One Year in the Trenches: The Life of an Author

As of June 4th, I have been a traditionally-published author for an entire year.

That was one helluva a fateful email, lemme tell ya! After years of ‘Thank you for considering such-and-such publishing for your manuscript, but this is not the story we are looking for at this time,’ I finally hit the jackpot with ‘Congratulations on such a well-written romance novel!’

In hindsight, I suspect the only other phrase that alters someone’s life that much is ‘Congratulations! You’re pregnant.’ I wouldn’t know, though.

While I am new to being a traditionally-published author, I’m no stranger to seeing my work in print. I’ve been around the writing block more than a couple times, with all the headaches, hard work, and hiccups that go along with it. I thought that I had a grasp on things, that I knew what I was doing.

Yeah, right!

Shortly after getting that fateful email, I found myself sitting at my laptop being trained for ‘marketing detail’. Times have changed drastically for authors in the last few decades, mostly due to social media, which creates the ability—and therefore the need—for authors to be more visible, and the increased ease of self-publishing, which creates more competition. (NOTE: I myself was once an ‘indie’ author. I know and admire a great many self-published authors. I’m not bemoaning the fact that self-publishing has risen up to challenge the traditional publishing industry. I’m simply pointing out reality. Technology has changed the game for everyone.)

I managed to settle into a routine after a while. It felt very, very alien at first, because the change in my lifestyle was so sudden. But I got used to it, or at least I thought I did. I even got through the launch of Desire Me Again (an anthology featuring one of my stories) with flying colors. I was on a roll, or so I thought.

And then my full-length novel When the White Knight Falls launched…

It was then that I realized my new lifestyle was quickly becoming unsustainable. I couldn’t handle the workload, and I was exhausted. February of 2021 was a very rough month for me! I felt like I was going to crash. (If you’d like to know what a typical book launch looks like, read Anatomy of a Book Launch, the blog posted immediately below this one. It’s a minute-by-minute log of how mine went.)

So I asked myself, ‘what if you went back to the way things were before?’

I was absolutely aghast at the thought! Writers write so that people can read their stories. Period. Without readers, writing is an utter waste of time. I was overwhelmed and stressed out, true, but I was also exactly where I wanted to be.

So I paused, and re-assessed the situation…

The first thing I did was count my blessings. Gratitude is the antidote for discontent; this I learned very, very young. I had a publisher who believed in me. That’s HUGE!!! Some authors—ones far more talented than I—go their whole lives without finding a suitable publisher. Even better, Black Velvet Seductions is the most author-friendly romance publisher out there. Most publishers these days put it into their contracts that authors need to help with promotions. And that’s it. That’s all there is. A contractual requirement, but the ‘how’ of the matter is entirely on you.

That’s not BVS.

We have a training director, a wonderfully talented and patient fellow author who directs our promotional efforts and keeps all the authors working together as a team. She’s become one of my absolute favorite people, and I owe her a lot.

In addition to having a great publisher AND assistance with marketing, I was also blessed that my life experience has led me to this point. Some authors find themselves in print a mere few years after they start writing. That’s not me. I have decades of experience. I’m also computer-savvy, with a background in graphic design. (I didn’t realize how useful my PhotoShop skills were until I had to start cobbing up ads on a weekly basis.) Not only that, I spent years working as a sales-person; I read people well, which comes in handy when assessing one’s readers and target demographics.

Once I thought about all that I had going for me, I felt a twinge of guilt. Why was I so miserable and overwhelmed when I had so much working in my favor?

Because I’m human, that’s why. There are only so many hours in a day.

So I took a step back. What was I willing to do because it struck me as fun, and what did I need to escape because I hated it? I slowly but surely began the process of farming out the chores that were stressing me out (publishing assistants are WONDERFUL people!), and getting a better handle on managing my literary affairs.

I’m in a better place now. About the only thing I have to do that I can’t ‘sub out’ is author proofing, which I hate. But that just is what it is. At the end of the day, they’re my stories and it’s my job to go over the edited manuscripts with a magnifying glass, making sure they’re ready for print. Other’n that, I’m more or less back to behaving like a literary four-year-old, because for me that’s sustainable. I put in an average of thirty hours a week into my writing chores over and above my day job. If it’s fun, it isn’t work and it doesn’t stress me out. If I don’t like doing it, it wears me out and I start to hate my life.

So now I can focus on growing both my body of work and my reader base. It was a long year and a couple of months in Hell, but now I seem to be moving forward. I’m so excited to see what the future holds!

So what did I learn over the last year?

Ha! How much time do you have…?

#1 – Listen to your publisher and their marketing staff. If I knew everything, I wouldn’t need a publisher, would I? Sometimes you disagree with an editorial decision. Sometimes you don’t understand why you’re being asked to do something that you’d rather not. That’s how it goes. It’s funny, I have a pretty easy time with that one, but I know a lot of other authors who don’t. I think it’s because I’m lazy, honestly. If I just do exactly what I’m told, then it’s not my fault if it doesn’t work. Easy-peasy.

#2 – It ain’t always about you! Jesus said to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. If God in the flesh said something is important, then I suppose it’s best to take His words at face value. Review others’ work when you can. Got a blog? Feature other authors. We’re all in this together. And we should always remember that ‘loving your neighbor’ is never a quid pro quo. It’s not about ‘hey, I’ll do this for you so now you gotta do that for me’. Rather, it’s about doing your part to foster a positive, helpful environment in which everyone can flourish.

#3 – Swallow your pride. ‘Pride goeth before a fall, and a haughty spirit before destruction’.  When it comes to writing books, ‘destruction’ might be too strong a word but ‘failure’ is definitely not. Sometimes you thought you had your I’s dotted and your T’s crossed, only to be rejected, or hit with a request to do re-writes. Some people say ‘you can’t win all time’. I say, the fuck you can’t! But not every victory is easily won. The Battle of Petersburg was a turkey shoot for the Confederates, but Normandy wasn’t so easy for the Allies. And that’s how it goes sometimes. Clinging to an over-inflated ego just makes everything that much harder.

#4 – Work with others.  Everyone has a different skill set. Some authors are aces at marketing, while others struggle with it. Others are fast and efficient writers, while others move more slowly. Some authors are good at graphics, while others struggle with them. Whatever your talents may be, bring them to the table so that you can assist others, and seek help from those who possess skills that you do not. A wise writer knows that we all either stand together, or we go into the ‘slush pile’ one by one.

#5 – Mind your graphics. In a social-media driven world, graphics are everything! A spiffy book ad catches the eye in ways that even a blurb does not. If you’re good at PhotoShop, wonderful! If you’re not, find a way around the deficiency. I’m always deeply appreciative when someone sends me a copyright-free image that reminded them of one of my characters, and I always try to reciprocate. No, it’s not fair that now we have to be artists in addition to being authors. But that’s how it is.

#6 – If you hate doing something and you can afford to hire it out, do so. Odds are that none of us are getting rich anyway. In the meantime, the key is sustainability, not burnout. ‘Nuff said!

#7 – Love thy day job (if thou hast one). My day job is the backbone of my entire writing operation. It allows me the luxury of recruiting paid help when I need it. It allows me to keep my creative integrity, rather than simply chasing the next buck with my stories. It allows me a respite from writing—and yes, I do need one. I can only spend so long in my head before I feel myself slowly going insane. My day job funds my passion, and allows me to regularly engage the real world. I need it, and I give it the same care and attention that I do my writing.

#8 – Love thy reader. It is so tempting to insert one’s own opinions into stories, like some dipshit actor spewing political bilge while they’re accepting an award they earned by entertaining people. Don’t. That alienates readers, and it’s not worth it. Watch your reviews, zero in on your demographic, and give ‘em what they want. Having readers is a blessing, and we should never lose sight of that fact.

#9 – Think of your work as a calling. My writing took off in 2020. Contrary to popular belief, that was not the worst year in American history. But it wasn’t a good one, either.

I have a policy of never commenting on social issues, but sometimes you just have to point out the obvious: Never have I witnessed such un-bridled Fascism as I’ve seen recently. Never did I imagine that governments would write themselves the authority to put entire populations under house arrest. Never did I imagine that political leaders would high-handedly order lawfully-operating businesses to close, stripping legions of workers of their livelihoods. Never have I seen houses of worship ordered to close. That brazen tyranny led to a catastrophic rise in depression, suicides, addictions, spiritual malaise, and poor mental health in general.

My point is this: while the over-arching solution is to follow God and His teachings, people in the meantime need a break! A sedative, if you would. Authors are more important now than they ever were. As our world begins to crumble—as it periodically does, because all social orders rise and fall—storytellers become an invaluable source of comfort and encouragement. The Roman Empire rose and fell, and now it’s gone. The Hellenistic world is no more…

But what they left behind were their stories. We still have those. They survived even the iron fists of history, and social change.

We are the ones who write those stories. We matter.

Never forget that…

Cheers! – V


6 thoughts on “One Year in the Trenches: The Life of an Author

  1. Great article. I don’t think most people realize the marketing that goes in behind a book.

  2. Great advice and insight. Marketing can take over ones life for a writer. I’m glad you found a happy medium.

  3. Great post Virginia! You are so right… writing is easy, it’s the promotion that is hard!

  4. Good post. Yes. Marketing does sometimes make my head spin, some days enough to make me want to stop writing altogether. But, I’m not really a quitter so I just take a deep breath and deal with it as best I can. I’m still looking for my happy medium.

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