It’s been almost a year now since I packed up my things and left my cubicle for the last time, the victim (or parolee) of a major corporate restructuring. Unlike many of my colleagues, I wasn’t upset; in fact I was eager to begin a new chapter in my life—as full-time writer.
Since the moment I first learned about the layoff, I had been planning my novel, Nights Like These. I’m a firm believer (or at least I used to be) that everything happens for a reason, and the universe seemed to be telling me this was my chance. I would use my year of severance and do what I’d always wanted. I started writing on my second day of liberation, and I haven’t stopped since.
Over the past year, I’ve completed two romance novels (the first will be out in early 2015, and the second I’m still shopping around), started a third and self-published a critically reviewed short novella. For me this is a huge output, but in my genre it’s not uncommon for authors to put out four books a year. I can’t hope to compete with that—and don’t intend to. I’ve matured as a writer, but while technically each work improves on the last, I’ve had to face a hard reality–being a good writer is not always enough to achieve success, especially in a niche genre.
So what have I l learned?
- Listen to authors who tell you that you won’t get rich writing. Those lucky few who hit it big are the exception, not the rule. So be prepared. As a single person, it is nearly impossible to support yourself as an author, especially if you’re just starting out and don’t have a back catalogue. Fortunately I had the luxury of a severance to draw on—there is no way I would have been able to do this without it. Six-figure advances are only for the big guns, my friends. Can you afford to wait until your work is published to earn money? It will be nearly a year from the time I finished writing my first novel to the time it will be released by the publisher, and I won’t actually see royalties from it for another few months after that. And that’s if all goes well. Some are able to gain a big following immediately; for others it takes time to build your brand. As authors we spend hundreds of hours crafting our stories, plus the additional time to edit and then promote our work. Are you prepared if sales don’t go as expected?
- Pay even more attention to lesson #1 if you’re focused on critical success over commercial. It’s very difficult to be genuinely creative as an author, especially in the independent market. It’s a cold, hard fact that certain things sell better than others, and unless you are willing to conform, you might never achieve high sales. What is more important to you? I learned quickly that I can’t force myself to do this. Not because of any creative principles, but because I literally can’t sit down and write something I’m not into.
- Find a support system. Being a writer can be incredibly lonely and isolating, especially if you don’t have the distractions of a family around you. This, for me, was by far the biggest shock. I am an introvert, so I thought I would have no problem adjusting to being home alone. But surprise! I miss going to an office and being part of a team. I actually need some people around, not only for my mental health, but also because that’s where I often get my inspiration. You may think “Oh isn’t she lucky to have no one interrupting”, but it’s not healthy to be so consumed by anything. In fact, it can be downright scary. Writing can suck so much from you, that you need a break now and again just to restore your sanity.
Looking back, the entire year has been a bit bittersweet, but I don’t have any regrets. I got to try living my dream. I am incredibly proud of what I’ve written and I stand behind it as some of my best material. What does the future hold? It’s clear to me I am not ready to be a full-time writer—financially or emotionally—but writing will always be a part of my life. I still have so many ideas and stories to explore. It may just have to be on a part-time basis for a while. Hopefully 2015 will be the year my labours bear fruit. Stay tuned. 🙂