Vanishing Authors

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have likely seen me comment over the years about why so many authors (mostly working in the indie or self-published arenas) seem to vanish from social media and other writer forums. As I have also commented, I have had a few ideas as to why this happens, but no real facts to back things up. At least until now…

I took the chance recently to have some of the marketing types in my organization actually look into the apparent phenomena, and I’d like to say that the results were surprising. Sadly, however, they weren’t at all unexpected.

Before we get to the reasons, let me tell you a little about the data used…

My staff looked at historical data from both Twitter and FaceBook taken from a total of just under 500 accounts. These accounts are those held by myself and a number of other authors the company works with that cover a number of pen names as well as accounts of the corporation/staff plus a good number of accounts of other people in the publishing industry who allowed us access. The data went back 45 months from December of 2018. What we looked at were writers who appeared (or were already on) FaceBook and Twitter and then, at some point, more or less vanished. We waded through the posts of these vanishing authors and, when possible, contacted them in order to find out what happened to them. People for whom we could not determine a reason for their dropping away were discarded from the data pool. Overall, we found out what happened to more than 6,000 writers.

Here is a summary of the results:

Still Writing – <1% – Most of the time, these writers changed pen names and simply abandoned their old name. Maybe not the best decision from a business point of view, but it explains what happened to this small group.

Stopped Writing – >99% – The major reasons why they stopped include:

Deceased – <0.5%

Not making enough money to justify the time spent – >70%

Ran out of money (bankrupt in some cases) – >4%

Ran out of story ideas – <8%

Terminal Writer’s Block – >7%

Lack of motivation to continue – >8%

Assorted other issues – >1.5%

In all honesty, in my mind, I tend to roll line-items 4, 5, and 6 into a single group. They are all very closely related and deal with the creative process itself. This larger group accounts for about 24% of the total. If you toss in line-items 1 and 7 as well, you’re at about 25%. I think it’s safe to say that a quarter of the authors who quit writing did so because of failures in the creative process of writing a story.

The troubling part is found in line-items 2 and 3. Again, I think these can be lumped together as they both come down to not making enough money to continue writing. As you can see, about 75% of all authors who stopped writing in the study period did so because it was not profitable to continue.

Sadly, this is the very reason I suspected for the attrition in the ranks of authors. Also sadly, this is something my company and I hear nearly every day from authors looking for a partnership to increase their income.

The pitch from the writer usually goes something like: “I’m putting in every spare minute writing, and I think I’m pretty good. For a typical book, by the time I pay an editor, cover artist, preparation software costs, and the other essentials, I end up going a hundred or more dollars in the hole on the book. For a really good seller where I do make some money, I end up working for about $1 an hour. I just can’t make it this way!”

And they are 100% correct.

Technically, any business can go forever on a break-even basis. You never get ahead that way, but you won’t go bankrupt, either. I suspect there are some writers who are OK with breaking even and just keeping their head above water. I’ll bet dollars to donuts that most writers want to turn at least a little profit. And I’ll equally bet that there is a rather significant percentage of authors who want to actually make a living writing.

The good news is that there are ways to turn a profit. In fact, there are ways to turn a large enough profit to make a full-time living as a writer. There is one thing you need to do in order to reach the level of a full-time, professional author…

Change how you you think. Writing professionally is a business, plain and simple. As soon as you REALLY start thinking of your writing as a business, your entire outlook will change…and it will change in ways that will facilitate your professional growth.

One of the biggest changes you will see is the need for help. You will need a person (or company) out there to help you not only place your stories but to help you write them. A traditional literary agent will help somewhat, but a real representative will help even more. Some of you may have tried to hook up with an agent already, so you know how hard that can be. Getting a true representative is several orders of magnitude more difficult. A couple of things to keep in mind: If an agent picks you up, you likely have a lot of promise as a writer; If a representative even CONSIDERS picking you up, you absolutely have a TON of promise as a writer.

The other huge change most writers will need to make is learning to let go. This is particularly true if you hope to sell a story for video production…just as an example, you might spend four pages describing Mary’s office in a book, but the screenplay will say, “Bob walks into Mary’s office.” The point here is that you need to understand that things are not under your total control. And sorry, folks…that almost always ends up making the story better and worth more money.

We are in a world of side-hustles today…people doing two, three, or more jobs, and doing them all fair and none of them well. And writing is no different. I see writers all the time who are working two “real” jobs and writing in their so-called free time. And frankly, this side-hustle mentality shows. Between books I personally read (and I read very fast) and books my staff reads and provide a synopsis (think of a sort of Cliff Note for corporations) to me, I see well over a hundred books a month. On average I would guess that about 97 of them will make your eyes bleed, 2 of them are at least readable, and only 1 is passable. I would guess that I see maybe 1 or 2 books a year that are actually good.

But let’s get to the money shot…

Ask yourself one very simple question: Do you want to make a living as an author?

If the answer is “No”, then just keep going as you are now. Everything will be fine, and besides, what can possibly go wrong?

If, however, the answer is “Yes”, then you need to change how you think about your chosen career.

To make a long story short, get off your ass and do something!!

Keep Loving!

1 comment

  1. I think most of us “do what we do” because we cannot help but do it. When I first started out, it was just to connect/share stories with friends and family, and then later I wanted to share with the world. Yes, one must think of our craft as a business. That means not grumbling while marketing and doing other things that keep us from writing, but, ultimately, help our business grow.
    Thanks for sharing this helpful information.

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