Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

The Pressure to Be Super Human

During my time as a Sociology major, I took a few classes that focused on gender and family. In these, we learned about the changing roles of women in society, and how modern women often feel pressure to work a “Second Shift” to fulfill their roles. Decades ago, women only had to focus on being a wife and mother. In modern society, women are still expected to thrive in the domestic sphere–while also holding down a full-time career. In other words, they can (and should, in most people’s opinions) do it all.

But this article isn’t about Feminism and the roles of women. It’s about authors.

Decades ago, the life of the author (or, more accurately, the romanticized view we hold of it) was quite different. You simply jetted off to Paris with Hemingway and Fitzgerald, got rip-roaring drunk, and spouted your brilliance. A publisher then plucked it from your hands and sent it out into the world, where your deserved fame and ample royalties followed.

Again, that’s the romanticized view. But it’s still what a lot of people associate with authorship.

Today, a new author has emerged, of which I am one: the indie author. As an independent author, we are expected to write and edit our own books, format them, design covers, publish, and market. Or, of course, hire professionals to assist us. And until we finally figure out the magic formula to full-time authorship, we have to do all of this while working full-time jobs, maintaining our households, and keeping our social relationships in tact.

In my imagination, the ideal indie author — the person I should be — goes through the day like this:

Wake up at four or five a.m. Devour coffee and write for at least an hour. Go to work (while writing more, reading/listening to books or podcasts, or marketing during the commute). Take a lunch break (with more writing, reading, or marketing). Repeat the commute home. Eat dinner and spend a short amount of time with family. Write until midnight. Sleep four to five hours. Repeat.

Is it just me, or does that sound insanely difficult? I mean, I need my sleep…for everyone else’s safety.

Okay, reality time. That schedule is probably slightly exaggerated. But there are plenty of “famous” indie authors who have done something similar. There’s Hugh Howey, who wrote Wool while working in a bookstore. There’s Joanna Penn, who scaled back her day job to four days a week, gave up television, and got up incredibly early every day to write. Listen to any mainstream self-publishing podcast, and you’ll find the success stories.

That’s what it takes to make it to the big leagues. You’ve got to want it so badly that you make huge sacrifices, that you keep pushing even when you’re exhausted, that you devote daily practice to writing and studying the industry. And for most of us, myself included, just thinking about that kind of rigorous routine — even with our burning desire for its rewards — makes us light-headed. I mean, that’s a lot of pressure.

But that’s the formula for success as an indie author — work hard enough that you make your own luck.

So what do we do?

I guess we figure out how to do it for ourselves. I haven’t quite tackled being super human just yet (I’ll let you know when I do), but I think we start somewhere like this:

  • Find the discipline to wake up an hour earlier (or stay up an hour later)
  • Find the energy to knock out some words during our lunch breaks or after work
  • Remember meeting our goals is more satisfying than another Netflix binge
  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast instead of the radio on our commutes
  • Turn wasted minutes or free time into time spent being creative
  • Cut personal expenses and treats in favor of time off work or business-related costs
  • Search out others with the same goal and feed off their determination
  • Recognize that we will always have more work to do
  • Forgive ourselves when we fall short of our goals
  • Keep trying to do better

When I break it down like this, it feels easy — but we all know it’s not.

This is the part where I start to flounder, where I deeply feel my own failings, and where I feel intense pressure to do better. I know what to do, I’m just not sure how to cram it all into my own life. I pump myself up, get into a frenzy of motivation, make progress, then peter out, whether after a day, a week, or a month…

But I’m working on it, and I’ve already seen marked improvements in 2016.

I guess the point of this post is: fellow indie authors, fellow day job grinders, fellow insecure creatives — you are not alone. I’m right there with you, straddling the tightrope between the present and the authorship dreams. And one way or another, we’ll all end up on one side of the rope or the other.

I know which side I want to be on. It’s going to take a few years of penny-pinching and late nights (and getting Daniel through graduate school). It’s not ALL in my hands, but it mostly is, and I’m going to try my hardest to get there.

Where are you right now? And which side will you be on in five or ten years?

If those questions make your chest tight, remember: you’re not alone. And if you need someone to rally around, I’ve got your back.

Fiction Blog, Musings & Bookish Things

How to Approach Your Long Term Goals

Despite the “how to” title of this post, I’m not going to offer a series of steps to reaching your goals. Obviously, each goal, each person, and each situation is unique, and frankly, you shouldn’t need me to tell you the steps to meeting your aspirations. But what I do want to discuss is the mentality involved in reaching long term (or just plain big) goals.

My favorite tree on my commute
My favorite tree on my commute

Autumn is past its prime in New England. Slowly, the ratio of leaves-on-branch to leaves-on-sidewalk is tilting out of the trees’ favor. Every morning when I walk to the bus, the sidewalk is littered with more and more leaves. And yet, every morning, there is a city worker there with her trusty leaf blower and rake to clear the sidewalk.

The first time I saw her, my thoughts were relatively unimportant. Being from the country, where we just let leaves fall and biodegrade where they will, my reaction was something like, “Oh, yeah, they do that in the city. Strange.”

When I saw the city worker the next day, cleaning the exact same swatch of sidewalk, I thought, “Man, that sucks. She just cleared those leaves yesterday, and the sidewalk is full again.”

On the third day, my brilliant analysis was along the lines of, “I think that would drive me insane.”

But then, realization hit me all at once. I already do that every day. Or, well, I do something extremely similar in my own way. I have my own metaphorical sidewalk and leaves.

My long term goal for my writing is to make a living as a full time writer. I want sharing my stories with the world to be my primary source of income. I want to live my dream. In pursuit of that goal, I have to repeat almost everything I do. You see, in theory, my word count should never dry up. Even when I finish writing one book, if I want writing to be my job, I have to write the next one. There is always a new book to replace the one I already wrote.

Likewise, in my constant battle against obscurity, I have to keep slogging through the internet world. Every day I don’t write a blog post, don’t have a social media presence, etc. a layer of obscurity is reapplied to my name. It never ends. Even J.K. Rowling could fall off the face of the virtual world if she just stopped everything…and one day, long after she’s gone, she just may.

I think is particularly true for those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo at the time of this writing. Today, you write your 1,667 words and clear your sidewalk of all the leaves. But tomorrow, the challenge begins anew and you have another 1,667 word deficit to fill. Maybe one day it rains and the leaves are extra sticky and your leaf blower doesn’t work. All of the sudden, you’ve got to figure out an entirely new way to approach your goal.

leafIt’s exhausting. But that’s how all long term goals are. Whether you want to be able to run a marathon or learn a foreign language or knit a quilt — it all takes repetition. You’ve got to keep at it, day after day, doing basically the same thing over and over until you finally hit that milestone. It takes daily effort, it takes patience, and it takes a hell of a lot of time.

But, if you really want to reach that goal, you have to do it. Moreover, if it’s your actual job (like the city worker) or your career aspiration (like me), you really have to do it.

Don’t worry. There’s good news! You can take it one day at a time or, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, you can take it “leaf by leaf.” Break your long term goal down into manageable, easy (or easier) steps, and just take them one at a time. If you do this, and I mean really do it (whatever your personal “it” is), then eventually the leaves will stop falling. The proverbial tree of life will stop showering tasks upon you, and you will have reached your goal. Then, you can spend three seasons basking in the brilliance of accomplishment…until you find your next autumn and the leaves pile up on you again. But, hey, where’s the fun in life without dreams?


What goals are you working toward? How do you keep yourself motivated to reach them? Share your dreams and tips below.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Writer Problems: 5 Mantras to Conquer Your Insecurity

Insecurity seems to be a fundamental trait that writers share. Whether the craft is fiction, poetry, screenwriting, essays, or even copy writing, writers worry about their writing. Is it good enough? Is it the right style? With others read and enjoy it? Will I be mocked? Is it worthy of publication?

Recently, a few of my writer friends have been particularly plagued by insecurity. For them, I try to be the cheerleader. I provide an optimistic, outside perspective and offer words of encouragement or tips for improvement. However, I would be the biggest liar on this planet if I said that I didn’t feel insecure from time to time (read: most of the time). But fretting over every detail and talking down to yourself won’t help you. In fact, if self-fulfilling prophecy has anything to say about it, it will probably make you a worse writer. Therefore, the next time you are feeling a bit shaky, try remembering these five mantras:

harry potter1.) You are probably not the next J.K. Rowling (and that’s okay!).

Feel free to substitute whichever hit-it-big, rich writer you choose (mine would be Nicholas Sparks). Look, more than likely, your work will not be an international, multi-million dollar, movie empire success. Could it be? Of course. But realistically speaking, most books sell under 500 copies in their lifetime, and the ones that are a huge success nowadays tend to be so more because of marketability than literary genius (Fifty Shades, anyone?). Your work is your work. You have your own, unique style and someone, somewhere will appreciate it. You don’t have to write the next Hunger Games to be a worthy, successful author. There are thousands of mid-list authors who achieve a full-time income and/or loyal fan bases without becoming a household name. There is no shame in this.

2.) You are probably not the next Hemingway, either (and that is STILL okay!)

Again, feel free to substitute the critically-acclaimed author of your choice (mine would be Faulkner). Just as your work will probably not make you ridiculously rich, you probably won’t go down in history as one of the greatest writers of all time. Could you? Of course. But again, realistically speaking, you’re probably not one of the greats, and that is fine. Literature is subjective. You could have a million readers who believe you are the best writer in the known universe, and someone will still hate your work. In someone’s estimation, there will always be a book better than yours, and there will always be a book worse than yours. As long as you are happy with and proud of your writing, that is all that matters.

snowflake3.) No one else can write like you.

In regards to rules one and two, you may not be like other writers, because every writer is unique. You have your own voice, your own perspective, and no one can take those away from you. It is useless to compare your writing to others’ work, because it is like comparing apples and oranges (or Whitman and Shakespeare). Sure, it can be done, but you can never account for the billion little idiosyncrasies that make you unique as a writer and an individual. As long as you stay true to your voice and write from your authentic self, you will be the writer that you are meant to be.

4.) There are no rules.

This is my favorite. Grammar lovers, cut me a little slack on this one. Seriously, you can write your book or poem or essay however you like. Do you want to divide your novel by parts instead of chapters? Fine. Do you want to exclude all punctuation from your poetry? Fine. Do you want to write an essay entirely in the second person? Fine. While there are some established guidelines necessary to win over a traditional publisher (or achieve success as a self-published author), if all you want to do is express yourself creatively and experiment with new forms, then just do it! For real, what’s stopping you?

freedom-102409_6405.) You can do whatever you want with your writing.

If all else fails, remember: your writing is your intellectual property, and you can do with it what you will. Do you want to try your luck with agents and publishers? Great! Do you want to build your own author-entrepreneur business and independently publish? Nifty! Do you want to let a few friends, family members, or random internet strangers read it? Awesome! Do you want to crumple it in a ball, set it on fire, and release the ashes in international waters? Cool! At all times, you are in complete, creative control of your writing. Do with it whatever makes you happy.

As unofficial sixth point, let me reiterate: you are not alone. All writers face insecurity in some form at some time. And sure, 99.9% of us won’t be insanely rich or achieve literary acclaim. But we all have a unique voice, the right to determine our own style, and complete control over our creativity. So pick up your pen or put your fingers on your keyboard, shove that little ball of terror or self-loathing in your desk drawer, and write what you want. You have a story worth telling inside you, you deserve to write it, and the world deserves to receive it.


If you’re working on your first novel and worry that it will suck, read this. And, as always, leave your comments, fears, and encouragements below!

 

Author Business & Publishing, Fiction Blog, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Updates

Introducing Boxthorn Press!

A few months ago, I explained why I will independently publish as well as that I would do so under a company I own. Today, I am excited to officially announce my publishing imprint, Boxthorn Press!

Boxthorn Press Logo - Full color
Image copyright © 2015 by Kate M. Colby. All rights reserved.

Boxthorn Press is the company under which I intend to publish all of my novels and books of which I am the sole author. I officially established the enterprise in April and right now, it operates solely as the publisher of my books. In the future, it will encompass other creative services and perhaps even operate to help other aspiring authors reach their publishing dreams.

Originally, Boxthorn Press was going to be a joint venture between Daniel (my husband) and me. When that was the case, Daniel chose the name “Boxthorn” to honor his Australian roots, as Boxthorn is the street on which he lived as a kid. However, even when Daniel decided not to publish independently, I kept the name. Why? Partly because I like the plant itself and the symbolism, partly because Daniel is the one who introduced me to the idea of independent publishing, and partly because I think it’s a punchy name.

The logo for my company depicts a boxthorn plant emerging from the outlines of a box. On a practical level, the logo shows what a boxthorn plant looks like. On a personal level, it symbolizes the fact that I am pushing boundaries and stretching my creative capacities with everything I do. On a reader-oriented level, the logo represents my fiction. The boxthorn plant is contradictory — it is alluring (juicy berries) with a serious/dangerous undercurrent (thorns). Likewise, as the plant extends from the box, so does my fiction extend across traditional genre borders. I don’t just write in one genre, and each of my books does not fit clearly into one genre box, either.

I hope that, as you read my fiction, you will see what I mean.

Now, I imagine some of my readers may be wondering — if you are self-publishing, why bother with creating a company? Isn’t the point that you are doing it by yourself? These are valid questions, and ones I thought myself when I first encountered author-entrepreneurs.

Here are my reasons for creating my own imprint:

  • This is my career, and I take it seriously.
  • Keeping my business and personal finances separate is important for my record-keeping and tax purposes.
  • One day, Boxthorn Press may expand into a larger company and/or small press.
  • Print-on-demand and online publishing services should not receive publisher credit for my hard work on online retailers. In other words, I want my work to show as published by my company and be easily connected to my brand.
  • It’s enriching, fulfilling, and just-plain-fun to be an entrepreneur.

Thank you to everyone joining me on this ride! I appreciate your support, and I cannot wait to see how Boxthorn Press and I evolve over the years.

NOTE: My logo was designed by the brilliant Brenda Tietze, and I am ever-grateful to her for bringing my ideas to life. And yes, she will design one for you, too! (Note on the note: The fuzziness is not her doing — merely WordPress being finicky with sizing and file types.)