As a mother of three listening to the Being Boss podcast about how to manage your business with children was… frustrating. It’s not their fault. The transition from no kids to one is a huge change and learning to adjust your time and priorities is challenging. For me it was actually easier after I had my first child. He put me on a schedule and always napped at the same time but that’s not necessarily normal. I had my son when I was twenty and decided to follow my passion for writing fiction about seven months later, after the PPD subsided. The change from one child to two is harder than the change from zero to one. If you have a child and are running a successful creative business, writing or otherwise, there are steps you’ll want to take to ensure your success and help save you from burning out. If I sat down and thought about my business and my life the way I’m about to lay it out for you here earlier in my career, it would have taken off sooner and I’d be in a very different place. Of course without the lovely ladies at Being Boss, I wouldn’t have looked at my life as hard as I had to to find the solutions. I’m not the kind of person to listen to advice and think “Well that’s great but it wont work for me because of X, Y, or Z.” I listened to the podcast and realized a lot of what they were saying would not work for me, but rather than accepting my fate and deciding to give up and trying to find work/life boundaries I started working through the problem. Here’s what I learned through that process and talking to other successful entrepreneurs with multiple children.
3. To do list: So once you find the time to work or write the next thing to do is make sure you dont waste it trying to figure out what to work on. I used this technique after Tim Grahl introduced it in his Productive Writer course. Its Mark Foster’s Auto Focus System. What you do is take an ordinary notebook and start your to do list. Put everything on it. Every task you can think of and break larger projects into pieces (either in this list or you can use a digital productivity tool liks Things App). Then you put an X in the top corner of the page (more about why in a minute). Now once you’ve filled out one piece of paper you turn the page and keep going (put another X in the corner) once you’ve crossed out everything on a page you circle the X and then you know that page is done. Now, when you find time to get to work, take out this notebook and read over the things on the list. Pick one to complete and go! As you think of more tasks add them to end of the list. You can look at any page of the list before choosing a task. Time sensitive tasks should be done first but the whole point of this is to give yourself permission to choose and not feel guilty. For recurring tasks like dishes, just add them to the end of the list every time you cross it out. Here’s a link where Marks shows you how to use it. This has helped me tremendously! I no longer waste time trying to figure out what I need to be working on. I’ve take this method a step further by assigning myself specific tasks from the to do list to specific days of my week. So if I need to write a Newsletter for my fiction fans and it needs to go out on Friday, I assign the task to Tuesday and schedule it to go out on the due date. Also, by giving myself one thing to get done in each area of my life each day I avoid overwhelm and feel confident in my abilities. Once that task is complete if I have more time, I go to the list or tackle the assignment for the next day. Avoiding burnout is really important and this is probably the number one way I’ve pushed through fatigue but also avoided it.
4. Ask for help from your partner around the house: Your spouse or partner works hard all day and should have to help out. Get that thought out of your head right now. Like right now. You work hard all day and they can help out. My husband watches the kids two days a week, occasionally does dishes and religiously helps me fold clothes and run the washer. He also works overtime every week. You’re a team. You need time to work just like they do. It’s not ridiculous to ask for it. Also, they live there too, they can help. My nanny is also doubling as a housekeeper because even with all the help from my husband I still struggle to maintain my house. So that’s an option too. But for those of you just starting out, definitely ask for help from the people you live with. Kids can help with chores. My seven year old helps me take care of the animals and they all help declutter when it’s time to vacuum.
5. Write down your why: This might sound hocey and stupid but dammit, just do it! Write it out! What do you want to do? How will your life change when you do it? How will you feel about yourself when you accomplish it? And then put it up on your wall where you work or in your bedroom. Somewhere where you’ll see it every day. And when you’re struggling and wondering why you’re even doing this, look at it. Read it and know it’s all going to be worth it. When the kids are sick and you haven’t slept in 72 hours and you smell like puke and you’re supposed to write the next chapter or your book or work through edits (don’t work through edits on no sleep it’s a bad idea) look at your why. It should motivate you to stay up late and get up early.
I’ve told you how I twisted other peoples advice to fit my life and situation, now it’s your turn!
Do you have tips for working with children? Share them in the comments!
What I’ve Learned Over the Last Seven Years
I started studying marketing and business in 2011. I was a new mother and finally had my little boy on a decent schedule. My friend (and future business partner) Sara was gearing up to find herself an agent and get published. I was just getting back into writing myself and decided I’d help her hunt for agents since she was in school still and surfing the internet is really easy while feeding a baby or trying to stay quiet while he naps.
I found agents and publishers and then I found something else. Something I wasn’t looking for. The Creative Penn. A website and podcast, all about doing it yourself and why you should. I spoke more and more about self publishing and the Indie Author movement to Sara until eventually I was convinced it was for me. Since then I spend most of my free time studying book marketing, writing, and business. Through these studies over the last seven years, I’ve discovered a few life changing bits of information from a few different sources and discovered some entrepreneurial qualities about myself.
Success is a tricky beast. That’s why I decided to talk about it today. I’ve been reading a lot about mindset and chasing success. In Joanna Penn’s Successful Author Mindset she gives you tools to maintain or redirect your mindset given certain situations. I truly enjoyed this book and revisit it frequently. However, as I'm going through my goals and plans for my business and finding myself more and more frustrated I realized something. I was losing the mindset battle. The mind is a powerful ally if you have the right mindset but it can also be a powerful foe. "Whether you believe you succeed or not, you're right," is a famous Harrison Ford quote for a reason. I was drowning in my own mind.
This realization made me pause and go back to something that I heard a long time ago. You need to define success for yourself. I’ve done this but I realized I’ve reached my definitions of success at various points during this journey but I’m never satisfied. It’s never enough. I'm stuck worrying over other people's definition of success. One of the best things I did for myself as a new author was get rid of all my expectations by telling myself and my husband that I wasn't going to worry about anything, reviews, sales, anything, until I'd been at it for ten years. The first ten years were there for me to learn and figure this out. It's been two years since I first hit publish. Now I keep chasing things. When I publish my next book I’ll feel successful. When I get x number of reviews I’ll feel successful. When I hold a paperback of my work I’ll feel successful. When in reality, each step was a success. Why am I putting all this pressure on myself? Because I slowed down? A slight bump in the road and suddenly I'm a failure? The only person who can fix this is me.
Some of you know I had a baby last March and a difficult pregnancy on top of losing my stepdad to cancer. I met him when I was about 9 months old so he’s literally always been in my life. Everything about 2016 and 2017 was hard and I published my first book in 2016. To get myself back on track I need to accept that life happens. Life kicks us while we’re down. And if I give up now, I’m resigning myself to stay on the ground. I’m not that person. I’m a fighter and I choose to get up and keep moving forward. And I'm the only one who can get myself out of the rut and back at my desk, writing.
I’ve made a list of three things to help you figure out what success means to you and how to make sure you enjoy it when you get there.
As for me, I'm going back to not worrying until 2026. That mindset helped me through a lot of tough times and I'm looking forward to this year being fun. I plan to meet new people, publish new books, and build my business. I’ll find new successes and I’ll take the time to celebrate them. Make sure you do the same. Whether it’s finishing your first or your thirty first novel. Whether it’s getting your first or hundredth review. Or your first or thousandth sale. Stop and celebrate and the next time you feel like a failure look back at all you’ve accomplished and see it for what it is. A series of small successes. And I refuse to wallow in perceived failures.
What does success mean to you? What did it mean when you first started out? Did you stop to celebrate? Let me know in the comments!
Being a successful author is dependent on so many factors, but the first and foremost is you. What you put into your work will show in its quality and its success. When you decide to become an author--even if you take the traditional route--the first thing you need to realize is how much it is going to take. And the first person investing those things will be you. The three most important things to invest are your time, your money, and yourself.
It takes time to be an author, and making sure you have regular time to dedicate to your craft is key. This includes setting aside an afternoon to schedule posts, taking a trip to the library for some research on your setting, and networking with other authors to grow your audience and learn. Some people need an hour every day, others need a whole day once a week. Find whatever makes you most productive and stick with it. No one is going to just hand you time, so you need to be dedicated in making that time for yourself.
It takes money to publish if you’re taking the independent route--cover designers, editors, and ISBNs all cost money--which is part of the reason the traditional side of the industry has stuck around for so long, despite serious issues. Indie pubbing is a great answer to that, even despite the costs. While it’s going to cost you, it’s important to spend smart. Check out sites like Fiverr or DeviantArt for artists, and network with other authors to find inexpensive editing options and which services are worth the money. Free programs like Grammarly and Krita are a great resource too.
Another important investment is taking courses on writing craft, publishing, and marketing. You can get a lot of great advice for free by following folks in the industry on social media and listening to what they have to say, but you’re also going to want to check out indie-author specific seminars/webinars. Even if you choose to go the traditional route, a huge amount of the marketing effort is going to fall on your shoulders, even in the financial burden doesn’t, so you’ll need to know how to navigate that. Plus it’s always good to know how the “other half’ lives.
How well you invest your money is going to show in your finished product, and readers will come back to an author who is well edited and has an awesome cover.
This is the most important part. The trope of the starving artist? The suffering creative? Forget it. Leave it at the door. Never mention it again unless you’re telling someone else to ignore it. The time you put in will help your work, but if you are stressed about putting words on the page or finishing that round of revisions, or getting out just one more social media post then it’s hard to feel justified in taking personal time. But you cannot produce good content when you don’t invest in yourself. Being as healthy and happy as you can will improve your work. “Happy” and “healthy” look different to everyone, and you, while awesome, aren’t perfect. So cut yourself some slack, and don’t compare your success to others. For me, “happy and healthy” are a week where I only have one anxiety attack and get outside every other day when I’m not working.
When that’s not the case, my writing suffers. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to not write. When I’m depressed, my writing is terrible and I often have to re-do a lot of it, which also just makes me more depressed. Take a bath, read a good book, eat a good meal, watch a new show. Without you, there is no writing, so take care of yourself first. Honor your limits, and respect your body and mind when they tell you to take a break. And if you’re really struggling, please, please, seek help. Your work can wait.
For tips on making the most of the time and money you invest, check out our other posts. What is the most important investment you’ve made in your career as an author?
First of all, if you have a good beta reader who you feel benefits your writing, disregard this post.
OK, for the rest of you, lets go over what a beta reader is. Beta readers are people, usually authors who read your work, chapter by chapter and offer suggestions about your story. A lot of first time authors feel they are a necessary step in the publishing process. I felt the same way when I was new to the business. The problem I have with with are as follows (if you stick around till the end I’ll offer you an alternative that I feel will benefit your writing much more than a beta reader:
Let’s go over what you actually need really quick, You need someone who will get back to you in a timely manner, someone with experience (in your genre), and someone who will help you grow as an author and improve your craft. The solution? You probably guessed it. Editors. They come in all shapes and sizes. I know my first book could have benefitted from a structural edit and chances are yours can too. Studying story is something I never really thought about until I’d published multiple titles. Sounds silly but it’s true. Once I stopped believing that because I consumed stories I understood them, my story telling improved. And the people to help you in this regard are professionals not other new authors. I also understand that money can be incredibly tight when you’re starting out, while I encourage multiple edits with different types of editors there are other ways to improve. The Story Grid by Shawn Coyne (an experienced editor) is an excellent resource that I highly recommend. They also have a story grid podcast where Tim Grahl writes fiction and Shawn goes over it with him. It’s filmed live so Tim has no idea what’s going to happen until it starts.
What are your experiences with beta readers? I know VS Holmes had a good experience with her Smoke and Rain beta but other than that I have never seen it work. Let me know in the comments!
I know what you're thinking, why do I need to read about how to be accepted? Isn't that the goal? Isn't that the point of my existence right now? I should be able to handle this one.
Well, as it turns out there are several situations you might find yourself in after being accepted that you are not prepared for. So, we decided to share some of those with you in an effort to help you prepare for that glorious day and all it will hopefully entail.
The Perfect Fit
The first is being accepted by the wrong person or agency/publisher. Every time you submit to an agent, publisher, or magazine you should have made sure your piece is a good fit with their interests. However, they may not be a good fit with you. If you're receiving offers of representation or publishing from an event (such as a pitch party) you definately need to check out who they are before you start jumping for joy. Actually, scratch that. You were accepted! That's totally a reason to jump as much as you want. But before you sign ANYTHING or even respond, check out their website and set up an interview. It's good for both you and the other party to know who you are, essentially, getting into 'business' bed with.
Whether this person is an agent or will hold the rights to your work for a long period, you want to know them. You want to be able to work with them and you want them to be willing to work with you. V had an experience where a publisher approached her with a contract for her first book, Smoke and Rain. And we totally did a happy dance. Then we researched and discovered the publisher was pretty exclusive to the Christian genre. For those of you who don't know, Smoke and Rain, is the first book in an epic fantasy series that follows a war between gods and the creatures that created them. And it doesn't always paint the gods in a favorable light. It's a balance thing and very cool, but pretty sure it would not mesh well with a Christian audience. So she explained her reasoning, thanked them, and polietly declined.
Another problem that might arise is a difference in personality. Perhaps you submit to an agent and when you sit down to talk to them, via Skype, the phone, or in person, you just didn't click. Sure, it's hard to gauge how well you would work together over just one phone call. Have questions prepared, ask to talk to other authors with whom they work, get a feeling for their views on anything relavant to your work, or work that you plan to run by them in the future. If you're still uncertain, have another conversation and raise your concerns. This person has to represent and believe in you and your work, and you have to trust them with your piece and your best interests.
If it's really not a good fit, it's perfectly fine for you to polietely tell them you don't think it will work.
Now, lets get to the fun part: your acceptance of the initial acceptance! You have talked with these people, maybe gone over a contract, and now you are ready to send an informal email of acceptance. If you have gone over the contract and you don't like it for any reason, ask if those details can be tweaked. We strongly suggest you have someone else (who's livelyhood and work aren't on the line) take a look too. If the issues can't be changed, then you need to decide how important those things are to you. If they're small, maybe you can look the other way, but if you aren't comfortable, look elsewhere. We will write a post specifically about contracts in the near future to help with this. The main thing I want you to take away right now is: this is your business, your livilyhood and your career. It's OK to be picky, and, frankly, you should be. It's also OK to accept the contract and pop open some bubbly! I feel like the technical and cautionary stuff is getting in the way of the goods here. But honestly my friends, it's important to know this ahead of time so you dont get screwed.
A Note About Professionalism
I really wish we didn't have to stress this as much as we do, but here we are. In the previous posts in the series, we talked about how to be professional, despite the highly emotional nature of submitting your work. Just because you've been offered representation or a contract, does not mean you are suddenly a VIP. It's OK to be excited and proud of yourself and your work at this point. And you should be proud! Just remember, it's business, and you should always be respectful and understanding. This is a business relationship and should be treated with respect. The company probably has several authors they're working with, and while you are important, you are not always their top priority.
Whether you're going forward with this person or company, or not, how you speak (or email) will determine your future in the indstry. Be considerate and make sure to read over your emails and messages for typos--an author who doesn't take care with their correspondance can seem disrespectful.
When declining an offer, be professional and considerate and, above all, thankful. This person might have 20 offers out there floating around and really not be bothered by you saying no. On the other hand, your book could be the one they've been waiting for and are dying to represent. You just don't know.
Ah, so there you have it guys. Acceptance is fun and exciting and let me know when it happens to you I'll help you drink that champagne! Just remember it's also part of a business deal. Good luck!
This is the first in a three-post series regarding submitting to and interacting with publishers, agents, or another organization. Even if you’re an indie author, you will still have to submit your work—book reviewers, book awards, anthologies, etc. all involve a submission process. Putting your work out there is tough, no matter how seasoned an author you might be, but there are still rules to this game.
What is your goal?
Are you planning on traditionally publishing your first novel? Are you a prolific indie author and plan to submit a piece to a magazine or anthology? The first thing you need to decide is what you’re planning to do with your work. How you submit, and where, will depend on your goal. You wouldn’t submit a fantasy short story to a full-length non-fiction publisher, would you?
Are you ready?
No matter what your goal is, your piece needs to be finished and polished. Though it seems pretty clear, there are plenty of authors who don’t understand what polished really means. Yes, the publisher or agent will probably work with you on editing the piece, but you need to have done several rounds of revisions and edits before they ever see your work. Go over your writing a few times after you’ve edited and after a colleague or objective friend takes a look. Spellcheck is your friend, as long as you don’t rely solely on it.
Here’s a good checklist:
Revision round 1
Self-editing round 2
Revision round 2
Self-editing round 2
Additional editing, spellcheck
Final read through.
Only when the piece is as good as you can possibly make it, should you submit.
What are the rules?
When you’ve chosen whom you’re going to send your work to, make she you do your research. See if they’re open for unsolicited submissions. Double check that your work is something they’re interested in. Find their submission guidelines and —this is most important— FOLLOW THEM. Some things might seem trivial to you, but every detail is to streamline the process for the publisher, and make sure that your work isn’t veto-ed right out of the gate.
Even if you were approached about a project, or referred by a mutual colleague, follow the guidelines. This will show that you’re serious, respectful, and willing to work with them.
This concluded the first part of our Submission series. Check back for parts two and three and, as always, if you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or email us!
V.S. Holmes is the author of both fantasy and science fiction. Smoke and Rain, the first in her epic fantasy quartet, and Travelers, the first Nel Bently Book are now available on Amazon. She can be found on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and her website.
This is the first follow up to the 50 Shades of Submission post by V.S. Holmes from last week. I wanted to jump in and get the rejection part out of the way for two reasons, one, it's not nearly as exciting as acceptance and two, we all have to go through it. Writing and publishing is not easy and putting your heart and soul on the line to be judged by another human being is no walk in the park. I was so worried about rejection in the early years of my writing that I actually never expected to be accepted and just resigned myself to it.
Now, years later, I'm an award winning author and I still find myself in a state of disbelief when people actually like my work.
All right boys and girls, lets get into the nitty gritty of this post. Guess what? Rejection is not the worst thing that can happen to you in this business. How you respond to rejection will determine whether you have a nice long career or if you find yourself on a cliff surrounded by burned bridges and no where to go but down and out.
When you first get the rejection email: Do not for any reason, any at all, immediately write a response. You are emotional and upset, understandably, but the person on the other end of that email doesn't care. This is business and if you want to have any hope of making it, do not piss them off. The publishing community is a small one and agents and publishers talk.
Get up, away from the computer or cell phone, go for a walk, call your mom and complain away. Scream to the heavens above about the injustice of it all. Get it out so you don't have that toxic sludge burning a hole in your creativity but do not sling it at the person who did their job and rejected you. Chances are good they didn't like doing it.
If you are invited to respond: Most publishers and agents will not do this because they just don't have the time. I am including this however, for the places like Amphibian Press whose ultimate goal is to help you grow as an author and who does want to let you know exactly why your piece was rejected and how you can improve your chances for next time.
If this happens, wait a few days before you make the inquiry. If your email is less than professional or just goes on and on about how you cannot believe you were rejected, it will come off as entitled and it it doubtful they would look for any more submissions from you. They may also decide to wash their hands of you all together and not tell you why you were rejected which leaves you to figure it out on your own. Hopefully before you send it to every agent and publisher in the genre.
Also, stick to the topic at hand. This ties right back into the last paragraph. The person who rejected you already made their decision, throwing a tantrum now will not help your case or your writing.
Contracts: People have a funny way of viewing contracts as a magical piece of paper that protects them. When in fact it's a legal document that protects both parties. If you don't live up to your end of the bargain that contract is null and void. So don't bother trying to use it as a bargaining chip to change their mind. It won't work. They designed that little piece of paper to protect their assets. In this case, their name. If they don't feel 100% confident in your piece a professional publisher or agent will not put their name and reputation on the line for it.
If you know someone in the industry: This does not mean you have an automatic in. It means your piece might get read more often. It still needs to be finished and it still has to stand on its own. Again no one is going to put their name or company name on the line for your piece. It's up to you to make it the best it can be. Also in the this situation, do not respond harshly or snidely to a rejection after someone put their neck on the line to get you in the door. It makes them look bad for suggesting the team give you a chance and it makes them feel awful for subjecting the rest of the people involved to your temper.
The trick is to walk away from rejection without regrets. You don't want to say something in anger that you will regret later and you don't want the people in the publishing industry to think you're a hot head who can't handle this as a professional adult.
The bottom line, rejection sucks. But how you handle it can make or break your writing career.
There are many reasons to use a pen name some are personal while others are smart career choices. Have you ever googled your name? How many people with your exact name are out there? For me this was the initial catalyst into my decision to create a pen name. I am the only one. When I google myself, married or maiden name, I am the only one who pops up. This can be useful when trying to build a brand but its also a bit scary. I have two kids to think about and I don't really want people being able to find out where I live or other personal information from a simple online search.
It also meant if my first published book was a flop I might have to abandon my real name for a pen name anyway. I was't very confident back then.
A friend of mine created her pen name for many reasons I'm sure but the one that stuck out to me was because of the genre she wished to write in is dominated by male authors and there is this assumption that women can't write epic fantasy. So, she used initials instead of a first name, making it gender neutral. This small change helps readers who might otherwise ignore her work get to the first page and actually give her writing a chance.
So, whether you want a pen name for personal reasons or because your genre is dominated by the opposite sex you still need to figure out how to come up with one. Here are some things to think about while picking your pen name:
Is there anything else you think should be part of the pseudonym process? What factored into your decision to use, or not use, a pen name?
If you missed Part 1 click here!
It started out as barbed remarks. A competitor messaged me, saying hi, how was I doing? My picture looked so nice! He would rather lose to me than anyone else. He’d read my sample, and honestly my writing wasn’t very deep. I used phrases like “giggling”. Not very mature, or, apparently, good writing.
Then came the protests against my legitimacy as a candidate. Among the complaints that I wasn’t actually living in Fairfield at the time were phrases like “young girl”, and other swipes at my validity as an author. The judges kept me in the contest, but did little else to calm the storm, so several evenings were spent at home, crying in frustration as I tried not to engage. I wanted to defend myself, wanted to call out the unfairness of my work and myself being so constantly criticized for being what they were and for succeeding at it.
I was a young woman trying to publish a book about a young woman. How dare I?
My friends and family helped me weather the storm, some of them going to battle for me, others helping me laugh at the more ridiculous aspects of the farce. We kept asking for votes, kept getting support, and forged ahead, keeping a careful eye on how we were doing. A month after the contest opened, it closed, with a radio broadcast of the readings again, ending with the announcement of the winners.
I had come in with the most total votes. But, because of “a margin of error”, I was declared a co-winner with the contestant with the second-most votes. We were both going to be published. I tied with the man who had tried his damnedest to get me kicked out.
I wish I could say I walked away from this with my head and my book held high, and never looked back except to thank the people who had so lovingly supported me. I wish I could say that I didn’t feel like there was someone who the contest winners had clearly wanted to win, and it wasn’t me. I wish I could say that I silenced forever the little voice that popped up and asked, “Do I deserve this?” But I can’t.
What I can say, however, is that I did it. I wrote a book, a book that I love, a book that I’m proud of, and people can buy that book. I have given signings, gotten reviews, both good and bad, and have seen my book on the shelves of more than one bookstore. And I’m working on a second one. And a third.
I think I’ll always have to deal with people in the writing world telling me “you don’t count” simply because of who I am and what I write. But I’m fortunate enough to have a strong countercurrent against that, and people who want to listen to the stories I have to tell. Not everyone has that. I was lucky to have the opportunity that I did, and even luckier that there were so many people in my life, whether in the center or the periphery, who stepped forward and said, “I want to see this published.” That was the force that won and overruled the voices saying “no”.
For more on the process of working with a publisher check back in next week! Read my review of Untold here or an interview with Amy here. You can find Amy on Facebook and her Website.
There a lot of steps to go through before pressing that ever coveted Publish button! There are also a few things to think about before you choose where to publish. Click here for a free 30 minute publishing consultation.
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