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Thread: Why I Gave Up Writing Fiction Books

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  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Apr 2018

    Lightbulb Why I Gave Up Writing Fiction Books

    *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 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

    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!
    Last edited by Charles Dawson; 04-27-2018 at 09:45 PM.

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