The Everyday Author

For authors who can't quit their day jobs...yet

Tag: Author Origins

Author Origins: Johnny B. Truant

Truant AU

“The Architect” of the Sterling and Stone trio, Johnny B. Truant is also the co-founder of Sterling and Stone’s Realm & Sands imprint and the host of the Self-Publishing Podcast. Before Realm & Sands, Johnny wrote the Fat Vampire series and The Bialy Pimps. Then, co-author Sean Platt convinced him it was way more fun to write collaboratively. Johnny (mostly) agreed, and since then they’ve written a few Harry Potter series’ worth of words together, including co-writing a full novel in thirty days for their “Fiction Unboxed” project. Johnny would love to live in Austin, but is unfortunately stuck in Ohio for the time being.

Introduction: Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

I’ve always wanted to be an author, but there was no practical way to do so when I first started trying to publish in 1999. It was all about a lightning strike back then. Only after meeting Sean Platt (one of my partners) and seeing that he and Dave were doing this in a “do the work, produce and optimize” way that I felt it was possible for real. I’ve just always liked storytelling and am thrilled to be able to do it every day and pleasing fans.

Right now is a very exciting time for us at Sterling & Stone. We produced like mad in 2013, then iteratively improved across our six imprints and larger systems in 2014. 2015 is the year we optimize and begin making it all harmonize and generate the profit we’ve deferred for so long to put our systems in place. There are too many exciting new things coming to list!

What was/is the hardest thing about balancing writing with everyday life and/or a day job?

I never had to do this dance, as I’ve always been self-employed and tend to leap with both feet into whatever I’m doing — not the most secure ways to do things. The closest I had to balancing writing and a day job was when I was still doing my last entrepreneurial venture (online instruction via my old blog) at the same time as writing, but I always had plenty of time and can’t offer very good advice here. I really respect people who can make it work with tighter constraints!

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

My schedule now is pretty set. I write every workday starting at 6am and typically put in 4 hours. After that I either have family stuff (Mondays and Wednesdays I’m in charge of my kids and we usually go do something together) or I move on to whatever non-fiction-writing work I have. Some of this is admin (optimizing product descriptions and detail work) and sometimes it’s blog posts or other less creative writing. We have a few meetings per week and we do our podcasts on Friday. Basically whatever needs to be done other than fiction, which I always do first thing because it’s most important. But aside from that family stuff, I always put in a full and rather packed day.

I don’t work formally on weekends but do sometimes kind of tinker on my laptop, doing things I want to do anyway (it helps that I love my work). I don’t work past 6pm either. Finding that work/life balance is really important to me. But this compacted schedule works for me, and I typically produce 30-40,000 words of rough draft copy per week, plus a bunch of other important things that need doing.

If you don’t mind, would you tell us how your sales first started out? How many books did you have out before you started seeing traction?

Initial sales were pretty terrible, but increased steadily. It took me a year before I could consider myself full-time as an author, but even then I was being a bit foolhardy and it wasn’t all perfect every month even then but I always made it work. I think I may have had seven or eight books out at the time? I’m not sure; it’s been a whirlwind. But there is definitely a critical mass thing, where you finally have enough out to give you a base. But others could get there faster than I did, with a lot of hard work, if they weren’t so scattered and focused on one genre with one popular series. We’ve always thought long-term and gone wide.

At one point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

It took a year before I didn’t need an additional (entrepreneurial) source of income, but 1.5 years probably would have been more sensible. It actually didn’t scare me at all because I’m optimistic and always believe a bit too much that all will work out. My wife was far more nervous and stayed that way for quite some time. Only in the past year has she finally relaxed. For me, I just do what I believe. I don’t always think about the possibility that I might fail.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

Ha, thanks to the Self Publishing Podcast, I imagine there are few things about my career that people don’t know! Outside of writing, I’m fairly athletic and like spending time with my family. We homeschool our kids, so there’s plenty of opportunity for that. But having the career I do, so much blends right into my work — creativity, IMO, doesn’t stop at putting words on the page. Everything about our business is creative and I spend a lot of time “creating” on it, in all forms, in many media.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Focus on shipping work and getting new stuff out. Also focus BIG TIME on building your mailing list and communicating with the fans you already have. Sales do matter, but I’d honestly focus more on the tick-up in your mailing list subscribers early on. If you obsessively watch your sales, you’ll drive yourself nuts and get disheartened easily because sometimes stuff just doesn’t sell at certain times. The three metrics I’d watch would be total words written in rough draft, total works published, and mailing list growth. It might be a good idea to not even CONSIDER any other numbers for six months or more after publishing your first book.

Is there anything we haven’t asked that  you’d like to touch on?

I just always like to tell people how hard this is. I know it can be discouraging to hear that, but I think that if you can be discouraged from writing, you probably shouldn’t be an indie author as a career. You have to soldier on when it’s difficult and when nobody is buying or paying attention to you. You have to write when the words don’t come easily. But if you love the craft and keep going, this is the best way to spend your life, for the right kind of person, that I can possibly imagine.

Author Origins: Blake Atwood

Blake AtwoodBlake Atwood is a freelance editor and writer at EditFor.me and the author of The Gospel According to Breaking Bad. He’s proofread Texas legislation, led communications for a large church, written copy for a law firm, and edited hundreds of articles for a niche content marketing platform. Today, he offers affordable editing and writing services to self-publishers. Download his Self-Publisher’s Checklist: 33 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself Before Self-Publishing for free by subscribing to his helpful email newsletter for writers. 

Tell us who you are, how and why you decided to be an author and where you’re at right now in your career.

Every serious writer wants to “graduate” to become an author. Seeing your name on the spine of a book is every writer’s ultimate dream. Whether we admit to it or not, there’s validation there—the fact that something I created out of almost nothing exists in the real world.

I became an author because I wanted to prove to my insecure writer self that it could be done.

Two months after starting the initial writing of my book, I quit writing, sure that no one would be interested in what I wanted to say about a critically acclaimed show I thought few people had been watching.

Then fate intervened. 

That’s when I became an author. That’s when I got serious about finishing my book regardless of public reception. That’s when I got up at 5 a.m. almost every day for weeks on end to write for one or two hours.

I knew that if I was going to self-publish, I at least wanted to take advantage of free publicity and have the book’s release date coincide with the final season premiere episode of Breaking Bad. Following those two months of having essentially given up on the project, the powers that be announced that Breaking Bad would return to the small screen one month later than it had in previous years.

As if by magic, I’d be given back an entire month.

That’s when I became an author. That’s when I got serious about finishing my book regardless of public reception. That’s when I got up at 5 a.m. almost every day for weeks on end to write for one or two hours.

Four months later, I had an author page on Amazon.

It’s been a year since then, and that one book has opened doors for me that would have never been opened otherwise.

Though I’m adamant about encouraging self-publishers to always start the next book after they’ve finished their first, I’m terrible at taking my own advice. I have yet to start another project of my own, but I’m getting restless about it. Plus, my highly encouraging wife keeps goading me about the next book.

What was/is the hardest thing about balancing writing with everyday life and/or a day job?
When I wrote my book in early to mid-2013, I was working 40 hours a week and I was a newlywed.
In July of 2014, I left full-time employment to pursue full-time freelance editing and writing work. But, when I wrote my book in early to mid-2013, I was working 40 hours a week and I was a newlywed. I wrestled with finding time for myself to write the book. I wanted to spend quality time with my wife, and I didn’t want my writing efforts to take away from my day-job efforts. Eventually, I capitulated to my own comfort and began writing at 5 or 5:30 a.m. every morning for at least four days a week.

Before I began freelancing, I assumed that having myself as a boss would grant me at least an hour or two out of my work day to write my own words, but my outside work has been consistent. Consequently, if I want to write and publish another book, I’ll very likely have to revert to the daily, early-morning discipline that helped me write the first book!

For me, the hardest aspects were (and still are) finding the right time to work on a book, being absolutely dedicated to the writing for that time block, and working as hard as I can to meet deadlines, even if they’re arbitrary.

Tell us about your schedule and habits from this time (or what you’re doing now if it hasn’t changed).

Even though I’m freelancing, it’s still a full-time job, and I have to be intentional with how I spend my time. When I was employed by a company, I had to get up early to write. There was simply no other way the book would ever be written, as I certainly wasn’t going to sacrifice time with my wife, family, or friends in order to write (though I’m sure that happened on certain occasions).

Some boundaries can be a hindrance, but many are necessary, especially for the do-it-yourself writer and self-publisher.

Now that I’m fully in charge of my own time at work, there’s less urgency to giving time to my own writing—and that’s not a good thing. Some boundaries can be a hindrance, but many are necessary, especially for the do-it-yourself writer and self-publisher.

I need to get back into the habit of rising early to write my own books, else they’re likely never to come into existence.

At what point in time did you make the decision to support yourself/your family as an author? What was that decision like and how did you feel afterward?

With my wife’s blessing—because I wouldn’t have done it otherwise—I quit my full-time job in July of 2014, but it wasn’t because of my book sales. When I made the transition, I felt equally excited and terrified.

If you’ll allow it, I’d like to offer a specific word of warning to first-time authors considering quitting their day jobs to become full-time writers: don’t.

I’m going to be far too honest here and share my current book sales and revenue. This is neither gloating or bemoaning. Such numbers are something I wish more first-time, self-published authors would share, which is why I’m doing so here.

Having written a book is such a larger achievement than having made money from it.
Though Amazon offers stellar royalties, I never assumed that one book would allow me to quit my job—and it didn’t. However, like I said, the book opened doors for me to pursue other paid writing work on a full-time, freelance basis. So I guess I could argue that the book has allowed me to help financially support my family, but it’s by no means the sole supporting cause.

As of the end of July 2014, or nearly a year’s worth of sales, I’ve sold 1964 copies (digital, print, and audiobook versions), given away 1274 copies, and have made $2447 total for an average of 110 books sold per month with an average monthly revenue of $245.

Considering that some sites say most indie-published books sell less than 500 copies in their lifetime, I’d like to think my book’s done well, and that’s the point. Even with generous royalties and fairly good sales for a seldom-marketed book with a no-name author, I’ve only made $245 per month.

I’m absolutely thankful for that income, but it’s nothing to quit over. At this point in my life, it’s an important part of a larger business plan, but I’d like to caution would-be writers and self-publishers that, unless you strike the lottery with your book, quitting your day job after releasing one book (or even two or three) isn’t encouraged.

But you should still write that book. Having written a book is such a larger achievement than having made money from it.

What is one thing about your author career that not many people know of? Alternatively, what are some of your other hobbies/interests outside of writing?

The actual genesis for my book started in 2010 with this article. I had no idea then that I’d ever write a book about the show and was fairly certain the website wouldn’t even accept the article.

Outside of writing, I read and drum, though not at the same time.

What’s the single best piece of advice you have for authors who can’t support themselves with their writing yet? What should they be focusing on?

Be patient and focus on the task in front of you. That’s two pieces of advice, but they’re two sides of the same coin. Trying to write a BOOK is much more difficult than trying to write a page of a book—and even that can be difficult at times.

By focusing on each step as it comes to you (outline, draft, revise, revise, revise, publish, market, market, market), you’ll prevent yourself from burning out.

Maybe you want to build a writing career on the back of that book, but that’s far too much pressure to place on yourself and your book, especially while you’re writing it. By focusing on each step as it comes to you (outline, draft, revise, revise, revise, publish, market, market, market), you’ll prevent yourself from burning out.

Yes, this will take longer, but the reward is worth the focused effort.

Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?

I’m happy to offer an editing quote for any self-publishing authors. And whether or not you choose me to edit your book, promise me that you’ll pay some qualified editor to edit your book. Everyone needs an editor!

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