I was inspired by a hashtag that I just happened to notice when I went to write this post, but it's a thought I've had before. It's easy advice to say "don't ever give up!" "follow your dreams!" and all that other inspirational nonsense, but it can be hell to live it. It's also unrealistic. Should you ever give up? Well yeah, maybe.
A World Full of Books
This past year, 2012, which is nearly over (but not quite), more than 2 million new books have already been published. Just this year. In the United States alone, approximately 400,000 books have been published this year (10 Awful Truths About Publishing). That's wonderful, a great testament to the popularity of reading and literature. We are preserving a record. We are creating entertainment.
And we are going to lose the gamble, by and large, every time. Of the 400,000 books published in the US, almost 700 became bestsellers (Publishers Weekly). That's around 0.17 percent. Write a hundred books in a given year, and the odds are still against you.
Pretty harsh. The business of writing is tough, and it's a cold industry. You're only ever as good as your last book, and anybody can get a horrible review from even unlikely sources. But some of the crueler realities of the writing world shouldn't be reason enough to make you give up.
There are way too many good reasons to think about giving up other than that one.
Why You Should Give Up
If you're looking for reasons to give up, plenty of authors can help you list the ways.
- Mass rejection: It's possible that 500 different literary agents and publishers are totally flipping wrong...but it's also possible that they are not. Make it a habit to go to your book and polish it every single time you get a rejection letter, and at least get something out of them. Throw the letter away, and keep perfecting. Work on your query and build a better pitch every time you send out more letters. If you keep hitting it, you're bound to get some sort of constructive feedback from somebody.
- Negative feedback: When that feedback is consistently negative, it's really going to hurt. The trick is to take it seriously, no matter what it says. Absorb it and figure out what to do with it, and how you can use it to improve your book.
- Low sales: You can get very few sales whether you're published by a big house, a small house, or your own house. If you're putting in your time on social media, blogging your fingers off, staying active in forums and working hard to market your books...it still might not work. Change your angle, change it again, replace the cover, and keep trying to find something that works. If it seems like nothing you try is ever good enough, or has much of an effect, it may be because your book is not widely appealing to a large audience. That's the breaks.
If you try everything and it still doesn't work, then write another book. Try a different genre, a different story, new characters and settings. Try something totally different, and then pursue another path to publishing, whether it's self-publishing or traditional. Keep trying new things, keep on stirring the pot, keep on pursuing new ideas. Try new kinds of writing, new ways of putting your stuff out there, like short story collections or blogging. And maybe you'll end up writing fan fiction instead, and that will prove to be satisfying.
Maybe you will give up on sending out those query letters, or on promoting your self-published books every day. But you shouldn't give up on writing if that's what you love. Continue perfecting your stories, and working at your craft, and you'll only get better and better. Find ways to share it that you enjoy, but don't hang your entire existence on making a bunch of money at it. Very few people make a ton of money by writing books, but anyone who loves writing can get a great deal of enjoyment out of creating them. Success isn't always measured by dollars and cents.