We interrupt this blog post for late-breaking news: I had another interview on Wednesday, this one at David Wisehart’s website, Kindle Author. Check it out. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.
There’s this weird pattern in my life. I’ll come to a conclusion about some aspect of writing or marketing, and within a few weeks, I see authors on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, talking about the same subject. It becomes the next Big Thing to ramble on about in social networking circles. The latest of these topics is a new twist on the my-platform-is-a-voracious-monster-whose-appetite-will-not-be-satisfied mantra. It’s the I’m-so-overwhelmed-I-don’t-have-time-to-write chorus. I’ve been hearing people beat this drum for a while now, when they’re not banging the it’s-pointless-to-market-to-other-writers drum, or the indie-authors-deserve-to-be-judged-by-content-not-stereotypes drum.
I’m not here to re-introduce this idea as if it’s something new. However, I do want to explore it a little, particularly how it relates to indie authors. Many of us don’t have the luxury of holding just one job. We have to earn money to live on (not to mention to publish our books with) in addition to marketing our existing novels and writing new ones. It’s a tough balancing act. If you happen to be self-employed, it can be even harder because you don’t get to leave your 9-to-5 job at the door and forget about it until the next day.
At the moment, I have three equally important tasks.
Marketing: I have to promote Running Wide Open so I’ll have future sales. This is very important because it takes time to build a following. I’m not worried about what the book is doing now, but I know the foundation I build over the next couple of months will determine how sound the house of my sales will be in the future. If I neglect sending out requests for reviews, or getting in touch with speedway promoters, or setting up school visits and book signings, it will delay my writing income. And with December being the big sales time for ebooks, and the 2-3 month delay in getting reviews, it’s important to set things in motion now.
Writing: The experts in this field all agree that the best way to build a following as an indie author is to publish a number of quality books as quickly as you can. The more books you produce, the more income sources you have, and the more visibility you get. You also keep your fans happy and coming back. But writing is not a quick and easy thing for me. I labor over each phrase, each metaphor, and struggle to figure out how to “show” body language, or to weave action into dialog. I spend more time staring at the screen than typing. I can’t just sit down for half an hour and create something. I need to have enough of a chunk of time that I can engage in an almost meditative state. And sometimes I’ll work for a whole afternoon but have very little to show for it.
Landscaping: I actually enjoy my landscaping business. I find it soothing and rejuvenating to go out in the sun (when we can get it) to pull weeds, spread mulch, and use my muscles instead of my brain for a while. Also, personal integrity is important to me. That’s not to say I’m some saint who doesn’t screw up on a regular basis, it just means I find value in making sure my customers are happy with my services. I feel good when someone stops in front of the house I’m working at to say they’ve heard great things about me and wonder if I could come transform their problem yard. I could hire other people, but I’ve built my business through word-of-mouth based on the results I get from paying attention to detail and listening to what my customers want. It’s not easy to find someone who will do a job the way you would. It’s human nature that if you have ownership in something, you tend to take more pride in it than you would if you were merely drawing a paycheck. I also feel it’s important to honor my commitments, and to be available to the next person referred by one of my customers. It seems dead wrong to turn people away in this shaky economy when my income is already so low.
So I have these three hungry birds in my nest (no, they’re not Angry Birds. Yet). I keep flying around, gathering food to drop in their gaping mouths, but my wings are getting tired. So tired that I’m starting to lose my way back to the nest (forget things) and crash into trees (get burned out and zone in front of my TV with a pile of Leverage DVDs). And no matter what I’m doing, I feel guilty because it means I’m neglecting something else.
Everybody says, prioritize (tried that, all three things are equally important) drop something (but I’m enjoying them all, and really, do you want to be the customer or friend I say no to?). So what’s the answer? I don’t think there’s an easy one. I believe it’s a matter of balance and mindset. I’m not the only one going through this. I had coffee with a fellow indie the other day, and he confessed he’s experiencing the same angst. For him it’s the Twitter Monster. When I told him how, no matter what I do, I feel guilty, he said it’s the same way with him. It was so much easier to reassure him than it was to comfort myself, but by sharing my observations about this problem, I did get some consolation. I told him we’re all experiencing it, and that the nagging feelings of guilt are a lie. We have to ignore that little voice and concentrate on all the positive things we’ve accomplished.
Maybe it would help to set an hourly schedule, even use a timer. One hour for social networking, another for soliciting book reviews, three for writing new material, etc. This balance is HARD. It’s tough to switch gears between the deep meditative flow of writing, the slam-bam whirlwind of marketing, and (in my case) the physical energy of landscaping. Inertia is a very real thing, and a writer in motion tends to stay in motion. But the only things we can do are tell ourselves not to buy into the nagging negative voices, and to keep on keepin’ on.
That last bit is some very good guidance I got from an old racing buddy, Glenn Vest, by the way. Wherever he is today, I hope he realizes that his advice is one of the most useful tools in my toolbox, and I pull it out and use it on a regular basis.