The Endangered Author

There are many kinds of creative writing, for personal enjoyment to the type for which you are paid. As an agent earning a living selling book proposals to traditional publishers, I evaluate everything based both on whether it fits the type of content I want to represent, but also if it is commercially viable for those publishers.

 Depending on where you are on the spectrum as an author, maybe some parts of this post today won’t be for you, but maybe some of the principles will apply, so you can make the connections to fit your situation.

Here is how you can tell if you are in trouble as an author. This includes both traditionally published and self-published authors.

The process of writing is distasteful

At the point you don’t enjoy the entire process of writing, reviewing, editing, honing, crafting, re-writing, reviewing again, re-editing, re-honing (is this a word?), and so on, you are in trouble as an author.

For successful authors, the writing process is the place where they feel most alive and energized. If this is the worst part of the process for you, you might need to take a break or move on to some other line of work.

You can’t think of anything to write

Inspiration is never on a schedule, however some would assert “writer’s block” is common only for those who have another means of financial support. Maybe desperation is the mother of creativity.

There are relatively simple remedies helping you push past temporary creative blocks. But a chronic lack of any ideas to write about could be an indicator writing books may be coming to an end for you. God is infinite, topics to write about are not.

Readers are a Pain in the Neck…or Worse

This is probably the greatest indicator of trouble. This would be like a human hating the air they breathe. Readers give good and poor reviews. They encourage and discourage. Some find your writing helpful and some find it pointless and tell you in no uncertain terms. Supporters can be silent and critics vocal.

An author’s relationship to readers can be complicated, and can easily wind its way to feelings of dislike. Still, authors need readers for better or worse.

Price is the most compelling reason to acquire your book

No product or business can sustain itself for long if the primary reason it exists is because it is cheap or free. Stores can offer price reductions for a short-term promotion in an attempt to cause increased interest, but if price is the compelling reason to buy anything, trouble is brewing.

Free eBooks have given false information to authors who consider 5,000 free downloads as “selling” their book because of high reader interest. Authors would be depressed if they knew what percentage of those 5,000 actually read any part of their book. It could be less than 10%. Maybe closer to 1% or less.


So what do you do? Some suggestions to dealing with the above danger signs:

  1. Be a prayer partner with another writer and help them walk through the rough patches of the writing process. Helping someone else is one of the best ways to work through your tough moments.
  2. Be open to leading from others about what to write. Don’t dismiss the possibility God could be communicating to you through another person. Ideas can come from anywhere…even strangers. Or strange agents.
  3. Pray for your readers. It will calm your emotions and transform your perspective.
  4. Charge a reasonable price (not the cheapest or the most expensive) for your work, but always be open to be generous to a person who cannot afford it. The solution is not to make it “all about the money,” but recognize a proper balance and place for good financial stewardship in your work. Household bills require dollars to pay them, not units.

Turning a potential problem into a positive is always a good approach. Summer is coming, go ahead and make some lemonade from the lemons.


13 Responses to The Endangered Author

  1. Avatar
    Rebekah Dorris May 9, 2017 at 4:27 am #

    Ah, how I needed this well-placed kick at this moment as I sneaked over here to read something good rather than buckle down and write. Procrastination stinging, I’m off to write. And I’ll enjoy it! God bless 🙂

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    John May 9, 2017 at 5:28 am #

    Dan! Once again, your post has challenged and encouraged. You’re the best!

  3. Avatar
    Henry Styron May 9, 2017 at 5:28 am #

    Thank you, Dan. Some thought-provoking insights.

    It’s said of being a pastor, “if you can imagine yourself doing anything else for a living, you probably shouldn’t be a pastor.” That’s a simplification, but there’s some truth to it.

    The same might be said of being a writer, I would think.

  4. Avatar
    Connie Almony May 9, 2017 at 6:24 am #

    I guess I need to keep writing …
    1) It is not only NOT distasteful (I know, double-negative), it is the thing that keeps me going. Having been in the middle of what I call the “Double-A sandwich generation” (having a parent with Alzheimers and a child with severe autism), I have needed the time spent in my right brain to keep me sane. Unfortunately, those two things have come to a head over the last two years, limiting the time available for writing-related activities.
    2) My mind is FILLED with stories to tell and characters to tell about! When I get “writer’s block” it’s more a bottle-neck of too many thoughts trying to get out of a small window of time to be released.
    3) Though I’ve been grieved by reviews—mostly those who claim to be Christian and seem to lack the desire to understand those not raised like themselves (thankfully, these are few)—I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of readers who crave to know more about the type of people with whom Jesus would have spent time. I have also been blessed by emails from readers who have been through the types of scenarios I’ve written about and thank me for writing compassionately about them. But Dan, you are right, I should pray for the others as well. Likely, they have a veil over their eyes which is stunting their spiritual growth as well, and need something to lift it.
    4) Price? I’d agree that the number of free downloads is not an indicator that you have arrived as an author! However, the long tail that may or may not come after that glut of free downloads might. Free downloads is only a cheap way to make some of your writing visible, with the hope it will lead to further sales of other books. Having said that, if you are independently wealthy, and feel a ministerial call to get your words out to everyone regardless of the cost, even a number of free downloads alone can be considered a success, but only if those books are actually opened and read (another question mark.). For me, NOT being independently wealthy, I’d like some income to reimburse my investment in the process . I’d suspect most reading this blog would as well.
    And yet, even if I made no money, I’d still write. If I didn’t, I think my head would explode—whether literally or metaphorically, I’m still not sure . And I don’t want to find out.
    So I’ll keep writing.

  5. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser May 9, 2017 at 7:00 am #

    Interesting post, Dan.

    I find that I don’t enjoy writing any more than Eustace Scrubb enjoyed having his dragon-scales removed by Aslan in “The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader”. The more I do, the more each word I write becomes something of a moral scourge, forcing me to turn on the lights in the dark places, and face the monsters that growl and slaver therein.

    It’s not fun to write, but it’s great to have written. I think Hemingway said that. Or maybe Shakespeare.

    And new ideas? I don’t worry about them, much as I never worried about finding accommodations on a long trip by automobile. Something will turn up, and I take as my example the lilies of the field.

  6. Avatar
    Edward Lane May 9, 2017 at 7:23 am #

    Hi Dan,
    Excellent blog!

  7. Avatar
    Carol Ashby May 9, 2017 at 7:39 am #

    There are definitely seasons in life, Dan. Seven years ago, if you’d told me I’d often be up at 2 am writing on my novel because I couldn’t quit until that scene was complete, I’d have asked if you’d been eating too many brownies in Colorado. Now, I happily work 10+ hours each day on my writing, split between the novels, articles for my history site, and my blog. I have at least 4 more years of plots already in my mind. After that? Who knows what God will call me to do. That’s part of the fun of life. You never know when He’ll open a door and call you through it. The fun of retirement is the freedom to pour your full energy into whatever that call is.

  8. Avatar
    Melissa Henderson May 9, 2017 at 7:52 am #

    Thank you for this helpful message. 🙂

  9. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D May 9, 2017 at 9:35 am #

    Dan, thank you for this helpful information that really made me think about my goals as a writer- they include helping others (I write self-help books), leading others to Christ (I present the gospel in my books), and making a living from writing.

  10. Avatar
    Terrance Leon Austin May 9, 2017 at 3:33 pm #

    Thanks Dan.?

  11. Avatar
    Peggy Booher May 9, 2017 at 3:55 pm #

    Thanks for this post; it gives me a lot to think about.

  12. Avatar
    Nancy Bailey May 9, 2017 at 7:22 pm #

    Your article was both inspiring and a kick in the pants. Thank you. I just finished my novel. It went live the end of April. I am ready to go again. Thanks.

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