Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quitter Quitter

I was on Kindleboards reading about the reaction to my last blog post where I shared my numbers.

During the discussion, someone brought up all the writers who have given up. It reminded me of a blog I wrote back in 2005, called Quitting. It's worth reading. Go do it. You might also want to check out the comments, because I drop a lot of my philosophy about what it takes to succeed. Keep in mind, when I wrote this, I was netting about $25k a year writing.

I realize some may consider that successful, but it wasn't enough to satisfy me. And it's a big part of the reason I kept working my butt off.

I can now earn $25k in two weeks, or sometimes in a single week.

So, has my attitude changed since 2005? Do I think differently now?

I've said for years now that ebooks are forever, and forever is a long time to find your audience. It took me twenty years, from writing that first novel to making good (not great) money.

Are you willing to work for twenty years without pay? Without success (whatever your definition of success is)? Are you willing to keep at it, keep trying, keep learning, keep experimenting, when you may not have anyone to encourage you but your dog?

Did you take my True Grit Quiz back in 2006? A lot of the questions no longer apply to the self-pub revolution, but the theme remains.

I wrote a million words before I made a dime, and another million before I made an average US income. Once I did catch a break, I signed books at 1200 bookstores in 42 states. And my wife still had a fulltime job, and we still made so little we got a tax refund every year. I was on the phone earlier today with a bestselling erotica author, and we were joking about how poor we were (she had ketchup soup for dinner, I lived in a basement apartment and couldn't afford both food and electric heat in the winter and woke up one morning to find my shampoo had frozen in my shower).

Now we're each making an unbelievable amount of money.

Because we didn't know how to quit.

If you can quit, you should. Most of the people in this business do poorly. It's brutal, unfair, and ridiculous. No one can figure it out, because it doesn't make sense.

The odds are against you succeeding. That's because success is an unreproduceable phenomenon. (I keep linking to my blog posts from years ago to prove an important point. Many who have discovered this blog have only begun reading it in the last few years, since I made a name for myself self-publishing. But looking back on what I did before I self-published is like going back in time to see me before I became who I am now, and that provides some pretty powerful insights. I didn't burst onto the scene a ready-made millionaire. Dues were paid. Go and see for yourself.)

If you can quit, quit. Save yourself years of depression, worry, broken dreams, shattered hope, and emotional pain.

Now, if you can't quit, if you're driven, if you refuse to accept anything other than your definition of success, then you have no one to blame but yourself for all the hell you're enduring.

But my money is on you eventually succeeding. Maybe it will take a year. Maybe twenty. Maybe fifty. But if you can't quit, success isn't simply attainable--it's inevitable.

I used to say that there's a word for a writer who never gives up... published.

These days, anyone can publish. It doesn't require hard work, talent, or luck.

But there is still a word for a writer who never gives up... successful.

I'm an overnight success. It just took twenty years for that night to finally come.

How many years are you willing to put in?

67 comments:

Joe Hart said...

Great post, Joe. There's nothing else to say except "Get busy living, or get busy dying."

Bob said...

LOL-- Mike Shatzkin said I was lucky in that I had 42 traditionally published backlist titles to start my indie career. Do you know how many midlist authors survived 20 years in traditional publishing? Not luck. I always stayed a book ahead. I worked my ass off.

And I still do.

Joe Konrath said...

Mike Shatzkin said I was lucky in that I had 42 traditionally published backlist titles to start my indie career.

The luck part is that your publishers did such a bad job you got your rights back. ;)

I would guess that Shatzkin has invested so much in the system that he needs to validate it and his involvement in in, or else admit his faith was misplaced.

Legacy publishing won't be around much longer. And when it was dominant, it screwed a lot of authors. We're all better off without it.

Mike Fook said...

I like that - I'm an overnight success, it just took 20 years for that night to come. Me too Joe, me too...

Jude Hardin said...

Can't believe it's been almost eight years since that first post on quitting. A couple of months before that, on Halloween night, I created a character named Nicholas Colt. I'd only written one novel at the time, and I didn't even have an agent, but I just KNEW you weren't talking to me. :)

Feo Amante said...

I can't quit, and that's just the way it is.

Joseph said...

"You gotta love it so much you hate it." -Nick Diaz

Inara Everett said...

Thanks Joe. I was wondering if I have what it takes to be a successful writer when I happened to land on this blog post. That's gotta be more than a coincidence! It was a reminder to me to never give up even though no one out there seems to notice my writing. I've gotten some great reviews but sales have been absolutely crappy. I've just gotta try something else, again and again, until I find out what works!

Anonymous said...

Any chance you'll write a blog addressing deductible expenses writers can take? With ePublishing it seems heavy income very little expense deductions.

Anonymous said...

Any chance you'll write a blog addressing deductible expenses writers can take? With ePublishing it seems heavy income very little expense deductions.

Satima Flavell said...

I've been at it 17 years already. Damned if I'm quitting now!

RD Meyer said...

I've heard it said many times that overnight success takes at least 15 years.

Gerald said...

I'm guessing the ones quitting are the ones who believed that anyone could get rich (quick) in this bright new world of e-publishing. And to them, I say: "Great! Move out of the way."

antares said...

I recall a country song that went "It took twenty long years to be an overnight sensation." Can't find it on YouTube, but it seems appropriate.

Stuart Carruthers said...

Thanks Joe, I love your inspirational posts. Despite knowing that I can't quit, I do get lazy and your posts give me the kick up the ass I need.

Alan Spade said...

As Kris Rusch said in the comments section of her blogs, we must all be out of our minds.

Even when you make big money in self publishing, when you divide with the years it took, it's not so much big money on an annual basis.

And then there's the one book author. The author of genius who have just one book in him, who will write it in ten years, and then nothing else. Will this book be ever discovered, in a world where persistence seems the only thing that can bring this overnight sensation?

Yet, I prefer a world like this one, where there is much more things published which earn little money to their authors, where bestsellers indie publishing are only one or two millions ebooks, to the ancient world with 300 or 400 millions books sold for best-sellers.

Gary Cecil said...

I'm just starting my writing journey. The rejections have come one after the other, but finally, I got a YES! Sure, I could only buy a sweet tea, double cheeseburger, and small fries with the earnings. But it doesn't make that YES any less than awesome to me!

antares said...

Please God, don't let me die with a story still in me.

Merrill Heath said...

Joe, the article you wrote on quitting back in 2005 was before I started reading your blog so I hadn't seen it. But I went back and read it and would suggest that anyone who hasn't read it, do so.

Thanks for the link.

Carlos Cooper said...

Great stuff as usual, Joe.
Here's how The Google defines quitter:

quitter: a person who gives up easily or does not have the courage or determination to finish a task

Nope. Doesn't sound like me.

Author said...

Always keep in mind that there is much, much more in life than writing. I wrote 20 books in 8 years, enjoyed most of it, met a few good people along the way and made a few bucks.

A few months ago I decided to quit.
Why?
A number of reasons.

First and foremost, sales had fallen off significantly. II measure success in terms of books sold. Books written and not sold equates to failure. I saw no point in writing book 21 if the first 20 weren't selling.

Why did sales fall off? I attribute a lot of it to Bookbub, which has wedged its way between authors and readers and now sells the top 100 free spots. Those spots used to go to authors who earned the right to be there, not bought it.

Secondly, quitting was a way to get haters out of my life. My goal at this point it to remove all my books from the public. I've already removed 3 or 4 from all sales outlets. Hopefully, every one of my titles will be removed within the next 2 or 3 years, after I don't need the money any longer. My goal at this point is to have never been an author at all.

Quitting writing has closed a door on one part of my life but has opened up other doors. Time is finite.

I don't regret having been an author at one point, but I don't regret getting out of the game either. There are many, many other ways to spend your time.

RJ Jagger




Alan Spade said...

@RJ Jagger : your experience strikes me as unusual at least. Do you know many other authors that did the same?
It seems a very drastic decision, to remove your titles?

Is the hatred related to Goodreads reviews? How far did that goes? What was the subject of your books?

Your testimony would be appreciated, if only as a warning for authors.

w. adam mandelbaum esq. said...

my experience was rather opposite. In the beginning of my taking writing seriously, almost everything I sent out was accepted--articles, stories, poems. Then I easily got a hardcover deal with St. Martins Press and had my Warholian fifteen minutes. After that, the only bread I was making was from a few low rent hack assignments. Now, the only decent gig I have is a ghost deal for a celebrity. My ebook sales couldn't buy you an appetizer at a Biafran restaurant. So what might be a psychologically healthy approach to indie writing? I suggest the viewpoint of the zero base accomplishment scale. In other words, if you can't sell your ebooks, you can't even give them away--that's zero base. Anything above that is better than if you didn't do anything. A suggestion respectfully submitted for your perusal (not necessarily approval). On the other hand Van Gogh sold one painting in his life, cut his ear off, and was generally miserable. Now his paintings are only affordable by the one percent. Sometimes it takes a tad too long to be discovered. Persistence is not necessarily a good thing if you are running West looking for a sunrise. Even with persistence there are many who don't make it. Not every casualty in war is at fault for his own demise. Sometimes that's just the way the shell tumbles.

Glynn James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vincent Zandri, Noir Author said...

Great point Joe...Had I quit when things got bad even after having scored big with the majors, I never would have sold 500K ebooks (plus some paper and audio) in three years. Four years ago, I had no idea what an ebook was...Writers need to realize that some books, not matter how much you polish them, just aren't going to sell. Not even your mother will buy them. But then there are others, that for some reason even the author can't fathom, rise to the top and stay there. How my stand alone The Remains consistently sells and sells not just in the US, but globally, is a mystery to me. But what isn't a mystery is that I worked very very hard to make it right. If there's one common denominator in all this, it's hard work. Not everyone has what it takes to "bite the nail day" in and day out without some bit of gratification. Those who will make it write, and write hard, even when the house is burning down and the cops are standing in the driveway looking to collect your overdue child support.
Vince

Kea Alwang said...

Thanks for this post, Joe. I can't quit. Much of me wants to because this is the most impractical, risky thing I've ever took on in my life. My sales suck, but the fact that I love my stories/characters/writing keeps me going. That, and the reviews and others who rave about my characters and places and wind up sounding much like myself! There is a niche out there for my stories...it's just hard to reach. So I'll keep going because every time I want to quit, I find myself writing, editing, or promoting a day later.

John Erwin said...

@ w. adam mandelbaum esq. -- A few weeks ago you mentioned your book about psychic warriors on this blog. I checked it out of our library and enjoyed it very much. So, you are definitely above the zero base even if sales are not flowing your way. I've made three dollars from my published works this week, which is a juicy cheeseburger more than I would have made from my writing if I hadn't published it!

Picks By Pat said...

Well said Joe,
I always knew that your self-publishing success was possible because of the footwork and "hand" work you put into it all these years. You've proved again that while the options for publishing have expanded, there is still no shortcut to success. Write!

Griffin Hayes said...

As far as I see it, the people who'll give up first are the gold rush prospectors who view writing books as an easy way to get rich. For the vast majority, it isn't. For the rest of us, it means sitting down in a chair day after day, putting one word in front of another and hope, in the end, you have something lots of people wanna read.

w. adam mandelbaum said...

John Erwin, thanks for the kind words. Griffin Hayes, no doubt I am telling you what you already know, but after seeing your page, you would, in all likelihood, dig Cornell Woolrich stories.

H. Raven Rose (@chocolatevamp) said...

Love this blog post. Being a writer, for me, is a lot like having a disease with no cure. It's a have to, not a want to. #helpImwritingandIcantgetup Haha.

Brandon Berntson said...

Nailed it. The fact is, if you're true to yourself as a writer or artist, none of that other stuff matters. Sure, it's great to make money, but the writing an the love to write calls before anything else. It takes hold of you. After 25 years in the same unrecognized field, epublishing has granted me sales and reviews, some of which are pretty damn astounding, the kind of stuff you long to hear. I can't quit my job yet, but if I quit writing, I'll never know, and there are plenty of years ahead, if all goes well. Nice post, very encouraging for us authors who feel the struggles day in and day out.

Louis Bertrand Shalako said...

There are times when I wish I could quit. I have nothing else to replace it with, and the truth is that some of us are masochists. I have a place to live and food in my belly most of the time. I've written some books, some of which have some merit.

If I was a quitter, I would have been dead as of June 20/1986, which is pure melodrama but also has a grain of truth in it.

Thanks Joe.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Great post, Joe.

I have to say my biggest motivation is paying my mortgage, and I feel fortunate that I'm able to do it through my book sales.

I didn't sell my first screenplay until I was thirty-five and my first book until I was fifty, so I'm a testament to never giving up. But I'll tell you, if I could work a deal like Patterson where I came up with the ideas and others did the writing, I'd take it in a New York minute.

I'm one of those guys who loves having written. I'm proud of my work, but every book is pure torture for me, and if I thought I could quit, I probably would.

Traveling has great appeal.

I must be old. ;)

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I'll also add this:

Don't Give Up

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjEq-r2agqc#t=11

Merrill Heath said...

2 years ago I made a commitment to publish 20 ebooks in the next 5 years - 8 by my father and 12 by me. To date I've published 10 and 1 more, possibly 2, will be published by the end of the year.

After the 20 are published I'll take a look at where I stand and decide if I want to continue or not.

But...I recently made a list of all the ideas I have that I want to write and I'm up to 35 stories. So I think I'll probably keep writing no matter what happens with the sales.

Elena DeRosa said...

I quit smoking and that was a bitch. Don't plan on quitting writing, but not worrying about sales either. The way I figure it is if I don't "make it," maybe after I die my kids can cash in on some unpublished gems of mine that will be discovered, and finally appreciated. Then it's all good...

Joe Flynn said...

Brandon B. has it right. You should write only because it's something you love to do — and because you keep getting story ideas. Everything else flows from that. As Joe notes in his post, it also helps to have a better half who believes deeply in you even through the toughest times.

Sarah Stegall said...

I can't quit writing until writing quits me.

Anonymous said...

The creator of the comic strip Dilbert echoed this exact idea in an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:

"Scott Adams' Secret of Success: Failure."

Personally I collected 500+ rejections from agents/publishers before selling E-Book One. Now I have sold 250k in 32 months.

Charity Parkerson said...

So true!

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Hi, Joe. I haven't commented here in years, but I couldn't pass this one by. I started reading this blog in 2005 and I learned a lot from your experience back then. I also remember that post.

I wasn't published, but I was determined. Now I've written 20 books for a traditional publisher and just branched into self-pub. I'm not quitting. I work damn hard at this and I intend to keep working.

When I first came to your blog, my writing income was zero. It's a whole lot more than that now. :) Thanks for the reminder that hard work pays off. If you're new here and new at writing, don't quit. The only way to get there is keep moving forward.

Random said...

Thanks for this post. It was just what I needed. While I'm producing regularly (by the year's end I'll have released 3 novels, 2 novellas, and a dozen short stories this year), my sales are somewhat anemic. I've given away over a 1,000 ebook and sold barely 100. But I have stories to tell. I figure I'll give it 10 years and if I'm in the same spot I'm in now, I'll take up gambling.
--
R.J. Spears

Anonymous said...

Love that!

Geraldine Evans said...

I'm another twenty year overnighter. Not sensational - yet. but I'm not bothered. I'm enjoying life.

oakman said...

Thanks for the post Joe.

My sincere hope is that it really will make authors (a lot) give it up and seek out success and prosperity in other fields than writing. I write but I also read a lot and am dismayed at the quality of a lot that is getting out there these days.

While I do not forsake them the joy of seeing their work available to the public, I fear that many will waste a lot of time and energy going after a futile dream.

To those that know they have it - do continue and work hard to become always better.

P.S Is it easy to tell that I've just seen a edition of The White Queen? :)

Steven M. Moore said...

Well, Joe, I for one found your numbers depressing, but only in the sense that I don't have that number of readers! I'm writing to entertain my readers, but I don't have many of them. However, I just keep writing...it's more fun than anything else, outside of going into space, something I can't do. I've followed your and others' advice of just writing the next book.
I'm more impressed by the number of years you took to reach that number of readers. That stat is more motivation to keep on writing.

Robert Michael said...

Thanks for the kick in the seat, Joe. Sometimes the virtue of patience is overcome by the worry of "I am doing all I can and see no results."

Then, I see the words on the screen, the cover on my dashboard, and think, "There is the result staring right at me."

Michael McManis said...

Joe, I've been following your success story off and on since I first read Whiskey Sour. It's about time I said "thank you"-- so thank you. I used to tell my students: If you want to be a writer, keep writing. I'm glad you did.

Mike said...

This post reminds me of a funny story.

Last year, I'd finally saved up enough money to take a year off and focus entirely on my fiction writing.

I'd been writing since I was little, so I thought this would be me living my dream.

Nine months and two shitty novels later, I'm ready to jump off a bridge. I drink to the point of disgust and stuff myself with so much food I'm sick.

I try lots of things to numb the hell I've created for myself - Xanax, video games, Internet - but not much works.

Except quitting.

I quit writing and can finally say I'm starting to see the light through the cracks.

Read and listen to this post. It could save you a lot of trouble.

perkofashion said...

thanks for sharing, nice info

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite quotes:

“Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!”
- Edna Ferber

Marie McKean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marie McKean said...

Loved this!

Adele Cosgrove-Bray said...

I wrote my first (probably awful) poem at the age of fourteen. I turn fifty next birthday, and have several titles which can be found at the usual online outlets. Does that sound like a quitter to you?
:)

Franklin Kendrick said...

I really appreciate this post, and also all the comments from people who have worked years to get to the beginning of their definition of success.

I'm just starting out myself (finished the year of learning to complete a novel, and publishing it myself) and trying to ignore all the crazy one-in-a-million success stories that do me no good to compare myself to. As someone else said, there are many stories in my head, and they need to be told for my own sense of accomplishment.

True, the industry is changing even more than it was two years ago, with being discovered by readers even tougher than before, but I can't quit. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and type on a typewriter (best gift my mother ever gave me)! For me, sales are not really about the money, but about the number of eyes that deem my work worthy of taking up their time.

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McVickers said...

I've seen some truly awful books sell well on Amazon. I mean, atrociously writtenly, no editing whatsoever, the kind of stilted, unnatural dialogue that would choke a horse. And they SELL. It really does have a lot to do with timing and luck, and not always quality writing, though I imagine sustaining that success is another question when the writing is so subpar.

Kevin Michaels said...

Great post (as usual).

E-publishing has spawned a new breed of writers who believe that the sum total of writing involves banging out a few hundred thousand words, tying everything together with a spiffy cover, then sitting back and waiting for the Amazon royalty checks to roll in every month. The same kind of writers related to people who equate being a writer with time ("I would write if I only had more time"......like time is the secret to success). Writing is a craft and it takes time, effort, hard work, studying the craft, and dedication.

If you're thinking about quitting either do it, or stop whining and get back to work.

J. R. Tomlin said...

Great post, Joe! If someone can be discouraged from publishing, they should be because if they can be discouraged by something someone says, they sure as hell won't make it through the rest of the crap we go through.

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Tracy Johnson said...

Someone on KB Boards said you had never done any promotion during the trad years too. Been following you here since 08 and loved how you've "changed your tune" to flow with the times - and remember the flak you took for it.
You were the impetus that pushed me to publish and to realize work is not enough - annihilate procrastination, perfectionism and fear, and then keep going.

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Wright Forbucks said...

Nice Post, Joe.

There is no such thing as failure until you give up.

It took me two years and 4 novels to get to 40 books per month in sales...

In five years I'll have written at least ten novels. By then who knows...

To me, it's simple. If you like writing don't quit - but don't quit your day job either :)
W4$



The Authors' Assistant said...

Thank you for saying what every writer needs to hear.

amsterdamassassin said...

I've been writing for over twenty years and started self-publishing a little over a year ago, slowly building a fanbase. I'm about to publish the third novel in my Amsterdam Assassin Series on November 15th, but I'm already working and researching book four.

I don't see a reason to quit, even if my sales are lagging behind... I would be writing my stories anyway, and the lovely reviews and feedback I receive from readers are enough impetus to keep on writing.

I consider myself already a success because I found a passion in my life that I can follow, and my books entertain and influence complete strangers, which is something magical.

Thanks for your blog post, Joe. Although I'm hardly the type to quit because I don't find commercial mass appeal, I can still relate to some of the things you mentioned.

Martyn V. Halm, author of the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

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