From there to here, the lessons I’ve learned.
Once upon a time, I was poor, broke, stressed out, fighting depression, and pretty desperate. My career had just become very un-fun and my income had dwindled down to catastrophic failure levels. Pretty much the only thing I had left was the solitude of my mind and a strange fondness for enjoying the act of typing.
To me, typing has always felt like my fingers dancing. The keys are like tapping of shoes on a hard floor, the choreography of my fingers finding the right letter is complicated, and the faster it goes, the more amazing it always feels. Then there are the words. I figured I wasn’t so good at those, but it didn’t really matter. It wasn’t like **I** could ever write a book, right?
I was wrong. I was so wrong. I didn’t have just one book inside me or one series, I have a lifetime of suppression ready to burst out and shock the world. Well, at least the world of people who knew me. So I wrote a book. It was kinda cool, I was kinda ignorant, and in the end, I didn’t think it would amount to much.
Boy was I wrong.
But let me not get ahead of myself. Back then, when I started on this crazy trip of becoming an author, I was broke. I couldn’t even afford the $50 dollars for a pre-made cover, let alone an editor. So, I decided to get inventive. I reached out to someone I happened to know and offered a trade. She accepted (and no, I didn’t trade her for a book) and sent back this wall of red text. *gulp*
My book sucked. My writing was atrocious. I had no idea how to properly punctuate things like dialogue, introductory phrases, or even compound sentences. Commas peppered the page like a default option, easily interchangeable with spaces. Yeah, it was bad… But the story was there. And to think, I’d been so convinced that book was perfect, but it wasn’t.
So we worked at it, then worked some more. I wrote another book. I found some decent pictures on a free stock photo site. My own experience in advertising design left me with the skills to design the typography. It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it all cost me about twenty bucks to get a tolerable book in the market, and that was a price I could afford.
So, I decided to test the waters and published One More Day. The first month, it earned a whopping hundred bucks. When I got the check, I reinvested it, improved the cover, did more editing, and made it something to be proud of (instead of just “good enough”). Sales naturally increased. Then I did it again, and again, and finally, I sent my second book to the editor.
Now, these weren’t published in the order they were written. I was wise enough, and objective enough about my writing, that I knew my first book had a great story but needed more help than I was qualified to give it. (Trust me, the editing remarks from the first one made an impact!) I let that one sit, slowly fixing as I learned, and kept writing other novels. The newer books were much cleaner and cost a lot less to get out without making a fool of myself.
And every check I got, I put back into my literary empire. From outside help with things like formatting, cover design, and of course editing, I kept moving FORWARD, always intending to make the best book I could. I judged myself on traditionally published works, not the dearth of crap lingering at the bottom of the indie market. I put a lot of money into my work, because I’ve always believed that if I won’t pay for my books, why would a stranger want to?
But even when the books were good, I still was just limping by. I wasn’t even close to being the rich author that everyone hears about. I certainly was NOT a breakout success. I was spending a lot of time at a hobby that was going nowhere, but I seemed to know one thing that a lot of authors don’t. Discoverability isn’t accidental. It’s all about marketing.
So, I invested even more. Fifty bucks a month here. Five dollars there. I tested, I kept records, and I learned about things like ROI and click through rates. I changed the description of the book, changed covers again, and tried to make the view rate as close to the buy rate as possible. If I wanted to be writer, publisher, and money maker, I was going to have to do more than just type. Then, finally, it happened.
Then, finally, it happened.
Sales started to increase. I could afford to pump out novel after novel, allowing Amazon to do half my marketing for me. My income rose exponentially, allowing me to invest even more to make books that my readers truly deserved – and the whole time, my friends kept giving me a hard time about it.
“Isn’t it good enough yet?” they’d ask. The answer was simple. No. I’d still seen typos, I’d found size issues, formatting problems, and more. Oh sure, all books have them, but if I wanted to be a serious author, then I had to take all of it serious. Close enough wouldn’t cut it. My friends’ opinions were biased, because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. If I wanted to be a professional writer, I had to make professional quality books. There is no middle ground.
Somewhere along the way, my editor, formatter, cover artist, and a few fellow writing friends all came together to make SHP Publishing. It’s a cooperative of people interested in the book industry who want to work outside the constraints of “normal publishing”. In other words, we’re pretty sure we can find better ways, new tech, and work together to all succeed.
Yeah, I’d also gotten a day job.
The day job paid my bills. The book job paid for my dream – one I never knew I had until then. From the moment I woke up until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, I worked. I wrote my first book in 2013. I published my… I think it was the third or fourth book I wrote, but the first to market… in 2015. From that day on, I had no free time, I worked a minimum of eighteen hours a day (over 120 hours a week), I didn’t watch TV, I stopped gaming or even sleeping, and I had to put alarms on my phone to remind me that my husband couldn’t be ignored.
But we had a plan. We’d talked this through, and he was all in. He’d handle everything else. All I had to do was work at my two jobs. He cooked, cleaned, cared for the pets, made sure I had clothes to wear to work, and did literally everything. I wrote, I went to the day job, and then I came home to write more. I’d stay up until 3 am, wake up at 7, and start it all over again, but we could see the progress, and he believed in me.
He always believed in me.
Needless to say, that faith helped so much. When I was so tired I couldn’t think of words, he’d remind me of some amazing review I’d gotten. When I was convinced that this would never work, he always told me he believed in me. Enough so that he was the one who said, “your day job is actually cutting into both your writing time and your chance to make a living out of this. Quit. It’s time.”
Twenty-three months after I first released my book, just shy of that two-year mark we’d agreed upon, and I’ve finally done it. I’m a full-time author. It was “easy” in some ways. It also was harder than I expected (the parts that weren’t about the writing). It just required a lot of dedication for a very long time and a willingness to do whatever had to be done. In three weeks, I will no longer have to worry about taking a break from writing, losing my place in my story, and struggling to sleep enough. I will no longer get burned out on a story because I had to go over the same part, again and again, to remember where I was and where I was going.
Today, I spend more a month in marketing than I used to make and live on. Every time I hear authors wail that it’s not fair, I’m torn between shaking my head at them and feeling the pain. I know what it’s like to not have enough money to pay the utilities this month. I also know that complaining never made any progress. It’s a crutch, and one that’s too easy to use.
My point isn’t that I’m so great. It isn’t that there’s some miracle answer out there. I just want people to know it’s possible, but it takes WORK. You will never become a success if you aren’t willing to bleed for it, to sacrifice for it in some way. And if the sacrifice it will take to get there isn’t worth it? Then you have no one to blame but yourself.
See, readers don’t owe us a damned thing. If we want to be considered “real authors” then we’re the ones who owe them a properly made, professionally edited novel. We can’t cut corners. We can only work harder, learn more, and struggle to always improve upon what we did the day before.
And if people aren’t buying your book, it’s not because of the competition. It has nothing to do with a flood of crap in the market. It’s because YOUR book is part of that crap. Even if it’s beautifully written, you’ve missed the mark somewhere, and no one cares if YOU like it. They care if THEY do. They care if it’s worth the time they spent doing something they hate. They want to know that the book they buy will give them more enjoyment than that cup of coffee for the same price.
They are the readers, the fans, and the experts. They are the ones buying it, and they worked just as hard for their money as you, dear author, do for yours. I’d even dare to say harder. THEY are the ones who deserve to be pampered, and I sure hope my stories can do that…
So they can keep pampering me in return.