“I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke”

The article with the above title from Marie Claire has been making the rounds on social media. It’s by an author who had one book published and then crashed on the harsh rocks of reality. The sub title is “On the dark side of literary fame.”

Take a moment to read it, then join me back.

Okay. Your reactions?

Here’s mine:

  1. Who cares about ‘critical acclaim’? As Ms. Tierce has learned, that doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve had some great reviews in my time and some terrible ones. I’ve noticed they matter little in terms of sales. Ms. Tierce spends time letting you know what these reviews are and also the awards won. Which means she still thinks those will sell books. We used to joke at the Maui Writers Conference that they give awards to literary books and checks to professional writers.
  2. She does finally accept publishing is a business. It has moved on. The problem is she hasn’t. She mentions that she probably should have taken a two book deal. She mentions quitting her day job. But what she doesn’t mention is what she did in the year while that book was in production. Apparently not write another book. I’m not sure what she was waiting on. Every author I’ve ever met who thought they had it made? That was the moment their career as a writer was over. I stayed alive in traditional publishing in a place they (they being the gurus who know all but don’t do it) said didn’t exist. As a midlist author for over two decades. How? By staying one book ahead of my contracts. I had a three book deal? I wrote four. I wrote under five pen names when publishers only wanted a book a year. A book a year didn’t pay the bills or the kids’ medical insurance.
  3. I went hybrid, actually sort of think I invented the term in a blog in 2010, when I looked to the future and revamped my business plan, forming Cool Gus Publishing. If I had not, I’d probably be gun slinging somewhere in the world, falling back on my previous career in Special Ops. Pays more than carrying letters.
  4. She didn’t ask for a two book deal because she didn’t want to owe “anyone anything.” As an author there is someone I owe everything to. The reader. They’re the ones who pay my salary. Not the publisher. Not Amazon. Readers. I owe them everything.
  5. cool-gus-ying-and-yangShe also felt writing a book under contract would cause the book to feel “contrived”. I call this the ‘black beret, cigarette-smoking, standing on the street corner, poet’ syndrome. Where one writes when inspired. When the muse is whispering sweet nothings in one’s ear. I got Cool Gus and Sassy Becca snoring at my feet right now. They need to be fed. They don’t get fed, they get ornery. That’s my muse.
  6. Missing in the article is what she was doing from the time she quit her day job to the time she went to hauling letters. She ‘wonders’ if her publisher considers the book a failure. Has she asked? Does she have an agent? She says she does, but one would think the agent is giving some sort of feedback?
  7. She didn’t earn back her advance. She didn’t want a two book deal, which is going against the norm. Here’s a thing– the publisher had less of an investment in her with a one shot deal. So she ignored the business, and didn’t think through another basic fundamental for a new author: earning back your advance is more a sign of success than total copies sold at that level.  So sometimes it’s better to take less up front. I did that numerous times through my 42 traditionally published books. Take a $15,000 advance and earn $14,000 you failed. Take a $10,000 advance and earn $12,000 and you’re more a success than the first author who actually earned more. Crazy? Sorta. But publishing doesn’t make sense because it’s part of . . .
  8. The Entertainment Business. Entertainment is emotional. Business is numbers. They don’t mesh. But they do. I now have over 70 books published. That’s a number. It leads to emotion, which is my appreciation for the checks that come in every month.
  9. Even she realizes it when she says she’d sign a contract in blood for $40,000. These days, what one can do is earn $40,000 by writing your ass off and self-pubbing. Nowhere does she mention leveraging those great reviews and rewards (they actually could be useful, but not in the way she’s doing it, looking backwards, but moving forward) to become a hybrid author. One wonders if she even knows what that is.

To sum up the last paragraph with the real truth?

The reality about making money as a writer is your work your ass off, you write all the time, whether you’re tired, sick, or the muse is taking a crap, sometimes on your head. You learn the business and run a business. 

Her last sentence is backwards and modified. Here’s mine:






  1. And it wasn’t even a very good first novel. The reviews on Amazon and Goodreads were not kind. Someone called it MFA erotica, and right now the book has more 1-star reviews than 2-,3-, or 4-star reviews.

  2. I’d never heard of her, but then I don’t read erotica.
    She sounds like several other ‘wanna-bes’ who focus their efforts on winning competitions and think they’ve ‘made it’ when they sell the first book. In my experience, making the first sale means one needs to work harder – not only did I need to be working on book #2, I needed to promote, do tech writing (my ‘day job’) , and still be wife and mom.
    After publishing 10 books, I’ve learned that success is measured by making the next book even better than the last one.
    BTW. Purrseidon & Mr. M, my muses send their regards to Cool Gus and Sassy Becca.

  3. Suck it up, buttercup. You write. That is what makes you a writer. Yesterday i spent on planes coming back from the West coast. I am a little jetlagged. Did I write today? Yes becau I have deadlines to meet either real or in my head.

  4. Excellent observations. I though much the same as I read the article. She had a chance and blew it. So many of us would (not literally) kill for such an opportunity. What was the point of her article? A cautionary tale or a moan & groan?

  5. She wrote one book and quit her job. I have published four and still have a full time day job. I write in the evenings and on weekends. This is called “being a grownup.” I have great reviews on my novels–I think the average is about 4.75 on Amazon. I have people who write me and tell me they love my work. What I don’t have is enough money in the bank to pay my living expenses without my day job, and until I have that, I will keep working 40+ hours a week changing lightbulbs and unclogging toilets.

    Lady, you didn’t “Publish a debut novel and go broke” you “quit your day job and went broke.” Most people who do quit a job without having income lined up to replace it do go broke.

  6. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I look back at my first novel there is a certain cringe factor. Each novel, short story and piece I write improves my craft. One novel does not mean you’re a writer. One good novel doesn’t even mean you’re a good writer, because you can always do better.

  7. All I could think was, “stop whining.” She didn’t write a second book after she quit her day job? Is she kidding??? She won awards, got great reviews, received an advance, let me get the violin for her. If I’d hit the ground running like she did, I’d be a lot more grateful and motivated. You can’t buy a stamp on what my books sell and I’m still showing up in hopes I’ll get smart enough to change it.

  8. I struggled to understand what her point was, too. I can’t believe she thought that she could quit her day job after publishing a single book. Who in her right mind would do that? It hadn’t even hit the shelves yet, if I read the article correctly. It could have bombed in spite of all those lovely critical reviews her publisher obtained for her and left her with nothing…which is exactly what happened. Dreams are awesome, but if you don’t ground them in reality, you end up knocked on your butt wondering where you went wrong. It appears that she still can’t understand where she took a wrong turn.

  9. If you wish to be a writer, write. I’ve been writing since college and more seriously for the past 20 years – blogs and articles and such and done one traditionally published nonfiction book in the field in which I worked day (and night). I was a nonprofit Executive Director too. Did pretty well too. Started 5 nonprofits in that time and saved another from premature doom. Now, my wife is disabled and I can’t leave her home alone, so I write to survive. After 30 ghost-written books in two years and thousands of articles, I’m eligible to go on Social Security and take up writing full time. I have little patience with hothouse flowers who think someone actually should pay them 40K a year just to write spicy romance novels without plots. I’ve got five books up for sale on Amazon now and shooting for ten total this year with 4 in various stages of completion.

    If you wish to be a writer, write. Pitching and moaning because you can’t find a patron of the arts who will pay you to do your dream writing job is just sad. And unrealistic.

    Tom King

  10. I appreciated her article in that at least she was being honest with readers about the state of her career. However, as Bob wrote so eloquently (and so many other writers pointed as well,) the state of her career doesn’t match the state of the industry.

    I had the same questions everyone else had. What was she doing while that first book was under production? What is her writing schedule like now? Has she even tried to write anything? Where is her agent in all of this? Her editor? What about becoming an indie author? If she’s already fulfilled her contract with Doubleday, doesn’t that mean she’s free to pursue whatever direction she chooses? Why didn’t she use the momentum she gained from all those awards and accolades and do something with it?

    General readers may not realize it — and some of them are savvy enough that they may anyway — but her article really is about an author publishing a first novel and then that book becoming a rude wake-up call to the actual state of the publishing world. She truly was, and possibly still is, somewhat naive about writing as a lifelong career.

  11. If her book was anything like the article she wrote no wonder people won’t read it. The article was torturous, whiny, and self obsessed in a way that made me think it was hipster parody. But the scary truth is that is was not parody. She was serious.

  12. “Writers write.” Line from Throw Momma from the Train. Great movie. Stop whining. I can’t stand whiny-butt blogs. File under – How Not to Become a Professional Writer.

  13. The only thing worse than her constant whining is her refusal to learn anything from her experience. The only lesson she learned seems to be ‘it wasn’t my fault’.

    Bob rearranged her last line. His version compared to hers is very revealing. His states ‘YOU WRITE AND THEN YOU HAVE MONEY.’ In other words writing and making money is a cause-effect relationship. Her version ‘somehow you have money, and somehow you write’ puts the cart before the horse and implies you have to be incredibly wealthy or lucky BEFORE writing anything to make it as a writer.

    In this, she dooms herself to a life of bitterness and envy as she delivers royalty checks to successful ‘inferiors’ who actually put some work into their craft.

  14. I don’t think her article was whiny. I think it was confused. I really think traditional publishing in terms of publishers, editors and agents can do a better job educating new authors on the reality of what they’re entering into. I examine the reasons why they don’t in Write It Forward; ultimately because of 90% of first novels ‘fail’. However, I believe it’s a chicken or the egg issue. Which comes first? The uneducated author who is clueless, or the failure?

  15. A painter is only a painter if he or she paints. As the author of the article is not writing she is not a writer, no matter what she may have done in the past. Fairly simple.

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