As many of you will know, Susan is the author of the bestselling Mindjack series, and lots of other books too, including the highly regarded Indie Author Survival Guide – the second edition of which has just been released.
She’s also releasing a companion book for more experienced authors in mid-July which has the intriguing title of For Love Or Money: Crafting An Indie Author Career and it’s available now for pre-order.
Here’s Susan on how to stay sane in a crazy (self-publishing) world.
Susan Kaye Quinn:
I fight a war every day.
My adversaries are distraction, fatigue, and the demands of ordinary life. They include things I love (my husband and children) and things I loathe (laundry and shopping) as well as an oft-neglected need for renewal (of mind and body). The battlefield is littered with rabbit holes of distraction and fallen warriors afflicted with sales-checking fever. The ever-present siren-call of the Internet wails in the distance.
It feels just like this.
I fight the war every day so I can do the thing that feeds my soul: creative work.
I know you’re engaged in this battle too—every writer is.
When I first started writing, my brother (the true writer in the family) told me something that’s stuck with me: “If you can create something, then you have a moral obligation to do so.” I laughed (nervously) at the time. These are just stories – what is this talk of moral imperatives? In time, though, I completely understood what he meant: our stories are our unique contribution to the collective human imagination. We have to do this.
The world is a better place when people fulfill their creative potential.
But creating art isn’t easy (see The War of Art for a deeper understanding of the forces of resistance) and surviving the publishing process is even harder. So here are a few weapons to help you in the battle.
FIRST: Nail Down Your Fears With A Steak Knife
Writing is hard enough on the ego; self-publishing those words comes with a whole truck-load of fears.
Am I really a hack?
What if my book doesn’t sell?
What if my story is too dark or too sexy or too naive?
Fear of failure; fear of success; fear of writing too dark… I’ve personally experienced every permutation of terror possible in this indie publishing business. In my battles, I’ve learned two key things:
1) fear, like pain, is a signal—it’s a sign you’re taking the risk of being vulnerable in the world. Which also happens to be exactly what a writer needs to do to reach their creative potential. It means you’re on track.
2) the only thing that defeats fear is action—simply pushing through the fear often doesn’t help, not when you’re waking up in cold sweats at midnight. Fear is an anticipatory emotion, and taking action in the face of it (creative action is best, because it’s inherently life-giving) will diffuse the power of a (bad) future that hasn’t happened yet.
I made a webinar on Facing Your Fears, because this can really hold writers back.
“The courage to be imperfect. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”—Brené Brown
SECOND: Arm Yourself With a Plan and Stick To It
A lot of the anxiety of self-publishing comes from having so many choices, so many decisions, and then just when you’ve got it all figured out… the ground shifts again. It can easily lead to constant second-guessing.
I’m a big fan of planning because it separates decision-making from execution. Sure, you’ll want to iterate and circle back and fold in new knowledge, but too much of that dithering, and you’ll just be a puddle of indecisive ooze in the jungle.
1) Create a Mission Statement—this is your compass, pointing you toward the true-north of your core values. Take the time to create it… you don’t want to spend years of your life scrambling up a hill, only to find your happiness lies on another mountain altogether.
2) Make a Five Year Plan—this is the map of the terrain ahead. Distill your mission statement into objectives. Identify concrete actions you can take to move in that direction. You can’t control sales, but you can control how much IP (Intellectual Property) you create, what kind, and how often.
3) Don’t Constantly Tweak—the paralysis of analysis can keep you from reaching any goal. Dedicate time to making your goals and plans, then stick to it during the execution. There will be time for re-evaluation later. I set time aside every month to check sales, plan strategies, evaluate ads and generally think big thoughts. In between, I focus on execution.
Separate planning from execution to keep the crazy to a minimum.
THIRD: Don’t Follow Every Rabbit Down The Hole
Man, I am really bad about this. You want to stay on top of everything, but that’s seriously a full-time job unto itself—and you have books to write! My solution to this is using Scrivener to organize my marketing. Whenever I come across something that seems like a grand idea, if only I had three assistants and a clone, I throw it in my Scrivener marketing file. Then, once a month, when I’m in planning and marketing mode, I look over what’s new and see if I want to incorporate it into the plan.
Most times, I don’t.
There simply isn’t time to do everything, and you have to be ruthless about letting go of the things that only make a marginal difference in your business. Figuring out which things are Big Levers (new releases, pricing, ads) and which are Small Levers (social media, facebook parties) is key to focusing your time on the 20% of things that really impact your career and letting go of the 80% that don’t.
Staying sane = staying focused on what matters most: mainly writing.
FOURTH: Spend More Time Writing
Sustained creative focus is tough work—after an hour, I need a mental/physical rest. If I stretch, walk, or get a drink… I can return and do another hour. If I check Facebook, I am lost. Studies show that even a fifteen minute break for social media reduces your productivity by half—the impact is far more than the actual time away. That’s because you’ve killed the momentum and immersion that creative work requires. Check out my post on Tools for Writing More for ways to increase your productivity.
Creative work is inherently life-giving and soul-feeding. Becoming more productive with your writing is a key way to reduce the craziness of the publishing side… and happily moves you closer to Big Lever things like new releases.
Block out time for your creative work.
Turn off all email, social media.
Track your wordcount/page count (for editing) daily.
Every day I track my wordcount and mood. In 2014, I logged over 500k.
I’m happy when I’m writing.
I’m happier when I’m writing more.
FIFTH: Focus on Renewal
I know how the cat feels.
I’m the world’s worst practitioner of selfcare. Only dead people are more sedentary, I habitually get too little sleep, and I’m a maniacal work-a-holic. My idea of regular exercise is getting out of bed in the morning (which, seriously, is a triumph some days). If this sounds like a recipe for success… it’s not. It’s a recipe for an early grave. Lately… I’ve been doing better. More sleep, regular bedtimes, a little Tai Chi and treadmill to remind my body that it actually can move. I’m still not a fan of exercise—I’m in it entirely for the mood-altering drug-effect. But the results are amazing: energy up, stress down, more blood flowing to the brain. Take care of yourself and your self will be more adept at weathering all the vagaries of indie publishing.
Creative types like to live in their stories 24/7. But that never gives your brain much-needed downtime. Plus, a mom who is both discussing the events of the day with her teenage son and worrying how to solve a plot point is doing neither very well. Trust your subconscious to work those problems for you (see Training Your Intuition) and bend your conscious mind to attending to your teen. Or fixing the dishwasher. Or deciding which ingredients are needed for tonight’s dinner. Even relatively mindless tasks allow an opportunity for stillness, which the mind also needs. Creating that mental separation can be difficult, especially for people who love to live in their worlds. Which is every single writer ever born.
While your brain needs times of stillness, it also needs to actively engage in creative works. Reading, free writing, watching movies, TV, engaging in erudite discussions—all of this feeds the creative well. It will fill your subconscious mind with the raw stuffs you will use to create your work when the time comes. This isn’t TV-as-distraction or a brain-dead-reception of whatever is put in front of you, but an active, voracious consumption of creative works.
Take the time to renew and your productivity will soar.
SIXTH: Be Kind to Yourself
This is me, trying to balance ALL THE THINGS every day… and never quite catching that spoon.
We are imperfect. It’s what makes us awesome, actually, but wow, is that frustrating for someone who wants all her books to be bestsellers, all her reviews to be 5-stars, and all her children to be perfectly-raised examples of budding humanity (yeah, that’s me). I have to really kick my perfectionist self to the curb to stay afloat in this business. It’s simply not possible to do ALL THE THINGS. Hell, I can’t even do 20% of the things, most days. It’s a triumph every day I wake up and do it again.
Failure is what happens when we’re trying.
Success is what happens when we try again.
Turn off that voice in your head that says you’re never working hard enough, achieving enough, being successful enough—you wouldn’t say that to your best friend, would you? Don’t say it to yourself.
Take creative action in the face of your fears.
Make a plan and avoid distractions.
Dive into your writing and renew your love affair with your work.
Don’t forget to breathe, fold laundry (occasionally) and enjoy life (every day).
And when the successes come, dance like no one’s watching.
For more tips on how to survive—and thrive—in self-publishing, check out my newly-released Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition) as well as my upcoming book for advanced-ninja authors, For Love or Money. The Indie Author Survival Guide has both inspirational advice and nuts-and-bolts details about how to take the leap into indie publishing. For Love or Money looks at parlaying those first few books into a career.
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the Singularity Series, the Mindjack Trilogy and the Debt Collector serial (as well as other speculative fiction works) and has been indie publishing since 2011. She’s not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: she’s one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. The Indie Author Survival Guide is based on her experience in self-publishing fiction—the First Edition was published in 2013, the Second Edition in 2015, updated to account for changes in the industry. It’s a guide to help her fellow writer-friends take their own leaps into the wild (and wonderful) world of indie publishing… and not only survive, but thrive.