In August of 2014 I was advised by my company of eight years that my position had become redundant. After my initial panic dissipated, I was left wondering what I was going to do. I live alone, so the loss of income meant a total loss for the household. I needed to find another job and quick if I wanted to keep my house.
Shortly before being laid off, I had released my eighth romance novel with a smaller publisher, however, in looking at my numbers, I realized I would have to do something more to be able to support myself. There just wasn’t enough money coming in to cover all the bills.
I soon discovered that the world of indie publishing has to be one of the most open and friendly business environments I have ever encountered. When I began to I contact authors that I knew had taken the plunge into self publishing, there was no shortage to insightful advice and heartfelt support. Feeling hopeful, I began to ask the hard questions, ‘What can be expected for sales?’ and ‘How difficult is it to format a book?’ and so on. There are so many different aspects to self publishing that I felt like I didn’t even know enough to ask the right questions. It was equal parts exciting and terrifying. Slowly I began to assemble a running list of things to do, topics to research and things I needed to learn.
I registered my own business, creating Sacred Forest Publishing LLC. I created two websites, one for me as an author and one for my publishing company. I signed up for every social media platform known to the Internet and started the process of learning how to use them. I made a check off list of things that were needed to take a book from written word to distribution and began checking items off the list. I signed up for distribution accounts for Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes. Finally, I began to tackle the topics that required more research. Please note at this point I haven’t even thought about actually writing anything yet.
Formatting was my huge hurdle to jump. It was the most involved process, one that I literally couldn’t afford not to know. So to figure out what I didn’t know about formatting, I started watching YouTube tutorials on how to use Scrivener. I highly recommend this program. Scrivener is a writing program that compiles my books into different formats for ebook distribution. It allows me to organize my chapters, lets me set target goals, and offers a customizable quick reference section comprised of imported inspiration photos and character spreadsheets.
After watching a few videos, the program didn’t seem so alien and intimidating. Within an hour I had set up my fake book and had successfully compiled my first eBook. Of course it had to be tweaked a thousand times, but I had done it myself. For someone who was working on an extremely tight budget this helped enormously, since I was now able to format my own books, I could remove that item from my “book budget”.
Next I contacted different book cover designers and found one that was able to capture the essence of the series that I was creating. I surfed many stock photo sites until I found the images that I wanted for my cover. Kim, at the Killion group, worked her magic and within days I was looking at my first indie book cover. Now that I had a cover, I could begin my promotional efforts in earnest, the only problem, was how? Facebook’s reach was shrinking by the hour and I didn’t know a retweet from a hashtag when it came to Twitter.
I turned to the small following of readers I had acquired from my time at my first publisher. This group was always joking around with me on Facebook and they had previously helped me to promote my upcoming books. After a lot of internal debate, I decided to do something I rarely ever do. I asked for help, and to my never ending surprise I received it, more than I ever thought I would get.
In my Facebook group I posted a very honest and personal message telling my team what had happened. I let them know that the only way I would be able to continue writing would be if I were to use my modest severance package to support myself while I worked on and published my first indie novel. I was overwhelmed by their responses. In the very first meeting my team had stepped up and assigned out promotional responsibilities and I had two wonderful ladies message me offering to do edits, the only cost, a chance to read the book. With my severance package dedicated to household expenses, what they offered gave my attempt at becoming an indie writer a chance to succeed.
Knowing that Amazon pays thirty days after the close of the business month meant that I was on an extremely harsh timeline. I had less than three weeks to write my first indie book, if I were to receive a check in time to compensate for my deleting severance package.
So I rolled up my sleeves, sat down and watched as the cursor blinked at me, and blinked and blinked. Some days the sheer stress of the situation made me avoid my office altogether. Instead I would sit downstairs with a legal pad and handwrite notes for the scenes that were popping into my head. With my team’s encouragement I forced myself to sit down and take a deep breath. I began to type, and the words seemed to flow right onto the computer screen.
With two days until the Amazon deadline, I sent my finished draft off to my editor. She and I worked in tandem for forty-eight hours sending files back and forth to each other hammering out edits and changes. Finally with two minutes left to spare I uploaded my book to Amazon and sat back, then panicked, like accelerated heart rate, dry mouth, churning stomach type of panic.
Had I uploaded the right draft? Yes. What if I missed a huge typo? What if I had formatted wrong? Oh Gods in heaven, what if everyone hated it? Needless to say that day is pretty blurry in my memory, I think I blanked it out for self-preservation.
The ten days until the book went live flew by and before I knew it, I was in front of my computer, my team on Skype, glass (bottle) of wine at hand as I waited for the book to go live. Sleep was impossible, despite the number of fermented grapes I was chugging. By the early morning of the next day the first reviews started showing up, five-star after five-star review came in, one after another. I remember refreshing the page and every time I would, a new five-star review would be there.
By that evening I was exhausted, but amazingly enough, I had racked up over thirty five-star reviews. I was still slightly pessimistic however; I was steeling myself for the negative. My team collectively rolled their eyes at me on more than one occasion, when I said that maybe, just maybe, the book was okay. I refused to get my hopes up.
But everyday, there in black and white, were more reviews with people exclaiming how much they loved my book, how it made them laugh so hard they were falling out of bed, waking up spouses and had them dropping their iPads.
The sales continued to come in and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The numbers didn’t lie. In the first month that my first indie published book was out; I had made more than the previous year with eight books out with my previous publisher. These numbers allowed me to relax a fraction; I wasn’t going to end up homeless after all, not for a few more months anyway. (I am ever the realist.)
Feeling minutely more confident, I started writing the second book. Where the words had flown off my fingertips before when I had found my groove, I was now fighting for every sentence. Instead of days where I was typing twelve to fifteen thousand words, I was having to walk away after only four thousand. Eventually after a painful month, I finished book two and that was sent off to my editors.
I now had new worries. What if the first book was as good as it got? What if I couldn’t top its blossoming success? My type A personality wanted numbers dammit! I wanted a forecast, some mock up simulation to obtain a statistically useless success rate. I naively wanted a guarantee, but in this business there aren’t any. There’s no magic wand to wave. There’s no ten-step process to follow to get exact results. I had left that world behind when I decided to become a full time writer and I was second-guessing my decision.
Once again my team got to say ‘We told you so.’ I was shocked, flat out floored. The sales from my first book, “My Commander”, continued to rise and the sales from the second book, “My Protector”, quickly began to out pace it.
I still want numbers and reports to review; I think I’ll always want them. Next year around this time I can easily see myself smiling and playing around with a spreadsheet, comparing trends and working with averages. But for right now, I’m doing okay. I take each day as it comes and I set my own pace. I get to sit at my computer and reply to reader emails and that makes me smile, most don’t even expect a response, I love shocking them. It wasn’t too long ago I was on the other side of the book, where authors were my rock stars. I pulled back the curtain and revealed a wizard, but it didn’t ruin the story, only gave me a deeper appreciation for the magic that my fellow writers work when they create their own worlds.
I’ve learned that what may seem like a devastating loss can actually turn into a blessing, that things happen for a reason and that dreams aren’t impossible, especially when you are strong enough to ask for help.
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