Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

When Is It Time to Throw in the Towel?

I remember a time when I wrote for the fun of it. When I had no idea what the “rules” were and the words just flowed out of my head and onto the page. Yeah, most of them were crap, but I didn’t know they were crap, so it didn’t bother me. I just enjoyed the process of committing the story in my head to paper…or the screen, as the case may be.

Somewhere along the way, though, writing stopped being fun. I’m hard-pressed to say exactly when it happened. Probably, that’s because it didn’t happen overnight. It was a more gradual process. I learned more about craft, more about the should’s and shouldn’t’s. I became a much better writer in every objective sense than I was when the words just flowed and I didn’t care if they sucked or not. I had a few short stories and novellas published by an epublisher, then a novella collection published by a New York house.

Wow, I was a real writer! What an accomplishment!

But the joy? It’s gone. Writing has become a chore, about as much fun as cleaning the bathroom and with even less reward. At least someone is always grateful when I clean the bathroom. My wonderful CPs and a few friends aside, nobody seems to care one way or another whether I ever write another word.

It’s not just that I haven’t been able to sell anything since Behind the Red Door. Oh, sure, that’s part of it. If I were feeling some love from editors, my own love for the task of writing might be considerably stronger. But it’s more than that.

You see, I’m starting to wonder if I have had an inflated opinion of my own skills. Maybe I’m just really not any good at this. Maybe the reason I’m not selling anything is because…duh, I don’t deserve to.

A couple of days ago, I clicked on a Twitter link to a book for sale on Fictionwise. A book with a (in my opinion) ridiculous premise and worse cover art. But this book has obviously sold hundreds of copies and most of the ratings by readers are “Great.” It has a few “Good” ratings and a couple of “Averages.” No “Poors.”

By comparison, my ebooks’ reader ratings on Fictionwise are about evenly split between good and average. I have a few greats. A couple of poors. But in general, it’s pretty clear that the typical reader has a lukewarm response to my books. Oh, they don’t hate them, but they don’t love them, either.

But it’s not just buyers at Fictionwise who feel lukewarm about my work. Oh, I get generally good ratings from most reviewers, but I’ve never managed to garner a recommended read or top pick or anything like that. And I’ve yet to receive a single piece of fan mail from a new reader since my print book came out. I’ve gotten some fan mail from my ebooks, and some readers who’ve contacted me in the past wrote to tell me they liked Behind the Red Door, but it doesn’t seem to have garnered me a legion of new fans.

What am I to take away from this? I always write the best book I can, believe me, but the best book I can write is apparently not the book that editors or readers are all that excited about. I could launch into a screed at this point about the lowest common denominator and the inability of “the masses” to recognize true quality, but even if I thought it was true that my books were “too good” for the general public (which I don’t), it doesn’t really matter. If no one but a handful of people loves my books, there’s not much point in pursuing a career in writing. Especially if I’m not getting any pleasure from it myself.

I’ve said before that the only way to be sure you’ll never be published is to give up. But I’ve been published. So? Do I keep trying to get published when it’s about as much fun as slamming my finger in a door or do I close the book on the “writer” chapter of my life and move on?

I’m sure this whole post sounds like a combination of a self-pity party and a cry for attention, but I’m not looking for anyone to tell me I’m too talented to give up or otherwise exhort me to keep the faith. I’ve heard that plenty of times already (usually from those devoted CPs and friends, bless them), and it hasn’t changed anything. I’m still not sure why I should keep at it.

Right now, what I genuinely want to know is how anyone knows it’s time to quit. Not just writing, but any pursuit where the relative likelihood of success is small and the cost of continuing to try is high—in blood, sweat, tears, time, money, whatever. When does someone who desperately wants to be a major league baseball player decide it’s time to give up the dream and focus on a “real” career instead? When does someone whose life ambition is to be an actor realize he’s probably got a face for radio (or maybe just doesn’t have as much talent as he imagined)?

So, what do you think? When is it time to throw in the towel?


  • Booklover1335 September 8, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Hey Jackie,
    IMHO if you are passionate about something then I think you never throw in the towel, just redirect how you express yourself. To use your analogy about baseball or an actor.

    If you love to play baseball, and give up the dream of playing the in the major leagues, maybe you try out for the minor leagues or are happy just to play the game with a local league.

    If you are an actor and don’t make it on the big screen or on broadway and are passionate about acting you don’t give up, you just join a local theatre group to express your desire to act while still trying for the big time.

    Maybe you need to take a break from submitting, and get back to writing what drew you to wanting to be an author in the first place. Sure you should keep in mind trends and what readers are looking for if you are serious about wanting to make it a career, but trying to appeal to all readers will only gain you frustration and masque your true voice. And that’s what I want as a reader a true unique voice.

    Take Megan Hart for example. She is one of my fav authors, and like me some readers love her work, BUT she has just as many readers who hate them because she does not write the typical HEA that romance readers expect. However, this has not stopped her from writing the stories the way she feels they need to be written, nor from selling them.

    Don’t write for the common denominator. Write what you think makes a good story. Then maybe get a new agent or some new critique partners someone who is truthful and tell you what they really think before you submit it. Don’t know if this will make a difference for you or not, but I do hope that if you love writing that you won’t give up just because you have had some setbacks, refocus, redirect but always follow your passion.

  • Amie Stuart September 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    IMNSHO this is where that lovely phrase “Book of the heart” comes from. You write a book that doesn’t take into account all that nasty stuff like “marketability” LOL You stop worrying about what “New York Thinks” Because by damn, I bet Madonna never did 😀 Do I need to dig out that article and send it to you? Yeah I know…Madonna wasn’t trying to break into the music business circa 2009 but I think it still applies to a certain extent

  • B.E. Sanderson September 9, 2009 at 8:26 am

    After five+ years of this with no measurable success, I can’t say I blame you for wondering if you should quit. All I can do is tell you what I ask myself when I feel like quitting: Who are you doing all this for? If you’re only writing for the potential accolades, and you’re not getting them, maybe you should quit. (Harsh, I know, but bear with me.) Maybe that’s why you don’t love your writing any more – because you’re writing for everyone else and not for YOU. I think you need to write for yourself first. I may never see a book of mine in print, but I still love writing – because I write for myself.

    Look at it another way, Jackie, you have Red Door in print – you loved the book and someone else loved it enough to publish it. Maybe the reason why you can’t seem to get anything else published is because you don’t love your writing anymore. How can anyone else love your work when you don’t love it to start with? Start writing what you love and maybe the contracts will come back, and if they don’t, at least you’ll have written something your heart can be proud of.

    And now that I’ve given you this pep-talk, I’ve kicked my own ass, too. I won’t quit any time soon, and I don’t think you should either. I think you are talented, and the help you gave me on that query letter was awesome.

    Don’t make me come through the modem and go all fur and fangs on you. ;o)

  • Jill Sorenson September 9, 2009 at 9:07 am

    What you’re going through is normal. I’ve had more projects rejected than accepted. And I’m talking about full length novels, not proposals. There are times that writing is a chore for me, but once I’m immersed in a new project, those doubts and fears drift away.

    If you’ve been trying to sell ideas, don’t. Write a complete novel, another sexy historical, because you’ve been successful in that subgenre. See if you feel better once you’re buried in the story and focusing on writing, rather than the dismal business outlook.

  • Kris Eton September 9, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I think I’ve told you this before, Jackie. I don’t know if I could write a proposal and the NOT finish the book. I think I’ll be one of those writers who just doesn’t sell that way…at least not in the beginning of my career. I enjoy the storytelling process and my ideas so much, that if I feel the impulse to write it, I must, no matter if there is a market waiting out there or not.

    I’m also a big believer in finding a suitable home for books…even when they are rejected by bigger pubs/agents. I spent time writing these books, know they are pretty good, and feel that even a very small audience is better than no audience at all.

    I think you maybe got so caught up in the business side of things and freaked out so much over writing something saleable, that you lost track of what you enjoy. You’ve had so many good ideas for books that haven’t been tackled…I think you should go back and look at some of those things and decide if you want to write them or not…for yourself…because you know it would be fun/a good story or whatever.

    If NY won’t take ’em then an epub will…you know that is true. And what is so terrible about that? Nothing! We all take different paths to writing success…some are smoother than others. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have talent or ability.

  • admin September 9, 2009 at 11:00 am

    Thanks to all of you for the advice and encouragement. I swear, writers (and readers) are the kindest, most generous people in the world.

    I don’t disagree with the observation that I have to just set aside any concern about selling and write something I want to write for myself and no one else. I think that’s absolutely right.

    The problem I’m having with that at the moment is that, while I have many, many ideas, nothing is demanding to become that “book of my heart.” There’s really no story that’s banging around in my head demanding to be let out. I just have a lot of ideas that sound like fun to me, but none of them is hounding me. I can pretty much take them or leave them all.

    Of course, this could be a purely temporary malaise, but it’s also a problem I’ve been struggling with for months now. I can be very excited about something when I start it, but I tend to reach the “OMG, this sucks and I hate it,” stage before I’m even 10,000 words in. And the fact that I haven’t broken out of that phase for months now concerns me.

    And honestly, that’s why I wonder if it isn’t time to throw in the towel…maybe not forever, but at least for a while. On some level, I suppose I’m worried that I’ll never really LONG to write a book so much that nothing else matters.

  • Amie Stuart September 9, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I think there will come a time when you WANT/NEED to write a book–a book that you feel deeply for. But it might be a while. You’ve got to empty some garbage out of your head–and like Jill said, it’s NORMAL even if it’s messed up 😀

  • Jody W. September 10, 2009 at 10:51 am

    OMG we are SO in the same place. I think you can keep flipping that towel if the sacrifices you and your family have to make in order for you to put the time in to be a writer don’t outweigh the benefits. If your family is suffering…and you are suffering…and you’re not getting what you need from the bargain, whatever that need may be, sabbaticals are very respectable. You may not be throwing in the towel so much as sending it through the laundry to use another day once it’s fluffy and clean 🙂

  • admin September 10, 2009 at 10:57 am

    You may not be throwing in the towel so much as sending it through the laundry to use another day once it’s fluffy and clean.

    Well, I’ll be damned if this isn’t the best line in the whole thread. If nothing else, it made me smile. Broadly.

    Thanks, Jody.

    I’m still not sure where I’m “at” yet or whether it’s time to toss the towel in the washer. I just know I have to find my way back to the joy or it’s not worth doing.


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