Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Have I Ruined My Writing Career?

By Aaron Michael Ritchey

Oh, book stores.

All the titles and authors and hardbound editions, taunting me.

I’ve been going to a lot of book stores lately, on tour with the Nightmares Unhinged anthology, published by Colorado’s own Hex Publishing. It’s been fun, but I have to say, I sit looking at the book covers wondering if I’ve ruined my writing career.

I’ll never be a debut author again. Now, my Amazon ranking is available for everyone to see. Agents, editors can see how many books I’m selling. And the numbers aren’t, um, staggering.

Should I have waited for the big game? Should I have written, submitted, chewed on the rejections, written, submitted and dined yet again on rejection steak with extra hate sauce?

That’s what writers have done for millennia. Or at least the last couple hundred years. Ray Bradbury got nearly a thousand rejections before he sold anything, and that’s Ray flippin’ Bradbury. Stephen King filled up a railroad spike on his wall with rejection letters.

I wrote a whole bunch of books, but only got a few rejection letters. I was just too afraid to send out queries, and then when I did get enough courage, the whole publishing industry shifted under my feet. Suddenly, people were publishing books on their own. Small presses, micro-presses, garage presses were publishing books. Books whirled into the world on a hurricane of hope and coffee. Mine included.

But should I have waited for the big game?

It’s too late now. I have three books out in the world with another six in the queue. I’m no longer a virgin. I’m now an experienced lover, maybe (probably) prostitute, and the bloom of my youth has faded from my weary face.

Should I have waited?

If I was looking for status? Yes, I should’ve waited. Getting the big agent and the big publisher would’ve given me more status. It would’ve also given me the satisfaction of a dream fulfilled as close to my fantasies as I could get.

Would I be more famous if I would’ve waited? Roll the dice, I don’t know.

Would I richer if I would’ve waited? Probably not.

Most likely if I would’ve waited another ten years, I’d be about where I’m at. Maybe not, but the reality is, I didn’t wait.

How could I have waited? I’d already spent twenty years working on thirteen books. People all around me were storming the gates of heaven either on their own or with their own small press. I was speaking at writer conferences, and I felt dumb because I didn’t have a book in the bookstore. It just made sense for me to take the plunge.

The reality is, lots of people get the big agent and the big publisher and their books languish, unread, unedited, dead.

My books are out in the world and people are reading them. I’ve walked across many a desert of fear and self-doubt. I’ve made some money, Starbucks money, but cash dollars nonetheless. I’ve lived parts of the dreams.

And I did it while I was still alive. Who knows? In ten years, I might be dead, and if I would’ve waited, I might’ve waited for all eternity.

But I still get sad sometimes. I still have doubts. And regrets? I’ve had a few.

I sometimes think about Jane Austen, who found a publisher for one of her books, but quickly pulled it from the market, too fearful to put herself out in the world. And yet, two hundred years later, if anyone bad mouths Pride and Prejudice, I’ll kick their ass.

Yes, I’m unagented and I don’t have a big publisher. Yet, my books are published. Three of them. Each such a victory.

I might have ruined my career by not waiting, but then again, I’m not dead. I have lots of books to write, and yeah, I’ll continue to query the beast and collect my rejections, and yes, the odds are even worse for me because the publishing industry can look at my sales. However, and this is the biggest, most earth-shattering however possible, if I do hit the big time, the more rejections I have, the better my story becomes. The harder and less likely? The better the story.

And isn’t the point of life to live a really good story?

Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of The Never Prayer, Long Live the Suicide King, and Elizabeth’s Midnight. In shorter fiction, his G.I. Joe inspired novella was an Amazon bestseller in Kindle Worlds and his steampunk story, “The Dirges of Percival Lewand” was part of The Best of Penny Dread Tales anthology published through Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press. His upcoming young adult sci-fi/western epic series will also be published through WordFire Press. In 2015, his second novel won the “Building the Dream” award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Arist in Residence for the Anythink Library. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two ancient goddesses of chaos posing as his daughters.

For more about him, his books, and how to overcome artistic angst, visit He’s on Facebook as Aaron Michael Ritchey and he tweets - @aaronmritchey. 


  1. I hear ya Aaron. I have many of the same thoughts. Along with "Did I choose the right genre for my debut novel/series?" Since I was truly trying to start a new career as a writer, this sort of thing keeps me up nights. But I tell myself that I'm learning.

  2. I love this post because it's so brilliantly honest. And no matter how big, how successful, is anyone ever truly satisfied. Keep on keeping on. Do the best that you can at the moment. Thanks, Aaron.

  3. Great post Aaron. I know exactly how you feel. I just self published my first novel and I see other writing friends who were talented and lucky enough to get an agent and a publisher and I can't help but feel a bit jealous. Well, at least people are reading my book and as you say, I've made a little Starbucks money. Agents were not jumping at my book and I got a little tired of the query and wait three months or forever to hear back game. I can proudly say that over 100 people have bought or downloaded my novel in the first two weeks and that is a lot better than zero! Keep fighting the good fight Aaron. I'm right there with you!

  4. This is such a tough place to be as a writer. We can only make the best-guess decisions for ourselves and our careers given the often limited information available in the moment--where is the crystal ball when you need it! I will say, having seen the view from the inside of publishing (not by selling my own books, but by working for an agency) there are no guarantees once you're on the other side of the gates either. So many, many, many books simply do nothing. The big names are the big names are the big names no matter if you're traditionally published or you self publish. And I feel like much of the "what if" emotion has more to do with professional validation (see, experts wanted me!) than with actual "success" in the field--whatever "success" means because I find it is often defined differently and turns into a moving target for EVERY author. Here is my thought--Your path is your path and it is not to be compared with anyone else, ever, because it is impossible to be another person, or another writer, with a completely different life and set of circumstances. All we can do is own our own--with unwavering confidence.

  5. Awww, you guys are great. Thanks for the comments!

  6. Like Donnell, I love the honesty of your piece. Kudos!

    Each time we make a decision, we make it with the best information we have at the time. Period. If some new information comes up after we've made our decision, that's okay. It doesn't mean you made a bad decision.

    With respect to publishing, several friends have gone from self-published to a combination. I don't think it has to be one or the other any longer. Would I ever become a hybrid author? It all depends...

  7. It's true, no matter what decision you make at the beginning, you'll always wonder if you should have done it differently. Just think of the authors who waited, got the agent, sold the book, and then the publisher went belly up before the book was released. Things can go wrong no matter what you decide. I think you did the right thing for you at the time and only good things will follow.

  8. Many authors land the big agent and the big publisher but either wind up becoming 1-book wonders or their books quickly land on the remainder tables. Or their contracts aren't renewed due to low sales figures, houses merging, or editors leaving. Getting that New York contract doesn't mean you'll necessarily gain fame, fortune, and a lifetime on the NYT list. You've achieved something many other writers never achieve, and if you keep writing and selling your books, you never know what might happen. A few years ago a book with fairly low sales and limited distribution from a small press won the Pulitzer. No one ever achieved their goals by ignoring opportunity. Self-doubt and what-ifs are normal, but you're now a published author, and you never know where that will lead you in the future.

  9. Thanks for a wonderful article, Aaron. I think the real prize--no matter how we're published or IF we're published--is the writing itself. If we don't love what we do then, no matter the outcome, we're in the wrong career. As for whether we "make it" or not, luck plays such a big role. Look at Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. He couldn't sell his award-winning book for love or money. Until 9/11. We just keep writing what we love and doing our best.

  10. Thanks all for the comments. I just stumbled upon this little webpage. if I focus on total victory in writing and dominating my opponents, I get fearful and overwelmed. If I focus on showing up, writing, and doing the deal, I'm much better. It's not about winning in the arena. I think, for me, it's about finding the courage to entering the arena.

  11. Great article and so honest. Just great to read about the same thoughts, compromise, decisions that all writers either have faced or will face. And at the end it gives all writers hope :)


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