Are you thinking about quitting publishing or writing? You started full of energy and optimism, but it has been a hard road, and you feel tired and burned out.
Should you quit? My answer may surprise you.
Maybe you should.
Publishing is an industry where almost everyone has a financial incentive to see you keep going. Once you throw in the towel on your writing, you stop bringing in money for the publishing industrial complex. People in the publishing industry don’t earn money when you decide to quit. But there is a lot of money to be made by telling writers exactly what they want to hear: “You will be the next bestseller and hottest thing in publishing!! Just keep paying for coaching, edits, covers, and conferences! Eventually, you will be a star!”
Writing is expensive. The time you spend writing is time you can’t get back. You will live the rest of your life and die and still not get that time back. Even though publishing is expensive in terms of money, you can always make more money, but you can never make more time. The richest billionaire has the same 24 hours as the poorest debt peon.
Only a handful of writers die at their keyboards, which means we all quit eventually.
How do you decide when to quit or keep going?
If you feel good about your writing, I encourage you to promise yourself right now to come back to this episode if a time comes when you feel like quitting.
Two Uncomfortable Publishing Realities
Writing is Work
Writing is fun when it’s a hobby, but writing becomes a job when you become a professional writer. As a working writer, you must write even when you don’t feel like it. Professional writers don’t make up excuses like “writer’s block.” They write whether they feel like it or not.
Some gurus sell writing as a “vacation job” where you can write from your laptop on the beach. In reality, writing professionally means reviewing your manuscript for the fifth time, wondering if it’s salvageable because of how much work it needs before it’s ready to publish.
Most Authors Lose Money
There are two kinds of jobs in the world: Standard distribution jobs and Pareto distribution jobs.
Standard distribution jobs include dentistry, plumbing, teaching, and editing. In those fields, everyone makes money, and the top earners make five to ten times more than the bottom earners. Almost everyone working in a standard distribution job falls toward the middle of the bell curve.
Pareto distribution jobs are held by people working as athletes, actors, musicians, artists, or authors. In those fields, the average earner loses money, some make a living wage, and a handful are fantastically wealthy.
While the highest-earning teacher may make five times more than the lowest-earning teacher, the best-paid athlete makes 50,000 times more than the lowest-earning athlete. To chart the relationship, you must use a logarithmic scale.
For most people, music, art, and sports are expensive hobbies, not a means for paying the bills. The same is true for authors. Indie publishing has grown the segment of middle-earners, but it’s still affected by the Pareto effect, and most authors still lose money.
For comparison, in 2024, there will be more Olympic gold medalists than New York Times bestselling authors.
The Important Questions
When it comes to quitting, let’s consider some important questions. I encourage you to answer these in the comments below. Typing your answers should be very clarifying for you.
Question #1: Why are you writing your book?
Some common reasons are:
- For Therapy: Some authors write to recontextualize past events.
- To Pay Bills: Thousands of authors make a living writing books. Perhaps that’s you, or soon will be.
- Advance a Cause or Idea: The world is broken, and you may have a way to fix it.
- Leave a Legacy: “I want to leave something behind that will outlive me.”
Why are you writing your book?
Question #2: What does success look like for you?
It’s imperative to determine your own definition of success. If you don’t, you will absorb notions of success from people trying to sell you something.
I encourage you to write down what success looks like for you. James L. Rubart calls this your “champagne moment.” When do you pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate success?
Some authors celebrate their champagne moments at the following milestones:
- Being Published: “Once I hold my book in my hand, I will be a success.”
- Reaching a Financial Goal: “$50,000 per year so I can quit my job,” or “Making enough so my spouse can quit and join me in the business.”
- Bestseller Status: “Once I’m a USA Today Bestseller, I will be a success.”
- Specific Award: “Once I win a Christy, I will be a success.”
- Film Adaptation: “Once my book is a movie, I will be a success.”
- Staying Sharp: “I want to keep my mind active in my twilight years.”
- Making Your Point: “Once my audience understands my argument, I will be a success.”
Question #3: What kind of investment do you need to make to achieve that success?
Publishing success requires a significant investment of time and money. It will take more time and money to become a bestseller than to simply hold your book in your hands.
Writing a bestseller typically takes five to ten years of deliberate practice. It requires you to write multiple books you don’t publish just so you can improve your writing to the point that the books you do publish resonate with readers.
As for financial success, the easiest way to make $50,000 per year is to develop two skills.
You must learn how to:
- Identify hot genres where you can write appealing books.
- Write fast and publish cheaply.
Of course, there is a lot more to it, but those are the first two skills to focus on.
Question #4: What is the next best alternative for your time and money?
If you were to quit writing today, what would you spend that time and money on?
Does quitting mean more time for Netflix and YouTube? Does it mean you’d finally have time and money to start a business? Would quitting allow you to spend more time with your family? If you have small children or elderly parents living with you, the cost of writing is far higher than if you live alone.
What is your next best alternative?
If you write for religious reasons, you may discover you have a bigger impact on the world by using that time to be more active in your local church. Becoming a small group leader might have more impact on the Kingdom than a book.
Question #5: Is your investment sufficient to achieve your goal?
Are you spending enough time and money to get to your champagne moment? Are you making progress, or do you feel like you are falling behind?
If your current level of investment is sufficient, don’t quit! Your persistence should pay off in time.
But if your current level of investment is insufficient, something has to give.
What are your options?
Option #1: Prune
The key to success in a Pareto job like writing, professional sports, or acting is focus. Stories about Olympians often feature the sacrifices they made to make time for practice. For example, a gymnast might have missed her high school prom so she could compete in an important competition.
Financial success in publishing requires Olympic levels of sacrifice. Another word for that sacrifice is “pruning.” When you prune your life, you cut away less valuable activities and expenses to focus on what really matters.
If you want help pruning, you may find the following episodes helpful:
- Focus, Pruning, and Why Novel Marketing is About to Change
- Trim to Win: Why Saying ‘No’ is Crucial for Publishing Success: A Pruning Story
- How to Prevent Writing Burnout
It turns out, that quitting is the key to success, but you must be strategic about what you quit. If you want to write gold-medal books, you must be willing to make Olympic-level sacrifices.
Option #2: Take a Break from Writing
One of the most common career interruptions for authors is having a parent or grandchild move in, but countless life events can interrupt writing. If your writing career as you knew it has been interrupted by a life event, you may want to take a break from writing. For everything, there is a season, and if you are in a season of caretaking, embrace it.
Of the Pareto jobs, writing is the friendliest to those who have taken a break. Writing is not like sports, where time makes you old and slow. Time makes you a better writer since good life experience can inform good writing.
Option #3: Quit Writing
Imagine what it would be like to quit writing and invest your time and money into your next best alternative from question #4.
That would mean no more:
- Rejection letters
- Writers conferences
- Online writers groups
- Writing podcasts
- Tears at the keyboard
How do you feel when you think about when to quit writing?
Do you feel relieved or grieved?
Option #4: Lower Your Ambitions
One way to make writing less stressful is to lower your ambitions. You could let go of the quality, sales numbers, and reviews. If you choose that route, you need to go the whole way. Don’t say you don’t care about sales numbers and continue to check your Amazon ranking. If you will be unhappy that your book sold ten copies that no one read, this option is not for you.
One author took one of my courses, did all the training, and took none of my advice. I kept urging him to make his book into the kind of book people wanted to buy. He kept saying, “I want to write the book that is on my heart. I don’t care about the sales numbers.”
When he launched his book, which failed to sell because it wasn’t the kind people wanted to read, he was angry with me. He said the course didn’t work. I reminded him, “But you didn’t follow my advice. If you don’t care about sales numbers, why are you measuring success by sales numbers?”
Be honest with yourself. If you are double-minded, you will be unstable and unhappy. If you’re telling yourself you don’t care about sales numbers, I need to tell you something: you are listening to a podcast called Novel Marketing. Something in you still cares about sales numbers, or you wouldn’t be listening to this show.
Bad Reasons to Quit Writing
Bad Reason #1: Someone on the Internet Hurt My Feelings
It’s no fun to have angry trolls shouting at you, but you can’t let trolls win. If you let them convince you to quit writing, they will move on to bully the next author with even more vitriol. Stand up for yourself, don’t back down, and don’t feed the trolls. If you want to know how to make your platform cancel-proof, I have an episode about that.
Bad Reason #2: Writing is Hard
Stop whining. All jobs are hard. We are humans. Hard work is what we do. Does your roofer complain about roofer’s block? He must work in the blazing sun or frigid cold, one misstep away from injury or death, and yet he gets up and goes to work every day because it’s his job. So don’t talk about how sitting in an air-conditioned room and moving your fingers on a keyboard is too hard. Stop whining. Sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and do your job.
Bad Reason #3: Writing Isn’t Fun Anymore
Giving birth to a book baby is a bit like giving birth to a human baby. Initially, it’s really fun, but then you have months of joyous anticipation combined with discomfort. As the pregnancy continues, the uncomfortable moments get longer.
Eventually, at the end of the pregnancy, every moment is uncomfortable. You feel like a beached whale and want to get this book baby out. Then you go into labor, and it’s all pain, frustration, worry, and hope.
If you want to give birth to your book baby, you must endure the labor, and labor only gets worse until the pain goes away. It’s a normal part of the writing process.
There is no feeling like holding a baby who has your last name. And there is no feeling like holding a book with your name on it. The pain required to get to that point makes the pleasure more meaningful.
“It’s not fun anymore” is no reason to quit. Every author, including super successful authors, experiences painful labor at the end of the writing process. Edits may not hurt physically, but they are painful in their own way. Remember, pain may indicate that your book baby is almost ready. Keep pushing.
Bad Reason #4: “I Got Rejected”
I know it hurts, but every author gets rejected. Even successful authors get rejected. In fact, failed authors tend to give up after their first few rejections and never reach their publishing goals.
No book is for everyone. That means some readers, agents, critics, publishers, retailers, and librarians will not like your book. Most books are rejected by most people most of the time. To be successful, you need to find readers who will say, “Finally, a book for me.” Rejection is part of the job.
The bestselling book of all time is The Holy Bible, and when I quote that book on this podcast, I get one-star reviews on Apple Podcasts from authors who hate the most popular book ever written. If some people reject the Bible, some people will reject your book as well.
When I choose to spend time writing a book, I am saying “no” to watching a movie during that time. When I said “yes” to my wife, I said “no” to all other women.
When you say “no” to writing, you are also saying “yes” to something else, and that something else may be far more important than your writing. If you need to quit writing in order to say “yes” to something else, you will live a happier and more fulfilled life if you quit writing now, rather than five years from now.
On the other hand, maybe you need to say “no” to important things so you can say “yes” to your writing. When you prune your life, you sometimes have to cut the good branches so the best branches can thrive. You could prune low-value branches like spending time on TikTok, but you may need to prune high-value branches like stepping down as a small group leader at your church. If you plan to step down from serving in your church to work on your book, your book had better be worth that sacrifice.
The process we’ve gone through in this episode is called “counting the cost.” It’s a method to determine whether something is worth the bother. For some people, writing is not worth the bother. If I can talk you out of writing in a single podcast episode, writing may not be worthwhile for you. Don’t feel bad about quitting. Remember, when you say “no” to writing, you can say “yes” to something else.
But if writing is for you, do it with your whole heart. Write without reservation or excuse. Write because you love it. Write because you love your readers and the joy your books bring. Doublemindedness may be the only thing holding you back from success. Once you write with a single-minded focus, success will follow.
If you need help staying focused, I recommend the 5-Year Plan to Become a Bestselling Author. I crafted this plan with bestselling and award-winning author James L. Rubart. It’s a step-by-step guide through the first five years of your writing career. In each quarter of the year, you’ll learn what to focus on next in order to succeed and avoid the mistakes that hijack the success of most authors.
Melanie’s life seems perfect. She’s the star on her swim team, has great friends, and she’s turning thirteen in a few weeks. But when her family is forced to move, her world starts to unravel.
Isolated in a new town, Melanie misses her old life. While visiting church, she hears the message that God loves and cares about her. But it’s hard to believe when more troubles fall on her family.
Can Melanie learn to trust in a God that allows bad things to happen? Discover with Melanie how He can bring something good even from the difficulties in life.