Finnian Burnett


I sold 91 copies of my most recent novel, Eating Life. 91 copies of a book that took two years to write, countless hours of rewriting, several pass-through revisions with an editor, and, figuratively, a lot of blood and sweat. (The tears were sometimes literal.)

91 copies of what I consider my best work yet.

91 copies of the book that made the most rabid fan of my first novel, Man Enough, the person who read my next two books and said, “Excellent, but no Man Enough,” finally, finally say, “And now I have a new favorite Beth Burnett book.” And it got excellent reviews. Read them for yourself here. And if you have read this book and haven’t reviewed it yet, why not?

91 copies. Enough money to pay the electric bill. For one month.

I know I don’t know how to market. I know I don’t do enough for my books to give them an audience. I know I’m not out there pounding the pavement looking for bookstores that will sponsor readings or repeatedly asking my library to carry my books. I don’t like it, it makes me anxious. I know sitting around hoping someone will set up an event for me and tell me to be there is not going to sell books. I get that.

But I have to admit that I really wish there was someone that did that.

The thing is, I fell in love with Eating Life. I fell in love with the characters. I thought one of them, Ben Stagg, was one of the best characters I have ever invented. So much so that he is going to come back in another book. I love him and the rest and I wanted everyone else to love them, too.

91 copies and I’m finally beginning to wonder if maybe this is not supposed to be my career. I know money isn’t the whole point, but it is part of the point. And it’s a special kind of sadness that comes when my alter ego, who writes short and easy little erotica stories on Amazon, makes more money from those little hour-from-start-to-finish stories than I do on the novels I’ve worked so hard on. Long ago, when I was complaining to a friend about my books not selling as well as I wanted, she said, “Write for yourself, not for an audience.”

Well, if that’s the case, why bother publishing? If the goal is to just write what you love and not let it matter whether or not anyone is reading it, why share it at all?

I’m still writing. I finished an excellent YA fantasy during NaNoWriMo. I have a completed lesbian love story that just needs some revision. And I have a women’s fiction book that is, in my opinion, funnier than much of the bestselling women’s fiction I’ve read.

I still love writing. But I don’t have the heart to deal with everything that comes after. I can’t seem to make myself  research publishers and agents or send out query letters. I think I just need to take a break from it all. Not from writing – from writing for reasons other than to just write.

I’d love to know how other writers deal with this. What do you do when you don’t sell? How do you reconcile marketing versus writing versus deciding to just go get a day job? When do you decide to stop seeing writing as your dream and relegate it back to a hobby?


14 thoughts on “What is giving up?

  1. Anne says:

    I feel your pain – though I am unpublished so 91 copies is a dream – but the reaction of people to my work is disheartening. Agents say it’s not for them, I get comments about it not being romantic enough, not being ‘light’ enough, not being – Well, whatever they are looking for… maybe because I’m unpublished I cannot feel your pain accurately but I would say don’t stop writing, it will frustrate you and it will cause you pain but 91 people shelled out some hard Come by cash to live in your head for a while and that’s to be admired. Can you use fiverr or something like that to market? I wish you great success because of the support you provide other writers, because of the way you care about what you do and also because you’re awesome…

    1. Author Beth Burnett says:

      I wish you great success as well. I keep thinking of writers who are turned down a hundred million times before that one astute agent falls in love with their work. Don’t give up on that, my friend. ❤

  2. rowanavery says:

    Write because it makes you happy. I know it makes me incredibly happy to read your books or, even better, have you read them to me as you’re working on them. Write because you have stories that you love and want to tell. Your books are full of rich multi-dimensional, realistically flawed characters. In Eating Life you wrote a character that was so unlikable that everyone who’s read the book mentions her. You also, in the same book, created a character that everyone fell in love with. Your stories touch people, reach out to people, help people, because you are writing for yourself.

    Throughout my life, I’ve had ideas, thoughts, that later were fulfilled by someone else. Maybe not in the manner in which I imagined, but close enough for me to notice. I carry this thought with me: ‘If I’ve thought of it, someone else has as well’. What makes us different may be that I have the capability and the creativity to write that story. Maybe they have the artistry to draw the story. Or maybe, like so many out there, they’re waiting for someone to write the story they want to read. You are writing stories people want to read. Keep writing your stories. Please. Right now, you are Firefly. Soon, you will be Star Trek. So please, keep writing.

    1. Author Beth Burnett says:

      There’s nothing wrong with being Firefly. Thank you for the reminder. ❤

  3. Barbara Dennis says:

    It’s not just you…unfortunately lesfic isn’t a money maker. Most of the libraries near me don’t even have an LGBTQI section. My book had great reviews too, but it didn’t sell as many as I would have liked. Write because you want too. Unless you make it big by devoting the lions share of your time to writing and promoting it probably won’t happen. Even the well-known authors have to pump out the books to show any monetary reward. Its the passion for creating that keeps us going. And sometimes it has to be a hobby since holding down a paying job takes up so much of our time. I love your books and would hate to see you give it up.

  4. onamarae says:

    Beth, I cannot tell you the number of times in the calendar year 2015-16 that you kept me writing, butt in seat partially , but more than just physically/locationally. You kept me writing emotionally and spiritually and yesterday, I signed a book contract because of that. THAT is part of your gift too. You walk a difficult road. If you were only an author, it might be easier. You would have more time to market and to be fussed at to market. But you wear many hats and you love teaching. So, cut yourself some slack, my dear. The fulfillment of your dreams will not only be in the marketing of your books but in the books you help inspire. Sorry that this fact doesn’t help pay the bills. I’m trying to figure out how to make that work… You are a great writer and a great teacher. But sometimes, that’s a lousy burden to bear! Much love, mama duck! Ona

    1. Author Beth Burnett says:

      Ona, that really is huge to me, you know. I may love teaching more than I love writing. And I am so proud of you. ❤

  5. Deb Amia says:

    I love your books, Beth, and I’m so glad you will continue writing! Would you please post a link to “Eating Life,” so I can finish my Christmas shopping. I’ve been meaning to buy your book, but life gets in the way and I forget. If I have a link it would make it much easier! Big hugs, my friend! I love you!

    1. Author Beth Burnett says:

      Thank you, Deb. And yes. Here is the link.

      1. Deb Amia says:

        Perfect! Thank you!

  6. Sinda slagle says:

    I can totally relate to your post. Some of my books have sold better than others and the ones that have sold better were sold at least five years ago. The market has shifted and I’m making less than I did five years ago. Sure, I write for myself but it would be nice to make back what I’ve put in. I dont have the answer. The market is what it is.

  7. I just came across this article by chance, 2 years after you posted it. I hope that you are in a better place and you sold a lot more copies of your book and managed to write another or others.
    I uderstand your frustration and the need to write. I’m an Israeli author. Tthat means I write lesbian and feminist literature in Hebrew, which has a very small audience. Nevertheless, I knew from the begining that these are the circumstances and I won’t make money from publishing my books. I write anyway. I have 3 more noveles in different stages of writing, and more in my mine. I write every day in my blog (both in Hebrew and English) and make a living by editing and translating – books, articles, internet sites etc. I never give up my dream that my books will sell more and also be adopted to screenplays, Awomen!

    1. Author Beth Burnett says:

      I have to admit I wasn’t expecting a comment on this old article – but I appreciate it so much. And I am seeking out your books now. Like you, I keep writing, even without the payback because ultimately, my work means something to me and I don’t want it to be about the money.
      Thank you for the response.

      1. I’m happy that you keep writing. Me finding this post is interesting for me, as we are 2 years later 😉 My books are in Hebrew. Here is some info about them and me in English:

        Anyway, I think that it would be nice to get well paied for writing our books

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