The start of a new year is a great time for setting our writing goals for the coming months. Perhaps this will be the year you finally get that book written. Then what? Do you self-publish or seek a traditional publisher? Perhaps you should start a mailing list or learn how to master Facebook Ads? Then there’s the admin of registering for PLR and ALCS and, if self-publishing, setting up with the British Library for Legal Deposit . . . the list goes on.
The business of writing can feel overwhelming at times. The word should is often bandied about. You should be on social media. You should be advertising on Amazon. You should be publishing wide. And while some aspects of the business of writing can’t be avoided, such as maintaining financial records to keep the tax inspector happy, it’s also worth remembering that our writing business is exactly that—our writing business and nobody else’s.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre (https://markleslie.ca/) is a Canadian author who’s written over twenty books. His publishing experience includes being President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Director of Author Relations and Self-Publishing for Rakuten Kobo, as well as Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital. He knows how stressful being a writer can be. He also knows that it doesn’t have to be this way.
‘We’d made a passing reference to the stress that authors constantly find themselves under,’ explains Mark, ‘and we quickly shared how we each tried to remain relaxed despite all that intense pressure. Then we made a joke that we should co-author a book on that topic. Over the following week, Joanna kept getting comments from her listeners that they wished such a book existed because they definitely needed one.’
‘But then, Joanna and I realised that we needed one as well. Despite the way we continually tried to relax, or take a deep breath, we found ourselves caught back on that treadmill.’
Stress-free Small Steps
There is so much information available about being a writer that it can quickly become overwhelming. It’s only natural to feel swamped because there’s so much we feel we ought to be doing to develop our writing business. This makes it difficult to identify the next step or hone in on what is most important for us.
Mark suggests relaxed writers take a three Ps approach.
‘I’ve long told authors that Patience, Practice, and Persistence are three of the keys to a long-term writing career. And that holds true whether an author takes the traditional publishing, the self-publishing, or some combination of the two routes. Writing, as most authors already know, is not a quick-and-easy thing. It can take years, and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears.’
‘First, be patient,’ Mark recommends. ‘Realise there’s no way you’ll be able to absorb it all. And that’s okay. It’s important to learn and to listen to more than one perspective, as perspectives in the industry can be varied. If you talk to five different people, you’ll likely get at least three different bits of advice on a single matter.’
Next comes practice, and the best way to do that is to break steps down into manageable chunks. Mark reminds us that we don’t have to do everything at once.
‘For example, looking at publishing an eBook means having to figure out Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple Books, Rakuten Kobo, Google Books, and Smashwords, to name just the six largest retailers. It’s okay to not understand all of them at first. Start by learning just one platform first to make it a bit simpler and more manageable. Then, once you understand one, investigate another platform.’
While some writers upload to all these different platforms individually, that’s not necessarily right for everyone. Again, take the relaxed approach and do what’s right for you at this time. As self-published authors, we can change the way we do things whenever the time is right.
With Mark’s experience as Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital, it’s not surprising that he recommends using the distributor to push eBooks to the various platforms. However, he still takes a relaxed approach to this.
‘I often advise going direct to one or two places, and then using a distributor for the rest. That way, you don’t have to manage six or more different logins, which, in itself, can be overwhelming.’
His co-author, Joanna Penn, often comments on her podcasts that this is what she does. She uploads her eBooks to the platforms she wants direct control over and uses Draft2Digital to distribute her eBooks elsewhere. It’s her business, and that’s how she maintains a sense of control over distribution.
Finally, Mark’s third P is for persistence, and that often means experimenting, and failing, until you find the way that works best for you.
‘The key is that there’s not one way of doing anything, so fretting about the right way versus the wrong way won’t help. There’s only the right way and the wrong way for you. You’ll only figure that out over time as you experiment. You will make mistakes. We all do. That’s okay. But the great thing is, we can learn from our mistakes, and we can adapt and change our approach. It is, after all, not a sprint, but more of a marathon.’
The problem with doing what we think we should be doing means we often end up making more mistakes. Taking a slower, more relaxed approach to our writing business means we’re more likely to remember the basics.
‘One of the most common mistakes authors make,’ says Mark, ‘is they begin to market their books without first ensuring that they completely understand who their book is for. To use a recent example, many jumped into TikTok because they heard that you “had to” to sell books. But selling books starts with knowing who your book is for.’
‘Consider the reader,’ he continues. ‘What problem does your book solve for them? With non-fiction, it’s easy. A book like The Relaxed Author is for writers; and in particular writers who might be feeling overwhelmed with not just having to write books, but figure out what to do with those books, along with all the business and marketing to do when they self-publish. Even though Romance is the single best-selling eBook category, and has been, by far, for more than a dozen years, it would be a waste of time for Joanna and I to market The Relaxed Author to readers who only read romance. It doesn’t matter how many books they buy and read, the book is not for them.’
An awful lot has changed in the writing world in the last twenty years. And sometimes the constant change puts additional pressure on us. Often, it is the early adopters to new formats, platforms, or practices who benefit most, which puts additional pressure on the rest of us to learn and jump onboard.
However, when a polarising issue, like Artificial Intelligence, comes along, it can add further stress to our writing business.
Again, Mark’s advice, particularly with AI, is to slow down, consider everything and put things into perspective.
‘Often, seeing things in black and white versus the various shades of grey can provide a tremendous amount of stress and unnecessary angst. At every single stage in the evolution of publishing, technology has consistently offered more opportunities than ever before to authors. Authors are very likely already using AI in their daily lives without ever realising it, such as the grammar-checking that is automatically built into most email services and word-processing documents. It saves me and you time, and is something we’ve both leveraged to help us.’
‘So, take a breath. Have a look at what’s available. Listen to people who understand and have adapted it. And see if there’s some nugget of usefulness that you might find helpful on your own journey. But it’s also okay if you look at it and say, “No, that’s not for me.”’
‘The key message I want authors to understand is that we all get stressed out,’ says Mark. ‘Even though I co-authored this book with Joanna, I consistently find myself getting stressed and freaked out about the smallest thing. It’s because we’re human. We make mistakes. We forget to follow our own advice. But we can also learn, adapt, and evolve.’
‘I remind myself to take a deep breath, and consider how anything that is stressing me out might factor into the long-term goals and plans I have for my overall writing career. It’s that long-term perspective that often helps me calm down and realise that the small thing I’m facing right now, which seems insurmountable, might actually just be a stressful moment. In time, that too will soon pass.’
Ultimately, being a relaxed writer is about having a clear idea of what we want to achieve with our writing. That way, we’ll know whether we’re on the right path.
Mark makes one final point for us to consider. ‘It’s important for authors to always remember that there’s no one path. There’s no one right thing to do. You can and you will make mistakes. But you can always change the route, change the plan, and adjust the path that you’re taking.’
There’s no escaping the fact that being a published writer in any format means we’re in the business of writing. But as we head into a new year with new goals and dreams, perhaps now is the time to think about taking a more relaxed approach to our writing business.
Business Directory – Mark’s Relaxation Tip
‘Hang in there, and keep your head up. It’s not only good for your posture, and your mental well-being, but it helps you see much further down the road, and the potential that always exists on that horizon.’
© SImon Whaley