Publishing Is a Career

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Oct 11 2010

how realistic is it to expect that after publishing i can leave the publishing world for a few years, ie. have no connection at all to what i have written, as if it never happened, and then to return after 3-4 years and continue writing? would you accept that and still take my second book?

I will admit, this question annoyed me just a little. Not that it was asked; I always appreciate any question being asked, because if someone is brave enough to ask, fifty others are thinking of it. No, I’m annoyed because it hints at the belief that I think many have, that writing a book and getting published is a lark, something you do because you had a little spare time, and that it’s easy.

I don’t get why you’d write a book and then disappear. I also don’t get why you wouldn’t want to do anything to support the publication of the book, because it sounds to me like you aren’t interested in doing anything. Not a website, not a book signing, nothing. While my answer doesn’t even please me, the truth is that it is possible. If you write a really great book and someone wants it, there’s no rule that says you need to stick around and “own” that book.

That being said, I don’t think I’d want to represent someone who pitches their book to me in this way. But of course, if the book is magical, amazing, and wows the pants off me, I guess I wouldn’t be able to turn it down, either.

As for returning to continue writing at a later date, how well you can do that is going to depend entirely on how well your first book did, because even though you don’t want any connection to it, if you plan on using the same name, you’re connected. If you really want no connection, I guess you never have to admit you wrote it.

To sum up, it’s possible, tricky but possible. And it doesn’t sit well with me.


48 responses to “Publishing Is a Career”

  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Think how fricken difficult it is getting your first book published and then having to come back 3-4 years later and trying to do it again?? Horrors! It's going to be tough enough getting number 2 and 3 written and sold?

    I think you hit the nail on the head in that this biz tends to attracts amateurs and genteel types who really only drag the whole thing down

  2. My first thought was the writer is getting sent up the river for three to five.


  3. Avatar Kimber An says:

    I can understand a death in the family or maybe the birth of triplets throwing off a writing career for a while, but it is so stinking hard just to get one book published. Then, it's really hard to get people to buy it. And then you have to come back with an even more awesome book to build that career.

    I say it's not a good idea to pursue publication until you're darn sure you're emotionally and logistically ready to do it. Took me four years to get where I am now. I was thankful someone advised me, "Treat it like a job or it never will become one." I hasten to add, it won't stay one either.

  4. Avatar Pippa Jay says:

    I can't believe someone who writes would consider having nothing to do with their own book for 3-4 years. Are they planning to go into suspended animation or move to the Moon? If they've been lucky enough to get published on that first book, surely that is all the more incentive to keep with it. Or if you are so disinterested in writing and your own book, surely publishing isn't the life for you? I'm bewildered!

  5. Avatar MadDabbler says:

    Taking all of Jessica's comments and agreeing, I have to add that I can't imagine writing a book and then just giving up writing. That makes it sound like you don't take your work seriously (and writing is *work*). If you achieve the goal of being agented, your work sells and then you're published, why in the world would you want to disappear? I'd have half my next book written, at least, I'd be begging for a book tour, and promoting it so that my reader base didn't forget ME.

    I have worked too hard to get where I am today (with agents reading right now). If I earn representation by the number one agent on my list and get published, I'll be living a dream and you'd have to pry it out of my cold, dead fingers to make me quit. My next novel is 1/3 of the way finished on that hope alone.

    Sorry for the mini-rant. I just can't imagine putting in the work of writing a novel then quitting for any length of time. Seriously consider the consequences of walking away from such a rich opportunity, even if only for a little while.

    I'm curious–are you expecting the novel to financially support you during your break?

  6. I guess it depends on each individual we are all different pple. unfortunately or furtunately the pple who can walk away are often the ones hailed as geniuses because they are partly elusive and we all want what we can't have.

  7. Avatar planetpooks says:

    What an odd question. Perhaps I'm being presumptuous, but it sounds as if that person considers this first effort "slumming," perhaps in a genre they don't want their "real" career associated with later.

    With that attitude, it's hard for me to imagine them writing something so special you couldn't turn it down. A writer has to love and respect their work for it to be truly good, and that would include pride of ownership and not embarrassment or disdain.

  8. Avatar K.L. Brady says:

    My first book just sold in May (written in 2008/2009), and I'm now finishing up my third novel and ready to get started on the fourth. I have notebooks full of ideas that will keep me writing steady for the next 3 to 5 years (2 books a year).

    It seems almost arrogant for an author to think he or she could kick out a book and then leave the industry for 3-4 years and come back…right where they left off. Even if you could, why would you want to? Don't you want to reach and grow your audience? Don't you want to grow as a writer and learn the business?

    If that's not on the author's mind, I wonder why they'd even bother.

  9. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I've actually done it.

    Not because I thought getting published was a lark, but because realistically, most authors who manage to get a book taken on by a major publisher will only make a few thousand dollars. I'm one of those.

    That means doing something else to put food on the table, and if that something else is also a career that deserves to be taken seriously, well, then, you take it seriously.

    I know others who have done the same. Without agents, though. I can see where an agent might object. The hard part is selling yourself all over again every time.

  10. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Wait a minute folks.
    You are all acting like there is nothing else in life BUT writing. Being sent to combat, illness, and yes triplets, eldercare all kinds of things can preempt a writers second, third, or forth attempt after success. All kinds of things might make us step back. Why assume arrogance or slumming as a reason for the question. Be civil.
    Why such a question would set someone off regarding the profession of writing is beyond me.

    Ah…up the river doing 3 to 5 is a great opportunity, by the way, to finish the next novel

  11. Avatar Averil Dean says:

    Not WRITE? For three or four YEARS? Is that even possible? I can't make it three or four days – it would require a superhuman effort for me to abstain that long.

  12. Avatar sue harrison says:

    I (sort of) had that happen in my writing career. It wasn't by choice and it wasn't after the first book. It was after the sixth (seventh if you count a small commercial press middle reader book.) My first six books were published by big houses (Doubleday, then William Morrow/HarperCollins; Avon paperbacks – Mother Earth Father Sky, et. al.)in the US and in 12 languages besides English. They sold about 2 million copies, not counting book club sales. Then the fall…

    1. My orginal agent retired after 9/11.
    2. My genre(prehistoric) pretty much died and HarperCollins requested no more of that type of book.
    3. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and the family decided that I should be her and my father-in-law's caregiver. I decided they were right.

    Okay, this is 9 years later. My mother-in-law has passed away. I am writing for the CBA market(romance/mystery), after attempts in the literary and historical that didn't pan out. And I'm trying very hard to find an agent who will take a chance on a "new" writer.

    All this to say that sometimes LIFE happens. You don't quit writing when you're a writer, but you might have only ten minutes between diapers and feedings and bottom washings, cooking and cleaning to write. You might finish two (or five!) novels that agents feel are well written, but not marketable. And still, YOU DON'T GIVE UP!!

    But it's VERY TOUGH to start over.

  13. Examples of authors who left their first books, for whatever reason, and came back later: James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton..

  14. Avatar Sheila Cull says:

    WHY publish and leave? Laugh out loud, I so agree Jessica.

  15. Avatar K.L. Brady says:

    For my part, I'm not looking down on the person. I was thinking of reasons beyond health and family reasons. Of course anyone could understand that.

    I'm a single Mom with an autistic son, a real estate agent part-time, I have a full-time job as a contractor for the military, and I still take the whole writing thing pretty seriously. I promote, I write, I work my tail off. From my perspective, if you're truly dedicated, you find a way to make it work and you put your heart into it.

    When I say arrogance, I guess I don't think so much of my writing to think that I can ride the wave of my "success" for four years without putting work behind it. I just couldn't fathom it, knowing how fickle the industry is.

  16. Interesting post, Jessica. For myself, I can't imagine giving up writing for that long, and I imagine it would be harder to reenter the market after leaving.

    To Anonymous 9:27am: I think you're looking at writing as an absolute or nothing viewpoint. Many people with day jobs and demanding careers do write and get published. You're right, many times the books won't bring enough money to live on, but you CAN have a day job/career/life and still budget your writing time.

    It sounded from your post like you thought it was a choice you had to stick to: day job or writing, not both. So many people do both. Busy parents take notebooks and jot down outlines during soccer games. Check out getting an alphasmart or NEO – these are lightweight word processors that allow you to write and then transfer the info into your computer later.

    I have a day job and my ideal times to write are lunch hours with my alphasmart, and weekend mornings 7-10 a.m. Sometimes the weekend hours can get extended; it depends on life and schedule. Even if you only have 30 minutes a day, which you take in 2 separate 15-minute increments, you can write something…all tiny steps that lead to a novel.

    You can do both. I hope you realize that.


  17. Avatar Simon says:

    I want to second (and third) a couple of previous commenters and say there could be legitimate and involuntary reasons for being away from the publishing industry for a few years. Physical or mental illness could easily make it difficult or impossible to stay involved, and even to write. I don't think it's fair to assume this is a situation that could ONLY arise from an author not being serious about writing.

    You never know what someone is dealing with in his or her personal life.

  18. Avatar Rosemary says:

    As someone who came to the writing life late, I have the perspective of middle age (one of its few compensations!) and I'd like to second wry writer's comment. I can imagine lots of valid reasons a writer would have to step back for a while, and maybe not one of his or her choosing. It's one thing if the questioner really thinks she can just waltz in and out of publishing, but it's quite another if there's a compelling reason to have to put her writing aside. (And Working Stiff, just think how much time she'll have in prison to write!)

    In any case, there's an cool premise for a novel here: One Book Wonder leaves the publishing scene for mysterious reasons, and has to claw her way back. . .any takers?

  19. Avatar MadDabbler says:

    Don't get me wrong, please. I know life happens. Do I think you write around life's catastrophes? Yep. I've managed it. Does that mean you give up your life to write? Nope. It's all about balance. But I don't think that's the question here at all. I understand it to be: if I *voluntarily* abandon a newly published book, can I come back?

    That's the point that got to me.

  20. Avatar planetpooks says:

    wry writer–

    My reaction was to:

    ie. have no connection at all to what i have written, as if it never happened,

    I admitted I was being presumptuous to jump to a negative conclusion and understand that there can be many reasons someone takes a break from publishing. I did it myself.

    It's the seeming desire to distance from one's work and not claim it that is odd to me.

  21. Avatar Karen Schwabach says:

    Sue Harrison, I just want to tell you how much I enjoyed your Mother Earth, Father Sky books. I was teaching in a Yup'ik village on the Bering Sea coast of Alaska at the time I read them, and was really, really impressed by your research.

    Most people writing about Alaska get a lot of stuff wrong. You did not.

    (I also noticed quite a bit of mutual comprehensibility between modern Central Yup'ik and the proto-Aleut spoken by your characters.)

    I also appreciated the way that your characters could form opinions about each other which turned out to be dead wrong– just like IRL.

    Writing's been an on-again, off-again thing for me too. Real life does intervene. And right now, when it's harder to sell than ever, I expect a lot of writers are turning back to the day job.

  22. Avatar Anonymous says:


    Perhaps some people can. I personally don't have the mental energy, after a day dealing with a classroom full of hyperactive children, to turn out anything of publishable quality.

  23. Avatar Victoria says:

    I think those of us who are irritated by the writer's question are responding not to the 'time off or away from writing' idea, but other parts of the letter.

    1 – Why would you PLAN to take off three or four years after achieving publication, during which you plan to have nothing to do with your published work? I agree that it sounds… arrogant.

    2 – How can you have the nerve to ask an agent to take you on, in that case? If your work is so good that you can afford to take three years between books, during which you not only don't write, but you don't promote your work at all, then you probably don't need an agent.

    The irritating part of the letter is that those of us who work hard – who live and dream and bleed writing – can't imagine achieving publication and then just… walking away, then come back when you bloody well feel like it.

    Life happens and forces people to take a break sometimes, but this feels like the letter writer is planning to write when it's convenient. Here's a hint, it is NEVER convenient!

  24. Not to play devil's advocate, but I can see this legitimately for several different viewpoints. Even though it doesn't apply to me.

    First, although it was inferred, I see no direct indication that they disassociated themselves from the publishing. Just had to point that out.

    What if someone wrote a book, that it spilled out of them, and, when they were done, they felt that the well had run dry. What if they worked their tails off supporting it, but either got too caught up in the marketing side of it (burn out) or were too disheartened that it wasn't more fulfilling or even felt like they just didn't have another book in them.

    Or what if, since many a writer has to have a day job, too, they had children and just couldn't write, take care of small kids and take the job that pays the bills at the same time.

    If they did a solid job (or the book took off) or a new book came to mind, why couldn't they come back? If their children have started school and they have more time to play with, why couldn't they come back to writing?

    Writing is a career. So are many other things, but surely there's no saying you can't leave to take care of life, and come back, that you can't get burnt out, take a break, then decide you can't live without it.

    I don't know. The response seems out of proportion angry to the original question. Perhaps that's truly a reflection of the unforgiving nature of publishing, though, so it's good to know.

  25. Avatar Victoria says:

    Stephanie Barr, I think the letter writer did more than *imply* they were going to have nothing to do with what they had written. It is more than simply *implied* in this phrase: "ie. have no connection at all to what i have written, as if it never happened,"

    As if it never happened? That hints at a lack of commitment and caring about his/her work that is unthinkable for most of us, I suspect.

  26. It's one thing to write a book and then have life toss you a curve ball that you have to catch… It's another to have the idea that you've written a book and then hand it to others to 'take care of' from here on out.

    I don't understand how some people think!

  27. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don't see anything wrong with the question. I know a lot of (brilliant & professional) writers and artists who draw & publish, and absolutely hate what they've done. They only see the flaws. It's painful to them. I can totally understand wanting to distance themselves and start again later.

  28. Avatar Sommer says:

    I think the problem I have with this question is that they seem to be planning on taking a few years off after publication. When things come up – health and life issues – those tend not to be something you plan for.

    It strikes me as interesting I guess that they want to pretend like the book never happened. Then why write and publish it? And if you can't deal with the "after publication" aspects of it because of something else going on in your life (new baby, college, military service, jail whatever)then you probably shouldn't publish right now and wait until you can.

    I don't know. It is a weird question.

  29. Victoria, I can see what you're saying. It's just, they also said, "after publishing" – that could be after months/years of intensive publishing marketing. That could mean just what you said.

    In general, nor did I get the impression (automatically) that this was a planned break, more a "can-I-get-back in?" type of question. If you were planning a break, I'd presume you'd go for your first agent first. Not asking if an agent would be interested in the second novel. But then, that's also an impression that might be wrong.

  30. One thing I didn't realize when I first started out is that you're stuck with your publishers for life, pretty much–even if you move to a new publisher or quit writing. If you want your royalties, you can never just "disappear." You have to make sure you get your royalties every quarter. Every time you move, you have to contact every single publisher you've ever worked with (usually MULTIPLE times), and make sure they get your new address in every department.

    I suppose it would work the same with agents?

  31. Avatar Victoria says:

    Stephanie, I guess that's the problem with email; unless you explain every little thing, it is open to interpretation! LOL.

    I suppose the person could be asking *after* the fact… this was what had happened, and now they want to know if they can get back in. But it seemed to be a proposition where he or she was planning on publishing their first novel, having nothing to do with it, then coming back in a few years for another kick at the can! Why anyone would want to do that, I don't know.

    Also, a couple of thoughts… the wording was terrible, one reason why we're all having trouble deciphering *exactly* what the writer is saying; so, is this person *really* a writer, or one of those who think that getting published is dead easy, and they will be inundated with offers once they release their opus into the ether?? (I've met those folks). Also, the letter seems almost to be more to a publisher than an agent.

  32. Avatar Anonymous says:

    If we can agree that we would treat writing like a career, then I would address the question like this: it's the same as asking to take a 3-4 year sabbatical from a "regular" job. To return to work after such a long absence–for any reason–you would have to hope your skills translate to the new marketplace, submit a resume (query), interview (submit a proposal), second interview (submit a full), and if you get hired at that point – great! But it would be unrealistic to think an employer (agent/editor/publisher) wouldn't be openly concerned if you expressed the intent to work only a short while with them every few years.

    Just an opinion…

  33. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I feel like part of the letter is missing as I can't see anything arrogant or disturbing about it. Where does it say the author refuses to have a web site, for example?

    I know many authors, particularly ex chicklit writers who have left publishing, not out of choice but because they can't get another contract. Some of you are a wee bit critical of formerly pubbed writers. It's a tough world as evidenced by Sue's comment. Sometimes its harder to stay published than get published.

  34. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I read the letter as if the writer had already done this. And maybe that's because I know someone who fits this scenario (it's not me, btw). The author wrote a terrific debut genre book, easily found an agent who sold it.

    The author has a seriously demanding career. Of course many writers still write but for whatever reason, this writer didn't. I can imagine this writer now wondering if the original agent, or a new one, would accept a new manuscript, given the history.

    If this is true, the writer should have asked whether it's better not to mention the previous publication (if a new agent is sought). My first instinct would be to mention it, but if the sales weren't great (I don't know if they were), then maybe not.

  35. Avatar Victoria says:

    Anonymous 1:55… Actually, speaking for myself, I am reacting to *exactly* what the writer said.

    1 – "how realistic is it to expect that after publishing i can leave the publishing world for a few years, ie. have no connection at all to what i have written, as if it never happened, and then to return after 3-4 years and continue writing?"

    Doesn't 'no connection' imply no website, no promotion, not even any 'connection' online, etc? Sort of like disavowing the work? And doesn't the wording suggest intent, (as in, an intent to leave publishing voluntarily) rather than an *inability* to get a new contract?

    2 – "and then to return after 3-4 years and continue writing? would you accept that and still take my second book?"

    Does this not say that the writer intends to leave publishing (voluntarily) for three or four years after publishing a book, with the intention of coming back eventually? Aren't they asking if the agent will accept them on those terms?

    The arrogance, (to me), is in the assumption that becoming published is simply a matter of choice… one can just pick up and drop a writing career as if it is a hobby… that the world will be waiting, eagerly, for his/her return, whenever they deign to come back.

    I truly am interested in anyone else's 'decoding' of this letter writer's words. That's why I suggested earlier that it seems to me that the person may be an unpublished novice. The question sounds… naive, to me. I'm not trying to be mean, I'm just in awe of anyone thinking it is that simple.

    Anyone else read it differently?

  36. Perhaps as suggested she was sent up the river, but were that the case, there would have been lots of time to write.
    I read the question as someone who wanted to be a continuing professional author, but circumstances prevented it. Like children, or illness, or family responsibilities, or any number of legitimate reasons. And they were a good enough writer to get that book published!
    What price charity?

  37. Avatar R.S. Bohn says:

    I think it was a sincere question, and asked sincerely. I can imagine several scenarios. I keep coming back, however, to this one: they wrote a book, it's now being published or has an upcoming publication date, and they've learned that something large will intrude on their life for the next few years, something they can't work around. And that "something" could be many things. They could've been just diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, and want to devote their energy to beating that disease. Their parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and reaching a particular stage now. And so on. I don't read arrogance into this at all, but maybe a touch of fear.

    What does irritate me, however, is the fact that they sent this question to an agent. And they couldn't capitalize properly. Grr. I know this is a common internet phenomenon, but it really aggravates me. They have the chance to present themselves to an agent, and this is how they choose to do it. Unless their shift key is broken, this is unacceptable. (to moi, anyway)

  38. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I can think of many reasons the writer may be planning this break. Perhaps s/he wants to get a college degree, adopt children, have children, join the Peace Corps.

    It's certainly nobody else's job to tell him/her whether these are good enough reasons to take a break.

    I'm a little surprised at how many people seem to think it is.

    Just because you feel you can do these things while writing, doesn't mean s/he can.

    As for promoting the book, meh. In my experience your publicist hates to hear from you, you're lucky if you sell two books at a book-signing, and when you go on tv or radio the host does all the talking and hasn't read your book. Does promotion actually accomplish anything? I suspect real success comes from word of mouth, luck, and/or having a book store manager hand the president a copy of your book while the tv cameras are rolling.

  39. Avatar LivelyClamor says:

    Does this reaction mean that for all of us who are in the real world of needing to make a living, juggle family and other situations, and not having anyone to fall back on or to lean on when things go wrong …we should not try to publish at all?

    It may be that whoever put this idea out is simply being realistic rather than having an overinflated conceit about the transformation that we would all like to go through the second our Sacred Words Hit Print…if it weren't for those pesky agents who don't recognize Miraculous Talent when they see it (grin, snicker, giggle).

  40. Avatar LivelyClamor says:

    And by the way, there IS a novel about a One Book Wonder: it is called "Killing Wonder" by Dorothy Bryant.
    Love it.
    Not, by the way, suggesting someone else couldn't write another one.

  41. Avatar AstonWest says:

    Maybe they'd made the decision to go into writing erotica, and then second-guessed it after the book actually came out…

  42. Avatar mdal says:

    The comment by Anonymous at 1:25 PM mirrored what I was thinking. Is there another career where you can drop out for 3-4 years and expect to come back to your old job as if you'd never left? Would your boss and co-workers think you unreliable? Are your skills still sharp? Are you still up on what's happening in the industry? Can they trust you won't drop out again? Much, of course, depends on the reason for the leave of absence.

    I don't know what this person's situation is, but I do tend to lean the way of many other people here in suspecting this person is a hobbyist who doesn't consider writing a profession. It can take a lot of time, work, money, and *team effort* to build a career, usually over multiple books. Why would an agent or editor knowingly sign on with someone who isn't in it for the long haul?

  43. Yes, even if the person knows something in their life is going to prevent them from writing for 3-4 years, the question was phrased oddly and makes it seem as though the writer thinks of publishing as a fun little pastime that can be taken up and dropped at will.

    Sure, there are authors who've taken off years between books–but the reason they could come back and get published was because their first books sold very, very well. It's a different scenario than treating it "as if it never happened", which makes it sound like the writer plans to drop all involvement once the manuscript is handed over. And your name will always be attached to that book, no matter what. The most likely way to come back and start over would be to actually start over with a different pen name. The writer will have to go through querying, etc., again, unless their agent doesn't drop them in the meantime.

    If this isn't a case where some major life event is going to work against writing anything for several years, and just one where the writer wants to put out books on a whim, I think self-publishing is a viable option here.

  44. Avatar Timothy says:

    I came into this conversation because of Victoria's post. The entire discussion reminds me of Donald Maass's book, THE FIRE IN FICTION, in which he distinguishes at the start between Status Seekers and Storytellers. The former rail against the system when declined whereas the latter continue to work on their craft. The former, "it's them"; the latter, "I'm partially responsible."

  45. Avatar Anonymous says:

    How long was it between Franzen's first and second books? He's being called a genius, isn't he?

  46. Avatar sue harrison says:

    @Karen Schwabach – Thank you so much, Karen, for those very kind words about my novels. I really needed that encouragement! Your experiences in Alaska must have been incredible!

  47. When I first read the title, I thought "goody, someone talking about the business side of writing". Then I read the question and wondered: First, where is the questioner going for three years? Second, you have your life planned out three to four years in advance beyond what it takes to get a book published? Wow.

    Seriously, though. I do realize writing is a business. In fact, that is why I took a free course in my community about starting or expanding small businesses. I took it, well, because it is free and I like to learn and use what I learn in my writing.

    Also, I wanted to learn about the business side of writing. The class is a start.

    The main thing I am learning about is a feasibility plan. Adapting it to a writer's business is a challenge in and of itself, but a fun one. I know, I'm weird 🙂


  48. Avatar KaelaQLC says:

    I think people might have jumped up the inquirer's you know what a little too quickly. The person may appear to have a blase attitude and not be passionate about writing, but it's also quite possible they discovered they or a loved one had a serious illness, decided to take time to devote to their family (or start a family), or any variation of personal crisis. You have to assume that, if after all that time and energy, you're willing to abandon your book completely, some serious stuff is going down.

    And if not, then I wholeheartedly joing in the booooo parade.