First of all let’s address the semantics. For the sake of my argument, I have definitions I’ll refer to as I make distinctions. I suppose the distinctions could just as easily apply if you reversed the terms, but for the duration of this conversation I’m going to create my own differentiation.
If you were raised with some version of the phrase “don’t be a quitter” I think you might find that injunction to apply more to the way I define “giving up” in my following argument. When I talk about quitting, it’s strategic, it’s a battlefield retreat. When I talk about giving up, it’s the end of a long, hard emotional road, a slow death you’ve stopped caring about preventing.
They’re easy to confuse. They both come as the result of fatigue and defeat of some kind.
Quitting: a proactive move based on the information available. A business decision.
Giving up: saying “I’m done” to your gifts and calling, walking away for good.
Jason Ropp asked me on Saturday in relation to my new partnership writing fiction with Justin Fike called Cha’am Cowboys Publishing: “how do you know when it’s time to quit a series?” His question was somewhat geared around whether or not we found financial success in our upcoming Stetson Jeff Stetson series (by the way these books are hilarious, message me if you want to be added to Cha’am Cowboys’ mailing list) and how do you decide when to stop writing a series?
First I explained how Mark Daniels and I had published Michiana Art News for about 18 months before we quit. It was a fun project, and broke even but paid very little. We saw that to even with a significant increase in our time commitment to the project, it wouldn’t increase our net very much. So we quit. There’s a business principle behind this: one of the best business decisions you can make is a timely decision not to do business. Mark and I both agreed that it was time to be done. We learned what we could and moved on.
However, with the new project, the decision to quit or not quit has much less to do with the success of any one of our books, or, for that matter, any one of our series. That’s because Justin and I are equally committed not to Give Up. A major distinctive between the Art News and Cha’am’s writing is that the news got old, but Cha’am Cowboys products are fiction, and therefore will always be fresh for readers who discover it later. Ten years later, or twenty. Quitting a series, then, is more a function of feeling we’ve played a certain character out, becoming tired of creating with that character. As long as we’re enjoying the development, we don’t quit. We quit when the story arc reaches its logical conclusion. We plow the furrow to the end of the row, not looking back to worry about what’s growing behind us.
Look, people only jump the shark when they’re trying to squeeze the last bit of money out of something that’s commercially killing it. The time to quit is before you jump the shark. It’s okay to stop producing a series, even if it’s very successful. It’s okay to end any kind of enterprise in business. It’s okay to quit. There are other things which come along based on your values that may cause you to say “I’m done with this particular enterprise”. But that doesn’t mean you’re through being an enterprising person.
What Justin and I both know is that we’re building a back catalog, plus a joint mailing list, so that when one of our books (or a solo project) takes off, it can carry the back catalog with it. This will pay some kind of dividend, some day, as long as we don’t give up.
I have another project which is a more sensitive issue for me right now so I’m reserving details. In this project, I felt I couldn’t continue investing at the moment, so I quit. The other party was very unhappy, even angry. I had given my word, and it’s never comfortable to say out loud that I can’t complete what I promised to complete right now.
This happened some years back when my wife got a painting gig which required a ton of wallpaper removal in a tall stairwell. As time went on, she was heavier and more physically awkward with a pregnancy and we realized she had to abandon the project for her own safety.
These things happen, sometimes amicably and other times with more hurt feelings. Having an exit strategy is important in small business, because your partner may not be giving up, but an illness or other mitigating circumstance may mean they have to quit for a while.
I’m about to quit spending money with a certain advertising agency, because I’m not getting the results I expect, but I’m not giving up on advertising my business. That’s a form of quitting everyone expects you to do!
In short, I’m saying that quitting is sometimes a decision you have to make, while giving up is usually more of a gradual process where you’re demoralized and it happens more passively– but when it’s done, it’s very unlikely you’ll ever come back to that thing you loved doing. You’re too bitter to try again.
So I say, don’t give up. Be a quitter if you must, and deal with the fallout, circle the wagons, gather your metaphors and cliches, then figure out a way to Try, Try again… if at first you don’t succeed.