I Had to Give Up Writing to Market in Order to Find My Passion Again

It’s been ages since I posted anything on this blog. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any ideas. I had a lot of them. But as soon as I sat down and wrote a paragraph or two, my mind came to a screeching halt. I waited and waited…and waited some more for inspiration to come so I could finish the blog post. But inspiration never came. I deleted most of those drafts. Why? Because my heart wasn’t “in” writing anymore, much less trying to figure out how to tell other authors how they might sell more books.

I had lost my creative edge, and the scary part is that I didn’t even know it. Writing had started to become a chore. I was doing good to chug along and write my books. It’s like I was running on a gas tank that was almost empty. All of the gas left in my tank was going to my books. I had nothing left to give to a blog post.

feeling trapped
ID 40361529 © Artistashmita | Dreamstime.com

I got some criticism for writing a blog post on here about losing income. But it’s true. I did lose income. I lost about 1/3 of my income from 2015 to 2016. I barely remained steady in 2017. I was even tempted to go exclusive with Amazon by putting new books in KDP Select so I could take advantage of page reads in Kindle Unlimited. I had to spend serious time in prayer and talking with a couple of friends in order to make the best decision for me longterm. (KU is not a good longterm plan.) I knew this, but I had started to focus on short-term plans.

Which is why I was writing to market when 2016 came around.

I wrote to market for two years. Fortunately for me, I happen to love historical western and Regency romances, which happen to be popular genres anyway. But what I did was pick heroine types, hero types, and plot types that I felt had the best chance of selling well. I broke this rule with one book (which is now one of my all-time favorites). That book didn’t do as well as the others. The thing is, I know what is popular in my corner of the romance market. I know what pleases the most readers. How? Because of all the feedback I’ve gotten over the years and watching what other (very successful) romance authors were doing.

I always picked plots I was interested in doing. I could never bring myself to write something I didn’t like. But after two years of writing as fast as I could on projects that I felt would sell, I realized I had used up all of those ideas. I was exhausted. I knew I was burning out. Still, in January, I wrote another romance to market. Then February came. By this time, I was wiped out, but I already had a pre-order set for an April release, so I went through that month and pushed myself to finish that book. Thankfully, this book wasn’t a “write to market” book. It was a passion project. I was venturing into new territory I was excited about. If it had been a “write to market” book, I don’t think I would have survived the month as well as I did. Because even though it was a passion project, my joy for writing had already been hit hard.

And yet, as I write this, my income is still dropping. Writing to market was not a long-term solution to my problem. It was a temporary one. I don’t know if it’s because the market is saturated, or if my readers from early on were tired of the new stuff I was doing (since it was not longer my passion projects), or if it’s because I never went into KU, but my income never did return to what I made in 2015. Ads had minimal effect, and quite frankly, with tax payments based on last year’s income, I don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of money on ads, which are the latest promotional tool. (I’m sure the effectiveness of ads will run out in due time, just like the effectiveness of free, $0.99, and other tactics have diminished over the years I’ve been indie publishing.)

Anyway, when I saw my efforts were not paying off, I asked myself, “Why am I pushing myself so hard?” And it all came down to money. I wanted to make more money writing books. But the thing was, I wasn’t making more money. I was making less.

Early this month, I caught myself thinking, “I hate writing. I wish I could leave the computer and never write another word for as long as I live.”

And that scared me. When I was in the 6th grade, I first discovered how fun reading was, and from there, I started writing. I had always loved writing. Up until 2015, I couldn’t imagine never writing because I loved it so much. When I died, I was hoping I could continue writing in Heaven. So when did it all stop? Looking back, I realized it became “work” in 2016 when I started to seriously write to market. I stopped taking story ideas I felt was risky. I was no longer putting myself into every story. I was playing it safe.

My stress level went through the roof. Whenever I wrote, I was asking myself, “Will someone object to this? Will someone give me a 1-star over that? Will someone stop buying my books because I put this in it?” Everything I wrote (with the exception of two books) revolved around what I thought the market wanted.

I didn’t realize I was paying attention to something Dean Wesley Smith calls “critical voice”. I just got through reading his book Writing into the Dark last week (scroll down the page to find it). Anyway, the book mainly tells writers how to write without plotting, but in it he mentions how harmful critical voice is to writing. And he’s right. Critical voice was in full control when I was writing to market. Critical voice stepped in and stopped me from pursuing books I really, really, really wanted to write because, “No one is going to buy it because of (insert reason here).”

I had a good list of things I had to avoid writing while I was focused on the market, and because of this, I ended up having to work within a narrow parameter of what my critical voice had told me was acceptable. I still picked things I was interested in, but I wasn’t able to go beyond the box I had put myself in. And that was slowly killing my creative voice. I didn’t even know this was happening. That was the scary part. It’s only now as I’m looking back that I can see what was going on. I shake my head and wonder, “How could I not see it?”

This is something all authors are probably going to have to come to terms with at some point. Yes, writing to market can yield high income. (I’ve seen writers do it.) But is it possible to do this for the long term? Can they keep producing these books in a way that is fresh and new? Can they keep doing this at breakneck speed?

This is a bit of a side note, but I’ve noticed that (at least on Amazon), in order to stay relevant, I had to get more books out. Romance authors are now putting out two or more books a month. I’ve seen a couple of authors doing one book a week. Yes, they’re novellas, but still…  And the other day, one author was going from one book a week to two books a week. How long can this momentum stay up? I’m a firm believer that it’s possible to write fast and write quality, but even I can’t see how going that fast is a manageable long-term strategy.  But I’m not the only one who noticed this trend on Amazon. Cait Reynolds did a post on Kristen Lamb’s blog called “Kindle Unlimited: Good Plan or KU Hamster Wheel of Death?” (The post is hilarious, especially with the hamster pictures.) I have this article on my desk and read it at least once a month to remind myself that KU (and Amazon) is built for speed. You must constantly have new books out to keep income up. And there’s a point where I can’t write any more books that I currently do each year.

So I need a long-term strategy because I want to love writing. I want to keep writing. And more importantly, I want to love what I’m writing. I want my passion back. I want my creative voice to flourish again. Just recently, I finally decided I’m going to stop writing to market. I have officially dropped out of the rat race. I’m going to start embracing projects that I can give my whole heart into. If it fits the market, fine. If not, fine. But I’m not going to let that critical voice rule over me anymore.

It was amazing how quickly this single decision changed things around for me. I took a few days to decompress and re-evaluate my life. I did a lot of self-reflection.  But within a week, something magical happened. I got the joy back. I got my passion back. Finally, I have fresh and new story ideas again. I have characters who are exciting to write about. I didn’t expect this to happen so fast, but it did.

And last week, for the first time since 2015, I wrote because I “wanted” to. I had no idea there was such a huge difference between writing because I “had” to and writing because I “want” to, but it’s a huge difference.

What about you? Have you had any revelations about your own writing lately?

22 thoughts on “I Had to Give Up Writing to Market in Order to Find My Passion Again

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 8:25 am

      Thanks! It’s great to enjoy writing again. 🙂

  1. Ron Fritsch April 20, 2018 / 12:43 am

    Ruth, I’m sorry to learn about your turmoil. I’ve never written “to market.” I know I couldn’t do it. I’m finishing up my seventh novel in eight years. I’ve always written stories I love. I’m extremely grateful when readers share my joy. If the numbers of those readers can’t be described as “great,” I simply don’t care. I never want to reach a point where I don’t want to write. Writing is my life.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 8:34 am

      I needed a kick in the pants to get back to what I love, so it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I hadn’t realized how much I had lost in pursuing what I believed the market wanted. All the buzz about making lots of money seems impressive on the surface, but what’s the point if you end up burning out and never wanting to write again?

      I think you’ve done it the best way for a longterm career of writing. You’ll keep your enthusiasm and the readers you have gained will be excited for each and every new book that comes out. I think readers would rather wait for our best quality work than to have us rush something they won’t enjoy.

  2. gippyhenry7 April 20, 2018 / 2:09 am

    Wow! Thanks for sharing this, Ruth, and sorry you had to go through all of that mindboggling, heart-rending pain in order to get where you are now. I am a fairly new writer with one book out there I was not able to market due to too much on my plate. Now, I just finished having a top professional editor go over it, I’m changing the title, cover, and a few other tweaks, but keeping the storyline and working on the sequel with plans to market this time.

    My problem though is not quite like yours. Mine is that I have a great urge to pretend there are not social media sites out there and sell my book like someone in the 1980s would have done. I just feel so stressed out with all that is involved financially, physically, and mentally with selling online. I know it will take longer offline, but I’m not writing my books to become rich. I’m writing because I love to write fiction and can’t get rid of the stories in my head or the characters, so why not share them? Sounds crazy, but true. So, I’m not sure what I’m going to do in the next month when the second edition will be ready to publish and must think long and hard, as you have done, to arrive at that decision.

    But I wish you well. And as a fellow author, a published poet, and professional fine artist, I know what ‘passion’ is and how important it is to our psyche–way more important than money. So please, don’t give it up.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 9:31 am

      I think getting the book edited and doing those tweaks you’re talking about (cover, title, etc) are all good moves because they best allow for the book to sell itself. I’ve never been good at the social media thing. I mean, I love to blog on my author blog, but I’m often writing posts that help me figure out what to do next in the book or to track my progress for my sake. So it’s not really “marketing”. As for Facebook and Twitter, I let people find and friend me. I don’t go out looking for them. I have a terrible time trying to come up with something I think my readers will be interested in. I have a friend who can tell the funniest stories about her every day life, so she naturally attracts people. She’s also good about rallying people around her. It’s a gift I don’t have. 🙂 I’m more low key. I’d rather let my stories do the marketing for me.

      And honestly, I see nothing wrong with that. Chasing after trends on the latest marketing craze and trying to talk people into reading my books don’t make me comfortable. They never have, and I don’t think they ever will. Looking back, I think it’s best to write the books we’re most passionate about and do those tweaks to get it the best it can be. Even if you were excellent at marketing, if you’re heart wasn’t in writing the story, will the reader figure that out? Will the reader get bored with the story? Will the reader realize it’s not our best and never buy another book? Turning a reader off by the poor quality of storytelling is something that a lot of marketing will never make up for.

  3. Lewington_Katie April 20, 2018 / 2:49 am

    I write poetry, which isn’t exactly the most marketable of genres. Especially as I write in a completely different style to the poetry that does sell. I have known, and supported, a few romance authors over the years. I’ve admired them from afar to be able to write books so regularly. I liked the insight behind that in your piece here. When it becomes a rat race you do have to reassess. I have had to do that recently with my own writing. As a writer you don’t want to start resenting the pen and paper!

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 6:57 pm

      Exactly. I was starting to resent the pen and paper, and that terrified me. The thing about the rat race is that it draws you in without you even realizing it (sometimes). I’m sure some writers know what’s happening. I didn’t. It was so subtle. All I kept thinking was, “If I can just select this type of plot or that hero type and then get it done quickly, I can get back to how I used to sell.” It made sense logically. But writers aren’t robots. We’re human. Emotions have a big impact on how well we’ll tell a story.

      I admire anyone who can write poetry. I tried my hand at it, but I wasn’t good. 🙂 It’s definitely a talent.

  4. Angela Verdenius April 20, 2018 / 8:44 am

    Ruth, thank you so much for this well-timed article. I, too, have been burning out and lost the joy of writing. After 40 books, believe it or not. There are other stories/genres I want to write in, too, but fear of change and possibly not success has kept me from doing it. I’m planning on changing that.

    Yes, I have noticed that some authors are producing mass amounts of books. I’m lucky to do 3 or 4 a year. I work a day job (as many of us do), and sometimes I get home exhausted and don’t want to do anything but flop in front of the TV and forget about everything. Apart from that, I loved writing, but I, too, have noticed my royalties steadily decreasing. I have tried everything from the 99cent specials, to the semi-permanent freebie, to marketing ads, and still I’m selling less.

    I think the time of lucrative selling for all might be over. There are so many free books out there now, so many specials, how can we compete? I know that sounds fatalistic…sorry. I understand about critics and writing from the heart. I ended up having to take a step back and take stock of everything. I cannot fight the tide of freebies and specials and over-flowing email campaigns. But what I decided to do was write from the heart, like you. To write what I want to write and get the love back. The other thing is I’m trying not to worry about what everyone else is writing and if I’m keeping up. I can’t keep up with some writers, I have a life outside writing and working, too, and I need to live life. I had to find a balance. I’m working through finding it now. I am an individual, living an individual life, and cannot base my writing successes and failures against other writers. It took me a long time to learn that, even longer to accept it.

    What I have started, though, is to revamp an old 18 book series with new covers, re-editing, new titles and some changes. They are a sci-fi romance series that sold well 18 years ago but barely sell one book a month now. So I pulled them and am re-editing them. It renewed my love of sci-fi romance. It gave me ideas. I also have new ideas for new stories starting to come back to me. Yes I’m stressed a little because I have nothing new out, and I don’t want to lose my readers, so my plan for the revamp has changed, too – instead of re-editing them all one after the either and trying to release 1 a month, instead I’m re-editing one book and then put out a new book, re-edit an old one, put out a new one, etc. And that plan can always change.

    That’s the other thing, trying not to tie myself into plans, but being flexible according to what is happening in my life. I’m trying so very hard to live by the motto – K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple Stupid. Makes me laugh to think of it, but slowly and surely, I’m getting the love for my writing back.

    So thanks again, Ruth. It’s so good to know I’m not the only one going through ups and downs and re-evaluating my writing. Your post is just what I needed right now.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 7:17 pm

      I found myself nodding through your entire comment because I get exactly what you’re saying. I’ve also been afraid to venture into other genres. I used to, and I found it boosted my creativity a lot. But they didn’t sell, which is why I stopped doing them. I’d like to get back to writing something new in another genre instead of putting up old stuff that I actually had through a vanity press (way back before KDP and Smashwords came along).

      I’m impressed that you write so much with a day job. I’ve only been able to do about eight books a year because I stay at home. If I were working, that number would go way down.

      The $0.99 and free books used to work very well. It’s a shame they don’t anymore because they made it far easier to market. I ran some ads. I never did do the Amazon ones because I heard you have to keep tweaking on your keywords and I didn’t have time for it. I didn’t do Facebook ads, either. But I’d run something on Freebooksy, Book Runes, The Fussy Librarian, and another one I can’t remember at the moment. I had a temporary bolt in sales, but nothing stuck. Those are good places to do a short-term promotion. But that’s just it. It was a short-term promotion. No matter what I did, sales kept going down, jut like with what you’re experiencing. It’s very disheartening.

      Lately, I decided to take some perma-free series starters off free. I ended up putting a price tag on half of them. Then I started to raise the prices on a couple of books. I think the days of cheap and free are coming to a close. I’m sure they’ll still be beneficial to a point, but I think it’s more important now to write compelling stories that readers can’t put down. I think if we do that, then readers will be invested in us so much that they want to buy our next book, regardless of the price. I’ve sampled some stuff in KU, and a lot of it isn’t any good. I think our advantage could be the quality of our work. We might not get massive page reads, but we can grow our core reader base who will tell others about our books. I know it’s a slower way to do things, but it might be more stable.

      Honestly, you’re not the only thinking the lucrative career as a writer is on its way out the door. I’ve been thinking that, too. I suspect we’ll still earn something from our books, but it’s hard to say how much. I don’t see how a fast-paced publishing schedule can be sustained for any writer for the long run. Authors I saw putting a book out a month last year have been putting out two or more books out a month this year. We can only write so fast. Sooner or later, something has to give.

      I completely agree with you on having a life outside of writing. I’ve been neglecting that. For the past two years, I’ve done very little apart from it, and it’s not healthy. As much as I love writing, I also need to do other things in order to stay balanced. I think giving ourselves that time off to do other things will help boost our creativity and give us greater enthusiasm for writing in the future.

      Personally, I love your plan for that 18 book series! Alternating between one of the old books and new books sounds like an awesome idea. I think your readers will like that.

      I had to chuckle at the K.I.S.S. thing. I need to remind myself to do that, too!

  5. Ken Knouse April 20, 2018 / 8:45 am

    Thank you for this post. It confirms what I have always believed and that is to write what you are passionate about. Writing has always been a journey of discovery for me. So my fiction reflects what is going on in my life at the time. Of course, I have never tried to make a living from my writing endeavors. But I have been self-employed in direct sales for forty years. My income has been dropping since 2015, just like yours. I sell online through a website and eBay. I suspect something in the search algorithms has changed, but who knows. The thing is, no matter how much or little income I have, I always seem to have what I need. Good luck with your new writing ventures and thanks again for sharing.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 7:39 pm

      What you’ve always believed is true. I wish I had been smart enough to realize this sooner. Something must have happened in 2015. I didn’t pay enough attention to figure out what was happening during that time. I have found it harder to find books on Amazon. It used to be easy to find something when I was looking for a topic. Now, a bunch of unrelated books tend to get into the mix. I give up on searching over there anymore. It’s a shame, too, because that has to be hurting authors with books that do fit what other readers are looking for.

      My main goal is to learn to live on less. I’m still working on this. I wish I had paid better attention to my spending habits in the past. I want to be at the place you are. 🙂

  6. M T McGuire April 21, 2018 / 5:22 am

    It’s great to hear from you again and I’m so glad you’ve rediscovered your Mojo. I have never been a successful author so although my earnings have dropped to about a third of what they were, it hasn’t made the kind of impact it might have done. I have tried to write to market but everything I produce ends up being humorous science fiction fantasy – usually with a romantic subplot somewhere.

    However there came a point where I had to accept that I was never going to be successful. I’ve never been able to write to market but the speed of production is also an issue for me. I’m not a fast worker and I have too many other duties which I cannot shirk, mother carer etc. The time these duties take is growing, my writing time is shrinking. I’ve done what I can and I can manage about 20 mins a day, which adds up to about 1,500 decent words a week. The frustration, the effort of trying to make time to write was killing me, then my lovely editor died half way through editing a 15k short and I felt all at sea. I decided I had to do something to turn it around or stop.

    So at the end of last year I sorted out my time management, plotted, made everything as efficient as I could. Next I took a cold hard reality pill! I had to accept that for all my ambitious zeal I will never earn anything approaching a living with my books, I will probably never break even because 20 minutes a day, two or three days a week maketh not a novel every three months. Indeed it maketh not even a novel every three years! I had also run out of cash. Completely. I have another book ready, that short, but I can’t afford the cover art yet.

    Strangely, instead of making me want to give up, I’ve found it kind of liberating. By having to step off the treadmill and away from all but the most minimal input to the business side of my writing, because there isn’t the cash or the time, I, too, have fallen in love with writing again. I still send out a newsletter, I still blog, because I enjoy those things. The rest is just … if I have time and if I don’t no worries. Sometimes I think we can get so close in to the business side of it all that we forget the sheer creative joy. I can still only write for 20 minutes each day two to four days a week but at least now I enjoy it, look forward to it with keen anticipation.

    So fist bump, go you! You are not alone!

    Cheers

    MTM

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 23, 2018 / 8:07 pm

      Hi MTM! It’s great to hear from you!!

      Oh man, only 20 minutes in a day would be rough to make any serious traction. You’re right, though. The most important thing is that you are getting the most joy out of those 20 minutes. When you’re feeling frazzled and not enjoying writing, 20 minutes can seem like a very long time. The business side is very draining. Some authors tell me they love that part more than writing. Personally, I hate the business side. I do it because I have to, but I’m going to do only what I want to do or what I absolutely need to.

      Like you, I love blogging, and I like doing the newsletters. It did upset me that I was no longer blogging over here. I used to come up with ideas all the time. It was scary when I couldn’t come up with anything, no matter how hard I try. I guess that’s what stressing over production and sales does. It forces the creative side to shrink.

      I’m sorry to hear your editor died. 😦 I adore mine. I would feel lost without her. I can see why that left you feeling the way you did. When you find a good editor, you also find a good friend.

      You know, it’s funny that losing money would end up being liberating for a writer, but I kind of felt this way, too, when I decided to stop worrying about my income. For the first time in a long time, I had to ask myself, “Since I’m still losing money, I should be writing stuff I really want to write.” I’m not sure where things will go from here, but I want to enjoy everything I write from this moment forward. You called the whole thing a treadmill, and that is a very accurate term for chasing after something we can’t control. We can’t make people buy our books. All we can do is write the best stories possible. 🙂

      • M T McGuire April 24, 2018 / 3:30 am

        ‘All we can do is write the best stories possible.’ This! All is ok now but yep its been a tough year.

        • Ruth Ann Nordin April 24, 2018 / 1:27 pm

          I hope the rest of the year gets easier for you!

  7. janetsyasnitsick April 23, 2018 / 11:18 pm

    I am glad you are again writing what you want. You were at peace when you did this, but the pressure of money took away your joy. I am happy you have your “joy” back. I do know how you feel, though, since I have to force myself to work on my latest work. This all is because of low sales and few recent reviews on book platforms. However, yesterday I heard from two people who said they really love my books, and today I received word my book is featured in a specialized-state paper. All of this brought me new life and vigor to again write. Remember there are many in your shoes. There just are not a lot of writers who will admit it. God bless.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 24, 2018 / 1:31 pm

      Knowing I’m not alone helps me to put things in the right perspective. It’s a shame more writers won’t admit it. But I guess they don’t want the critics to jump on them for being honest. It’s hard to be vulnerable, but I think it’s also freeing. I haven’t felt this good in a very long time.

      I’m glad those two people contacted you about your books, and that’s awesome about the state paper! I’ve been keeping you in my prayers. It’s nice to see how God is working for us. 🙂

  8. Lauralynn Elliott April 26, 2018 / 9:49 am

    It’s so good to be able to really know yourself and decide what you want. So many people don’t even realize what they’re doing and why they are unhappy.

    I can’t believe people criticized you for talking about losing income. That’s a serious thing, and if you were losing income at a different kind of job, they probably wouldn’t say anything. Writers get slammed all the time because I guess people think we’re supposed to just share everything for free. When so much work goes into something, the artist deserves to be paid a fair price. We don’t walk into a grocery store and get our groceries for free.

    • Ruth Ann Nordin April 28, 2018 / 2:30 pm

      I didn’t realize what I was doing for about two years. I knew I was trying to write faster and “smarter” by gearing my stuff to a market, but I had no idea I was running myself in a hamster wheel that got me nowhere, no matter how fast I wrote.

      If I were to lose income at a non-artistic job, people would be sympathetic. But for some reason, if you’re a writer, you are the one to blame because you didn’t write fast enough, write “better”, promote the books more, etc. It’s very easy to point the finger at a writer and blame them for doing something wrong when the fact very well may be that the market has become saturated and there was no way to sustain the phenomenal growth we had in the first part of this decade. This is the article that made things clear on what’s been happening: https://kriswrites.com/2017/12/06/business-musings-sustainability/. I think you might enjoy it. I was in manufacture mode and didn’t even know it. That was slowly killing me. I don’t think I could have done it for another year.

      People pay for things they value. Sadly, a lot of writers, and other creatives, aren’t valued enough.

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