That photo at the top of the blog post? That’s me. Well, okay. It’s not really me. I chopped off most of my hair six months ago. But what she’s feeling in that shot? I feel almost all the time. I’m exhausted.
I have, as of this writing, eleven books out. I know a lot of authors, and occasionally, some of them come to me for advice. Or venting. There’s a lot of venting. And so I want to share some musings on two years of publishing, and my goals to one day be able to do this full time.
WARNING. THERE WILL BE SWEARING. And maybe truth you don’t want to hear. You’ve been warned. Did I mention the swearing?
This is a hard life. And by this, I mean, trying to be a full time writer when you either a) haven’t won the lottery, b) aren’t independently wealthy from a fabulous inheritance or investment or c) don’t have a spouse with a kick-ass job who can support you and your family.
Is it worth it? Most days my answer is yes. Hell, even now, at 1:42 a.m., I’d say yes. But let’s get real. It’s 1:42 a.m. and I’m awake. Well, fine. It’s 1:43 a.m. now. I’m awake because there’s so much running through my head and I have so much to do this weekend, that I can’t sleep.
I’m not writing this post for sympathy. I’ve chosen to give myself insane deadlines in an effort to leave my full-time-supports-my-family-and-gives-us-medical-benefits day job. I’m not sure I can do it. I’m going to try, but this is a hard, hard life. And lately, a few authors that I know have expressed frustration that their paths aren’t progressing the way they’d like. So, here’s my attempt to provide some transparency to the process and maybe help others know what to expect on their journey.
And though we’re now six paragraphs in, here’s the <tl;dr> version. This is fucking hard.
Ingredients for Success
The very first thing you need is a kick-ass book. Your first book probably isn’t going to be that book. Hard truth time. Very few authors peak with their first book. And they shouldn’t. There’s a nugget of wisdom floating around on the Internet that says something akin to “your first book isn’t your masterpiece. Your last book should be.” I am paraphrasing and mangling that terribly, but it’s true. You should improve with every single book you publish. If you don’t, then you’re doing something wrong.
When I say kick-ass book, I mean you need a good story. You need to have it professionally edited. Yes. Even if you are a grammar ninja, you need a professional editor. You need a professional editor even if you’re a professional editor! I can’t stress this enough. GET A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR. Vet them. Make sure they know their stuff. And then listen to them. They’re making suggestions for a reason. You don’t have to agree with everything they say, but listen. This is one of the hardest parts. Chances are, your editor is going to tell you things you don’t want to hear. I should know. I got off the phone with my editor a few hours ago and almost immediately reached for a glass of wine. A very large one. But she’s not wrong, and I hired her because I needed the kick in the ass to take my writing from good to great. And she’s doing that, even though it’s the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever done, creatively.
The second thing you need is a kick-ass second book. And a third. And a fourth. And a fifth.
Hard truth time again. The magic number for seeing profits on your publishing is five to six books. Yes, that’s two numbers. It’s early in the morning. But really, it’s once you have five or six books out that you should finally expect to see some small bit of profit. Of course your mileage may vary. There are authors who do it in three and authors who do it in one. But they are very few and very far between. And there are authors who don’t do it in ten or twelve. But on average, five or six books is the sweet spot. You have a fan base by then. You have enough books out that when a new reader discovers you, and likes you, they might go buy your entire backstock of books and that’s bank.
The third thing you need is time. I recently wrote a book in two weeks. And I think it nearly killed me. It’s almost a week later, and I still haven’t recovered. On average, it takes me six weeks to write a book, another six weeks for editing, a week for formatting, and then I publish. So that’s a little over three months of work for one book. And I’m a fast writer. You may not be. Realize that when you sit down and type Chapter One, you’re probably not going to see that book published for three to six months. And it’s the time that is the hardest part. Hard truth. Yes. Again. You’re really getting tired of me saying that, aren’t you? You want to know what my life is like?
I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details, but it’s a rare day when I don’t work sixteen hours total between my day job and writing and editing. There are days I work eighteen. And that includes my weekends.
The last thing you need is help. I can’t do it alone. No one can. As of right now, I have a marketing manager whom I pay for fifteen hours a month. She makes my teaser graphics, works on promotions, lines up Facebook parties, helps with my newsletter, coordinates giveaways, and talks strategy with me. I have two editors. I have two cover designers. I have a proofreader. I do my own formatting now, but if I get strapped for time, I have a formatter on standby as well. And I have someone helping me with my social media. That’s a lot of help. Granted, I need some of it because I work full time in addition to this writing career. But I also need it because it’s damn hard to be good at everything.
It’s not easy
Very few things in life that are worth having are easy. Hard truth time again. If you want to be a full-time author, you’re going to have a lot of sleepless nights. Is it worth it? Hell yes. I say that now, with a plan in place, and on a day when the hopelessness has taken hold and won’t let go. It’s still worth it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. I think I will, because I have a plan and help and friends and stories to tell. But it’s not going to be easy. I’ll put in the work, and lose the sleep, all in the hope that one day, I’ll be able to give up the day job. Until then, well…it’s 2:06 a.m. now and I have another thousand words to write before go to bed.