Three years ago, I (sort of) formally declared the start of my career as an author-entrepreneur.
I read those posts out of curiosity, because I had completely forgotten what I had written back then. And when I did, I couldn't help but laugh.
Because everything I thought I would wisely share today, I had already shared in those posts.
Every struggle I thought was new to me this past year, I had already experienced in the years before.
Every new nugget of wisdom I thought I had gleaned this year, I had gathered and written about back then too.
So it seems to me that I've been given the same lessons to learn over and over again, because I haven't really learnt them. At least, not in a way that I intentionally apply in my day-to-day life.
Or perhaps I have learnt them — I've definitely learnt to show up and do the work — yet I keep thinking there must be an easier way, a faster way, a more efficient path to success ...
... and that the next book by another writer, the next YouTube video by another writer, or the next blog post by yet another writer will teach me something new, elevate me to some new level of enlightenment, and finally show me the way to writerly success that would be effortless, painless and smooth-sailing at long last.
Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times. ~ Aeschylus
Lessons learnt on the Practice of Writing
I've finally come to the conclusion that whatever path I choose, there will be pain. It's a given.
It's what we choose to do when that discomfort arises—because it surely will—that makes the difference.
Often, I've run away in the face of discomfort. Sometimes knowingly, sometimes unknowingly.
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was, why I was the way I was, and what I could do to improve, to better myself, so that I can navigate my way through the essential pain of living and creating.
I think if I were to write a self-help book on this topic, it would fly off the shelves. Not because I'm an expert of any sort—heck, I'm not even an expert on my own self—but because the whole world seems to be riveted on finding that golden path to facing the pain effortlessly and keep moving towards success. And they keep seeking it in the next book, the next video, the next blog productivity technique ...
I've found out what my Clifton Strengths were (#1 Input, #2 Strategic, #3 Achiever, #4 Responsibility, #5 Maximizer). I know what my Enneagram type is (4w3). I also know my tendency as defined by Gretchen Rubin (Rebel). I know my DISC personality type (high S) as well as my Myer-Briggs personality type (ENFJ).
And each time I read the results of these tests and their analysis, I felt a light bulb getting switched on inside me.
A-ha! So this is who I am. So this explains why I do this thing or like that thing or detest this other thing.
Which means I need to ensure these three or four things are sorted before my brain can focus on writing. Which means I need to do these three or four things to trick my brain into focusing on writing.
And so on and so on ...
The lists were endless.
When the shine of enlightenment arising from the result of each new personality test began to fade, usually in a matter of days or weeks, I'd be back at square one.
Wondering why I'm not able to focus on work.
Why when I've decided to spend the weekend with little D do I find myself slipping back up to my room after breakfast to try and write but not be able to do so. (On an aside, this constant see-sawing between writing and parenting had made a wreck of me.)
And then I'd come across a different author talking about the same things with their own take on it, and it'd sound all very enlightening and refreshing all over again.
For a few weeks ... or months ... you get the drift ... 😉
So my biggest priorities for the year ahead, and in fact it's something I've already begun to put into practice, is to
- (a) understand and accept that the path is littered with a lot of challenges, and
- (b) accordingly equip myself with healthy coping strategies when things take a rough turn. This may look like scheduling rest and rejuvenation, setting a pace that actually works for me instead of my fantasy self, and simply enjoying being the kind of writer I am doing the kind of writing I've been so blessed to undertake in this moment of time.
Lessons learnt on the Business of Publishing
Now, a few thoughts on what I've learnt about the actual business of selling the books I've written.
- I love indie publishing.
I enjoy all the aspects of indie publishing. Writing, learning the craft, finishing manuscripts, formatting the books, designing book covers, uploading the books on various retailer platforms, finding ways to reach new readers ... I love all of these aspects.
This field is constantly changing. It offers countless opportunities to learn and experiment, to try out new things. These make my head and heart very happy.
- But ... the subscription model is not for me.
This is the latest trend in the indie publishing business. I say 'latest' but this model has been around for years (think Patreon), but more and more indie authors have jumped on to this bandwagon in the last couple of years.
Last year, I started a weekly paid subscription for Tales for Dreamers, but three months into it, I realized this was not for me.
I hate working to deadlines, and the biggest folly I could commit was imposing a weekly deadline on myself and expecting myself to stick to it. I hated it.
And I announced that I'd be discontinuing it, although subscribers have so far received their weekly tale as promised, and will receive a bonus of 5 more tales after their subscription period ends later this month.
I love writing the Monthly Missives newsletter, which goes out to subscribers on the last Sunday of every month. But a monthly frequency is what I can comfortably commit to. Anything more frequent than that makes me want to tear my hair out and run for the woods.
- Social media is not my thing either.
I deleted all of my social media accounts earlier this year. They were utter time sinks, and didn't help me at all in terms of promoting or selling my books.
I haven't gone back to any of them except for an account I briefly created on Instagram in September but gave up on after posting a few pictures of the Paletta Lakefront, where I walk to on most mornings. Oh, I also got on Threads for a bit this summer to see what it was all about.
I've since deleted both those accounts, so now I'm officially not on any social media platform. It's a distraction I'm perfectly happy without, and I've definitely seen a boost in the time I spend writing and the joy I derive from my work in the absence of social media.
- Understanding that I'm not operating on a level playing field ...
This has been the hardest lesson for me to learn and accept. In fact, I was completely oblivious to this fact until very recently.
Sometime this summer, trouble brewed in the fantasy and science fiction (F&SF) world when one of the magazines was accused of having bought a story from a writer who was known to have expressed extremist views.
Long story short, the editor of the magazine, a black woman, had to face the flak in that incident and received no support from the publisher.
This led to much discussion in the F&SF community about representation, and while researching online, I came across disturbing statistics that showed how white-dominant magazines in this genre are.
I had been writing and submitting short stories to many of these magazines, getting even personalized notes of encouragement from some of these editors, without realizing that their acceptance rate of non-white authors was so startlingly low (in most cases, barely 2—5% of the authors these magazines publish are non-white).
Until then I had harboured serious doubts about my ability to write a publishable story. After that incident, it occurred to me that perhaps those personal rejection letters might have been the equivalent of acceptance and publication had I been a white writer spinning a tale that a white editor could emotionally relate to. Who knows?
This is not to say that diverse voices will never be heard — there are many successful authors of all backgrounds — but it helps me to accept the fact that the odds of my finding millions of readers may be lower, but I can still aim for thousands of readers and consider that great success.
Somehow, realizing and understanding this has given me great relief. I no longer blindly keep trying what has worked for other writers and keep beating my head over why those tactics aren't working for me. This gives me permission to play the game following a slightly different set of rules and not blame myself for any lack of success.
- Writing for the love of it ... because I can't help myself ...
Ultimately, I love writing stories. I love writing fiction. And that is why I write. As a means of creative self-expression.
Maybe these are the stories that someone may need to read years down the line and derive great inspiration or encouragement from.
The conclusion for me always remains the same: write more, publish more, and enjoy my practice instead of being goaded by a sense of urgency to get to some destination/goalpost at the fastest only to realize belatedly that all the joy lay in the process, not in the end of it.
Celebrating my Wins
Even though I have a tendency to feel I've not accomplished enough, I must list all the amazing stuff that has happened this year to remind myself of how far I've come.
- My novel, Dying Wishes, was one of six finalists for the 2023 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize in Speculative Fiction. The lovely folks at Kobo even published an interview with me on their website.
- My words of wisdom (aka advice for new writers) went on to appear in Kobo's newsletter and also a newsletter by IASFA (International Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors)!
- I published four new works: The Land of No Reflection, the second edition of A Benevolent Goddess including an additional chapter and a vastly different ending to the original story, The Mind Meddler, and the paperback edition of In Search of Leo!
- I explored publishing on Barnes & Noble as well as via Draft2Digital for the first time this year with The Land of No Reflection. See all the various platforms the book is now available on! I still have a lot of work to do in getting all my other books up on all the platforms, but I made a great start on that this year.
- I explored various avenues of promoting my books: participating in a sales promo on BookFunnel, in a newsletter promo on BookFunnel, and also in two of IASFA's monthly promos. That's four in all in 2023, compared to one in the previous year. Great progress! Also, now that I've tried my hand at a bunch of different promotions, I have a better sense of which technique seems to be more effective than the others, and that gives me something to focus on.
- I made several submissions to short story magazines, receiving personalized comments from various editors, which is considered higher up on the ladder than getting form rejection (which is a simple 'Sorry, your story didn't work for us' without any explanation as to why or what could be improved.)
- I've also received a standing offer from a magazine for one of my short stories. Although I've yet to see if the offer will be honoured, it was quite a shot in the arm to receive it alongside very positive feedback and praise from the editor.
I wonder if I'm missing anything. Even if I am, this list above has convinced me that I've had a great year indeed and have made much progress on several fronts. I'm curious and excited to see what the next 12 months will bring.
Onwards with great courage and zest for life! 🥳