More and more authors are giving up and it’s a tough thing to watch. Lately it seems like every time I open my social media feed or visit the blogs of my author friends I see another post that goes something like this:
“Dear friends, this post is incredibly difficult to write, but the time has come to announce that I can no longer continue to write. I am unable to pay the rent any longer and must return to the world of regular work to earn money and have insurance. While I will try to continue to write the books I know you love, I can make no promises that there will be any further books. I’m so sorry that it has come to this.”
Authors are giving up on the thing they love most in the world because they simply can’t earn enough money to stay afloat. It’s incredibly sad and disheartening when I see this. And lest you think that this misery belongs solely to indie and small-press authors, let me assure you that it does not. Very few authors are able to write full time any longer, if they ever were. Sure, the household names are likely doing fine, but mid-list authors are suffering. Even traditionally published authors with agents and contracts at the Big 5 houses aren’t all making living wages.
Why? Well, there are a lot of reasons. There’s the decline of reading in general (which has a lot of causes and could be its own post), the decline of places to buy books that are not named Amazon, pricing models which are not author-friendly, and the sheer number of books published each year which results in it being nearly impossible for an unknown author to be discovered. Of course, there’s also piracy and the sheer amount of free stuff to read that cannibalizes the paid stuff. Who needs to read a self-help book when you can find all sorts of information on the internet, for example?
As this post isn’t intended to be an economics lesson, suffice it to say that many authors are having trouble making ends meet. This means either a return to paid work, or never quitting the day job in the first place. This isn’t catastrophic, but it means that many authors have to quit writing.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to work full time, take care of family, and write one or two books (or more) per year to keep a publisher and readers happy. Sure, there are exceptions. There are people who seem to require no sleep and can manage to turn out a few books per year even while holding down a demanding job. Good on them. Most people aren’t like that. Under such circumstances, the most many writers can hope for is to snatch a few minutes here or there for writing. That doesn’t lead to multiple books per year.
But don’t rush to give up…
Yes, things can suck economically as a writer. But giving up has its own problems. First of all, there’s the problem of walking out on your passion. If writing is what you love to do, it can be soul crushing to give it up. If you care enough about writing that it hurts to think about not doing it, you need to find some way to stay in the game. There’s more to life than money and if you’re going to be miserable without writing, that’s worth considering.
Second, your skills will deteriorate. Writing isn’t like swimming or riding a bike; something you never forget no mater how long you go without doing it. Writing improves the more you do it. When you quit, you stop improving. If you want to return to writing someday, there will be skills that need work.
Third, you’ll lose touch with the industry. As long as you’re writing and publishing, you stay on top of trends in the industry. You are aware of what’s selling and what’s not. You know what new tricks in marketing are working and which are not. Things like who’s who and which houses and agents are doing well are all on your radar. Plus, technology changes so fast that by the time you want to go back to writing, things like ebooks, word processing/storyboarding software, website development, and social media will all have changed formats and platforms. This all makes for a big learning curve when you come back to publishing.
Fourth, if you give up you lose whatever momentum you’ve managed to build. Even if you aren’t making big money from your work, chances are you’ve built some momentum. You’ve cultivated a social media following, gotten some reviews, had your website and books noticed and ranked by Google, gathered a small tribe of fans, and maybe been noticed by publishers or agents. Maybe you’ve made some friends at bookstores or libraries who can be counted on for exposure opportunities.
While none of this leads to serious cashflow (at least in the beginning), it’s all part of the process of getting noticed and taking your career to the next level. If you walk away, you lose all of it. What happens, then, if things change and you want to write again? Maybe you retire or come into an inheritance. Maybe your spouse’s income rises, making it possible for you to take the financial risk again. Great! Only now you have to start from the beginning because all that momentum is lost. Your brand name is no longer known, even in small circles.
Giving up comes at a cost and that cost may not be worth it to you. Obviously you have to be realistic about things while you’re busy not giving up. If you need money, you can’t wait and hope that your big break is around the corner. It may be, but it may not be. So if you have to work, it’s just what you’ll have to do. But try to find a way to stay in the arena, at least a little bit.
Diversify your income streams. This is admittedly easier for non-fiction writers who can score paid speaking engagements and other opportunities related to their work. Still, most writers can find ways to tie their work into other paid gigs. Maybe you can monetize podcasts, videos or webinars related to your work, or become a writing coach. Kids often need tutoring in writing and English. You can also offer online courses or teach adult education about writing, or your subject matter if you’re an expert. If you have a devoted fan base, consider merchandise sales. If you can avoid relying on novels for all of your income, you’ll be better off.
See if you can work part-time or from home. Work up a budget and see if you really have to return to work full-time. You may be able to get by with part-time work if you can trim your expenses. Also, it might be worth asking your employer if you can work from home (if you have a job that can be done remotely). Not having to commute, waste time in chit chat with co-workers, and sit through endless, stupid meetings can turn a full-time job into part-time hours.
Find ways to finance writing with writing. I’m lucky that my real job is being a freelance writer. No matter what happens with my fiction, I still write for a living. Sure, writing technical manuals isn’t as much fun as writing fantasy, but it’s still something I enjoy and which uses my skills. If you’re a writer, there are plenty of ways to make money with your words. Bonus: It keeps your name out there, particularly if you’re writing web content.
Play the long, slow game. If you can’t keep up with a book or more per year, that’s okay. Sure, it may mean that it takes longer for you to achieve financial success. It may also mean having to self-publish if you can’t keep to a publisher’s timetable. Still, publishing something is often better than nothing (assuming it’s well-written and edited and not just something you threw together for the sake of publishing something). It will keep your name out there and keep you growing as a writer.
All that said, if you’re a fellow writer or a reader, what can you do to help keep your favorite authors afloat and writing?
How to Help Authors
Buy the books legitimately. It should go without saying, but piracy does not help the author. Either buy the books, use a service like Kindle Unlimited, or get them through a library. All of these methods result in income for the author.
Leave reviews. They don’t have to be long and involved (and they don’t have to be positive so you should feel free to tell the truth), but reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and other retailer sites help boost an author’s visibility. What’s more, Amazon uses the total number of reviews to determine which books get additional promotion in the, “Others were also interested in,” space that comes up when you look at a specific book. The algorithm is unknown, but more reviews=more exposure.
Recommend books to your local library. When a library buys an author’s books, the author gets paid. Also, having books in a library is a great source of exposure which leads to more paying readers.
Recommend books to local booksellers. Local bookshops are more receptive to requests from readers than are the major chains. This is particularly true if the author is local. If your favorite store doesn’t carry your favorite author’s books, suggest that they do.
Post on social media. If you’ve found a book you love, talk about it on your accounts. Post a picture of the cover on Instagram, or talk it up to your Facebook friends. All of this helps introduce books to new readers.
Talk about it in the real world. If conversation turns to books, mention your favorites. If you are a member of a book club, nominate your favorites for club reads. Be seen reading in public!
Nominate books for prizes. Plenty of contests take nominations from readers, so if you have favorites, put them up for prizes. Wins are great for exposure, and some offer the author much needed money.
Use your blog. If you have a blog, you can review books or host author interviews. Most authors will be happy to participate, and may even have some goodies to use for giveaways.
Give gifts. No not to the authors, but to others. Give books for holidays and birthdays. Have books you no longer want? Start a book swap among friends or donate them to the library where others can find and enjoy them. Share your favorites with others.
Network on their behalf. If you’re in a position where you can invite an author to speak (such as a teacher at a school, an event organizer, or a manager at a company that can benefit from someone’s non-fiction), extend that invitation. If you see a chance for a book to be placed in a non-traditional outlet (such as a fitness book at a gym, or a book set in a certain location being placed in a tourism bureau), recommend the book.
Engage with authors. Most of us don’t bite! In fact, most of us love hearing from readers and most of us have contact forms and social media just for that purpose. It can really make a struggling author’s day to hear from a reader. If you give permission, the author would probably love to use your comments in their own promotion. If an author is having an event, be sure to attend. Good attendance makes bookstores and other venues more likely to have an author back the next time they have a book release.
Helping an author only takes a minute of your time and it means so much. It means that authors can continue writing the things you love in an ever tightening marketplace. All but the most heartless authors genuinely appreciate any effort on their behalf. Who knows? If you take the time to engage with an author, you might find a new friend, or at least someone to swap book recommendations with.
(Photo courtesy of stevepb)