In this episode we cover:
- The lessons I’ve learned from 4 years of writing full-time
- Business growth is personal growth
- The reader is king
- Repetition is a Fool’s Game
- Me and You are important
- My constant lesson
This week’s question is: what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started writing?
Recommendation of the week is: The Worst Wedding Date by Pippa Grant
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Rebel of the Week is: Holly
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Lessons Learned from Four Years of Writing Full-Time
The very fact that I am here, once again, writing a review of the previous year is frankly astonishing. Both from the fact that I made it another year, and the fact that it’s been four years since I left my day job. This is my annual lessons learned post.
I love these little markers in time. I spend so much of my waking hours burning hard and surging forward at nuclear rates, that I often forget to stop and look back, be proud of all I’ve done and all I’ve achieved. And while the British in me is crumbling and dying at the thought of celebrating all the things from this last year, I hope that you can bear with me while I tell you how fucking proud I am of myself.
For one, as I write this, I’m sat on a Ryanair flight to Seville to go speak at the 20booksto50k conference, something that I wouldn’t have dreamt possible four years ago while I was having my soul crushed in the day job.
LESSON 1 Business Growth is Personal Growth
So much of this last year (and probably the last eighteen months, but who’s counting) has been spent on personal development. If you’re a long-time listener to the podcast, this won’t be news to you. I flung myself into Clifton Strengths coaching and I won’t lie, I have genuinely spent thousands of pounds on coaching. And it’s been worth every single penny.
I feel like I’ve gutted myself out this year. I cored out all the shit and crap and self-limiting beliefs. Scoured my soul until I was barely a shell. And then, piece by piece, I rebuilt myself. Do I still have more work to do? Thousand percent.
I do think the amount of personal growth I’ve done is testament to the fact that 2023 has already seen two record sales months, my best preorders, and my best launch. If a year of personal growth does that, what can two do?
Here’s a run-down of the biggest moments:
I finally finished Trey. I’m a writer, but for four long years I couldn’t write fiction. The amount of imposter syndrome and self-doubt that created was catastrophic. I genuinely spent months thinking I’d never write fiction again.
It became somewhat of a vicious cycle, too. In fact, this was the first real breakthrough with my coach. The truth of the matter is, Trey flopped hard. In fact, that series flopped—more on that later. But in finishing it out, I proved something to myself. That I could keep going, I could work through the hardest book I’ve ever written and I could come out the other side.
That changes a person, the self-knowledge that you have grit and you can do things quite literally changes your brain chemistry.
The pandemic crippled my ability to hit deadlines, that crushed my self-assurance and faith in myself. So ensued a lengthy process of three things:
1. Understanding my writing process and streamlining it and creating a system of tools I could use should I ever get blocked. I wrote down EVERYTHING I did. Every little thing from creating Pinterest boards to drawing maps to looking in coffee table books. If that’s what my brain needs to write faster, why fight it? Why not just do it so you can get to the page quicker.
2. Setting small deadlines I could definitely meet or beat.
3. Writing with my strengths rather than against them. Finding people to sprint with consistently, regularly. Much as I hate relying on others, my writing speed is significantly faster when I write with others.
This has taken me from spending on average six months writing a book, to being able to write and edit a book in a month. This is a huge shift, it fundamentally changes the shape of my business. If I can go from 2-3 books a year to 4-6 that’s double. And that’s while I still have a little one and I’m still doing freelance. Give me another decade and I’ll be writing even more. But this has consequences for the business infrastructure which I’ll come to shortly.
Last, and slightly more significant was a mindset shift. Now, everything is an experiment. Yes, I know writers hate data, but tough. Data gives you feedback it tells you whether what you’re doing is working. And so, I am approaching everything like an experiment. This is hard for me, I want to know what I’m doing six months from now, a year, three. And I do in part – I know I’ll be writing. But I don’t necessarily know what I’ll be writing.
For me, this is about making good money, so as much as I’m currently following a genre that sings to my heart, if I can’t reach my goals and I have to enact the kill criteria, I’ll do it. Sometimes it hurts not to write what your soul desires, but life is a negotiation. Everything is a compromise. So if I find I can’t make the money I want, then it’s pivot and experiment for me.
Next up, sig wounds. Even as I type this, I am trying not to cry. But this was possibly the biggest revelation. I had major self-worth issues. We all have bullshit from our past that leads us to think things that aren’t true. There’s the old adage of parenting – we all fuck our kids up, the only question is what shade of messed up we paint them. And that’s not me slating my parents by the way, they’re fucking incredible. But for whatever reasons, and yes, I know the reasons but this isn’t a therapy podcast, I was thirty-five before I realised I’d spent most of my life feeling unloved.
I was trying to win (competition) love, I was trying to make up for the fact I didn’t think I was lovable. And that shit will damage a person’s self-worth and self-value.
Here’s the thing, when you heal wounds, your skin gets tougher, when you remove blockers and barriers your mind and body move faster. We are the only ones limiting ourselves. Ultimately, you’re the only one who can do the work, and lifting and removing these blockers is the fastest way to just do the fucking work you need to. Stop resisting the thing you know you should be doing. No one is going to hand you a magic bullet. The only way you get success is by working for it. Or don’t, it’s your life, and your success.
Which brings me to resilience. This is still a work in progress, as is working on understanding and inherently knowing my value.
Resilience in this industry is the ability to make decisions quickly and pivot your business into the most effective, efficient and profit generating position you can. We’re fucking ballerinas people. Get on your toes and start dancing motherfuckers. Stay nimble, keep experimenting, keep tracking your data to know whether your experiments are working and keep, for the love of the many and varied gods, working on yourself.
LESSON 2 Me and You are Important
It feels rather timely that I ended my fourth year with a huge shift at a conference. Hearing Michael Anderle talking about AI and what’s to come was a stark reminder that no matter what, things always change.
People will always read. That is a fact, words are the foundation on which society functions, that’s never going to change. The reason we evolved is because we learned to communicate, to tell each other stories of monsters in the woods and hungry bears. We learned to work as a team because we could share information and heed each other’s warnings.
Doesn’t mean we can fend off disruption forever though. Printing exploding reading, the kindle shifted reading, audio shifted reading. But the one thing that never changed is that we all continue to read.
AI will change reading. It won’t stop us reading though. I think we are going to have to consider how we market. The parts of us that make our brands unique, the connections we have to readers. No matter what, a machine isn’t human. So be human. Connect, be you. Figure out what is uniquely you and then exploit the shit out of it.
If there’s another tsunami of content then it will become harder to find readers. Note I said harder, not impossible. Think about what other ways you have to market, think about what experience you bring over and above just the words. Think about you, be proud of you, drill into that uniqueness and let the world and your readers see it.
This is how we win.
LESSON 3 The Reader is King
I know before I even type this section that no one wants to hear this. Tough. You don’t listen to me or this podcast for cotton wool and cuddles. Fuck cuddles, you come here because I give you machetes and samurai swords. Because instead of rubbing your back, I line your shoulders with armour made of truth. If you want bunnies and fluff go somewhere else.
Here’s the brutal, utterly savage truth.
Writing is about us.
Selling is about them…
The reader. The buyers. The customers. The purchasers.
If you want to write for you and only you, cool. I do that sometimes too. But if you want to sell the shit you write, for the love of your bank accounts, pay attention to the reader and the market.
I wrote my first series for me. It was complicated and there were twists, there were seventeen thousand different magical things, about the same number of characters too. It was a lot. You know what wasn’t a lot? The sales. And there’s a reason for that. I didn’t write for the reader.
Let me clarify by saying, I’m not saying you have to write to market, or sell your soul. What I am saying is that a) there’s no guaranteed success even if you do all the right things. But you make success much more likely when you put the reader front and centre. When you consider what the reader (and the market) wants before you start writing and put pen to page.
When you truly understand what the reader wants and you bake that into your books, you’re significantly more likely to win. Lots of authors struggle to talk about their books and it’s because they don’t consider the marketing before they start writing.
Marketing, good marketing, is another language. I don’t say that to scare you, but to help you realise that you need to learn the language. Hell, I’m still learning.
But good marketing is your reader’s language and we all need to learn how to speak it. Once you’re conversational, talking about your books in the language your readers understand make it considerably easier to sell.
You know who considered the market? James Dyson. He knew we wanted better hoovers, ones that actually sucked up half a field of mud after the kids came back from footy practice. And he had to try and try and try again 5026 times or whatever the oft quoted prototype number was. He didn’t try and make a hoover that can also blow dry your hair did he? No, he made a really fucking good hoover that did one thing. Hoovered.
If you want to sell lots of books, focus on what readers want. Then iterate, a lot. Hopefully we’ll hit the jackpot before we’ve written 5026 books.
LESSON 4 Repetition is a Fool’s Game
Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Here’s the thing, there comes a time in your author business where you realise you’re doing a lot of the same tasks, over and over we launch books, we write captions, we create social media posts. I’ve launched god knows how many books it must be around 20 by now. Here’s what I’ve come to realise.
Every single launch, I start the work again. I’ve been treating them as new, and that means the amount of work is the same every time. This was fine when I was only launching a couple of books a year. Now, with my increased pace, I physically don’t have the time to create everything from scratch every single time. It’s the definition of madness. Why would I expend that amount of time when I could be expending it writing new books that would make me yet more money?
But now there’s more launches on top of the big book launches, audiobook launches, course launches and hopefully one day translation launches too.
Efficiency, my friends. I gotta start systematizing the game. So that’s what I started this month and already life feels a little easier. A couple of the things I’m doing include:
· Creating social media captions for each of my books, courses, audiobooks and products that can be used and reused. After all, one post only gets seen by a small fraction of one’s followers and 7-touches. This kind of repeated message is legit.
· Creating launch email templates. Every launch I do a sneak peek, I reveal the cover, I share insider info. Why the hell am I writing these emails from scratch every time? Not anymore.
I’m working harder now on the business infrastructure, things like having a consistent marketing plan that utilising and makes the most of the IP I already have. Just the other day I was checking all the presentation decks: 20. I have twenty presentations just sat on my hard drive doing nothing.
That’s a damn backlist of potential courses. What am I doing? This is a real example of how I’ve not given myself time to work ON the business because I’ve been too busy working IN the business.
So this is my commitment for the next year is to make sure I work ON my business.
LESSON 5 No Matter What, This is Always Better
And now we come to the same lesson I learn, or perhaps refresh every year. The acknowledgment and gratitude that this life I live now is so much better than anything I had before. I love and loathe sharing the photo with you. The one from my darkest day that I keep and look at once a year. But truly, it is such a powerful reminder.
I like to be truthful with you. I like to be honest. Is every day a bed of roses? Fuck no. Are there some days I worry about money and whether or not we can pay for our boiler that broke on Thursday, the same day our fridge door fell off and promptly died? Absolutely.
ALLi graphic of number of books. See the full post here.
Seth Godin’s The Dip
Image from project life mastery.
It comes as no surprise to me that the recent ALLi survey shows an identical growth curve as Seth Godin’s The Dip. The graph shows that a huge number of authors have less than 20 books, varying percentages have 1-2 then 5-10 then 10-20. Then there’s a very small percentage that have 20-30. After that, a large percentage have 30+.
So the graph shows this beautiful bell curve and then a sharp incline up as we surpass 30 books.
Because staying and persisting through the hardest part of business growth is vital. It’s demoralising to have 20 books and not have a bank account represents that. And yet, just a few more books and suddenly we’re out of the dip.
I am in a dip of sorts. Certainly, by the standards of number of books published I am in the small percentage of 21-30. The only way out is through. I will make it to 30+ books.
You have to stay strong. You have to keep going.
It’s at this time of year, when I reflect on where I came from. When I remember the agonising pain I went through day after day in corporate. The hurt, the isolation. The crushing of creativity and the desperate clinging to the hope that there was something more. That I reconnect with my overwhelming gratitude.
I cannot believe the change in one year. I reread last year’s lessons and it feels like a different person wrote that. I am more grounded, more me, more present than I think I’ve ever been. I have always been a meliorist. I have faith for every one listening. I truly believe that creativity is the seat of humanity’s hope. I believe that creativity will save us all. One by one. Writer, by artist, by sculptor, by inventor, by engineer.
One by one, we will rebel and find our truth, our calling and piece by piece the creatives of the world will repair our society. If you’re listening, if you’re doubting your work and your words. Don’t.
The world needs your words. There is a girl who needs the story about the fairy and the dragon. There’s an engineer who needs the story about the spy infiltrating a network.
Words change lives. They change hearts and souls and minds.
I will never relinquish this feeling of thankfulness. It’s a certainty that fills the marrow in my bones and tells me that no matter how hard the daily grind is, no matter how exhausted I am, no matter how long it takes, I am on the road to freedom and you are too.
Income and Asset update