Not Very Deep Thoughts With M.J. Fifield (An IWSG Post)

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, which means it’s time for another action-packed installment of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, y’all!

This month’s awesome co-hosts are: Jenni Enzor, Beth Camp, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Tyrean Martinson, and Sandra Cox!

This month’s (optional) question asks, “There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?”

But I’m going to skip that question because I feel like I’m too much of an industry imposter-type person to have an opinion on that.

Instead you’re going to get this…whatever this turns out to be. I’m honestly not sure what will come from this post. Maybe nothing. Maybe I’ll get bored and/or tired and/or worried partway through and delete it, like I did last month’s post. Or maybe I’ll come up with something I’m willing to share. Stranger things have happened. Somewhere. Probably. I assume. (Name! That! Reference!)

Anyway…let’s find out which one it will be, shall we?

So, a while back (probably around May 8th), I came across the following tweet and it’s been floating around in my mind ever since.

According to the above tweet, over 80% of published authors stop after three books. I don’t know if the stats went any deeper than that. (If I recall correctly, the attached article didn’t specify.) Like, 80% of all authors? Does genre matter? Do romance authors, for example, last longer than literary fiction authors or mystery authors? Do authors who publish works in multiple genres have a higher rate of longevity? Or do they maybe burn out faster because they’re trying to do too much?

Is burnout even the problem? What percentage stop because of burnout or a burnout-like experience? How many stopped because they were dropped by a publisher and/or agent (for whatever reason) and couldn’t secure new ones? How many stopped because they got into the industry, looked around, and said, “Yeah, this sucks” and got back out again? How many stopped because they simply had no more stories they wanted to write?

Now, if you happened to read my most recent post, you’ll know that I am maybe kind of sort of possibly getting closer to maybe publishing my third book. And I keep wondering if maybe this third book (should it manage to see the light of day) will be my last.

(Side Note: Yeah, I know these stats apply to traditionally published authors and not the self-published variety. Didn’t make me think about them any less.)

I’m only on my third book and have only managed to publish two titles, but I find it increasingly difficult. Not, like, physically difficult or anything, but more…I don’t know. The more I do it (publishing, I mean), the less I know if I want to keep doing it.

Of course, I said the same thing before, during, and after publishing my first two books, so make of it what you will.

(Side Note: I don’t believe this has anything to do with my decision to self-publish. That was the right choice for me. Is the right choice for me. I also firmly believe that if I had gone the traditional route back when I had the chance, I probably wouldn’t have gotten past my first book. (Side Side Note: Not every publishing path is right for every author! Do the research and decide which is right for you! No one gets to decide what is right for you but YOU!) All of my publishing-related issues stem from anxiety, a multiplude of complexes, and probably too much Dr. Pepper…)

I imagine I will always have more stories I want to write. There was a time, while I was working on Effigy that I worried about whether I would ever have any other story ideas. I thought maybe I would write that one series and then just be done with writing altogether.

I don’t think that anymore. Given how long it takes me to write/finish a novel, I’m sure I have story ideas enough to last the rest of my life and probably quite a few years as a ghost. I cannot guarantee, however, I will always have more stories I want to publish.

I work toward publishing each project to keep my options open, but I honestly don’t know which way I’ll go until I actually hit that big red “PUBLISH ME” button.

And…I don’t know. I guess that’s it. I thought I might stumble across some sort of point that would tie things up in a neat-ish little bow, but that didn’t seem to happen here.

Let me just say that if you’ve published three, six, twelve or more books, you’re a rock star. If you’re working toward publishing your first—or even just starting writing your first—book, you’re a rock star.

It’s a hard industry. Hang in there.

29 Commentsto Not Very Deep Thoughts With M.J. Fifield (An IWSG Post)

  1. Stimpy!
    I made it to four. Five if you count the short story. I am working on the sixth, but it’s been a long time in the works, so obviously it does get more challenging.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      Absolutely! Count the short story!

      Obviously, I can’t speak for other authors, but my challenge lies in that I know how miserable publishing will make me feel (thanks, anxiety!) so it gets harder to convince myself to go through it again and again.

  2. Jemi Fraser says:

    This industry is hard! I decided to self-publish without querying any of my books. I like the independence and the control-freak aspects appeal to me. I spent a decade learning the craft and experimenting with writing styles. Now I’m writing in an area that will keep my ghost busy writing for years!
    I hear you on the anxiety issues. My romances are coming out this month and that terrifies me more than it excites me 😛

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      I like the independence and control-freak aspects, too. That’s what really pushed me over to the self-publishing side of the industry.

      And I so admire the authors who can get excited about an upcoming release. The closer I get to it, the more I need to breathe into a paper bag while hiding under my desk.

  3. Hmm, I think you are right about the stat with your questions. Not every writer who puts out a book does so with the intention of writing a dozen more. That kind of leaves me feeling like the tweeter is judging people who don’t put out more books as quitters. If anything, that 80% needs to be looked into to see the reasons why those authors stopped.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      I’m just so curious about why those 80% stopped. There must be so much more story behind those numbers.

  4. mshatch says:

    It’s hard to stick with it when the results are disappointing. I just sent another six queries out and will now play the hope/waiting game. But there’s lots of authors whose first few books didn’t make a splash and then the next one did. Madeleine L’Engle for example. So I’ll keep writing and querying because, really, what else am I going to do? Quit? I don’t think I could if I tried because there’s always some little tale nagging at me. Anyway, keep writing.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      Disappointing results, I think, probably get a lot of writers. It’s not the friendliest/easiest industry around, what with doors constantly being slammed in one’s face (at least metaphorically) or people saying mean things to one’s face (at least metaphorically). That culture certainly takes its toll.

      But yeah. All I really know to do is just keep writing.

  5. Chrys Fey says:

    The breakdown of those stats would be helpful.

    People could stop publishing for any number of reasons as you said: burnout, discouragement from lack of sales/reviews, they only wanted to publish one or two books (not everyone wants to publish 6-12 books), illness and death could even be a factor! Those stats just seems to scare and disappoint writers more than anything.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      I feel the same way about the lack of breakdown there and how it could be discouraging to writers—especially those just starting out or hitting a rough patch. I can only hope that writers who read that react with their storytelling tendencies and ask, “But why is it like that?”

      • Chrys Fey says:

        I came back to this and dug deeper. I found the Twitter thread where this originated from, and the stats come from a database-like website of all published books. I’m there. You’re there. They did not separate self-published books from traditionally published books. Nor did they take into account how an author could have more than one pen name. And they did not segment genres. Romance and children’s books, for instance, probably have higher numbers (authors publish more titles in those genres). So, yeah, those numbers are deeply flawed. I don’t think they really reflect anything. All those stats are doing is causing distress.

  6. Jenni says:

    Interesting stat, and I can totally see this. I know a few writers that have published a few books but took a break from writing for various reasons, but can’t get their work published now. Publishing one or even two books doesn’t guarantee a career.

    Good for you pushing through on that third book! I don’t have any books out, but I know I battle with keeping going on the stuff I am working on.
    With this industry, it often feels like you’re always pedaling uphill.

    • M.J. Fifield says:

      Exactly. Past success does not guarantee future success in this industry. Or, vice versa. Like Marcy was saying. Some writers may not hit it big until much later in their career—if ever.

  7. Kate says:

    It’s an interesting stat, particularly since I’ve published three novels and it’s been over a year since the last came out. I think for a lot of authors, they probably expect that by the time they have three books out, they will start seeing some kind of return for the work they do. Writing books is hard and it takes a lot of time. It can be very disheartening if you put them out there and nothing comes from it except a handful of nice reviews.

  8. J E Oneil says:

    Maybe the tweet should have said “80% of writers crushed by own dreams after third book”.

  9. Suzanne Furness says:

    Interesting post and a reminder I think that everyone’s journey is different. I have written several children’s novels but so far haven’t reached publication, hopefully I will before too long.

  10. I at least made it past 6. Maybe one day I’ll make it to 12.

  11. I think burn out happens. I also think that, for me, the more I write, the more I realize how much I want to be a “better” writer and I put more pressure on myself. I also get into odd “if I spend x hours on writing and only get z money, is it worth it?” Of course, I’m going to keep writing because I am in love with storytelling, but … yeah, I get having those doubts about publishing. It’s work.
    But, it’s worth it.
    Rock on, MJ! You rock!

  12. Sarah Foster says:

    I think you just have to do what feels right. Keep writing if you still have stories you want to tell, and when you’re done with them, decide whether or not you want to publish.

  13. Liz A. says:

    I think it gets harder because you know more, so you expect more out of yourself. That you got two books out is massive. I hope you continue to write and publish. But you must do what is right for you. I guess the real question is, if you stop, what would you do with your time then?

  14. I wonder how many quit because they expected financial reward and after 3, 5, or ten books they realize there is little income for most of us.
    I’m still going after more than 20, all with a small press. You will keep going too.

  15. I love the process of writing. Of course, I want to be published. Someday. But it’s not a matter of life or death. I can’t let it consume me. I’m having way too much fun, even though it IS hard.
    If it stops being fun, then something is wrong.
    Maybe something is wrong with me?

  16. SE White says:

    I had never heard those statistics, and they really are thought provoking. And wow do I hear you on the anxiety-inducing aspects of publishing. After this third book (congratulations, no matter what happens with it!) I feel like the knowledge of whether or not you’ll keep writing will just kind of settle softly, like snowfall. Whatever decision you make, it will be right for you. Just like the decision to self-publish.

  17. Paths to publishing are completely individual, for certain. We all have to figure out how it will work best for ourselves. Those statistics are interesting. After three books, I’m feeling a little less like a moron when it comes to understanding the process and the industry, so I don’ think I’ll stop now! @samanthabwriter from
    Balancing Act

  18. I made it to three, although two are very, very small collections of short fiction. You’re definitely not kidding about the industry being hard. I’ve been burning out from writing my fiction for the last couple weeks.

  19. Wow, those stats are shocking. Would definitely be interesting to see how that actually breaks down by genre.

    And know what you mean about the publishing struggle. I’ve often had similar thoughts about my comics. Something always happens to pull me back in, though…haha. Good luck with your own journey, no matter where it takes you!

  20. Murees Dupé says:

    I’m confident you have more books in you. I think like me, once we get the confidence to just write and stop judging our work,we’ll probably publish more. Personally, I’m trying hard not to hold unto my books too long, but rather write, finish, edit and publish. Instead of just writing, which is what I do now. There is no reason you can’t make it to 12 books or more

  21. Christine Rains says:

    I’m not too shocked by those stats. It’s a tough industry and highly discouraging. You really have to be in it for the love of writing. I know I won’t ever be the next Joss Whedon or Stephen King, but I’m okay with that, because I’m lucky enough to be able to write and share my stories with the world. But, you know, if Whedon wants to make a show out of one of my stories…

  22. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m only interested in publishing my stories for myself, so that I have a copy in my own library. I’m a slow writer too and the thrill of publishing has lost it’s appeal to me. Oh, I’m still writing, because I have to get these stories out of me. But yeah, publishing? It seems like a race I don’t really want to participate in.

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