Pub Rants

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In fifteen years of researching and writing articles for Pub Rants and the NLA newsletter, I’ve never seen an agent tackle this topic. Many newsletter readers subscribe solely for tips and insights on how to land an agent and fulfill their publishing dreams. But what happens to all those writers—and there are many—who landed the dream and then decided it wasn’t right for them? What made them choose to leave this career?

As an agent who has responded “no” to tens of thousands of writers over the last twenty years, I definitely understand that aspiring writers spend a lot of time and energy on the beginning of the journey. The first steps are mastering writing craft, landing that perfect concept, writing and finishing the novel, and then investing countless hours finding an agent or publisher. I won’t even touch on the hundreds of rejections writers face during this process. Writers in the throes of submissions probably find it mind-boggling that someone who got in the door would turn around and walk back out. Why would a published (and in many cases, successful) author deliberately choose to no longer be an author? Here are six reasons given by authors I’ve known and worked with, and these reasons can be illuminating for aspiring writers.

“I’m a one-book author.”

Some writers have only one book in them. This is not an issue of having too few ideas; it’s simply that these authors said what they came to say, and that was enough. Once their book is published, their dream is fulfilled. Other one-book writers came out of the gate with a literary masterpiece, and either they feel no need to try to top it, or they know how harshly their sophomore effort will be judged by critics and readers. Either way, the one-book masterpiece can feel like a good place to stop and turn to other pursuits.

“My career has run its course.”

One of my authors published five successful novels and one work of nonfiction in a hot trend of the time. When that trend ended, other stories simply didn’t interest her, and other exciting non-writer career opportunities beckoned. She hung up her pen with no regrets. 

“I’m uncomfortable in the spotlight.”

Very few authors can pull a Salinger these days and be both famous and reclusive. Today’s writers are expected to build and maintain a public presence on social media and show up in-person at major events. One of my authors, a private individual, felt constantly exhausted by this expectation. When this author had one tweet go viral, the sudden spotlight made this person rethink the whole writing-career path. With the completion of the publishing contract, this author decided that the publicity side of writing as a career was a deal breaker. 

“The publishing industry is a mess.”

Currently, many conversations are being held in the internal sphere about lack of representation of BIPOC and other marginalized voices. Change is happening, but like all things in publishing, it’s happening at a snail’s pace. For a lot of authors of color, it’s too little, too late. After several mediocre publishing experiences (no marketing budget for the release, odd shelving in bookstores—why would a fiction title be shelved in African American Studies?), I personally know several authors of color who chose to set aside their pens.

“Life got in the way.”

Some authors loved the dream and experienced extraordinary success only to have personal tragedy, illness, or other trials play the trump card. Writing careers sometimes get sacrificed so the author can simply survive. 

“It’s time to retire.”

As hard as it may be to believe, after a long career, some hardworking writers are just ready to rest. People get tired, and that can make the dream less dreamlike.

When that moment happens, it takes courage and strength to recognize, acknowledge, and embrace the end of this life chapter. Just on the other side lies contentment, freedom, and maybe even happiness. 

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

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9 Responses

  1. ReTexa said:

    Do you ever have clients give up because they aren’t making enough money to justify the amount of time/efforr on their part in creating/marketing a book?

    1. Kristin Nelson Post author said:

      I personally have not. That is because my clients don’t pursue publishing because they think it’s going to be a lucrative financial endeavor. Now, happily, it is often an end result for many of my clients. Just never an initial goal.

  2. James said:

    It’s a scary thought, but for many writers, writing is a way of dealing with neurosis perhaps, especially fiction writing. Writing can be a form of self-psychoanalysis, and when writers get all their Freudian analysis figured out on paper, maybe there is nothing more to write. Scary thought, because what do you do next.

  3. Faye Hollins-Moore said:

    I have been trying to get a literary agent to represent me for over 30 years and suffered their dismissals. In the meantime, I’ve written for a major publisher, was a columnist for a major newspaper, written three books (on Amazon) and three plays (and a member of the prestigious Dramatist Guild of America). I actually have come to believe an agent would have gotten in my way.

  4. Mary Jane said:

    I am exhausted because of the ridiculous query instructions which vary from publisher to publisher. Too many letters end up in the slush pile for ridiculous incidentals such as salutation mistakes, or “if it’s Tuesday, you should have chosen a different font”. I have even written a short story about this subject. It’s a thriller. But, I had to pay to get it read by a publisher when I to entered it in a contest. Writing is an expensive and time consuming head banging ordeal.
    I do love Kristins ‘site as well as others but, I’m discouraged when I read it. Three self published books under my belt, two are Honorable Mentions in book contests but wow, I paid to have them read which is bribery. Just sayin’.

  5. Steven Mayfield said:

    My agent retired, and as she was a sole proprietor, I’m in the wilderness again. I have a publisher, so perhaps I don’t need an agent, but I’m still fascinated by the challenge of writing the shortest query possible so as to not waste an agent’s time on their way to rejecting me. My goal is three words or less. It’s like Name That Tune without the prizes or home version. 🙂 P.S. I actually love agents. I’m just a smart-ass.