Watching the US presidential campaign unfold has made me think a lot about giving up.
Specifically, how do we as authors know when there’s a wrong time and a right time to give up on our writing careers?
Giving up is a topic that’s often brought up in the Savvy Writers’ Snug group that I run on Facebook. Maybe an author hasn’t been re-contracted due to low sales figures, or they can’t get a new contract.
They will post and ask the question: is it time to give up, or should I persevere regardless?
It’s tempting to tell these authors not to give up. And many people do. But it’s more nuanced than that and the two presidential candidates can give us an interesting insight into just how nuanced.
First, take the president-elect, Joe Biden. This isn’t the first time he’s tried to become president. The last two times were in 1988 and 2008, but for various reasons, he didn’t make it. That’s over 30 years riding the political rollercoaster of ups and downs, with personal tragedies in-between too.
Most people would have given up.
But not Biden and now he finally has what he’s been striving for all this time, despite all the obstacles and stumbles along the way.
Now take Donald Trump. He too sought office before becoming president in 2016, just once in 2000 when he created what he called a ‘presidential exploratory committee’. But for the purposes of this article, let’s look at right now and how he’s reacted to losing the presidency. Is he giving up? Hell no! Despite all the facts telling him otherwise, Trump is persevering by constantly insisting he won the election and launching lawsuits too.
You could say that like Biden, Trump refuses to give up.
But the truth is, Trump's form of perseverance is completely different from Biden’s. Apart from the obvious – it’s deluded and not based in fact – it is a blind kind of tenacity which refuses to bend or adapt to reach a goal. He is going down a straight road of litigation and refusing to veer off or adapt his message, which is: voter fraud and I won.
Biden, however, did veer off track, adapting to change when needed. For example, after witnessing the summer’s racial tensions in the US, he made what some deemed a controversial decision by taking on Kamala Harris as his running mate, a key figure in the civil rights movement.
He also adapted his campaign as the horror of the pandemic unfolded, running it entirely online despite all his natural instincts telling him to be out there, hand-shaking and hugging, something he's known for.
This is what makes the difference between the two types of 'not giving up'. On one hand, you have someone who is so stuck in their ways, you can pretty much guarantee they'll have the rug pulled out from beneath them eventually. Then the other version, someone with a flexible realistic approach which ultimately, will offer them the best chance of success.
How does this apply to authors?
There will come a time in most authors’ lives when they will feel a sense of hopelessness. Maybe it’s because of declining sales or they’ve been dropped by their publisher. When authors share their worries and ask their peers whether it's time to give up, the natural instinct of other authors is to always say don’t give up. Sure, take a break but persevere, it’s a long game! All it takes is one breakout book to finally get there, just as all it took was one election victory for Biden.
And I get it! I have my own story of nearly giving up after I received nearly a hundred rejections from agents. In the end, I didn’t and thank God for that! Same with Joe Biden (ha! Look at me comparing my experience with the president-elect!). Imagine if he’d given up, he would have missed out on finally achieving his dream of being president.
But blindly telling an author not to give up can do them a disservice. First, we need to question how they're dealing with any obstacles in their way. Are they just ploughing on with what they’ve always done, despite all the signs telling them it’s not going to work, as Trump is doing? Or are they willing to adapt and change like Biden is?
The truth is, if an author is not selling enough books to keep them in contract, something needs to give. They need to change, to adapt, to experiment. And yes, that can mean switching genre.
But many authors aren’t willing to do this. They argue that they must 'write from the heart' otherwise what’s the point? They tell themselves that their readers, even if there are a small number of them, love their work, after all. Plus they got a publishing deal, didn’t they? Surely, that tells them they have some talent.
Absolutely! All of this shows an author has some kind of talent. But in this business, talent alone isn't enough. It just isn't! Truth is, if an author isn't bothered about having a long-term career in writing – and by career, I mean earning enough money from their writing to focus on it part-time or full-time – then they should crack on. It might work. You hear the stories of it working when a genre suddenly takes off.
But these cases are few and far between. The truth is, a few months down the line, an author in this position will probably find themselves still struggling to keep afloat as they continue to write into the void, telling themselves it’s fine because it’s what their heart desires, when the truth is, despite telling themselves over and over as long as they're writing from the heart, they're happy, in reality they find themselves steeped in misery as their writing career stalls.
What makes me so sad as I watch this happen is they haven’t even tried another way. Not properly anyway. They’ve assumed it just won’t work. They haven’t played and experimented with genre to see if another glove might fit just as beautifully as the first. It doesn’t even have to be a complete change. I was writing women’s fiction but when sales struggled, I decided to make it a little darker That doesn’t mean I still don’t dabble with the lighter women’s fiction I once wrote in the background too.
The key is making tweaks before your refusal to give up just results in you having the choice taken from you, like no doubt Trump will find happens in the coming weeks.
So what if you're reading this and you're at that crossroads now? My advice is, don’t blindly plough on. Instead, become informed enough to twist and turn with the tide of publishing and who knows? You might not be President of the United States, but you sure as hell might be able to save your chances of the successful writing career you dream of.