If you write, chances are you have the dream to be a full time author. It’s not for everyone. It is a demanding, turbulent occupation that wears many out. And yet, we want it.
In 2016 I had a plan. I needed four more years to restart my career now that I knew what I wanted to focus on, build a brand, a back list that could support me and get debt free. Then, and only then, could I do it. Be a full time author.
Plans are made to be burned and their ashes danced on. February 1st of 2016 I was laid off. It was from out of the blue. I was not prepared. And I had a choice ahead of me:
A year later, it’s no surprise which option I picked. I hope sharing how I made the decision to take the chance helps others evaluate their plans.
I’m going to look at a few key things:
There are a few key pieces of data I had at my disposal February 1st when I was laid off that helped me make my decision based on facts, not feelings.
Looking at the cold hard numbers of output vs input told me a couple things.
First, if I produced steadily, if I released regularly, I could bring that income up. Second, the pace at which I write comfortably would allow for frequent releases.
Not in this data is The Plan. Remember, I had a four year plan. Just because I was let go from my job didn’t change that plan. It merely accelerated it. Previously, in my earlier years writing I wrote, sold or published whatever I felt like writing. From contemporary to space opera, from BDSM to suspense. That works for some authors, but not for most.
Because an author is a brand. Like Coka-Cola or Dr Pepper, you know when you pop that top what you’re getting. Now, some authors can write all over the board and do amazing. I’m not that person. I know I need to pick a thing and go for it. I needed to recreate the Sidney Bristol brand with a flavor people would come to recognize and reach for when they get that hankering. I was a bit ahead of the schedule because I’d spent much of 2015 priming myself to go all-in with this new direction.
February of 2016 would see my first mass market release in romantic suspense with a traditional publisher. Over the previous five years I’d determined that suspense, action and adventure suit me best, and it was my intention to buckle down and build my house on that brand. I was rebuilding myself, so to speak. Which left me in a very interesting place to begin my full time author life.
I felt like I could do it. I set a goal of six months and told myself that if I hadn’t achieved a steady income level of around $1,500 I would need to seriously reconsider what I was doing.
There’s a number of things I brought with me to writing full time. First, I can produce and I produce fairly reliably without much waffling on my output. So long as I like the story, have an outline and a feel for the characters, I can write the book.
I produced five books in a series. I positioned the series so it was at a cross-section of three subgenres. And then I did a spin-off.
I focused on hero-centric, book boyfriends rather than heroine rooted stories.
Above all, I wrote every, freaking day and said yes to just about every promotion that came my way.
This resulted in a grand total of fourteen releases in 2016 between four series. I saw my income go from an average of around $940 per month at the beginning of the year to $2,300 per month. I did this releasing wide versus going into Kindle Unlimited. And I did it with much help from other people. No, that isn’t ground breaking, amazing results. It could have been better, but more than anything I proved to myself that it was entirely possible to recreate myself and establish a sustaining career at the same time.
This full time author gig was possible.
Side note: It should also be acknowledged that I had other things going on to bring in money on the side to supplement the lean months.
We all can do better. I learned a few of my mistakes early on and tried to power through them.
First, I dove into writing on a series I began on a whim. SEALs have continued to be popular. Bodyguards were popular. Suspense was supposed to be popular. So I put them all together into a mishmash series. The first book was a fluke. Something I wrote for a boxed set and didn’t really know what to do with. It did well, people liked it, and I wrote characters in with the idea that I could do more down the line. When I was laid off, that book and concept were the best ones I had for creating a viable product line. In hindsight, I might have been better served sitting back and brainstorming a better concept with a more marketable brand. That said, that series has supported me pretty much on it’s own for the last half of 2016, so I won’t complain too much.
Covers. I made an artistic decision in 2015 when I wrote the first book because I wanted to be different. The problem with different is that it does not always mean better. It was just different. And the concept I requested, wanted, and loved so very much…didn’t properly convey my product line. I recovered the series in the latter part of 2016 for a pretty penny and have seen better marketing, sales and opportunities. My advice? Get a really good cover artist, and then an even better friend who isn’t afraid to tell you the cover model looks like Ken’s creepy brother with a thing for Skipper. Yes, I’ve heard that one.
I got distracted by writing what I wanted, not what people wanted. While my first series wasn’t a well thought out brand, it sold well enough. My plan was to create something similar, but different. Good in theory, if I’d stuck with the same part of the statement. Instead of doing something similar, I went off the reservation and did a heroine-centric, series of my heart project. This resulted in months focused on books that did not firmly fit the brand I wanted to push. Do I regret them? Nope. I wanted to write them and there is a readership for them, but they are not the majority. I learned the hard way that sometimes I’m going to have to stuff what I want to write deep down and focus on what I enjoy that will also sell.
By and far the biggest thing that’s assisted me along the way?
Avid readers and wonderful friends.
I wouldn’t be where I am without people who wanted to read my books and thereby shared my books with their friends. I wouldn’t have reached those readers without other authors reaching back to pull me up with them.
A lot of people treat this publishing game as a me versus them sort of thing that it does not have to be. Readers don’t buy just one author’s books, and accepting that, embracing that, is huge.
I try to always, always, always say thank you where it’s deserved. Or if I’m just grateful. Because a thank you doesn’t cost anything, and it can mean the world all at the same time.
The lessons learned in 2016 are already getting a workout. This year I’m releasing a better planned and more marketable series hung on several hooks for readers to glom onto. I’ve paid attention to brand, tone, things that do and do not work when it comes to heroes and covers. I’m doing my best to learn so that 2017 is the year that we not only make it, but break it in terms of goals and success.
If you’re someone wanting to write full time, my biggest advice would be to consider everything you want to do. If writing is it, the top of the list, your everything, then sit down and start making your plan for how to get there. It’s possible. It’s doable. Yes, we live in crazy, turbulent publishing times, but this is a viable career in need of more, amazing voices telling their stories.
Did you know a writer’s career can be summed up as mini-projects from start to finish? Author and project management are two terms that rarely go hand-in-hand. There are thousands of ebooks out there that will tell you how to write, how to market, and how to increase your word count. Trust me, I know. I’ve read most of them. What I’ve yet to find is a comprehensive guide for effectively managing multiple author projects, website updates, marketing, money, contracts, etc. and still manage to get your writing done.
Many years before I took the plunge into full-time writing, I was a project manager for large military hospitals at various sites. Fifteen billion dollars in products and services passed through my hands during those years. It was a high-stress job with micromanaging at an epic level (for good reason! That’s a lot of tax dollars!), and keeping track of my daily to-do list was a nightmare all its own. Our base had become a joint venture with our sister services as well as the VA so there were a lot of eyes on our new program.
My job site sent me to shadow three project managers of the largest accounts in all of Pacific Air Force. For one week, I’d be at their side, learning the ins and outs of time management in the midst of turmoil. Each project manager taught me valuable lessons that I’m going to share with you. If they don’t make sense, no worries. I’ll expand on them in a bit.
The life of an author has taken a fascinating turn these past few years. We’re expected to do more with less, market harder than the person next to us, and still write gripping prose while maintaining optimism. It’s enough to overwhelm a person.
Each book you write, edit, upload (or submit), and publish is a project. A book can be broken down into four main project legs: writing, editing, publishing, marketing. If you have a publisher, the publishing section would be what you have to do in order to get your book ready for submission and will include the submission process. Maintaining your financial records is an ongoing project that requires a scheduled update. Website design and maintenance are a project all its own (though creating a new lead page for your latest release could technically fall under marketing for a book project). Blog posts, like this one, need to be scheduled and promoted. These are important aspects to our career that we have to pay attention to.
So how do you set up your project management tracker?
It’s inevitable that at least one pesky typo or grammar flub will make it into your published book. The laws of the universe demand it (probably).
This truth is something I struggle to accept every time I publish a new book. The fact of the matter is that your brain can be your own worst enemy during the editing process simply because of how it naturally processes information, but more on that in a moment. While everyone’s process is different, I tend to edit as I write, and typos and misspellings notwithstanding, it’s those grammar questions that can really put the brakes on my word count for the day as it takes me out of the zone. It can be a real pain to have to stop and look something up because I can’t remember if I should use “affect” or “effect” or if a certain number should be written in word form or is large enough to be written out as numerals.
To combat the disruption, I keep a printout/checklist of all the words/grammar questions that still give me pause every once in a while that explains their proper usage that I can consult easily and quickly. I then go down this checklist using Microsoft Word’s “Find” function after I’ve completed the book as a final editing pass before I send off the first draft to my editor. I will list some of the items on my checklist here. I also recently polled some of my readers about grammar mistakes they commonly come across, and will list the top few responses as well.
“My appointment may take a while.” or “Come stay for a while.”
“Awhile” is an adverb meaning “for a while.”
“Come stay awhile.”
You can test it by subbing in “for a while” or another adverb such as “quietly.”
I’m sure some of you are squinting and thinking, “What?”
NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is a non-profit, yearly inspirational push to get people writing. Way back in 1999 an inspired person named Chris Baty, the founding father of NaNo. There were around twenty participants who wrote for everything they had, with no real goals or word counts in mind. They just wanted to write. Then a magical thing happened, more people wanted to be involved. People set goals, and over time the hallmark 50,000 words in a month goal was established. Now, seventeen years later, NaNo has become a world-wide phenomenon. It touches almost every country and produces thousands of books a year.
But…what is it?
In a nutshell, NaNoWriMo is taking the solitary act of writing a book and making it social. By challenging people to come out to write-in’s and attend writing events, authors are no longer secluded in their caves, tapping away at keyboards that have seen better days.
A participant’s experience is unique person to person. Some sign up on the website and just log their daily word counts with the ultimate goal of getting their winner’s badge. Others attend things called write-in’s at coffee shops, restaurants, stranger’s homes and plug in to write as much as they can during the event. Many regions even opt to do all night writing events. That makes me tired just thinking about it! (Says the girl who just went to one…)
But did you know NaNo also raises money to fund literacy programs? Their Young Writer’s Program is a tool that goes into schools to teach and foster the love of books and writings with today’s youth. Each year, NaNoWriMo’s goal to spread the power of words to more people in more countries.
In my experience, NaNo is more than an inspirational challenge to push people out of their comfort zone. It’s an opportunity to connect people, make friends, and write that book.
YASIV is a tool can be used by authors to see how people are finding your books and other books--the path they are generally taking to either get to you or get to another book from your. It shows you the visual connection between your book and others that are connected. It's really interesting and this one has a rabbit hole warning (you know, when you start and three hours later realize you're still playing with it because you've figured out it does other neat stuff too).
It offers other handy information that you can take and find ways to apply to your marketing. Its uses for finding a target market is awesome. Here is a site talking about as much.
Visit YASIV for Amazon today and start gathering data: SITE HERE
Their blog offers various features and ways this tool can be used. Check it out here.
Visual key for target marketing
Time Management for Writers by Jaye Wells (written for Raven Magazine)
Hello, my name is Jaye, and I am a procrastinator.
I feel no sense of shame admitting this because every day I see dozens of other authors beating themselves up for spending more time on social media than in their fictional worlds. In fact, if you’re a writer, I’d put some money down in Vegas on the chance you’re a procrastinator, too.
But as easy as it was for me to admit it to you, it took me a long time to admit it to myself. I used to try to convince myself I simply was a perfectionist. That I was simply honoring my process. Or that I simply worked best under stress.
Hint: None of these excuses get books written.
Here’s the truth: Writers work in a delayed gratification field but live in an instant gratification world. Coming to terms with this fact and learning how to maintain balance in that no-man’s land between the two can make all the difference in your productivity. So if you want any sort of longevity as a professional writer, you’re going to have to develop some time (and self) management skills.
Your first task is to get honest. All the good intentions in the world are useless if they aren’t rooted in the reality of your life. You may want to be the kind of writer who leaps out of bed at six am ready to write, but if you’re a night owl this is a horrible plan that will only ensure you end up in an endless loop of failure and guilt. When do you work best? Pay special attention on those days when the writing is going really well. Do you need a large chunk of time or can you get more done if you know you only have an hour?