my opinion. I want to make money of course but not to the point where I have to write stuff I don't enjoy. He says pick a market you like and then tailor it to your interests. Well, heck, I already do that so the book wasn't needed for me but many authors swear it is the "bible of writing". Good for them if it helps but this proves that advice and expertise does not fit all.

What *is* your main goal?

I want large numbers of people to read and enjoy my novels, so I write novels that people buy and enjoy (i.e. writing to the market). It doesn't take away the enjoyment of writing. I can still create stories that people don't pay to read, but I keep them in my head. That's not acceptable to you, which suggests your goal is different from mine. So maybe if you figure out what you really want above all else, you can work backwards and find the solution.
 

RaggyCat

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What *is* your main goal?

I want large numbers of people to read and enjoy my novels, so I write novels that people buy and enjoy (i.e. writing to the market). It doesn't take away the enjoyment of writing. I can still create stories that people don't pay to read, but I keep them in my head. That's not acceptable to you, which suggests your goal is different from mine. So maybe if you figure out what you really want above all else, you can work backwards and find the solution.

I'd be interested to read Chris Fox's book. The market is quite a difficult thing in itself to define, depending on what you write. I write YA, and that's a market that is constantly changing and evolving. My attempts to fit into particular niches within it before haven't been too successful, so these days I write what I want to, and worry about how it slots into the market later. This approach is backed up by (unwelcome, at the time!) advice from my former agent, who was very much of the view I should write what I want and not worry about the commercial side. I don't entirely agree with that advice even now, as I think not keeping an eye on the market could mean to a waste of writing time, and poor decisions, but there's no doubt I, personally, write best with an enjoyment hat on rather than a commercial hat. Thinking too much about money - even though that's part of my goal - just made me feel bitter and stifled my creativity. It's a fascinating balance I've thought a lot about and struggled with, too, and probably will continue to struggle with!

Interestingly I saw a large poll on Twitter recently of writers, who were asking what was more important to them - money generated from sales, or the number of copies of their work sold. It was a pretty even split, with some pointing out that money is primarily what makes a publisher view you as successful, whereas others cited that large numbers of copies sold led to greater exposure of their work and greater reach.
 

cool pop

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What *is* your main goal?

I want large numbers of people to read and enjoy my novels, so I write novels that people buy and enjoy (i.e. writing to the market). It doesn't take away the enjoyment of writing. I can still create stories that people don't pay to read, but I keep them in my head. That's not acceptable to you, which suggests your goal is different from mine. So maybe if you figure out what you really want above all else, you can work backwards and find the solution.


Where did I say I didn't want a large amount of people reading my work?
No I did not and trust me, I'm doing just fine in that arena. Is my end goal only money with my writing? No. I guess if you asked me if I'd stop writing today if I made no money, no I would not. In fact I think if any author's ONLY or main goal is money they are gonna have a huge awakening in this business. Writing is a craft. It can't be JUST about the money (unless you're a content mill). It's also darn near impossible to make enough writing to sustain a living on it alone. Only a tiny percentage do it and even those sometimes end up having to go back to work down the lines. Now ghostwriters are different. They can just write but I am not a ghostwriter. I am also not someone who can turn off my emotions or interests to write just anything. I've tried, it doesn't work for me.

My point is that not every piece of advice or every book fits every author's goal. I write in genres that are pretty popular but I don't write to the same old tropes everyone does because I am not going to write something that doesn't interest me whether it sells wells or not. You don't have to write the same old tropes over and over to sell. If you did, tell me why you got billions of books on Amazon with the same tropes that DO NOT sell? Writing to market means different things. It's not just one way to do it. You CAN write something you enjoy and sell without it being a carbon copy of all the gazillion books out there. It's a myth you can't. Many of us already write to a certain audience anyway or else we wouldn't sell anything. We don't need folks to tell us to do that. ROFL!

People don't all have to agree. Just because someone thinks a guru is the God of all Gods, does not mean they are. Plus, I never said Chris' book wasn't helpful (to others). I said it wasn't for me. So what? That doesn't mean I am not interested in selling, etc.

My goal is to write what I enjoy, be happy with my writing and make money. But no, I don't just write for money. If I was doing this JUST for money I could go get a gig that pays far better than writing and gives benefits, that's for sure.

And I know many authors miserable because they write-to-market and still are not selling. You say writing to market is fun? That's for YOU. You can't speak for everyone. A lot of authors write to market and said they would drop what they write in a heartbeat if they weren't making money. It's certainly not true that writing to market is fun for everyone. Some authors are writing in genres they hate because some guru told them to or they won't sell. Some authors can be like machines, just writing anything as long as it sells. Fine, if that works for them. That's...not...me. I would never want to be like that. If it got to where I didn't enjoy writing, I wouldn't do it.

If that makes me different from you I can live with that.

As I said, I'm doing fine. I don't remember asking anyone help on this thread. I simply commented. Also, I don't have anything to figure out, trust me. I've been doing this for over 20 years. I'm good.
 
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Fuchsia Groan

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I don’t write for money, but I do want readers, very much. I guess I write to connect.

But if I wrote something I hated writing, and a ton of readers loved it, I wouldn’t feel like I was actually making a real connection, I think.

It’s hard to say for sure, because this is such a big hypothetical. I enjoy writing enough different things that might (key word) appeal to people that I have no reason to write something I dislike. I’m not going to run and write dino porn because someone tells me the genre is particularly underserved. I don’t see much point in trying to write something I wouldn’t read myself.

But it could also be that I’m just not very good at writing in a way that sells. Believe me, I’ve considered this. I made a market-related choice to write scary thriller stuff, but I also fill my books with atmospheric descriptions because, for me, those are essential to scariness. Would I sell better if it was all just corpses piling up? Maybe! But I don’t feel capable of writing that way, and I don’t want to. Again, I can’t write what I wouldn’t read.