Business Musings: Quitting

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I am not a musician.

I am not an actor.

I am not a politician.

I am not a political campaign director.

I am not a lawyer.

I am not a professor.

I am not an investigative journalist.

I am not the news director of a radio station.

I am not a local TV news anchor.

I am not a national news editor.

I am not many, many things, things I seriously tried. Jobs I actually had (news director, journalist), jobs I was offered and turned down (local TV news anchor, news/interview show producer at WGBH, national news editor at CNN and NPR). I investigated law school, looked at the price of the LSAT exam, and decided not yet. Apparently, I had decided not ever.

Maybe if I had stayed married to my first husband, if he had gone to New York as planned, if he had stayed in the theater as planned, I would have tried my hand at being a playwright. One of the first things I wrote for a creative writing class in college was a play. I’ve since written a lot of scripts for radio, and some radio dramas. I had that bent. But didn’t have the need.

If you had met me in high school, you might have thought I was going to be a musician. I played more than a dozen instruments and was always doing something musical, not just for the school, but for other amateur groups.

In my first year of college, I walked to the door of the music school, saw the audition requirement, and walked away. In my third year at a different university, I walked past the music school every day, saw the signs go up for new auditions for a dozen things, thought about it, and never showed up.

Opportunities abounded. They always abound. Sometimes you try things. Sometimes you fail at them. I didn’t go to the auditions because I froze at an audition in high school. My voice came out squeaky and terrified, and then it broke. I said to the music director of the musical I was auditioning for, I’m sorry. I was nervous. Can I try again?

And she said, No. You’ll be nervous on stage. This gives us a good indication of how you sing when you’re scared.

And that was that. For music. Period. I was nervous. I couldn’t do it. No help, no love, no it’s normal to be nervous. No teaching me how to overcome nervousness.

But here’s the key: I didn’t seek help either. I later learned that major performers, big, big, big names in the music industry, still get stage fright. Many of them vomit at least once before going on stage.

They wanted the career. Music and performance mattered to them more than nerves, than comfort, than not vomiting every day.

I didn’t—I still don’t—want to be a musician that badly. I never did, or I would have practiced with joy and gusto instead of with the attitude that each repetition of a line was the same as cleaning the dog poop out of the yard.

As for being a journalist, I was a broadcast journalist, with small success in a small city. At a point in my life when I could have torn up roots and moved to Atlanta (for the job offer from CNN) or to Boston (for the 90% guaranteed job from WGBH through an old colleague), I didn’t. In fact, I moved to the opposite coast.

You see, I was burned out. I didn’t want to write about what other people did. I wanted to make things up, and write fiction. All the time.

So I rearranged my life to make writing fiction possible.

It sounds so easy now, but it was the equivalent of vomiting from stage fright before every show. The upheaval, the changes, the hard work, the voluntary poverty—all of that was worthwhile to me to become a full-time fiction writer.

And once I achieved that goal, I stayed.

That’s the other thing.

A lot of people quit a dream profession when the going gets hard.

Even more people quit that dream profession after a bit of success.

I’ve done both. I was a high school musician. That’s even less impressive than being a high school athlete. High school athletes have to compete on a weekly basis. High school musicians have to put on concerts for family and friends (at least in my day).

But in journalism, I had worked my way to the top of the local heap in news. I was the news director at one of two major news radio stations in my small city. I was getting job offers from all over (Seattle, too, which I dismissed because the guy who offered it {and the person I had replaced in the job} was a Harvey Weinstein type). I was entering the national stage at the right age, with the right credentials, at a time when the field was growing.

I looked at all of that, saw a career filled with endless nights of reporting and running around and verifying and scrambling to make sure that hour’s newscast was on time…and I fled. I quit the business and didn’t look back (except in the occasional short story).

And while I’m pleased I had done the work…and while I’m grateful for all the lessons that job taught me, like being able to write no matter what the distraction, no matter what time of day, no matter what was going on in my life…I didn’t like the job enough to spend my entire life doing it.

Unlike writing fiction.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because of the emails and comments I received on my burnout post of two weeks ago. Many of them are heartbreaking. So many of you are done. You hated the writing career. You hated the small measure of success that you had. You hated all of the things you had to do to gain that success.

And that’s okay.

It’s okay to let go of the dream of being a full-time writer even if you’re really good at it.

It’s okay to give up writing for good if you don’t enjoy it.

You’ve given it a great run. You don’t like it.

That’s a great thing to learn. Time to find something you’re willing to make those sacrifices for, something that might burn you out just as badly, but might cause you to figure out how to overcome the burnout rather than let it stop you cold.

If I had burned out as a journalist, I would have quit right then.

I’ve burned out half a dozen times as a fiction writer, and I work on healing, and then getting back into the game.

Because I love writing fiction. I still don’t want to do anything else. It breaks my heart to consider doing something else.

And that’s the key.

If you’re one of the people who wrote to me and said that you aren’t ever going to write again, and your heart breaks a little every single time you say that, then work on healing from the burnout or whatever it is that took the joy away from writing. Then come back to it. Slowly, without making the same mistakes.

But if you can say you’ll never write again, and that phrase fills you with a secret happiness, then respect that. The profession is not for you.

A caveat, though.

So many people are telling me that they’re leaving writing and taking their indie published books down. Why? There’s no reason to. Just let them sit. At worse, they’ll be forgotten. At best, they’ll earn you some money—a trickle here and a trickle there, or maybe someone finds one of your books, loves it, and then decides to make a movie or a game or a comic book out of it. You’ll make more than a trickle in that case.

If you were traditionally published, your book would still be in print. Leave your indie books in print as well.

Just move on to that next profession, the one that makes you happy.

It’s okay to try new things.

It’s also okay to fail at them.

It’s okay to succeed at something and decide that the something you succeeded at is not for you.

You might not be a person who writes books.

Do what’s best for you—and make sure whatever that is will give you joy in all the years to come.


Sometimes your responses to my posts inspire other posts. That’s the case with this one. Some of you broke my heart when you wrote to me. I’ve been in your shoes. And while I make it sound easy to change course, it isn’t. It takes a lot of reflection and courage.

Please share this post with your friends.

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Thank you all, for the comments, the support, and the ideas. I wish you all the best, no matter what you chose to do.

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“Business Musings: Quitting,” copyright © 2017 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog © Can Stock Photo / Aleutie.


28 thoughts on “Business Musings: Quitting

  1. After jamming out twenty-one novels since about 2010, and only seeing limited success, it took a full year to write the next one. I took two whole months off, wondering if I would ever get back to it. It’s been a month since I finished it, and there is no question that the combination–a combination of one thousand and sixty-four rejection slips, hard work and low sales on the indie side, that it is very easy to get discouraged, possibly even burned out. I flew radio-control aircraft for seventeen years, designing dozens of my own aircraft. Yet once I had quit, the thoughts of getting back into it are quite daunting. It takes time, it takes money, and it takes commitment. Just to fly a model airplane. Writing, or creating anything original and good takes something out of a person.

    That well needs to be replenished sometimes. I would never take my books down, because even with so-called passive discoverabilty, it’s a few bucks every month that I don’t have to work for.

  2. Wish I could quit, but my body doesn’t allow an outside job and writing is my sole income. There isn’t even time to develop some other home business since every month without a new book = sinking income.

        1. In 2017, I made 16% of what I made in 2012. 19 titles out as of 11/2017, including 6 just released in 2016. 2015’s royalties were only 40% of 2014’s. Amazon moving weight from the Free list and shifting it to Select users was the beginning of my downfall.

          I don’t have the budget for ads now, especially not every day and every month that indies are all doing now, so the business feels very pay-to-play. Because I was helping friends that published e-books back to 2006, I’ve been part of this a long time and I’m tired. I feel like the mythic guy stuck trying to roll the boulder up the mountain only to be cursed to always have it roll back to the bottom.

          1. Sounds like you’re burned out, and need rest. Part of freelancing is dealing with the ups and downs of income, I’m afraid. It never goes up steadily. It requires having income from multiple sources, not just ebooks and eretailers, but subsidiary rights and some other ways to fund the business through the lean times.

            It sounds like you have a readership, but with your reliance on the free list, that might mean the bulk of your readers were discount readers only. They buy by price, then author. You’re going to have to build a more reliable fanbase, one that isn’t entirely based on price.

            I would rest first, though, and then reset. I’m sorry this is happening to you. It’s the hardest part of being a freelancer.

            1. I should’ve specified – for free first-in-series, the Free list mattered for me. Every other book after Book 1 is at least $2.99 unless it’s a short story/novelette.

              As for sub rights, no one has ever approached me, and I don’t have the budget to produce audio books on my own.

              1. I’m sorry to hear it. Sometimes it takes years to craft a career. Lots of traditional writers (like Lawrence Block) had early success that they couldn’t repeat for a while. It takes a change in focus, whatever that means for each individual. Have you tried the free first in series list on Kobo?

                1. Never sold well at Kobo. I’ve distributed there through Smashwords since 2010 and Kobo was always frustrating for errors. If the book showed up there in the first place, they never updated it again without me prompting SW to get them to do it.

                  I’ve always been wide. For contemporary romance, my retailers were Amazon, Apple, then tiny bits from the others. I’m one of the few romance indies still on Scribd. For PNR/fantasy, it was B&N first until 2017, when Apple has passed it. That part of me has never made much headway at Amazon.

                  My health dictates I have to work at home, so writing is what I have. In 2015, I wasn’t able to publish much, but I tried to make up for it in 2016 and put out 6 brand new titles plus a series box set, yet still made less than 2015. So if publishing new books doesn’t maintain or increase income, I don’t know what to do. The system feels pay-to-play now. Everyone talks about FB and AMS ads all the time and I don’t have spare cash for that craziness. All I can do is write.

                  I’ve tried building mailing lists like a lot of people swear by, but they’ve been useless for me. Whether I’m selling to them in the e-mail or not selling to them, it’s been a waste of time.

                  1. Just keep writing, and publishing. The algorithms are set up for that. And probably stay off the various listserves, quick fix gurus, and boards. Just do what you do. Try going direct with Kobo, then use their free first in series. They have other promotions as well. Good luck with it!

  3. This is a good question to ask: burning out from writing, or burning out from marketing your writing? One of the aspects of marketing being that the best marketing is always your next book. So, if one sticks to this rule, one may very well burn out both from marketing and writing.

    I make a small living from writing as a self-published author since 2014, but the most money I make doesn’t come from my mailing list, nor from Facebook or Amazon ads, but from signing sessions. I could afford not to write a new book in three years, translating three of my books during that time, and when I look at my bestseller, I sold 398 paperback copies (for 21 € each) in 2014, and this year, with the same old 2010 book, I am already at 370 copies.

    I have other books, of course, but I am not the type of author releasing a book a month. I hate schedules and pression. I want to keep the fun of writing, at all costs.

    What I consider as a struggle is obtaining signing sessions and selling books. Fortunately, I was a freelancer journalist before, and am used to these kinds of struggles. I find that the relational network you have to maintain as a journalist is harder to maintain than the network of selling places.

  4. You’re very kind. I’ve seen people torn apart if they dare to say they’re quitting. A lot of people think writing is a vocation, and you must keep doing it no matter what. If you quit, you’re a BAD PERSON. Which is nonsense. Nothing works for everyone, but there’s a lot of intolerance out there over everything.

  5. Or you could quit just the aspects of indie publishing that are burning you out, which, I suspect, would likely be the trying to make money part of it. You could still do the fun part – creating characters and their stories, writing and publishing them without concerning yourself with their marketability or even reader expectations. You might even make some money at it, but, if you’re not in the game for the money, you must give up the title of “professional writer” and become a mere “hobbyist.” Of course, the vast majority of “professional writers” would be living on the streets if they had to live on their “professional” income, but nevertheless, it’s a price to be paid. And yet, if it leads to joy, then it’s likely well worth that price.

  6. I was one of those people who said they were quitting. But not completely. I’m burnt, all right, but I’ve been writing since as long as I can remember and refuse to let something like publishing destroy my love for it. What I did: quit writing to market, quit treating it like manufacturing, go back to writing from my passion. I may never make another dime from this, but I’m finally okay with that.
    Thanks for these posts. They’ve been timely.

  7. ‘It’s okay to succeed at something and decide that the something you succeeded at is not for you.’ Yes. 🙂
    I’m a good teacher, and a better tech writer, but fiction is what I want to write.
    We only get one chance at this life, at making it count, at making the most of whatever talent we’re born with. Waste it? No.

      1. I can totally see Sen. Rusch kicking it with Elizabeth Warren, having a drink after work and venting about all the stupid men.

  8. “If you’re one of the people who wrote to me and said that you aren’t ever going to write again, and your heart breaks a little every single time you say that, then work on healing from the burnout or whatever it is that took the joy away from writing. Then come back to it. Slowly, without making the same mistakes.

    “But if you can say you’ll never write again, and that phrase fills you with a secret happiness, then respect that. The profession is not for you.”

    This comforts me a great deal.

  9. When I was eight, I started writing. I also drew and was pretty good at that (probably better than I was at writing at the time!). I enjoyed both…but I jumped at a Creative Writing class. I checked out writing books from the library. I didn’t do any of that with art…didn’t even occur to me in thinking about it now.

    In college, I tried being a journalism major (and a broadcast major, and a theater major, a film major, and an accounting major). I actually took a few classes, but I nearly didn’t pass one because I couldn’t engage myself on that type of writing. When I enlisted in the Army, I tested high for writing. At the MEPS center (where the Army gives you tests and physicals and then you enlist), they were holding open this slot for me for journalist, pressuring me to take it right now. And I turned it down. Recruiter was no happy. Apparently everyone who qualifies enlists, and I didn’t… I went back a second time, and came in as a truck driver. But then at my first duty station, the command sergeant major of our group (similar to a regiment) found out I could write. He’d just lost the group’s journalist, who had requested a transfer. So I got volunteered for it. I could have had it if I truly wanted it, but it last six weeks.

    After last week’s post, I realized I wasn’t taking days off. So I decided to take Saturday off so I really could have time for myself. We had snow, so I stayed in–and I kept drifting back to wanting to write …

  10. I can’t imagine ever quitting though once I did do to an abusive relationship. After I got out of that, I started writing again. At first, just to get the feelings of everything I’d gone through out. Eventually, story ideas came back to me and I wrote them. Story after story for years though I didn’t get published traditionally. I’m still writing, still working on publication. I love the stories too much to give up. What holds me back is finances.

  11. I left my four little beauties up at Amazon, which will be joined by #5 next year. Hey, I made $18 last month! Why take them down? Besides, one of them is going to be a dollar or a giveaway when #5 goes up. It would be silly to take them down.

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