So it’s day four of the A to Z Challenge and you’ll be relieved to know that you get a day off from me tomorrow, since it’s Sunday. Not half as relieved as I am, though, I can promise you that! I mean, daily blogs – what was I thinking?
Anyway, here we are on the letter D. What is there to say about writing that starts with the letter D? Let’s begin with:
When you write for a traditional publisher, you get used to deadlines. I have many friends with traditional deals and they are always telling me they have a deadline to stick to and must get on with it and so no, they haven’t got time to talk to me, or meet up with me … hmm. Beginning to wonder now …
Anyway, the point is, as an indie author, there are no real deadlines. We can set our own schedule and work around things like holidays and illness, and annoying stuff that gets in the way of writing. That’s not to say that traditional publishers are draconian when it comes to deadlines. I know for a fact that some of them are very understanding and will shift deadlines as best they can to give the writer some leeway. Nevertheless, as an indie publisher and author, you can say to yourself, no hurry. The book’s finished when it’s finished.
That sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? Except, if you’re anything like me, that can lead to endless procrastination and dawdling. Instead of plonking your backside in the chair and switching on the computer, you may well find yourself binge-watching an entire series of Torchwood on iPlayer. (Not me, obviously. I never would …) or reading endless books (never a bad thing) or learning to paint (badly) on your iPad (*ahem*) or even, God forbid, doing some housework *shudder*. Anything, in fact, rather than getting on with writing. Then, one day, you glance at the calendar and discover it’s six months since you last published a book and you’ve done nothing about the next one.
For people like me, deadlines can be a good thing, even if they’re self-imposed. I usually set a date in my own mind for publication and work back from that. So, I allow myself a certain amount of time for writing, then rewrites, editing, beta readers, more rewrites, editing, proofreading, formatting and uploading to KDP. If you’re paying for professional editing and proofreading, you’ll need to book them in advance. Possibly well in advance. Believe me, their diaries fill up very quickly. Having to book an editor so far in advance can be a good thing, though, as that’s another deadline. You know that you must have the book ready to send on that date, so it’s a ticking clock as you work.
Another good way to set yourself a strict deadline is to put the book up for pre-order on Amazon. You can upload a dummy manuscript, or no manuscript at all, and set a publication date. You’ll then be told the date that your final draft must be uploaded by.
Be warned, though, that Amazon takes a dim view of writers who don’t fulfil that promise. Amazon’s policy is always customer satisfaction first, and if you’ve been taking pre-orders with a promise that the book will be delivered on a certain date, and then fail to deliver it, they’ll get very cross indeed. In fact, you may find yourself unable to put your books up for pre-order in the future, so be sure you can get it done. Allow yourself a comfortable margin. You never know what might crop up to throw your schedule into disarray!
I’ve never used Draft2Digital, but I know many people who have, and seem happy with it. At the moment, my books are exclusive to Amazon (more on that another day) but in the future I may put some of them on other platforms. Now, to someone like me, that all sounds very confusing. Different platforms have different rules and use different formats. There’s a lot of hopping between various sites, trying to upload your manuscript to each of them, then working out how to understand (or even find) the sales figures. It seems like just another time suck, and it’s not like we haven’t got enough to think about, is it?
Draft2Digital is a service that cuts all that site-hopping out. You drop your manuscript into ready-made templates on their site, and then tick which platforms you want your book to be available on. Draft2Digital will convert your Word document into an epub or mobi file so you’re good to go on all digital platforms. They’ll even turn it into a pdf so you can create a paperback. There’s no upfront charge for this service, but you will pay ten percent of the retail price of each book sold. You need to work out if you’re happy to pay that for the convenience, or if you’d rather do the legwork yourself, and keep all profits. Only you can decide that, but it’s good to have the option. Find out more about Draft2Digital here.
Apparently, way back in the mists of time, there was a golden age in publishing, when an author could write a book, get it published and make so much money from it that their lives were instantly transformed, and they never had to do any other job ever again. When I was a child, my vision of an author was Enid Blyton, or the Pullein-Thompson sisters. As far as I could tell, they lived in big houses in the country, with paddocks and orchards, and lots of bedrooms, and a study.
As I grew older, I started reading adult books, and one of the first authors I discovered was Barbara Cartland. Barbara was a vision in pink: all stiffly-lacquered hair and alarming makeup, with a posh house and her own secretary. She was connected to the aristocracy, and even to royalty. So, I just assumed all authors were rich. End of.
It came as a bit of a shock to discover that most writers have to juggle their writing career with day jobs. If you’re thinking of becoming a writer as a means to buying that dream home in the country, you may be better off choosing another career. There is money to be made in writing, but it’s not exactly evenly distributed. According to a 2018 survey, “The top 10 percent of writers still earn about 70% of total earnings in the profession”. Let that sink in! And, depressingly, “Writers who are able to live from writing alone (those who do not hold a second job) have declined from 40% (2006) of their group to 28% (2018), a decline of 12%. It appears to have become significantly harder to become a full-time writer”.You can read the full report here.
However, before I depress you too much, I should point out that it is possible to earn enough money from writing to enable you to give up your day job. I know, because I’ve done it. Just over two years ago, I was working in a medical centre, and fitting my writing around my hours at my “proper job”. Now, I write full time and being an author is my “proper job”. So, it can be done. You can read about how I made the decision to leave the day job here.
A lot will depend on how well paid your job is, and if you have any other means of support, eg a husband or partner who contributes to the household income. If you currently have a high-flying career with an astronomical salary, you’re going to struggle to equal that through writing. On the other hand if, like me, you were basically working for a couple of quid and a packet of peanuts, you might just earn enough to say, “I’m off!”
What you might like to consider, though, is whether you really want to quit the day job. I know it sounds like a no-brainer, but you may be surprised. When I left work, I thought life was going to be wonderful from the off. I had no idea that I would sink into a depression that would last months.
The job I’d moaned about and fantasised about leaving so often, turned out to mean a lot more to me than I’d realised. I’d already known I would miss my colleagues. I shared an office with around ten other women, plus there were more working upstairs and in other parts of the building. We had our ups and downs because it was a stressful job, but we also had each other’s backs. It was a team, one big support network, and we looked out for each other. Also, we had so many laughs that, sometimes, going into work was a real tonic.
I knew I would miss the banter, but I hadn’t appreciated how much. I got lonely. Really lonely. But more than that, I missed the routine. I missed watching the clock, knowing I had to write as much as I could because it would soon be time for work. I even missed putting on that uniform! And I hadn’t noticed how inspirational the job was, either. Bits of conversation, funny events, the stories people would tell … I’d not realised how those things fed into my stories, inspiring me.
Once writing became my full-time job, it all felt a little – flat. Plus, of course, there was the pressure to make it work. With no other income, I just had to sell some books. I had to keep writing, even if I didn’t feel like it, even if the ideas had dried up. I began to dread going into my office. For a long time, I had no urge to write at all. It took me almost a year to rediscover the joy of telling a story, and to finally get used to working alone. So, you know, consider carefully if you really want to do this. Writing full-time is a fabulous life, and I love it now, but, it took me a long time to settle. I wasn’t prepared for the shock of it, so be very sure you are.
Dog (or Cat)
If you want to be an author, then as well as cake, chocolate and candles (see yesterday’s post) there is something else you need. A dog. Or a cat. Or any interesting sort of pet really. This is compulsory. A dog or cat is necessary to interrupt you, just when you’re at a most interesting point in your work-in-progress. It will stop you getting too obsessed with your work (and we wouldn’t want that, would we?). It provides a topic of conversation for social media: you’ll never guess what my dog did today! And, essentially, it will enable you to take endless photos of said pet, which you can post to Instagram, ensuring you don’t have to wrack your brains every day, trying to think of something to photograph, so your followers don’t forget you exist. Seriously, it’s either pets or cake. No one is interested in anything else.
When I was a kid, I was always getting told off for daydreaming. I’ve never understood why. Why is daydreaming so bad? I used to go off in my mind to all sorts of wonderful places. I’d pass an interesting looking house and would daydream for the rest of the journey about the sort of people who might live there, and what their lives might be like. Those daydreams often turned into stories in my head, and sometimes on paper, too.
It was when we were on a long, boring drive of several hours that I began to daydream about some characters that popped into my mind (I should point out I was a passenger, not the driver!) and that daydream turned into the Kearton Bay series. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming. In fact, for writers, it’s essential. Every story starts with a thought, which becomes several thoughts, which become what ifs? A great deal of the story is written in our minds before we so much as pick up a pen or switch on the laptop.
What about the dreams you have while you’re asleep? Now, they can be fascinating. I once dreamed an entire short story from start to finish. Legend has it that Sir Paul McCartney dreamed the song, Yesterday. Pay attention to your dreams! Just the other week, I had a dream that was so real it actually had me in tears when I woke up. I realised it fitted perfectly into a book I was planning, so I jotted it down and now it will form part of the plot of my next Christmas novel! As silly as it sounds, my advice would be to keep a notebook and pen by your bed, because you can guarantee that by the time you’ve reached the bathroom, you’ll have forgotten what the dream was about. Write it down as you wake up! It could be the basis for your next bestseller.
As for dreaming about your future – never, ever give up on that! When I was eleven, we had to write an essay at school about ourselves. The teacher wanted to know who we were, what were our interests and hobbies, and what we wanted to be when we grew up. To this day I remember my answer, because it always makes me laugh, and reminds me what an odd child I really was. I’d like to be an author, or a showjumper. And I wouldn’t mind being a vicar’s wife.
Yes, really! Of course, in those days, women couldn’t be vicars, so vicar’s wife was the closest I could get. Depressing that I considered being someone’s wife a career! To be honest, at the time, I was in my pony book phase (I still am!) and devouring Monica Edwards‘ Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm books. In the Romney Marsh books, the main character, Tamzin, has a lovely mother (Mrs Grey) who is – yes, you’ve guessed it – a vicar’s wife. She was the perfect mum, and she lived in a gorgeous rectory in a village by the sea, and there was a paddock for a pony. I thought it would be a perfect life.
Also, at the time, our vicar’s wife was the Brown Owl for our local Brownie pack, which I assumed was a proper full-time job. There was a village fete every summer held in the vicarage grounds, and I loved going to it. The vicarage was a large, old house – the sort of house I imagined Enid Blyton would live in – and there was a massive garden and a paddock with ponies. I honestly thought that vicars had it cushy. I suppose being a vicar’s wife seemed like a pretty good career prospect to me.
As for showjumper – back to the pony books again. I was horse mad and my dad used to take me to the local show every year, where I’d watch the likes of Harvey Smith, David Broome and John Whitaker, resplendent in their red coats and breeches and mounted on gleaming horses, do clear rounds to thunderous applause. Looked very glamorous, and I can see why I thought it would be a brilliant career choice. It was hardly realistic, though, given that I’d never so much as had a riding lesson!
So, back to the first point. I’d like to be an author. Honestly, back then, it seemed as unlikely as being a showjumper. I remember writing it down, not thinking for a moment that it would happen. As I said earlier, authors were rich and famous, and floated around country houses, and bore no resemblance to anyone I knew in real life. It was a pipe dream. Nothing more.
But guess what? I’m now an author. A full-time author.
Dreams can and do come true – so never, ever give up on yours!
Gosh, that was an inspirational pep talk, wasn’t it? I’ll leave you with that thought and bid you a happy weekend. I know times are tricky, and there may not seem much to look forward to, but good times will come again, you’ll see. Keep dreaming! And please, stay home if you possibly can.