Hello Rebels, welcome to episode 135 of The Rebel Author Podcast. Today, I’m talking to me! This is a special solo show reflecting on what I’ve learned having completed my third year of working for myself.
Lessons from Three Years of Writing Full Time
I can’t quite fathom the fact that we’re here again. But it has officially been three years since I quit my day job. THREE YEARS. What the hell? *rubs eyes* *checks calendar* *nope, it’s definitely been three years* I reflect on what I’ve learned about writing, publishing and business and share those lessons with you in the hope that you don’t make the same mistakes I do! This is 6 lessons from three years of writing full time.
Lesson 1: The Income Update
Year one was about survival, year two was about shrinking the freelance and building my own business. I did both of those. Year three was about continued growth and beating my old day job income. Thank the many and fucking varied gods I did that this year. Brutal truth time, when I left my day job, I halved my income—this bit, you know. But because I did that, I’ve struggled with self-worth and feeling confident in my decision.
I HALVED my income.
Who the fuck does that?
And sure, the high of saying fuck you to the corporate world was like a delirium induced ecstasy-gasm. But just like everything else, there was a killer come down, and that’s what the last two years have been. Doubt. What if I couldn’t grow my income again? What if I never earned a decent salary again? What if I couldn’t surpass the ceiling of my old day job income?
On and on I’d berate myself. I talked about how year one was spent in crippling fear and in year two, I learned that self-belief was important. But I still feel like I’ve been holding myself back, and that I had self-limiting beliefs because I wasn’t sure I could surpass my old day job income. I think I had to prove to myself that the decision was worth it and that I’d made the right choice. To use a Clifton strengths term (everyone drink), I had to “win” against my day job. “Just quitting” didn’t quite feel like enough of a win. Surpassing my old salary does. It’s made a significant difference to how I feel, my confidence and my belief that there isn’t a cap anymore. The sky truly is the limit.
But let’s look at the numbers.
Turnover was up 35% and net profit up a fraction under 31%. The main difference being investments in advertising and outsourcing. I expect the outsourcing expenditure to continue as will the advertising, for now at least.
The biggest differences in overall figures from year one to now, is the reduction in reliance on freelance income. In year one, freelance accounted for 75% of my income. Today, it accounts for 32%. My aim over the next year or two is to continue shrinking that to the point where it no longer makes sense to do any freelance, although leaving will be hard because I bloody love what I do. Second point to note is that in my first year the “everything else” bucket accounted for 8% it now accounts for 21.5% a big increase. I do, however, have more to note on this in a later lesson.
Book sales remain the largest portion of my income.
In my third year, my main income streams in order of size were:
- Book sales
- Freelance work
- Course sales
- The podcast including patreon and sponsorships
- Affiliate income
- Speaking and consulting
Year one assets included: 4 nonfiction books, 2 nonfiction boxsets and 2 fiction books.
Year two assets included: 8 nonfiction books, 3 nonfiction boxsets, 2 fiction books and 1 course.
Year three assets include: 8 nonfiction books, 3 nonfiction boxsets, 4 fiction books, 1 audiobook, and 2 courses. And a deal secured for Korean rights translation on the existing nonfiction books.
Despite adding a new nonfiction set this year (side characters) the two collaboration books I did with J Thorn were pulled and are being remade into something new.
So last year, I added two fiction books (one was an anthology), two nonfiction books, a course and an audiobook. Annoyingly I have a novella coming out but it’s just after the end of the full time year so I can’t count it. On the plus side, I’m up a publication in the first month of the new year!
By the end of next year:
I should have two new boxsets at least (one fiction, and the side characters one) seeing as those are easy fixes. My focus is really on asset creation. I want to build my backlists across the board. Specifically, I’d like to write more books than ever in the coming year. What that looks like, I’m not entirely sure I want to state publicly yet. But I have plans for two different nonfiction text books and several fiction books. How many I get to, remains to be seen. I’d also like to add more courses and audiobooks.
Takeaway 1: I maintain last year’s stance. This annual review is ridiculously helpful in helping me gain perspective and take note of what has actually, factually, been accomplished. More to the point, it helps me remember what the priorities are and continue pushing towards them.
Lesson 2: You Can’t Do Everything
It physically pains me to write that you, or more specifically, I, can’t do everything. But apparently, I can’t. Of all the years, this year has felt like the biggest leap in terms of development, income wise, mindset, personal self development. It’s been a maturing of sorts, an empowering and settling into the business and knowing I can do this but also realising that if I want to, then I have GOT TO FUCKING FOCUS. Which leads me to my point…
I spent probably eight months of the last year cutting and hacking out and saying no to things. I WAY, WAY over committed myself. Despite having added a reasonable number of assets, I was finding that I was spending so much time doing jobs and tasks and little promises for other people, that for the first time since leaving my day job, my business felt like work. I felt like I’d left a project management career for another job. That is absolutely not what I want.
So I committed to spending last year getting rid of everything that wasn’t core to my business. Those eight GRUELLING months were well spent. I delivered on all the commitments I promised.
I’ve tried and am continuing to try to put boundaries in place—I find this very difficult, I don’t like letting people down; I don’t like saying no. I want to help everyone. But I physically, mentally, emotionally and literally cannot. In order to help the most people and in a way that keeps me sane, I have to focus on writing books, courses and producing audio.
In the last eighteen months, there’s definitely been a shift in the amount of help wanted versus how much I can physically do. This is made more difficult by the pandemic and the fact I do have a child who’s at an age where he still needs me. But it’s caused a shift and pushed me to a mental pain point. The achiever and competitiveness in me wants to do more, but I am at the physical limits of my capacity. Therefore, it’s pushed me to re-focus and question what is most important. It’s annoying I had to get to a pain point in order to do this reflection, though.
Worse, despite having learned this lesson, I’ve had to relearn it! I’ve just come through another little patch where I had over committed again. But I’m on the other side now focusing on getting words. And I am, surprising no one, significantly happier again.
Takeaway 2: It’s hard to get perspective when you’re in the depths of business, but I’ve been trying to give myself more headspace and thinking time. That enabled me to see the road I was going down and pivot. At the end of this year, what do you want to have achieved? Do you want to have produced 200 Instagram posts? Or do you want to have written another book? Maybe you need to set up a mailing list or perhaps you want to improve your marketing? You cannot do everything. So what do you actually want to achieve?
Lesson 3: Focus Where the Money Is
This is connected to lesson 1, the income update. I am kind of mad at myself, kind of resigned that I had to go through the last year in order to get to where I am. Nothing moves fast, until everything does, SIGH.
Last year, I noted that books were generating the biggest income for me and therefore that’s where I should be focusing my time. But did I do that?
No, I fucking didn’t.
Look, I made some headway towards it because in order to make headway; I had to clear the decks and I managed to do that. So, for the love of fucking literary gods, I have GOT TO SPEND MY TIME ON THE RIGHT THINGS SACHA.
If you want to earn more money, then you focus your time on the highest earners, right? While the “everything else” bucket brings in 21 something percent of my income, it takes up about 60-70% of my time, which is not a good distribution. If I spent more time on the heavy earners, you’d expect I’d earn more overall.
For me, the big earners are books and courses. Now, I’m part way there in terms of focusing on clearing the deck for this year. I have plans for courses and I’ve actually started one too. But I need to continue on my mission of saying no to things and ensuring that I prioritise words and word time in my working day.
The other thing that I have to give myself permission to do is the work that isn’t writing physical words but is most definitely writing books. And I need permission to do that during the working day. For example, outlining, inputting, mood boarding, brainstorming. I’m not sure why I find it so excruciatingly hard to give myself this time. But FFS, I need to get a grip. It IS work; it is the foundational work I have to do in order to get more books done. So here’s me saying it out fucking out and being accountable for me.
Takeaway 3: First, focus the majority of your time on whichever aspect of your business earns the most. Second, the shit around wording is also work. You can do that in your allotted creative times. That is all.
Lesson 4: Be a Better Publisher
Indie authors are also publishers. We’re writers, marketers, fucking everything-else-et-ers. All of the hats. But here’s the thing. Being a good publisher makes a difference. This year, I decided to try and be better. To work on the shit that doesn’t necessarily scream of fun, but over the long haul does bring you more income, make you look more professional and ultimately do your business the world of good.
I worked on studying how to write better blurbs, I experimented with new promo mechanisms like “free” and updated my front and back matter. I wrote a reader magnet, I updated files on the stores, created a brand kit. And now I’m in the process of ensuring all my books are in all the formats. This is a slow process and will take some time, but already I’m seeing a huge difference in the number of sales.
I need to finish off by ensuring I have boxsets of everything and that my autoresponders are up to date. Guess that’s a job for this year! Especially as in doing this roundup, I’ve realised I haven’t published the side characters boxset! So that’s a job for me next week!
Takeaway 4: you have to be a good publisher and sometimes that means doing the donkey work and updating all the metadata, back end shit and thinking about your books as products.
Lesson 5: Human Connection is Necessary and Difficult
This is perhaps the weirdest lesson for me. I have always been absolutely fine working at home. In fact, the first year, I was practically delirious. “Fuck people” “fuck being in a team.” But then, when I left the day job, I had a network around me. We still lived close to our friends we’d gone to uni with.
Pandemic, plus 85-mile away house move = the loss of basically my entire network. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a handful of long-time friends, but now, they’re scattered all over the world and all over the UK. Which is okay, because we make the effort to travel. But we also don’t see them on the regular because pandemic and, well, life.
The consequence is that my social circle has reduced significantly. 99% of the time, I’m completely fine with that. I have a very busy schedule and most of the time, work brings me deep joy. I’ve also got a couple of friends who I spend a LOT of time voice memoing and these gals save me on a daily basis. Like I would be lost without them and they mean everything to me. So thank you, ladies.
But, of late, I’ve noticed that the desire to just have someone to go for a coffee with, or just have someone I could go for drinks with or whatever has crept in.
I don’t know whether it’s just me, or the consequences of the pandemic and getting comfortable at home, but I find summoning the energy to be social, difficult. I want to widen my social circle just as much as I don’t. Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary.
The one thing that I do know from writing and business, though, is that your network is one of your most valuable assets. So I do need to do something about this situation.
Takeaway 5: I need to suck my shit up and be more social.
Lesson 6: Your Uniqueness is Everything
More and more, I see and understand why uniqueness is everything. Knowing who you are, what you stand for and what makes your books, stories and voice unique is one of the most important things you can do for your business.
The moment you understand you, you can lean in. Every time I’ve understood a little piece of me better and I’ve leaned in, I’ve seen positive results.
Some of this is about strengths. If you’ve listened to this show for any amount of time, you’ll know that I absolutely love Becca. I love Clifton Strengths. It’s been a wild ride, because I have a lot of what are called influencing strengths which are the most misunderstood. The foremost being Competition which as you know, is my number one strength.
I swing and roundabout on this, every time someone misunderstands it, it hurts and I want to crawl into my shell again and not embrace my strength. But I’m trying hard to lean in, embrace my superpower and use it to push my business as far as I can.
But it goes deeper than just strengths. I’ve had a “come to Jesus” moment this year understanding the type of fiction I want to write. How I didn’t realise I wanted to write queer books, I do not know. Perhaps in not accepting some of my strengths, I was also not accepting other parts of myself? Life is nothing if not a journey, right?!
I feel like this is the right path for me, and while I can’t know what the future will hold and whether or not I’ll be successful, nothing has ever felt this right. And I think that can only spell good things for the future.
I also feel like in accepting those bits of me I’m also finally after however many books I’ve written, starting to accept my writing process. I’ve searched for the longest time for an explanation a written-in-stone process I can follow and it’s taken me what like 12-15 books to realise what that is. But in accepting it, I’m speeding up. Rather than fighting the methods I need to employ to get to the end of a draft, I’m just fucking doing it.
In writing/reading this, that sounds insane, like duh, of course you just work the way you need to work. But DO YOU? Cause I didn’t. Despite being in this industry for god knows how long, I was still subscribing to what I “thought” should be my process. Well, fuck that. My first draft is my chaos draft, and knowing that is helping. Weirdly, I write fiction and nonfiction in exactly the same way too. And I am so excited for the rest of this year to see what I’m capable of.
Takeaway 6: You’re beautiful. Embrace you. Fuck what “they” say. Fuck what anyone says. Find what works for you. Find your “thang” your angle, your hook, the thing that makes you uniquely you and then lean like a very fucking drunk sailor into that motherfucker and go for it!
One Last Thought:
No matter what happens, this is better.
I say this every year, and I hope this is an on running mantra for the rest of my days, because if it is, then I’ve done my job, I created the life I wanted. I keep two photos. The first is a post-it that I signed and carried in my wallet forEVER. Every day, when I went to the coffee queue for the fourth time (just to get out of the office) I’d see it as I went to pay for my coffee. I thought I wouldn’t get to work for myself until 2020. But I managed to leave in 2019. The day I got to cross that post it out and put 2019 is still one of the best days of my life.
The other photo is full of pain. I hate looking at it. I took the shot during one of my lowest days in the day job. I don’t know what possessed me to be honest. I looked rough. But I’m so glad I did. It’s easy now, three years out, healed mentally, to forget what it was like and the mental anguish I suffered. How crippled I was. I think now, looking back, I was suffering from major depression. I should have gone to the doctor’s and sought help. But I didn’t. All I cared about was getting out. I haven’t really ever talked about it, but I definitely had dark thoughts while working there. What saved me was a laser focus on one thing and one thing only—getting out and living the writing dream.
It took being in the darkest place I’ve been to push the hardest I’ve ever pushed. It’s funny really, that dichotomy. I truly believe writing saved my life.
So I keep the photo, and I look at it every year when I write this post, and I ask myself if I want to be back there.
Fuck, no I don’t.
This life, this vagina-busting, exhaustion-inducing, utterly mesmerising, awe-inspiring, creatively fulfilled life’ is so. Much. Better. Yes, I work more hours than ever, yes I have to make constant sacrifices, but I will never, ever go back. I choose me. I choose this life. Because no matter what, this life is better.
If you’re in the trenches, just keep going. If you’re in a dark place, know that I believe in you. Your creativity believes in you. You can and you will succeed. Never give up. Never bow down. Never, ever, let them win.
You got this.