lessons learnt from two years of being an author-entrepreneur
A year ago, I wrote about my learnings as a relatively new author trying to make a full-time living from this very creative profession. A month later, I wrote about the creative and business goals I wanted to pursue for 2022.
Well, we're not at the end of the year yet, but looking back now, it amazes me to take stock of how much I stayed on the path even though memory kept telling me until now that I had spent more time job-hunting than focusing on writing and publishing!
Keep track of all wins.
Never trust memory. Rather, trust facts and data more than memory.
Ask every writer who sets out on this journey, and I reckon we'll all give you the standard answer. That all we want to do is simply write our stories and have people read them.
This was pretty much the case for me when I wrote and published my first two books, In Search of Leo, and Dying Wishes.
Now that I have more books in my portfolio, more retailer platforms on which they are available, more formats (ebooks, paperbacks, audiobooks) in which they can be purchased, I'm beginning to see how vast the gap truly is between 'simply writing my stories' and 'having people read them'.
It took me a long time to acknowledge and accept that bridging that gap is also part of the work.
Initially, that bit was filled with so many unknowns and moving factors that it took me a lot of time and effort to overcome the resistance and actually get down to doing the work.
Much of that resistance was because of fear of screwing it all up. Which begot the question: 'screwing what all up'?
With only a handful of books in that bottomless chasm that the world of ebooks (let alone, books) is, I was not even a drop in the ocean. I still am not even a drop in the ocean.
So there was really nothing to screw up. Turns out what I was really afraid of was of 'doing the work'. If I did something wrong or badly or made a mistake, I'd have to spend additional time and effort to fix it.
When we read how-to books, authors of such books are always telling you that they made all these mistakes in their career so we wouldn't have to make them. I've come to realize with experience that no matter how well-prepared I am, mistakes will happen. Seeking to avoid them or worse, blaming myself for not having prevented them, only adds to the anxiety of it all.
Dare to make mistakes.
Mistakes mean growth, progress. It's great when we make mistakes, because it means we are trying something new. It is all part of the experience.
Everybody knows this, and I've known this too intellectually for a long, long time. But knowledge does not always translate into wise choices. It is in repeatedly taking action, failing to see the results we desire, and continuing to try by doing the best we can in that moment that we grow.
Sure, we can invest in research and preparatory work, but each of us has to decide where to draw the line between preparation and taking action. No one else can decide that for us.
Which brings me to my next point.
Experiment a lot.
All advice is pretty much useless. Unless you try it out and test whether it works for you or not.
As an indie author, there's no dearth of advice out there on what makes for a great story/blurb/cover, how to publish and advertise your books so that they reach a wide audience, and how to attract the kind of readers that will stay with you over a lifetime of creativity.
A lot of advice in the present market is coming from authors who hit it big, having been in the industry and working at the time of the gold rush that began more than a decade or so ago.
The market has changed dramatically now; it's a whole lot more saturated now that the initial gold rush is over. And it continues to change as AI tools are becoming more and more mainstream.
Organic discoverability seems to have become a thing of the past as social media algorithms determine who gets to see which post of ours.
All this means that while most people who've tasted success can tell you what worked for them, replicating those strategies is no guarantee of success.
Which brings me to perhaps my most important lesson for this year.
Success cannot be guaranteed.
There is no guarantee of success. But the longer we stay in the market, trying new things, the greater the probability of succeeding. Above all, we'll be richer for simply having tried out new and hard stuff.
Almost every success story I've heard of or read about has come from writers who've published 20, 30, 50 or more books and gone on to try various marketing and advertising tactics to ensure their works find their audience.
I've also heard of authors who hit it out of the park with their very first or second or fifth release, though I don't have data on whether they've been able to sustain their success and growth over a longer period of time.
Much has changed for me in the last two years I've spent writing and selling fiction. Goalposts have shifted. I've learnt a heck of a lot of new things this year alone – setting up and delivering a newsletter, setting up and delivering a paid subscription service, creating an invoice for a wholesale order, meeting with local bookstore owners and learning how they stock and sell books.
The local library organized a literary festival this month, which entailed a series of talks and workshops by authors, publishers, and booksellers. I attended a panel discussion in which an independent bookseller, who sells Spanish picture books for children, said something that resonated with my own experience.
She noted how before setting out to sell books, she dreamt of owning her own bookstore with a cute little cafe in it. But reality turned out to be very different and currently entails the selling of books from her basement.
Her words made me smile.
In my case, the fantasy was me spending long, uninterrupted hours at my writing desk, words flowing at a speed faster than that of light with a grace to match the divine, and my books finding their own magical way, as if they could walk on two or four feet somehow, to readers whose only reason to wake up each morning would be to read my words because that, and that alone, would give them the solace and courage needed to face yet another day of life.
Obviously, reality is nothing like that.
This past year, reality has been panic attacks induced by financial anxiety as I stood gawking at the improbably wide chasm between writing and selling books, job-hunting in the hope of having a means of livelihood that does not entail writing fiction, feeling too burnt out to write another word, and wondering how something I used to love so much has quickly devolved into something I've come to dread more often than not because of all the pressure I've been putting on it to yield instant rewards.
Which brings me to ....
The journey changes us.
Even if you're working on something that you're 'passionate' about, there will be hard days, days when you feel like quitting, days when you stop questioning your sanity because by now you know you've gone utterly and irreversibly mad.
I won't say anything foolish such as keep going because one day you'll look back and find that it was all worth it. I won't say passion will help you get through the rough patches. Nor will I say that if you persist, you will make it.
I don't have the power to predict the future, but all I know is that when we show up and try difficult things over and over again, it changes us somehow.
We become the kind of people who can take on difficult challenges in life.
We become the kind of people who put their best foot forward, irrespective of the outcome.
We become the kind of people who can tolerate ambiguity and randomness, who don't need assurances or certainties to attempt something, and for whom failure becomes immaterial.
In short, we become the kind of people who live their best lives.
To me, that is a good enough reason to keep writing and selling my stories, to keep peddling dreams so that one day one of them would ignite a spark in your heart and inspire you to realize your own dreams.
Feature Image Attribution: Photo by Sanjay Hona on Unsplash