While I was writing Indie With Ease, which publishes this week, I was lucky to connect with no fewer than 15 indie authors who kindly shared their wisdom and contributions for the book. (See who contributed here.)
Everyone who took part in the project offered valuable advice, but I was particularly struck by the insights into the writing life offered by Tracey Gemmell. Her debut novel, Dunster’s Calling, is perfect for Anglophiles, horse-lovers or anyone who wonders if their life has played out the way it should.
I asked Gemmell’s permission to share everything she said with you, and was delighted when she agreed. She notes that her comments are directed to those who have committed to jumping into the self-employed, full-time writing fire.
Quitting the Day Job
- Becoming a full-time writer was not a snap decision. It developed over years, contingent on family circumstances. Stars had to align. That long road makes my current reality all the sweeter.
- It was tough to walk away from a career that required a master’s degree. Had I wasted all that education and time? Luckily, no. I carried discipline and knowledge into my writing life. Every experience is author gold.
- Don’t slam the door shut on your day job. Is a leave of absence possible? Is part-time an option? If a writer’s life turns out not as you expected, having a Plan B can relieve stress.
- Establish a support network quickly. Writing full-time can be a lonely existence.
- When I quit my job, I knew making a living writing would be difficult. I didn’t realize even covering self-publishing costs would be a major accomplishment. Have a thorough discussion about finances with anyone (including yourself) who’ll be supporting you as you get started. It may not be a short-term endeavor on their part.
- Doubts are part of my new life. Doubts about the financial smarts of trying to become an author, doubts about my skillset, doubts about my marketing skills. The list goes on. But I have never doubted my love of writing and that carries me through.
- I left a high-stress, full-throttle, ‘job trumps family’ career. Neither myself nor my family will ever regret my decision to take my life back and answer my true calling.
- Do you love writing or are you in love with the idea of writing, of breaking out of the box you’re currently in? The answer to this question is vital if you’re to survive long-term as an author.
- Time spent carefully considering your brand will never be wasted.
- One of my biggest errors getting started was to focus solely on my first book. I had no literary mission statement, nor did I identify my potential audience. Mistake.
- Social media can suck you dry of time and energy. Composing that beautiful tweet, staging that perfect Instagram shot, then checking back frequently for the single ‘like’ you may get is the road to madness. Number of followers does not equal success.
The Business of Writing
- Schedule time in your week for learning your craft. It shouldn’t be an afterthought. Much can be learned for free. For example, Michael Hauge videos on YouTube are great resources for learning plot structure.
- Writers groups: join one, start one, but have one. (See ‘Trust your voice’ below)
- Trust your voice. Writing by committee, or based on the latest conference you attended, is the deathtrap of the rookie author. Keep the ‘i’ in ‘mine’.
- If you only read one book on writing, read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It gave me permission to fail, to get up again, to move on and to succeed in my goals. I give it credit for me still being here three years into my writing career.
- There are as many, if not more, distractions in your solitary writing den as in any corporate office. It’s easy to drift. Focus. Establish a routine. Set deadlines. Hold yourself accountable.
- Finding comps for your book is a time-consuming process. Start early. Read everything in your genre—the good, the bad, the ugly. Whether traditionally- or self-published, you need comps of no more than a year old.
- Most of us in this business are introverts. Marketing ourselves can be excruciating. There’s no way around it. We must study the art of marketing as closely as we study the art of writing if we want to survive.
- Reading is as much a part of your work week as writing. If you’re only reading the 99c or free download books, you can’t expect readers to pay more for your work. Support other authors. Review everything you read.
- Many authors in self-publishing team up with other authors with regards to editing and proofreading. Exchanging skills can cut costs tremendously. But quality matters, and there is risk to cutting corners. Trust me on that one.
- While receiving little or no income, consider volunteering. I find it eases my guilt at being ‘kept’ while establishing my writing business. I tutor refugees in English. Great use of a writer’s language skills!
- Remember, not every spouse/friend/family member carries your passion for writing. Talk about something else occasionally—even if you’re secretly plotting a scene in your head as you speak!
- Celebrate every achievement, from publishing the first book to finally understanding the difference between an en and an em dash. These breakthroughs will carry you through the crash and burns.
- Never before have I looked forward to Monday mornings more than Friday afternoons. I’ve found home in my writing life.
Tracey Gemmell is a British expat and cream tea aficionado currently residing in the USA. All attempts to cure her travel bug have proven unsuccessful, so she searches the world for home and the perfect scone whilst acknowledging indecision is costing too much. Tracey divides her time between Wisconsin and Exmoor, but who knows where she is as you read this. If you find her, let her husband and two adult children know she’s okay by leaving a message at www.traceygemmell.com.