When writing novels is your day job

What it really takes to be a published author

Everyone talks about writing as an art or craft but less is said about writing books as a day job. I’ve spent the past ten years writing and publishing books (mainly historical romance novels with the occasional non-fiction work). Here’s what it takes to make a business out of an art:

From high concept to nitty-gritty

From the first line of my book proposal, I’m thinking about high concept hooks that can carry a book—or a series of books. Each story must have a little more than “boy meets girl.” This is big picture thinking and plotting. And then…I sit down and write Every Word. There is simply no way around this.

I oversee a production schedule

My publisher gives me a deadline, which generally allows about 4-5 months to write a novel. An author’s production schedule can be summed up by this simple equation:

80K words/ days until deadline =

the amount you must write each day before watching Hulu.

No inspiration one day? Suck it up and slog through—or write double the next day. And one mustn’t forget to account for book launches (and all the tweets, blogs, book signings and obsessive checking of Amazon rankings) and connecting with one’s audience (read: Facebook and Twitter and every social platform invented).

My job is understanding and empathizing with people

In a good novel, characters carry the story. I spend a lot of time considering their goals, flaws and desires. In real life, I try to remember that everyone has a backstory. You never know what just happened in someone’s preceding chapter—or how you’ll move their story forward.

I create setbacks for fun! And then I overcome them.

A good book relies on DRAMA, particularly character’s plans and goals being thwarted at every turn. Thus, my brain has been primed to imagine every possible disaster—and then find a solution that still leads to happily-ever-after.

Planning is everything, but the plan is nothing.

I research, plot with post it notes, and create color-coded outlines in excel. And then sometimes, halfway into a book, everything takes a different turn and you have to chuck your plan and write by the seat of your pants. In other words, I adapt to get the job done.

I am a business. I perform every job, from CEO to secretary.

I am customer service. I am marketing. I am publicity. I am constantly in search of new products that will help me do business better. No job is too big or too small for my to-do list.

I do it all with limited data.

While traditional publishing offers limited information (sales numbers printed on paper twice a year), self-publishing offers real time sales data, but neither provides authors information about who their customers are. However, I do devour what data I can get my hands on: Google Analytics, Facebook Insights and likes, retweets, bit.ly clicks, newsletter analytics. I test titles via Facebook ads. I use it all to make my best guess—because once I publish there’s no making changes.

I will show you willpower.

Here are the possible distractions within immediate reach: my bed, THE WHOLE INTERNET, bottle of champagne in the fridge, all of Manhattan, a puppy, food, really good books, a mess that wants cleaning. No one is watching. As long as my books are turned in on time, no one cares if I spend the day drunk, in bed, shopping online while watching Sex and the City. But I do not succumb. I write instead.


(My favorite two words to type.)