Don't get me wrong, workforce experience is invaluable. In fact, I'd highly recommend it if I wasn't sure at some point you'd gain some anyway if you don't have it already. When I say 'experience,' I'm not speaking of nor counting co-worker gossiping as part as the package, because we can observe and participate in that in high school and/or college. I'm talking good old resume experience that will count toward your next job and any other professional or personal endeavors down the line. So now that we're clear, let me share with you what I've learned in the traditional workplace.
In the traditional workplaces, I've learned an abundance of valuable soft skills. You know, the intangible stuff, skills like multi-tasking, people-relating, goal-oriented, leadership, communication, decision-making, creativity, problem-solving, being a team player, interpersonal etc.. and I have to say, these skill sets have really helped me with my personal business here as an author. Luckily, most of these soft skills were ones that I already possessed but were polished over the years as I learned how important they were along the way in the workplace. Also, most of the jobs I had were highly dependent on these soft skills than the hard ones.
I learned the hard skills, you know, testable information, at work, and I picked up some more when I was a college student, though they were expanded upon when I went to graduate school, because learning HR required a lot of financial/spreadsheet exposure--basically, more than what I was comfortable with. My technical skills were improved when I had to do assignments with little to no hand holding. My technical skills were always the lowest, but indefinitely knew how to get by. At the least, I was the master at Internet surfing and Microsoft Word.
The funny thing is, no one is looking over my shoulder, writing me up, pulling me in the office, evaluating my performance, offering me training, but I'm actually learning more being on my own. I do well when I work alone, because I actually have more confidence when I know no one is gonna cut the corner at any moment to save or evaluate me. However, I do work well with others because of my soft skills set. I can manage in both situations, but when you're an author, and a full time one at that, the game changes.
You are the game.
The game is based on you. The game is what you make it. It's all about you, and the number one skill you need to pick up is being observant. Look at the information around you and then process it to see how you'll make it work toward your advantage. What may work for someone else just may not work for you. You can borrow tactics, just not someone else's style. I encourage everyone to be themselves, because not only can we all sniff phony, but you don't want to keep up an act. That's why, this all starts with you.
Okay, so my number one natural asset is that I'm friendly. I can be blunt, mean, fierce, whatever, but that comes with a mood or reaction to something but overall, I'm a friendly woman who knows how to take care of herself. Friendly, not a pushover, not passive, just friendly. I genuinely love helping others, and I'm patient, too. I love relating to people and learning about them. As humans, we should help each other feel good. This interpersonal skill has allowed me to make strong connections with people whom I've never met and sadly, may never. Some are just too far away, but I do imagine myself resolving this distance issue with an extended or international book tour one day down the line. But right now, I have to start domestically. What's an author without a connection, especially us indies? Just think about it. Back in the day, not toooooo long ago, readers fell in love with their favorite author's books, but I'm gonna surmise that we thought of authors as robot-writing machines that just produced wonderful books. I mean, we knew these writers were humans with feelings and souls, but it was hard to get real information about them beyond the general About the Author page topped with a black and white photo cropped at the end of the book. I mean, when I was in love with RL Stine's books, I wanted to know exactly who this man was, but I knew beyond that funky one page, two-paragraph bio, this was it. And it had to do! If you went to the library to research your author, you had to pray that there was something there worth making the trip. See, I'm an 80s baby, so I can tell you that I had a better chance of finding books on the pudding pop king, Bill Cosby, and the great Oprah Winfrey, before I could on Ann M. Martin, hold on, what does she look like . . . Okay, I just googled Martin for the first time. Never knew what this lady looked like though I had a high stash of her books like an addict as a kid.
Okay, sorry. As usual, I've digressed. But that's why you love me, huh? (Wink, wink) So, yes, as a full-time author, being observant can never let you down. You need to see and understand the trends, the cool places for us, timing--everything! Biggest lesson observed: Connecting the author dots of strategy that yields the best results for you takes time.
Social media. I used it a lot, okay, more like moderately, but was indifferent to it. If I saw a job ad that read strong SM (social media) skills were needed to apply, I would cringe and move on. To be honest, social media sounded way too millennial for me and one could argue that I am a millennial or on the cusp, but it didn't matter when I was born, I saw SM as something I secretly prayed would die off. Why? It was the hype, man. It felt too superficial, too dependent. And now? I love it! (Cue the huge cheesy smile) Why? Remember I'm an author who loves, loves, loves her readers. Not only does SM help my sales, but I couldn't imagine never knowing or seeing my readers the way my favorite authors couldn't. Do you know how happy I feel when I receive a message from people reading my book? That instant feedback is indescribable. I'm gonna generalize and say all authors love this. It's like an artist going to a concert, singing, pouring his heart out on stage but seeing no one throwing up arms and hands or head bopping while mouthing the lyrics with the performer. No! Artists thrive off that participatory vibe and so do we! You readers let us know that we put all the words in all the right places! Biggest lesson learned: Embrace as many social media platforms that you can handle, because you'll cover more reader outreach that way, and try to enjoy it.
Technical. (Dawn [yes, sorry, had to use third person] puts her a balled fist over her mouth like a homeboy from the 80s and says -->) "Ohhhhhh, snap!"
If someone told me that I'd embrace and love technology to the degree I do now, I wouldn't believe it. I did already love and appreciate it, but being an author has made me expand my technical creative skills. Even though I have yet to send out any newsletters, I can produce my own. Not talking about black words against a white sheet. Obviously I mean newsletters enhanced by pictures and effects. And how fun is it to create a subscription?
Let me say this. If you want to keep paying people or get into the habit of it, you most certainly can. Maybe you don't mind paying whatever they charge out there for teasers, but I do. Teasers are another expression of your book. They're a quick easy visual that can draw new readers in. They get me more excited about my own book. They remind me of paintings of my book, and when I create my own painting on a whim, I couldn't be happier. I feel like no one should be painting my story but me. I have two or three teasers from a fellow book author/friend and she just threw them my way because she's just sweet like that, and I've posted them; she did a great job! I will accept free teasers but I won't pay for something I've learned to do. The whole process is too fun to give up. And sometimes, it's not about skill, it's about time. Some people just don't have the time, as they barely have any for writing.
Also, I built my own website. Okay, the template was provided but maneuvering through Squarespace isn't so easy at first, but I didn't give up. It was the hardest website, by far, to handle. Regardless, I wouldn't trade Squarespace for another right now. It taught me a lot and I love to learn. I also learned how to make book covers but I refuse to do that on my own. Your cover is your sell. I'll leave that to the professionals and respect my limitations. Biggest technical lesson learned: If you can learn it, do it. If you can't, delegate.
They say things get better the more you do it, and let's face it writers, we write, like, every day. Between having to be constantly cognizant of the writing rules and seeing what our editors correct us about the most, we're constantly reminded of perfection. It's like finally being able to jog on the treadmill at 7.5 and only a handful of people can do that pace or better. And you won't jog at 3.4-4.5 because you see the person to your left and right doing that. You've become an asset unto yourself. Being quick and athletic can take you places. It's only when you enroll in a marathon do you begin to see your competitors or like-minded people. I prefer the latter in relation to writers. Well, most people don't get themselves in a tizzy if they don't write as concisely or grammatically. Writers do. And we notice mistakes in our sleep even if we choose to break some writing rules ourselves in our blogs, books, or social media. Why? Because we get sick of writing to "perfection" and we wanna let our hair down, too. We wanna take a break from being judged about what's coming out our mouths. Also, we shrug because we know we can clean it up if we really tried. But unless we're being paid to be precise (our books or at work), we like to break some writing rules at times. Written lesson learned: Being able to write well is highly invaluable. Period.
Money matters. You can have a high-paying job that doesn't require you to touch any financial statements. You don't need to look at the income statement? How about the cash flow statement? No? Well, when you're a writer, you need to pay attention to how much money you're rolling out to make this dream or hobby succeed. This is like any other home-based business. Decide to save and know when to spend. Know when you've recovered your spendings from your earnings. Being an author can be very expensive, but you can work smart to ease the pain. I discussed delegation which will normally cost, only if you don't have that skill. If you do, save that money and DIY. I try to only pay for what I honestly can't do or shouldn't do soley, like edit or make book covers. We also benefit from exploring marketing avenues and I find for me, next to editors, that can be costly but at least you can determine the budget for that. Also, book signings can become costly. Sometimes you have to pay for a table. Traveling to get there? Hotel stays aren't cheap and neither is gas. Will you have to pay for tolls? Get to know your tax breaks. No, really. You need to either have a great tax consultant on your side, in your ear, or know other people who work from home who know all the tax breaks so you can start recording transactions. It's only April. There's still time to get it together for 2018. Lesson learned on principles: Search for the best deals, get as much professional services and advice for free, don't underestimate the cost of marketing, and save!
Being a leader of your own ship is fun, empowering, and brain wrecking. Some may call it scary, I just call it a part of life. Yup. It's scary if you set a finacncial goal and don't meet it. Think we can all relate to that. We wanna sell x amount of books and we sell z instead. But goals should all be realistic from jump. Once you really learn the market and establish yourself, you should be able to come up with more realistic numbers and hit or miss them. The first month, don't laugh if you aim to sell five paperbacks instead of 300. Why? What if you aim for 500 and only sell five? How will that make you feel? You should worry about making connections first because you're not the only author out there. You should always aim high, but be careful that the aim is more possible than not. We gotta put our work in, pay our dues, and no one is above that. I was lucky that people I knew supported me, and people knew I was authoring for months if not years. But also, get in love with free. If you're an author who likes to get things free, understand that your readers do, too. Hook them up. I'd rather hand out a lot of free first copies and have them pay for the rest of the trilogy or series. Again, I value my relationships with these people who may spend money on me in the future. But today, they're giving me their time and that time is valuable. The world doesn't revolve around me, and people don't wake up thinking about my needs and goals.
This brings me to my next point. Know when to strategize, meaning, think of the best time to mark your price down to $.99 or free, unless it already is. I'm at $3.99 for my ebook. Haven't done a markdown or free yet, but I will and boy am I excited. You can only do it once within a certain time span at KDP, so my advice is to do it at a strategic moment versus a random one. Know why you are choosing that moment and determine if it makes the most sense.
Also, no one will ever love your characters as much as the creator. You're the mom or dad, and no one should love your children more than you! Readers will absolutely fall in love, but you're the one who sticks with those characters when the cover to the story shuts many times over, but you have to love it enough to keep promoting your books for years to come. Eventually, readers move on even if they nestle your work somewhere in their hearts forever.
You'll need a marketing plan. Luckily, I did one in graduate school. They say you'll fail without one. Doesn't hurt to have one. You'll do anything to succeed, right? Mine is eight pages and to me, they're never fun, but neither is doing things in life half-arsed. Don't forget to pull it out as you do this author thing. You have to lead yourself. Trust me! Ain't no one coming to do it. Lesson learned: You should know your personal business like you know the neighborhood gossip.
Time management is everything. I am a circus clown all day, every day. I drop balls, see them roll away on the floor, keep juggling, and then stop to pick up those balls. Look at me! I've collected all these subscribers for my newsletters and haven't sent one out yet. I have a technical question that I've yet to find an answer to, and I never got around to asking my mentor. (Shrugs) Nothing but good old trifling behavior on my end. When we dread something, we avoid it as long as possible. And because I can't get written up for it, that's when you got to be a leader and write yourself up or get it done. Hold up. Let me back that up. You should find a mentor. You'll need that go-to person who has years and wisdom in this field. No amount of enthusiasm or thirst to do this can compensate for someone else's experience. Again, stay humble and reach out. Don't make things harder or yourself when they don't have to be. You do love this, right? Then you'll do whatever you have to to make it work. You'll lose time doing something that doesn't work or trying to figure something out when you can hit up someone who's agreed to be there for you.