Some days I just want to pack it all in. I could do that. I could choose to walk away from the world of writing and publishing and grab a “normal” job with a dependable source of income. It is a real option; a path diverting from a journey begun a few years ago exists, and one that I’ve discussed with author friends who have toyed with similar thoughts. But is it really an option? And when do you know when it’s time to call it a day?
From the start, I made many mistakes that have accumulated into thousands of lost dollars. I wrote my first book, Millie’s Angel, without adhering to any one firm genre, resulting in “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” kind of novel. Which might work if you’re someone like Norah Jones, but I wasn’t someone like that. I’m still not someone like that.
It didn’t matter that that title attracted an award or a whole bunch of five-star reviews from reputable review services (that I’d paid for). It didn’t matter that I went ahead and invested a whole bunch of my savings into promoting the book because at the end of the day, I’d screwed up my target audience – and this was before I could get them to actually buy the book. I had totally failed on the original cover too.
It was a beautiful, award-winning cover created by a talented artist. I shelled out a good chunk of coin for the creation and I loved it. Turned out, I could love it till the end of rainbows and back, but that fact didn’t move the book into the right hands and generate sales.
The universe has a way of throwing the right people on your path when you need them. Think about it; there are billions of people in the world doing their thing – how is it not orchestrated by some stroke of higher intelligence when you encounter the important ones? The ones meant to touch your life in some way … for a particular reason.
He might blush when working on these words before you see them, but my editor Paul Vander Loos is a part of an intimate body of people to have influenced my creative world. I learned a ton early on during his work on Millie. He went above and beyond to clean up that first manuscript when most editors would have thrown it back at me in disgust.
Not Paul. He rolled up his sleeves and got down and dirty with my words, and probably wanted to throw me off a cliff on more than one occasion. When it was all done and delivered, I could barely believe how much patience this man must have possessed to have persevered through my manuscript. The lessons were invaluable, the appreciation more than he could ever realize.
I’m probably going to regret telling you this, but I was so wet-behind-the-ears and excited when releasing Millie, that I went ahead and made the DUMBEST decision ever and hired a publicist. Yes. As I write these words, I can still feel the sting of that one.
I invested about a thousand dollars without much of a result in return. She snagged me one radio appearance and an article in a magazine about balancing writing with a big family. She had wanted to use my background in domestic abuse as a publicity angle; a fact that didn’t sit well with me (but I went with it anyway). When a few of the bigger magazines sniffed around for my story, they had to bolt when they discovered I’d never chosen to press charges against my ex-husband.
It wasn’t long before I realized that brand new, unknown fiction authors do not need publicists. Unless they have a surplus budget and money to burn. I didn’t.
Not all was lost, though, because it was through that publicist that I was introduced to a lovely woman who would become one of my most solid author friends to date, Beth Prentice.
Beth knew more than me. I found myself engaged in weekly phone conversations, picking her brain about the industry and spending hours talking shop. It was through Beth that I’d learned the ropes that had eluded me, and, in the process, I discovered a true friend. She gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going, keep writing and keep believing in myself. As dumb as it was, I’d pay that publicist again in a heartbeat for Beth.
I then started to wrap my head around the industry a little more. It was enough to write my follow-up title to genre, deciding to hinge the series on the most prominent genre to flavor my first book: paranormal romance. Despite falling short on the original cover, the book fared well and attracted great reviews from readers, making an even deeper niche when I revamped the cover art some months later.
That’s another thing that had stumped me in the beginning – who were my readers, how do I find them, and most importantly, how do I keep them engaged between releases?
It started out pretty cheesy. I did what I saw most other authors were doing with their newsletters, delivering the generic style email every other week or so. I organized dozens of swaps, signed up for author cross-promotions, newsletter builders, author giveaways.
I thought that if I didn’t have something like the above-mentioned options to offer my readers, then I didn’t have an email to send. The problem with that is that your emails become ordinary pretty fast.
Since releasing those first two books, I’ve gone on to work with some wonderful people, collaborate and learn from some of the best in the Indie publishing industry, make a couple of strong connections and publish more titles. Yet, it wasn’t until recently that I really began to grow into myself as an author, and as a woman. I’ve discovered a part of myself I never knew was missing.
There is something about creating stories that strengthens your inner world. It’s like a journey of self-discovery and self-realization. Our deepest truths seem to spill onto the page through our stories, creating more than just a fictional tale, but a personal learning experience that fosters insight and growth.
I currently have two completed manuscripts in a series banked on the hard drive and ready to go; the third underway (well, somewhat). I find myself caught in the “undecided” zone with this series, unsure about which way is best to let it fly. That’s the thing about this game; sometimes it’s hard to know which way to roll the dice – the place where we circle back to the question: do I keep going and invest more into the books or do I call it quits?
My readers, the ones that have stuck around, still receive my fortnightly emails. Only, these days I rarely offer them other book deals or giveaway opportunities. I’m offering them something different; something they can’t get in a builder-giveaway or another book sale lighting up their screen. I’m offering more of me.
As a result, I’ve weeded out the “easily offended” and stuffy variety of readers as well as the ones hanging around for the freebie or 99 cent deals, managing to forge an authentic relationship with others. This is despite offering them little in the way of new release fiction for the duration of 2019. I figure these readers are the ones I want around for the long haul, the ones that like who I am behind the shiny book covers and deals.
I had no idea if consistently creating newsletters without the offers would work, but I’ve found that approaching my readers in this way continues to pay off. I can feel their loyalty, their interest in the content I’m delivering to their inbox and their support through their responses.
Hopefully, when I’ve reached a place where I can breathe long enough to make a solid decision about what to do with my new series, these folks will be just as interested in the fiction I have to offer them. And all being well, I’ll arrive at a place where I no longer question if I’m on the right path, because writing has become a large part of who I am and I can’t imagine a life without creating books.
I guess I just answered the question most of us writers periodically ask themselves: is giving up really an option?
It’s not if you stay true to yourself, do what you are passionate about and honor your soul.