You can do a whole lot in seven years. Eat 364 tins of baked beans. Have nine kids. Drink 2,555 pots of nuclear-strength coffee. Watch all of Grey’s Anatomy. Or, you could do what I did and write 18 novels.
I started out slow, with one novel, then another. In the first three years part-time, I eeked out five books. Then something clicked, and I’ve written three novels a year since 2017. It’s taken hard work, discipline and a whole lot of love to get here. Along the way, I’ve learned so much. But every day, I’m working for myself and doing my dream job. I can’t ask for more! What have I learned in the last 84 months? Read on to find out…
1. Back in 2014, I had no idea I was starting a new career as a lesbian romance author. I’d just been made redundant, I had a book half-written, and the idea of looking for another job filled me with dread. I had a chunk of redundancy cash, so I thought, why not finish the book, publish it, then think about what to do next. So I did. However, London Calling created such a huge reaction and got read by people I’d never met, so I decided to write another book. And then another. Taking that initial risk and putting my first book out there got the ball rolling. I had no idea where it might lead.
2. Not every book you write will resonate with readers as you hoped, and that’s okay. After you click publish, you can’t control how your novel will be received. Some will be huge hits. Others will be dearly loved by a bunch of readers, but take an age to recoup the cost of production. That’s the way it goes. This career has highs, lows and no guarantees. I nearly jacked it all in around 2017 after stuttering sales and a crisis of confidence. Support of my wife and good friends, along with getting a business coach put me back on the right track. If you want a stable job, being a novelist isn’t where you’re going to find it.
3. Getting feedback on your work is fabulous. Even sometimes when it’s critical. So long as it’s constructive and not nasty, I welcome it all. When I first started, I didn’t truly want to hear from readers as I was too scared of what they might say. But writing is a lonely career, sitting in a room alone and typing every day. When people get in touch to tell me I’ve kept them sane through lockdown, or that my books helped them to come out, I’m really touched. I want to entertain, but if I can make a difference in someone’s life too, that’s pretty awesome.
4. Writing lesbian romance is a political act. Yes, even in 2021. Mainstream publishers are waking up to the fact there’s a market for lesbian fiction, but it’s taken some time to get there. In the meantime, independent publishers like me have been getting our work out there via Kindle and other platforms, doing it ourselves and reaching readers all over the globe. Lesbian/bi/queer representation is still so small in all forms of media, so getting our stories out there is so vital. Seeing your life reflected in the pages of a novel makes you feel validated and seen. It’s so important, and I’m proud to be contributing in my own small way.
5. As soon as you publish your first novel, you’re running a small business. I understood this from day one. That I would really love this side of the job was a total surprise. Me and spreadsheets aren’t a natural fit, but now I can auto-sum and freeze-pane like a demon. Scheduling and organising have always been my strong suit, but running Custard Books means I now have a publishing company, an accountant, and payroll. It makes me feel terribly grown-up. I kinda like it.
6. Get out there and meet other writers. It really is a must if you don’t want to go mad! Writing is a solitary job, and having writing friends who understand what you do is essential. You can do this online if it’s easier, but (in pre-Covid times) I went to writing conferences, writing meet-ups, joined writing organisations, and even went on writing retreats. As a result, I now have a host of writing friends I can go for coffee and lunch with, or have a Zoom call with. Get some work friends. Water cooler moments (virtual or not) are more important than you think!
7. I’ve always loved radio, but when I started writing, I never considered starting a podcast. I now present two, and I love doing them. Podcasting also gets my voice into the heads of potential readers, and means I have an excuse to contact other authors to interview them. I’ve met solid friends through this: heck, I’ve even co-written books with a couple of them! I credit podcasting with the growth of my career. Of course, I have to write the books, too, but podcasting is a solid form of marketing, and one I love to do.
8. In seven years, I’ve published 18 novels and six novellas. That’s roughly 1.5 million published words to date. Not all of them the same, either.
9. It took me five years to write and publish my first book, London Calling. It now takes me on average four months to write and publish a book. The reason? I’ve had practice. I know what it involves. I understand the process, I have a checklist, and I know what I’m doing. But it’s taken seven years to get to this point. People often just see this part of my career, the one where I’m publishing three books a year. If you’re at the beginning of your journey, just keep going.
10. I couldn’t have kept going throughout these seven years without the support of all my family and friends, my fabulous freelance editors, cover designers, typesetters and proof-readers, as well as everyone who’s ever read one of my books. I now make a full-time living from my writing, and have done for the past five years, which is incredible. Thanks if you’ve ever read or reviewed one of my books, listened to a podcast or told anyone about my novels. I couldn’t have the career I do without you. I’m really, truly grateful.