Wednesday, August 6, 2014

One Novelist Calls It Quits

We at NovelMatters have writers we admire, and Lisa Samson is at the top of our list. She's published a bazillion books, won a Christie Award, and Publisher's Weekly calls her "a talented novelist who's not afraid to take risks." I count The Passion of Mary-Margaret among the best, most memorable books I've ever read.

So what would cause such a fine writer just to stop writing? She's not old. To my knowledge, she's not sick or under a governmental gag order.

Things have changed for novelists. We at NovelMatters have said it before, but Lisa says it concisely and well. Here, with her permission, we're reprinting her post from Facebook in which she explains.

What do you think, NovelMatters readers? Is there a solution that would encourage such a writer to continue?

Here is what Lisa said:

Dear Friends,
All good things must come to an end, the saying goes. I, however, like to think that all good things continue to evolve. For twenty-two years I have been writing for the inspirational (read: evangelical Christian) market, and it has been an honor and a privilege. True, with the artistic strictures and the increasing necessity for a platform, it has had its share of frustrations for a novelist who simply wants to explore an artform, but sharing stories and getting to know readers as friends, hearing how these words have been used to encourage, inspire, affirm, and even challenge, has been a thrill.
The publishing world has changed drastically since I first set pen to paper almost exactly twenty-two years ago on August 8th, 1992. Back then, you could just be a novelist. I raised my children while writing stories and it was a blessing. Some of my readers have been with me since the beginning and I am truly grateful. But as most of you know, things changed. The author has become increasingly responsible for marketing, publicity, and that platform I mentioned earlier. I’m simply not that kind of writer. I write, create, mull, think, write some more, go look in the fridge, and am not interested in nor gifted for the new responsibilities and I never have been. So, in essence, I’m a lousy person to publish in this new world. I fall down on the job when half of my job isn’t writing. In other words, what is now required of an author is something I’m neither equipped for, nor willing to do. I write. That’s it.
I was recently offered a contract that was insufficient for me to support my family. A real step down from the previous one. And that is all I will say about that matter. It wasn’t personal, I realize, but it was severely disappointing to have worked faithfully for two decades only to have your work go down in value to that point. I wish money didn’t matter, but it has to, and that saddens me. I'm still intensely grateful for the time I spent writing for that house and the people there who are, quite simply, wonderful. But traditional publishing is a business and I'm no good for the bottom line no matter how much I'm personally loved, and good feelings don't keep the lights on over here at my house.
And so, out of respect for those of you who have encouraged me, published me, worked with me, lifted me up in prayer, and have been there for me throughout the years, I want to honor your friendship and love by telling you the news that I will no longer be writing as I have been. A Thing of Beauty will release and after that, I just don’t know. As far as I’m concerned, having worked for over two decades for it to all come to a place where I cannot support my family, I’m just discouraged and ready to move on. I do believe it’s time.
Will I write again? I just can’t say for sure. If God drops something good in my lap and says follow me, of course I will follow. But doing what I have to do to move forward as a person and a mom, I have enrolled in the Lexington Healing Arts Academy and will begin their massage therapy program in late September. I hope to give relief to cancer, hospice, and Alzheimer’s patients. It will be a new adventure and one I am truly excited about. Please continue your prayers for me, and keep in touch. I’ll maintain this page through the release of A Thing of Beauty, and I hope that my “retiring” of “Lisa Samson,” does not mean that we still aren’t a part of each other's lives here in the crazy little space called facebook. I love you all, and appreciate all you’ve done and been to me all these years. God bless you and again, my gratitude for you is deep and wide and filled with love. You are amazing.


Latayne C Scott said...

One thing Lisa points out is that Christian publishers aren't heartless bean-counters. All the professionals I've met in that industry see their work as ministry. Many (if not most) books published by them do not make a profit for the company-- that's generated by the best-sellers whose profits allow them to publish books they know won't make them money.

However, when great writers like Lisa make the choice to support their families with a regular, dependable income, another reality emerges. There will always be another writer--probably not of her talent-- who will be willing to do the social media along with writing. Publishers can only publish so many books. They will go with the writers who will aggressively market, even if that writer is no Lisa Samson.

Christian professional writers, am I right about this?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

My heart sank to my stomach when I read Lisa's post. There are a lot of reasons for that. I dove into this industry because of her. I love her stories.

And lastly, because it's just a confirmation that the game is changing. It's getting even more difficult for the writers.

Latayne, I'm still new to being a professional writer. However, I would say that nearly all of the publishing folks I've met had hearts of gold. They desire to publish quality stories that glorify God. But sales matter. Having a platform (even as a novelist) is essential.

It is scary. If a first and/or second novel doesn't sell well, does that drive the nail in the coffin of a career? Do I stick with this and pray that I'm able to make enough money to justify the amount of time I put into a novel?

It's tough. I'm proud of Lisa for the thought she put into this life change. I'm excited for how she's going to be giving of herself to nurture others physically.

I am, though, going to miss the rush of starting a new Lisa Samson book. But I am grateful for the dear ones that I've kept on my shelf. I'll just have to give them another read.

Robin Bayne said...

This is the second time this week I've seen an author quitting because of the overload of platform and related issues.

Very sad.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Sad, sad, sad. Lisa has been one of my favorite CBA authors for a very long time. It doesn't bode well for many of us.

Unknown said...

All of us who write professionally can relate to this. My first series (with the same publisher as Samson's) was released about the time the big changes were occurring in the publishing field. And I too feel the personnel at the publishing house were caring, genuine people, but they were trapped in the upheaval as well. My book sales were decent, but not spectacular. How can a writer write quality books at one or two a year when the majority of the time has to be spent on marketing? It is a frustrating dilemma, and honestly, one I do not foresee as improving in the near future. The term "starving artist" rings way too true

Latayne C Scott said...

Susie, you're young and have lots of energy PLUS you are a good writer. If God has called you and enabled you, He will give you fruit for your labors, whatever that might look like.

Robin, I don't know who the other one is? Are you comfortable sharing?

Sharon, writers keep writing. Unlike Susie, we don't have (assumedly) multiple decades stretching out before us, but we keep writing. Your Color of Sorrow is an example of an extraordinary book that requires publication. It must find print.

Golden, though I've not read your works, it is obvious from the awards you've won that you are serious about the craft of writing. I am so glad to have your input. Thank you.

Carole said...

Heartbroken, because Lisa's style of writing has always appealed to me and I can't imagine not having another one to look forward to.

Heartbroken, because I keep searching for literary, character-driven dramas in Christian fiction and can't find a lot. The few authors I have found struggle to get new contracts. Also, I've read and loved novels by all of you and long for more.

Heartbroken, because I see what's happening in the publishing world and am disappointed by the quality of much that is being published today.

I'm just a reader who enjoys reviewing and promoting stories through my blog and social media, and have seen some very effective street teams and publicity campaigns. I'm sure the big publicity companies like Litfuse are expensive, but there are some smaller ones that seem to be just as effective. Would something like this work without taking too much of an author's time?

Latayne C Scott said...

Carole, bless you for your broken heart. I mean that sincerely. You truly care.

There are indeed smaller, less expensive venues for publicity. But when you have spent months or even years crafting a novel, marketing it to an agent or editor, and even doing your "workman's" job through your own social networks, if you have an advance (let's say, of $3K to $5K), at the point of publication you have already "spent" the advance working at far below minimum wage per hour. And most books do not "earn out" their advance, so that will probably be all you will receive for the book. At that point, it seems beyond the financial capability--and responsibility, if your family depends on your income-- of the ordinary author to hire professional help.

Other authors, is this your take, as well? How would you answer Carole's question?

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Latayne, I think you're spot on. For me to spend money on a marketer would take all the income I get from royalties.

What I think is interesting is the fact that I can make more from a 30 minute speaking engagement than I sometimes do from a royalty check. So, that's one way I pad my income a little.


But I keep going because I love this job.

Deborah Dunn, LMFT said...

As a former Christian writer now writing for the general market, I can relate to Lisa's discouragement. I left the Christian market as well, but not for financial reasons. I never made a living writing. I am a therapist and wrote while sustaining a private practice. I still do. I've always had to market my own books. All of my publishers folded.

Cost aside, I really don't understand why Christian publishers aren't getting more savvy about social media and wonder if it is because they haven't kept up with the changing culture. For that reason I'm getting certification in Social Media Management. I figured if I was going to have to market I might as well learn how to do it efficiently and well. Most social media is free and not all that time-consuming if you know how to use it.

Lisa's defection is confirmation that I've made the right decision. Of course, I doubt I will fare much better in the general market but at least I will have a larger audience.

Latayne C Scott said...

Susie, it is true that speaking is much more profitable than writing. I know that people need to hear what you say, because you write on subjects of substance.

Deborah, very insightful comments. I am glad you can learn how to market well-- it involves time and skill to learn such things. Good for you!

Michelle Stimpson said...

Thanks, Lataynne, for sharing this post. I am saddened to hear of Lisa's change but happy for her to move into a new venture.

As for staying afloat in this industry as an author of Christian fiction, I've been blessed to successfully make the switch from traditional to self-publishing. Though some of my books still remain with my first publishers, I've been able to get back the rights to my first two (which came out in 2004 and 2006) and I'm hoping to get back the rights to the others.

In 2012, my mom had a stroke and I knew I had to get busy self-publishing so that I could still have flexibility as a writer. I'm married (two incomes) and I do some educational consulting, but I did take a "pay cut" for a while in order to get the ball rolling in the self-pubbing world. I'm writing mostly novellas--which I actually enjoy more than novels--and making a decent income (significantly more than my last full-time job) as a writer now. I don't consider myself particularly aggressive in social media. I mean, I like FB so it works for me, but I don't fool around with Pinterest because, honestly, I just don't get it.

My advice to other writers: consider becoming a hybrid author if your contract allows. Talk with your agent to see if you can allow for this room by limiting what you have to submit to the publisher in terms of genre and word count (first right of refusal) and loosening up any non-compete clauses. I have several friends who are hybrid - they say it's nice to have the royalty checks on top of the monthly income.

Secondly, my biggest boosts in sales haven't come from social marketing. I believe the "divine" push has come from God being honored in my work. Aside from what He does (which is A LOT), I have seen a lot of boosts from using services like bookbub, ebookbooster, and ereadernewstoday. I put aside about $180 a month for direct marketing and I rotate which books are free or 99¢. I find that the more books I give away, the more books I sell (sounds almost biblical, right?)

Anyway, I hope all of that is helpful to someone :)

Denise Covey said...

I read LIsa's story with some dismay as it is the second such post on a similar vein this week. But I would say Lisa has been extremely blessed if she has been able to live off her writing up until now--not many modern published authors can say the same. Most authors I know need their day job to survive--writing is more like a hobby, even though they'd wish otherwise.

I wish Lisa all the best in her future endeavours.


Latayne C Scott said...

Michelle, I am so glad you came here and provided so much rich information. You have truly encouraged me, and given us some great ideas. I am certain that God is honoring you because you honor Him. And I am very glad to get to know you. I went to your website and it is full of practical, helpful information! Bless you!

Denise, I concluded from Lisa's post that she had been able to support her family with her writing, but she wrote a subsequent FB post in which she corrected that impression-- she said that only three years was she able to do that (with 11 books, no less!!!) and the rest of the time her writing was "financed" by her husband's income (my words, not hers.) But you're right, she's a super writer.

Kim said...

Read a post by Christian author, Ann Voskamp, about the subject of platforms for a writer of faith. Thought you might be interested in what she has to say.

Thanks for sharing this thought provoking post.

Latayne C Scott said...

I read that post, Kim, and thank you for it! I can't wait to read Ann's further thoughts, especially what she promises:

"In this series, Building a Platform, we take a look at what it looks like to embrace marketing while leading from the soul and, at the same time, faithfully stewarding roles, responsibilities, and resources to impact the Kingdom of God."

Anonymous said...

A couple of people have mentioned that this is the second such announcement this week. I sure would like to know who the other one is, and where we can read about it. Thanks!

Kaira said...

This is really unfortunate. Honestly, I have been wildly unimpressed with the world of bloggers-turned-writers that seem to overwhelm social media with each new release. Knowing some personally, I know there is much pressure to crank out ministry books for huge amounts of money, regardless of their circumstances. It is a huge turn off for me as a reader. Further, the business of social media has had me quietly moving my blog on 2 occasions. I miss when writing was just writing.

Latayne C Scott said...

Anonymous, I'd like to know too.

Kaira, I think the world is tiring of super personalities with great platforms. Of course they would say they got where they are because they have something to say, and that's undoubtedly true.

But there's a big difference between having something to say, and having something to say that you can write about really, really well.


Robin Bayne said...

Latayne, I can't find the link now to her post but I saved her comments because they spoke to me. It's author Mary Demuth.

Kaira said...

Latayne, Yes! That's a great way to put it. I could write a book on that topic. ;D

Latayne C Scott said...

Thank you, Kaira.

And Robin, now that I think about it, I believe I'd heard about Mary Demuth as well. Thank you.

Latayne C Scott said...

Robin, you are very much an active and veteran writer. Why did Mary's words speak so to you?

Adelaide said...

I do not write for the Christian market, but for a general market.
I am not a known writer since my 60 plus published stories have appeared only in small literary journals, some in print, more recently on-line. My three novels have yet to find a conventional publisher. I've self-published and e-book of previously published short stories and after nine months have had very few sales.This is probably because I'm not a good self promoter. I do not have a face book account, nor a Twitter account. My writing blog has drawn only four followers and one is my sister and very few readers for each post. I can well understand Lisa Samson's frustration and dismay at the need to market oneself in order to be a successful (in terms of money) writer. Twent-eight years ago when I began writing fiction I didn't expect to make money; I wrote for the love of writing. I still write for the love of writing. I am now 78 years old (next month) and will probably never be a financial success as a writer. It's a fact I accepted long ago, but will continue to write every day and send off my work. I encourage Lisa Samson to keep on writing since she enjoys it so much and it has been such a big part of her life. Perhaps she could write about her new field of therapy. There should be a wealth of material there.

Thank you for letting me post my thoughts here.

Adelaide B. Shaw

Shannon Donnelly said...

Always give joyful thanks for all things to God - Ephesians 5:20

That means we do the footwork and leave the rest to someone else. Footwork to mean means I write. That's it. And what about casting one's bread?

Quitting or not quitting is a personal choice. It's always been hot in this particular kitchen.

Latayne C Scott said...

Adelaide, thank you for sharing your life and your passion for writing-- the purest motivation, other than the passion for helping others-- that we at NovelMatters congratulate. May God bless you in glorious ways that show He is behind it, not marketing efforts! Now, that's a seal of approval you can't get anywhere else!

Shannon, love how you put it. I'm going to quote you on my Facebook page. My kitchen is has fires all over it.

Robin Bayne said...

Mary's words spoke volumes! They spoke of the stress of constant worry over maintaining a "platform," of keeping up with social media and other marketing to increase sales. And how it never seems to be enough.

I have not reached the career level Mary, or Lisa has, but I feel the same pressures on my time. And honestly, it makes me want to stay with a small press that doesn't put so much importance on sales figures. I hope I can reach just one person and make a difference with each story.

Robin Bayne said...

And I would have shared the link on facebook to Mary's post, but I can't find and wonder if she pulled it offline.

I started writing before email or the 'net, and sometimes miss those days. (Of course, I don't miss my typewriter LOL).

Latayne C Scott said...

Robin, I couldn't find it either!

I liked your comment about a small press. Hadn't thought of it that way. I always assumed they'd want more author marketing, not less?

Robin Bayne said...

Oh I still have to do lots of marketing . . . but if for some reason my sales aren't so great for a particular title, I won't face an automatic rejection on the next book.