This month, I am lucky enough to mark my one year anniversary in the complicated world of self-publishing. A milestone I’ve often wondered from the beginning if I’d ever reach. Yes, I still have the day job, but I’m making progress towards that big dream to be a full time writer.
After publishing three books, I’ve learned a lot over the last year, both in business and my personal life. In celebration, I thought I’d share a few of the more vital things I’ve learned.
- Be kind to yourself – The name of the game is deadlines in this business. And deadlines usually mean stress. But the simple fact is, things happen. Kids get sick, computers crash, and your characters stop talking to you. It’s called life and sometimes you have control and sometimes you don’t. But at the end of the day, you can’t let frustration consume you when something didn’t work out, or you didn’t meet your word count, or your characters suddenly start speaking French when they’re from Oregon. Give yourself a break and focus on how to proceed from there.
- Some days, you just don’t get anything writing related accomplished – If some of you saw my name and thought it looked vaguely familiar, it’s because I had a guest post here a few months ago where I talked about my crazy life (hubby, 2 kids, full time job, and writing career). There’s been days these last couple of months where I wake up around 4am to work out, then go to work for a little over 8 hours at the day job, come home for approximately 5 minutes to gather up the kiddos, race off to the 8 year old’s softball game, and get home sometime between 7:30 and 8pm. I’ve got cranky kids to get bathed. (Did I mention my husband goes to school on weeknights, so I’m doing this solo? Well, now you know. ; ) ) Then it’s bedtime with its 27 attempts to stay up later. After all that, the last thing I really want to do is sit at my desk and try to get my characters to work with me. Some nights, I force myself to, whether it’s actual writing or just setting up some tweets and posts on Hootsuite. Other nights, my brain has only enough power to direct my body to bed. It’s just the way it is. Rather than worry about it too much, I just try to make extra time on the weekend to make up for it.
- “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything” – I so wish I knew who said this! (If anyone does, please share!) Nothing could be further from the truth. In the self-publishing world, as the author/publisher, you’re responsible for coordinating everything. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that’s how it works with everything related to a writing career. You have to constantly read in your genre. You have to attend all the important writing seminars/conventions. You have to market, market, market. Everything feels like it falls into the category of YOU HAVE TO DO THIS. But the reality is, you can’t do it all. I wish I could attend every single SD RWA chapter meeting (I’ve only been to one so far in the year and half I’ve been a member. = ( But I hope to attend a few more this year.). I wish I could spend more time networking with other authors. I wish, I wish, I wish. Wishes are great, however, the fact is that there are only so many hours in the day and I am rather fond of seeing my husband, kids, and family. So I try to do what I can and not worry so much about doing ALL of it.
- Make a few top priorities, anything else is a bonus – Hand in hand with the last one, to help keep things organized, making priorities can be a life saver. Knowing the essentials of what needs to be done on any given day can be a huge stress reliever. Even if you don’t get it done (ahem, see the second bullet) at least you know exactly what’s on your plate for the next day. And if you’re occasionally ultra-organized, then you also have a side list of things that need to get done at some point, but are a lower priority. Then when you have a day when you get your priority items done and you check off a thing or two off the back up list, you feel like a rock star.
- Breaks are good for the mind and soul – A fried brain is not conducive to engaging prose. Like anything in life, taking a break can be life/sanity saving. Taking a break can not only be mentally restorative, but it can also give you a new perspective. A few months ago, I convinced myself a story I had recently completed was trash and should never see the light of day. I put the story away for a month and took a break from writing for a week. When I revisited my manuscript, suddenly the plot holes that seemed insurmountable a short time earlier seemed easily fixed.
- You aren’t simply a “writer” – Like in life, as a writer you must wear many hats. We all know we have to learn about marketing in order to have even the slightest chance of being successful, regardless of whether you self-publish or are traditionally published. But rather than think of myself as a writer who also markets my books, creates my own website, and designs my own covers, I need to think of myself as a business. I’m the whole package, not just the creative director. Changing the mindset from writer to entrepreneur isn’t easy, but in the long run it can help you look at the big picture a little more clearly.
- Its clichéd, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint – As anyone who’s been in this business for more than five minutes, you know publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. In fact, I would argue that everyone’s experience is so individual that it can be really difficult to compare your experience to someone else’s or even try to duplicate someone else’s experience and expect the same results. I’ve seen some people say that after their third book was published, their sales sky rocketed. Others have shared it took a little longer. There’s no magic formula for success. The only things that are for sure are you’ll be shedding blood, sweat, and learning the fine art of patience. Everything else depends on a whole lot of trial and error, some luck, and determination.
Some of these I’ve learned the hard way, others seemed like the logical approach to a particular situation at the time. But I’ve come to realize over the last year that all of them are important aspects to maintaining what little sanity I have left during this journey.
What are important things you’ve learned during your journey?
In between her to-be-read pile and trying to bring the characters in her head alive, Kristen spends as much time as she can with family and friends. Much to her husband’s dismay, she enjoys collecting purses, shoes, and jewelry. During those rare times she’s not working at her day job, rushing her daughters somewhere, watching movies with her husband, and trying to meet a deadline, she can usually be found energetically cheering for one of her favorite New York sports teams.
As with just about every other writer on the planet, Kristen grew up an avid reader. She started with young adult before she technically hit the age range and moved on to sci-fi classics by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. At fifteen, her best friend gave her a book she just had to read! The book was Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts. Always a sucker for a happy ending, she was a goner and fell in love with the romance genre. Having started writing novel length stories at the age of eleven, Kristen’s stories all took a romantic turn from that point on.