Today I retired from writing books.

After 24 years and 70 books, I am — after I complete my current book — done.

Book publishing was a lousy business when I got into it in 1982 …. and it’s gone steadily downhill ever since.

One reason is the sharp decline in book readership — and the reduction in importance of books to society.

This has been brought on, of course, by the Internet.

Another reason is the publishing world’s new obsession with “platform” — an author having a ready audience to ensure sales of his work.

Now publishers don’t buy a book from the author who can write the best book.

They buy it from the author who has the best Web site on the book topic … the largest e-newsletter subscriber list … and the busiest speaking schedule.

The third reason publishing is in ruins is that there are way too many books published.

The shelves are too crowded, and it’s harder for worthy titles to stand out.

Advanced for midlist and backlist authors, meanwhile, have declined to a new level of poverty.

And publishers are having authors turn out formula books like machines.

A major publisher recently asked me to write a complex 120,000-word book — in 3 months — and for a lousy $10,000!

I used to love the book industry, despite all its flaws.

Now I can’t walk into a Barnes & Noble without becoming overwhelmingly depressed.

I still love to READ books … and I worry that this too may cease being a pleasure for me.

I definitely need a hobby, now that I will no longer be writing my two or three books a year.

Any suggestions?


60 thoughts on “Finis

  • Hey Bob;

    Let me be the first to salute you for contribution to the writing and book world!

    I have followed you enough to know that you are a smart businessman. I am sure you have something else in store.

    Tell us where the future lies for writing.

    Personally, I think white papers are where the money is at for writers. Darn close to mini-books.

    FYI, as a new published author, I am a little disenfranchised at the whole book industry myself. I fit into that nice niche you refer to. But it is an amazing effort for very little financial gain.

    Hats off to you Bob. Now you can take a deep breath, go eat some pizza, enjoy America spend time with your kids/grandkids and maybe you will be back with reflections.


  • Bob,

    Your books and writing have had such a deep influence on this “Mom in Pajamas” who started out a stay at home mom who had to build a writing career in order to stay at home! I will be very sad when I walk in bookstores and don’t see new Bob Bly books!


  • Aw. I understand, Bob. When you master something — you want to try something new. And books, you’ve indeed mastered and kinged.

    As someone with three young’uns and plenty of years before the empty nest years (that’s fine with me) — I think about what I’d do when I find more time. Usually those thoughts consist of taking up a sport like golf, reading every book on my shelf – one after the next without interruptions from books related to my job (reviews and abstracts) and kid activities, create scrapbooks of memories and make new memories by traveling and seeing new things, and do projects to fix up the home.

  • You’ll be missed, Bob! I often tell people that I replaced a $2,500/month marketing consultant with your “The Copywriter’s Handbook” and got better results.

  • Bob, Does this mean I don’t have to write a book? Yeah! I’d rather lie on my couch and read a good book than struggle to “find” a book to write. 🙂

    Despite the failings of the book industry, without your book, “How to Make $85K a Year Freelance Writing” (first read back in 1998), I wouldn’t be here today writing this post. My hat is off to you. Thank you!

  • While I love books, I gave them up as a significant source of income (at least on the advance side) several years ago due to many of the reasons you cite. Publishers who want authors who self-market and have that built-in audience; it keeps publishers from having to do their own marketing. Which usually is nil, anyway.

    (I have frequently said that trade book publishing is a business stuck in the 50s. And I don’t mean the 1950s.)

    Not to make you feel any worse, but on the fiction side, the situation is even more dire. In science fiction (a genre in which I have written) authors, I’m told, who don’t hit the bestseller lists typically get advances for novels in the $5,000 range. Fiction magazines still pay the same rates they paid 25 years ago, with dramatically decreased circulation.

    That said, I still plan to keep writing non-fiction and fiction for magazines and books. They pay better than podcasts and blogs, they provide that implied endorsement that someone thought your stuff was valuable enough that they paid for you to write it, and they are somewhat more permanent than pixels.

  • I once read (if memory serves me correctly) that Phillip Dick never got more than $7,500 for a science fiction novel. Now movie producers are making hundreds of millions of dollars turning his stories into movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report.

  • I definitely need a hobby, now that I will no longer be writing my two or three books a year.

    Any suggestions?

    Bob, you’re a great teleconference moderator — Can you do more of that? Maybe you can also focus on and expand your individual coaching services. Many of us could benefit from more of your insight.

    In any case, I’m glad you wrote the books that you did. They are worthy titles that stand out on my bookshelf.

  • Bob,

    A huge number of your books had a great significance in my professional training. I own at least ten books written by you, and I absolutely love a couple of them: “Business to Business Direct Marketing” and “Become a Recognized Authority In Your Field In 60 Days or Less”.

    So, in a word, a big “THANK YOU” from a regular reader.

  • Bob, I’ve read most of your books… the business books, the writing books, the trivia books. I even read “Ronald’s Dumb Computer”. A close friend of mine still credits “Count Your Blessings” with saving her sanity.

    But my all-time favorite is “Write More, Sell More”.

    You bill it as a productivity guide for writers — and it is — but what I really like most is how your enthusiasm for the writer’s life really shines through. In my opinion, it’s your most personal book. And your most inspirational.

    I would not be a successful writer today if it wasn’t for that book… and “The Copywriter’s Handbook”… and “Secrets of a Freelance Writer”… and “Business-to-Business Direct Mail”… and, well, way to many more titles to mention here.

    Thanks for the career.

  • When I worked as a book editor at Loompanics, I marvelled at the fact that authors would write books for advances of $500 to $750. I was making more money editing their books than they were writing them (unless they earned royalties).

    What’s happening in publishing is the death grip of ROI marketing. Publishers used to publish books they thought were good, then hustle sales. Those days are over. Now they publish books they think will sell; it doesn’t matter whether they’re any good or not. Judgments of quality are considered elitist; the market is considered the arbiter of value. Like newspapers, book publishers will chase ROI into their graves.

    What will replace books? Nothing. Not the Internet, not eBooks. I think writing and reading will continue to be marginalized as a quaint, niche technology. We will lose vocabulary, logic, patience, and the ability to think things through.

    The ascendency of video will continue, soon to replace the writer-friendly, text-based Internet we know and love with a million lousy videocasts. I know whereof I speak. I produce online videos for authors as a way to lead people to books.

    One ray of hope is self-publishing. While that channel is currently the source of too many books, poorly made, it is possible for serious pro writers such as yourself to achieve better financial results than through conventional publishing. In fact, it may be the only path left for authors who care more about content than the first 90 days of sales.

    President, AuthorViews, Inc.

  • I should point out that I am atypical. After a quarter of a century and 70 books, my reputation has been established. For an author or professional who has not published a book, the first book can be an important step toward furthering his or her career. And despite all their problems, book publishers are, aside from self publishing, the only game in town. And having your book published by a major NY publisher has much more prestige than printing it yourself.

  • Boy, is that depressing.

    Hey, I know what you’re hobby should be: Publishing – the good old-fashioned way. If it would make you feel better, you can offer me a fat advance to write a book that I’d be pleased to have you promote! (Always trying to be helpful.)

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re fairly wealthy aren’t you? Indulge in some extravegant hobby. Buy a cabin farm in Montana and create a writer’s retreat (that’s what I’d do.)


  • I am a multi-millionaire, it’s true, but at the lower end of that category — and in today’s economy, that is far from wealthy. I would say we are “very comfortable” — we want for nothing and live well — but I am not rich.

  • Bob,

    Oh-oh…I got your e-letter today, “Publisher Looking for New Book Authors,” and ordered your CD program about getting published. Should I cancel my order?

    The timing of your blog post here is ironic, and your comments in this blog seem to counter your very effective sales pitch in your e-letter and on your landing page for the product. I now wonder if it matters whether or not I learn all these great techniques and tips for getting one of my five novels or proposed non-fiction book series published.

    Would I do better cancelling my order today and go the self-publishing route? (I recently bought Peter Bowerman’s “The Well-Fed Self-Publisher). Am I buying too many self-help products that may be great, but may just be a way to procrastinate just getting out there, with more self-confidence, and aggressively pitching agents and pubishers–or continuing to do all the work necessary to build one’s own self-publishing platform?

    I’m really discouraged by all of these comments about how lousy the publishing world really is, and how it’s getting worse. What I know is that I still BUY and READ a lot of books, and I’m very choosy about the ones I buy, which have mostly been good books. I see other people reading books around me on the subway, while waiting in the dentist’s office, and at lunch. I think people will always enjoy holding a book in their hands, even if they also buy e-books, listen to CDs and i-Pods.

    By the way, I have already had many articles and columns published, and I figure an agent will be more impressed that I’ve already written several books before approaching them to get a publishing deal–I’m not a “one hit wonder.” That’s my two cents for the day…and I would really miss your books, but then, if you change your mind, you can always do a “comeback” PR campaign and raise the price of the next book! 🙂

    Also–I help people come up with new and great ideas to re-design their lives, find new hobbies and revolutionize “retirement,” if you’re interested! Just give me a call or shoot me an email.

    Best to you in whatever you do in the future,

    –Cathryn Hrudicka, Chief Imagination Officer,
    Consultant, Executive Coach, and Author
    Creative Sage™

  • It’s simple. You can go to a traditonial publisher, or self publish. Each has its pros and cons. If I were starting over, I would still rather go to a traditional publisher than pay to have my own book printed. There are many reasons. Distribution is one. Prestige is another. As Frank Catalano points out above, the fact that someone has PAID you to write your book carries a lot of weight. Unfair or not, self-publishing is still looked down upon by many readers.

  • You surprised me with this one, Bob. Especially with your comment about platforms. I was chatting with our mutual friend Don Hauptman the other day about what publishers and agents mean by that word (I think most of them don’t really know what it means themselves), and I said, “You wanna know what a ‘platform’ is? Bob Bly has a platform.” You and I started out writing books at roughly the same time … you’ve gone on to write seventy books, and I’ve managed to eke out three. But I share many of your concerns. I will say this: I’ll never write another non-fiction book again unless I publish it myself. The opportunities in self-publishing these days are greater than ever before, and a lot of the stigma is gone. But with fiction, you’ve got to get into the brick-and-mortar stores to have any chance of success … and that means you have to make a bargain with one of the god-awful publishing companies. As far as a new hobby goes, I hope you’ll take up golf because I need a partner. (And with your income, you could probably join Baltusrol.) But in all candor, I’m taking your “retirement” about as seriously as I used to take Frank Sinatra’s!

  • Bob,

    Disheartening advice. I’m 80 pages and over 20,000 words into my first novel. I guess we gotta ask the question: do we write for money, or do we write because we can’t help it? I don’t know, but if I finish up my novel and don’t find a publisher, I might just throw it up on my Web site.

    So advances are in the $5,000 to $10,000 range? Count yourself lucky. I was once contacted by a publisher who had read one of my magazine articles and wanted me to write a book on the Chinese manned spaceflight program. I asked for a $2,000 advance and they agreed to it, but never paid up when the deadline came. I ended up dropping the project. We ended our relationship amiably — they simply understood that I wasn’t willing to write for nothing.

    I guess that’s the writer’s curse. Only recently (the past 50 years or so) have any book writers ever been paid a decent wage and even then, only bestseller writers like John Grisham or Michael Crighton.

    When you look at history, none of the great “literary” writers were ever paid much. J.R.R. Tolkein’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy didn’t reach its zenith until long after he died. Same for C.S. Lewis’s books. Sir Thomas Malory wrote Morte d’Arthur from a prison cell.

    As to the quality of the books that are published now…

    I’m a capitalist and a diehard conservative. Normally I think the free market is the answer to everything, but art is the one instance in which I hesitate. Left to its own devices, society tends to choose the basest, the most simplistic and the cheapest form of entertainment possible. Example: reality TV (man eats slugs…it doesn’t get better than that), three different CSI series and New York Times bestselling books covering sex scandals. We haven’t changed much since the Roman colliseum days when we used to throw prisoners to the lions for fun.

    Now as depressing as that sounds, we can do something about it. If you don’t like what’s out there, take the advice of C.S. Lewis. At the brink of their writing careers, Lewis told his friend J.R.R. Tolkein (I’m paraphrasing): “It looks like the type of literature we like isn’t out there. I guess that means we’ll have to write it ourselves.”

    -Travis K. Kircher

  • RA: But platform is my downfall. Yes, I have a platform — in marketing. But if I want to write books on other nonfiction topics, as I used to frequently, now I can’t — because I don’t have a platform in those topics. Example: I am an insomniac. Wanted to write a book, “In Search of a Good Night’s Sleep: One Insomniac’s Journey,” detailing my treatments. I could NEVER sell this because I have no platform in this area.

  • Your books have inspired me, and apparently many more like me, to follow our dreams and become professional writers. (Even going so far as to give us a “platform” to base our businesses on.) For that I am eternally grateful.

    What I am in awe of is the fact- and this is certainly not a challenge to your ability- that one of the most successful copywriters on the planet can’t “sell” his book on insomnia to a publishing firm. That encourages me even further that my determination to self-publish my work is the correct decision. If a firm doesn’t believe in the over two decades long proven track record of Bob Bly, why would they even remotely care about the new nobody?

    When did the story become secondary to a marketing plan? Are we copywriters partly to blame?

    I wrote you an email once and didn’t really expect a response. You called me (a new nobody) on the telephone that day and answered my questions politely and with humor. I’ll never forget that. It blew my mind that a person like that still existed. I hope you are ending this segment of your life on your terms… and not because of the dream crushing entity that is big business.

    To find your rightful place with “The Man” Bob, all you have to do is look in the mirror. (You’re him) Thanks for everything. Keep swinging.

  • It’s me again…I have insomnia, too, maybe from thinking about all the ideas for books I’d like to write in the middle of the night! 🙂

    So, Bob, it sounds like you still really want to write books, but on different topics than before. I’ll bet there are some ways to tie-in your marketing platform to your new insomnia platform, like:

    “Do all great marketing experts have insomnia?”…or something like that, in your book title or your press release title…and you could even interview other marketing people who have insomnia–maybe a few famous ones. Or, you could angle the insomnia toward your audience by showing how it impacts THEM specifically, and I’m sure you know all of this already.

    It seems that if you’ve written 70 books, and most of them have sold well, somebody ought to be willing to publish your insomnia book, especially if you show them (in your proposal) the huge demographics of insomniacs in the U.S. (and elsewhere) who would buy it, and how you would promote and market it. Some famous insomniacs in the book, and endorsement by a notable doctor, ought to clinch it. Or, you could self-publish the insomnia book, since you’ve already earned your publishing credentials.

    Just two cents more…good luck! I’d love to read a good book about insomnia that proposed some solutions–especially without taking sleeping pills–that would really work for us hard-core, lifelong insomniacs!

    –Cathryn Hrudicka, Chief Imagination Officer,
    Consultant, Executive Coach, and Author
    Creative Sage™

  • Craig: when I started writing books 25 years ago, I could pretty much find a publisher for any nonfiction book I cared to write. My published books cover topics ranging from sex to Star Trek, careers to computers, trivia to time management. Today, because of platform, the only books I can sell are on writing and marketing. So no: I am not leaving on my own terms. The industry has changed, and for an author who wants to write on many subjects, that change is for the worse.

  • For those who predict the death of books, just an additional observation: I can’t think of any medium (except, perhaps, the chautauqua, which I’m not even certain I’m spelling correctly) that has completely gone away due to competition from new media forms. They’ve just gotten better at what they do uniquely. (Yes, I can cite a whole list of examples, but this is a blog comment.)

    I think books are at their best as a vehicle for fiction. It’s all absorbing and unchanging. Non-fiction can change, and may have a better vehicle on in the Internet or in updatable e-books (or even eInk technology).

    So I think it’s a bit early for anyone to predict the death of books, just as it was a bit early to predict the death of theatre when film came along. Film when TV came along. Radio when TV came along. Or magazines when the Internet came along.

  • Frank: I agree that novels will also be here in book form. But for many types of nonfiction, books are disappearing, largely because of the Internet. Examples: large reference books and books that consist mainly of facts. Nonfiction books today are getting thinner, and many of the successful ones (e.g., The Tipping Point) deal with an idea rather than information.

  • QUOTE:
    “And despite all their problems, book publishers are, aside from self publishing, the only game in town. And having your book published by a major NY publisher has much more prestige than printing it yourself.”

    There’s a lot in your post, Bob, and in the thoughtful responses, to think about.

    Two things that jump out at me:

    #1 – Are you writing books to connect with people/share your expereince or for the prestige? I mean, after 70 books done with/for NY publishers, don’t you have enough prestige to not be “tarnished” by self-publishing?

    #2 – People who self-publish and have (or can find) a ready market make way more money that people who write for the NYCs! True, you have to pay for/ship the books and you may have to do the promotion — but, from what I hear, the major publishers are NO HELP on that anyway!

    Oh, yeah – and one more … it may be that you’re writing too many books. Maybe you need to take a year or two off and refuse to let yourself write bhooks, then see what comes to you in 2008.

    I will follow this with great interest, and wish you all the very best. (After all you and your books have done for me, it’s the VERY least I can do!)

    {P.S. Poker is a wonderful hobby … and you can make money at it too. Games all night on-line. Perfect for insomniacs. (smile!)}

  • Bob: We agree on non-fiction books, especially references and directories. Those are already dead puppies (unless there’s a need for a non-powered version, but that’s what print on demand and the print button are for). I think the next non-fiction to go may be the how-to books, as you imply.

    But I suspect — and I know you not at all — that you have an inner urge to write. I know I do. Writers write. You’ll just find another outlet after a break, is all. I know I have.

  • Bob: I play rugby. And, while I’m not suggesting you take up rugby as a new hobby, I would like to share something with you that the came edifies simply: Most of the people who get beat on in this world eventually quit. (I’d guess that percentage somewhere around 85%) Then there are the limited few who get beat on and only get stronger, only try harder, only fight with more tenacity. They win because they refuse to lose. It is not their physical dimensions which allows for this behavior (this choice) it is simply the fortitude of their will.

    It is my belief that you have come too far in this medium to not leave on your terms. There is always a way to win. Do you have the faith in yourself and the constitution it takes to do what you must in order that you may do what you dream?

    Like I said earlier, I’m just a nobody, and I’m definitely not judging your decision. I am posting an observation and offering a point. Take it as you will. And, as always, thanks for including us in your life.

  • Sponge: writing books for me is an impulse bordering on addiction. I have never, until now, been without at least one book (usually two or three) under contract to write since 1981. My compulsion is this: as soon as I learn something, I feel the need to share it with others, and my favorite way of doing this, since I am a writer and not a speaker or coach, is to write a book.

  • All the more reason, then (and with all respect!) for you to take a break from books.

    You can always go back to being addicted in 2008.

    Sometimes you gotta’ let the field lie fallow.

  • You have recently become more than a writer to me, but an mentor not yet met and an honest source of hope.

    In kind I offer little but a sincerely heartfelt thank you and added hope…nothing is ever finished, nor is ever avenue walked upon. It is only in our personal deviations and devastations that we feel the ends of the earth encroaching.

    Be well and know that you and all you do is appreciated, even when I’ve spent the 2 cents worth of wisdom I’d had to offer.

    I hope you’ll find something you enjoy and find as challenging. Might I suggest teaching? If not, try quillwork. It’s much harder than writing, if you care for presentation at all.

    Warmest regards always,

    Kim Paluch

  • dear sir we know you have some understanding of the dynamics of the humansoul deplaying it in iron john, the strong fundamentals needed to help the weak and confused human beings and the strong leadership needed for families ,commuties and state. Wayne dyer has inteligent words to share. i believe you have as well the abiliti to sharing stories, ideas and to getting your point acrossed to millions. waking up millions, of young men and women to forgive them selfs and past leaders and the disfuntional families, and the broking down connection of community, post industriaul era starting with church groups even the heart of the matter, inner citie youth, young and old around the world starting with toronto canada. good luck on your new path sir Robert bly ”Come to toronto ‘ best regards David Lavin

  • Bob,
    My suggestion for you is flyfishing. Go to Livingston, Montana, stay at the Murray Hotel in Sam Peckinpah’s old suite and hang out for about a month. It will change your life. You’ll have plenty of writer friends to commisurate with at the Owl bar.

    By the time that month is done, you’ll have it all figured out.


  • Bob,

    I never thought you would stop writing books but understand your reasons. It makes me sad.

    Thanks for writing the books you did, especially on copywriting. When I was considering a freelance writing career back in the early ’90s, I answered one of your ads in the back of Writer’s Digest.

    That’s how I learned about copywriting, and not long after I left a successful career in aerospace (General Dynamics and Boeing) to strike out on my own as a freelance copywriter. I’ve never looked back.

    Thanks for being a mentor to me, even though we have never met (although I hope we do someday).

    New hobby? Anything outdoors that gets you away from the office and technology overload couldn’t be too bad.

    Good luck!

    Neil Sagebiel

  • Hi Bob,

    I have to admit I was quite surprised to see this recent post. But everything happens for a reason. For years I’ve tried to keep up with your books. And I’m pleased to say that I’ve read most of them (some several times) and I continue to recommend them to others. When I look back at my career as a writer, I can honestly say that your books have changed my life.

    When I think of your decision, I feel like the kid in the old cowboy movie, “Shane.”
    As the cowboy was riding off into the sunset, the little boy ran behind him, calling, “Shane. Shane. Come back!”

  • Bob,
    I count 9 of your books on my bookshelves. All of them are profusely highligted, book marked, contain margin notes and a few coffee stains.

    In other words, your books aren’t just read-em-and-forget-em books. I have poured over them much more than I did most of my old college text books back in the day.

    I hate to see the end of an era, but I completely understand.

    As for a suggestion, one thing you mentioned in one of your books has stuck with me for years. That was the power of a book as a selling tool for your services. You said that when you gave a copy to a prospective client, you almost always got their business.

    That tells me that I need to finish the two books I am working on now, if for no other reason than the credibility they will bring.

    Good luck, and thank you for all you have contributed to my life and work.

    Charles Brown

  • Dear Bob,

    Do not “go away”! Online publishing is OK, but most serious readers like to hold one of your books and interact with the print on the white paper made from trees (trees planted for books.) You just feel rather burned out.

    You probably have a backyard at this point in your very fruitful life. Supervise making it pretty with comfortable cushy seats on the lawn furniture. These will be shaded, too! After your little walk, sit there and red your OWN BOOKS! We are told never to indulge this way. I say DO IT!
    This way, you will not have the depression of Barnes and Noble visits for a time and you will find untold treasures: ideas, concepts you have embraced or discarded. Then, da-DAH! Inspiration for your next move. Re: Publishers (with too many world citizens impoverished and distracted, we can’t blame them)

    Print your own (after sending your ms. to multi publishers, who do not meet your terms. So many VERY successful writers did/do this. Duh: Sorry. Who would know this more than you?

    Mary Gribble

  • Hi Bob,

    First things first, thank you for all your inspiration and information. You’ve been a major factor in my switch to copywriting… and therefore, my happiness and success.

    Second, I’m surprised to read the publishing industry wouldn’t all but bend over backwards to get your next book! With your record, I can’t help but shake my head at their lack of vision – and faith in their industry. I, for one, will continue to purchase your books.

    Third, if you’re looking for a new hobby, how about coin collecting?

    Best of luck, success and happiness,

    Len Bailey

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  • #1. Porn spammers! Get a life!

    #2. You offer a very good insight onto the book publishing industry. This whole entry was very simple and to the point… but it said it all. I hadn’t really thought about book publishing “going downhill,” but this opened my eyes a little bit. Sorry that you’ve had to deal with this stuff! I wish you well in your retirement!

  • Hi Bob,

    I’m a writer of nature-based material, but have just completed a collection of short sotries. I love the short story, because it’s such a challenge to grab the reader’s attention, quickly, especially in the opening lines to a story. I love it!

    Anyhow, a painter once said, “Old artists don’t retire, they just drop dead.” I suspect you’ll keep writing, in one form or another. 🙂

    All the best!

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