On October 11th, 2011, I published my award-winning short story, “Moon Prayer,” to the Kindle and Smashwords stores. Only a handful of people bought the ebook edition, but I was hooked. Over the next 10 years, I chased my next high over and over.
Writing is my addiction. It’s also the way I figure out the world, and myself. Hemingway once said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” He was right. Writing is my release; after the gush and then stanch comes the rush of endorphins.
In the 10 years since I started this journey, if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that this career is not romantic or glamorous—it fucking hurts. To survive, you have to be strong and resilient. It helps if you’re really stubborn. It really helps if you’re a little crazy. Most days, I don’t even know why I’m still going at it. So many writer friends have disappeared, never to publish again, because the mental toll is too expensive.
It scares me, that something I love could destroy me.
But then I remember why I write: for me. I write the kinds of books I want to read. I’ve been entertaining myself with stories for as long as I can remember. Some of my favorite memories are the elaborate soap operas my sister and I played out with our action figures. (We had a whole tiny town built out of shoe boxes, doll houses, and chairs, full of all these characters with individual backgrounds and lives.) Eventually I taught myself to type on my mom’s word processor, and I started writing fiction. (I still don’t type properly today.)
I started writing for me, but other people really like my stories. It’s hard for me to find readers, because I’m not writing for the standard person. I’m writing for the people like me: the outcasts, the black sheep, the ones who paved their own road.
So, on my 10-year anniversary, I give myself the gift of a new manifesto. This list is for me, but maybe it’ll resonate with you. Take what you need and leave the rest.
- Don’t give away everything.
- Learn the rules of your genre, and then break them in ways that make sense.
- Protect yourself, your IP, your privacy, and your mental health.
- Figure out what you do best, then keep doing it.
- Ads don’t work for all books, or even all authors.
- Build and manage your own ARC team.
- Don’t forget about local readers.
- Make your newsletter your #1 marketing priority.
- Set yourself up for success.
- Let go of the things you can’t control.
A Note on Making Money: Every author wants to know to make a living from writing. There’s no timeline or instruction manual that fits everyone. I’m still trying to figure out how to do it; I came close in 2019 when I released A Risky Prospect. There are so many factors involved, and even two authors writing the same sub-genre and tropes are going to have completely different career experiences. It can be maddening, so try not to compare yourself to others. That’s easier said than done, and I know it also sounds like a cop out. But there truly is no secret, one-size-fits-all answer. It’s something you have to figure out as a business, through time, experimenting, and commitment.
A Note on Burnout: This gig is stressful. I’ve seen a lot of authors come in hot, publishing and rising fast, and then crashing just as quickly. Make sure you’re pacing yourself. Make sure you’re refueling your soul. Make sure you’re on top of your mental health. Set your expectations and goals at a reasonable place, with actions you can actually control (like “I will write and publish this book by this date,” instead of “I will make this book a bestseller that pays my bills”).
Writing isn’t just a career; it’s who we are. The world needs us because we put into words the things that many people can’t say. We tell it like it is, and we build a better tomorrow, all with the power of our words.
I don’t know what the next 10 years hold for me, but I hope they give me 10 more things I’ve learned and dozens more books on the shelf under my name.