Rebuilding a full-time author career – An interview with full-time author Tammi Labrecque

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shutterstock_57740119Tammi lost her well-paying job in October of 2014 and found herself at a crossroads. She could either get a new office job, which she kind of hated, or she could take the opportunity to become a full time writer with no notice, whatsoever. She chose the latter and was able to make a deal with her former in-laws. They agreed to cover the living expenses of her and her two daughters for three months so that she could take some online courses, catch up on various indie publishing podcasts, and read the right books so she could get moving in the indie space. That was January of 2015. By April she was making a living as an author and paying her bills, but an unfortunate turn of events caused her to stop writing completely. Now she’s rebuilding beyond her former glory.

How did you go from zero to self supported?

I had two books that were pretty much completed. They were NaNoWriMo projects from years gone by, but they were ready to go. It only took me about five years…but they were ready to be published and pushed out the door. So I got one out at the very end of January and another at the very end of March. Then I had a small promotion at the end of March with Ereader News Today. For whatever reason, I had a great month in March and another in April. By the time those sales started to decline some of the erotica that I started writing in the fall was also starting to trickle in with sales. That never really amounted to much though, maybe $200 a month. I don’t really pay that much attention to it to be honest, but that’s a small stream of income. Then about a month later Chris Fox approached me to do some editing for him. Editing has now become a huge form of income for me. Overall, my romance was bringing in some income, my erotica was bringing in some income, and then editing was bringing in some more income. If you want to make a living in this space you need to have multiple streams of income. You need to diversify. That may be just that you have a large backlist. For example, Wayne Stinnett is an author in my private group that writes sea adventure books. He writes in a very specific genre, but it’s a very hungry genre. He produces about three to four books a year. That is all Wayne writes, but he’s a powerhouse. He’s got nine books and a box set – that’s a diversified stream of income. If someone picks up one of his books then they will probably pick up more.

Let’s talk about networking. What does it mean to you as an indie author?

Networking is everything in this gig. Not in that sleazy marketing sort of way. But more in like that you know people, and they can help lift you up – whether its knowledge or they can trade some kind of skill with you. It makes all the difference. We’ve got some people in our Facebook group that write in similar genres so if one person in particular has a really large mailing list and someone else is writing in a similar genre they will say: “Hey, let me know when you’re new release is out, and I’ll give you a shout out to my mailing list.” It’s just helping each other out. Any success I’ve had I credit to networking.

Since you made the leap in December 2014 how has it been being a full time author?

I have been enjoying it immensely. It was awesome to see the really slow build from those first days of publication through this past summer when I was making a very good four figure income just from the books themselves. That was brilliant. I thought that I was really hot shit. The thing is that if you don’t keep up then it falls apart. In the fall I had some financial issues, and I had to pick up a bunch of freelancing work so I didn’t have a new release for a couple of months. That makes a huge difference. Seriously, you could just watch the sales graph drop. So I was freelancing like crazy to make some extra money to cover some financial stuff. Then I was doing even more to make up the income I was losing from the books. Then I had an illness in the family, and a bunch of stuff just happened. I turned around and realized that I stopped writing completely. I essentially replaced my day job with freelance editing, which I love – I really do have an affinity for it. But I stopped writing. So this past January was all about clearing the deck by cutting back on editing and fixing my schedule so I could get back to writing. I spent the last two weeks of January writing my latest serial and published in February. I’ve been writing about 2-3,000 words every day since then. I’ll be back on top.

Share with us your worst moment as an author (or as you were working to become an author).

It was that moment around Christmas of 2015 when I realized I hadn’t published anything since the end of September when I released the third episode of my chick-lit serial. Amazon pays two months out, so at that point I was looking to get payment for September, which would be pretty healthy because I had a new release that month. I decided to look at my numbers to see how the following months looked. November and December didn’t look good. Then I thought: “The January payment is going to be pretty lousy, and then the February payment is going to be pretty lousy.” It occurred to me that it’s going to be another two months after that before I started making money from my writing again. That was the realization that I had fallen off of the rails because you really do have to keep up with something regular. “Regular” means different things for different people, but, for me, my readers had come to expect to see an episode every month. Each episode was about 20,000 words. I got an email everyday from people saying: “I love this! When is the next one coming out?” I still get emails, not every day, but at least three times a week from people who haven’t seen an episode since September. That was a bad moment for me when I realized I had too many balls in the air, and I had dropped those balls. I had disappointed readers and their expectations of getting another episode regularly. I had also subsequently screwed my income for at least two more months down the road. I felt like an abject failure. I was seriously not in a good space. I told myself: “Seriously, Tammi? You went from zero to self supported, and then you just flaked out and screwed it all up. Now you have to scramble to make ends meet.” Obviously, I got over it and got back in the saddle because that’s all you can do. I mean, I guess I can go around and feel bad about it, but what’s the point?

What exactly did you do to turn that around?

I cleared my deck. For the next two to three weeks after that I worked – a lot. There were nights where I didn’t sleep because I had taken on so much freelancing projects to catch up on finances, which is awesome. If I had a nine to five job, and I needed an extra $3,000 over the course of a month where is that going to come from? The benefit of freelancing is you take on more projects, but you sleep less. I worked like a dog putting in 16-18 hours a day. I cleared everything off of my plate as best as I could, and then in mid-January I sat down and laid out my plan for publishing. I had two novels that were outlined. I had to write the next two episodes in my serial, and then I would finally write that steamy serial I meant to write last summer that I screwed up by writing another awesome and fun thing instead.

At what point did you start taking your writing seriously?

It was December 2014, and I had realized the money was running low. I had lost my job in the beginning of October. We had some savings because I’ve always been pretty frugal. Also our cost of living is pretty low here in Maine. However, the downside is that it’s not the greatest place economically. Jobs are not easy to come by. I didn’t want to take a subsistence job like waiting tables or bagging groceries. I had looked for some high level office jobs equivalent to the one that I left where I was well-paid and had great benefits. Then I realized: “You know what, all of this studying that I’ve been doing about how to indie publish could really bear fruit if I buckled down and did: this, that, and the other thing.” Money was running out, and I said: “I need to learn how to do this in three months.” That’s when I went to my in-laws and asked: “Could you take care of us for three months? At the end of it I promise we won’t need your support anymore.” I was able to turn it around in that timeframe, and I can’t emphasize enough that going from zero to self supported happened so quickly. But, if you don’t stay on top of it that fall is just as quick. I’m not tremendously discouraged by it because I know what it takes to make four figures a month in this space. I’d rather make five or six, but I know what it takes to make a living off of this. I know I can go back to that. If you drop the balls it does some very serious damage. You need to publish regularly, and you need to make sure you’re publishing things that people want to read.

Looking back, if you could do it all over again is there anything you would do differently?

I would start sooner because I wasted a bit of time there in the beginning before I really decided to go for it. I basically took a month off to wallow in self pity because I lost my job. Then it took me about six weeks to get my feet under me and figure out what I wanted to do. I would reach out and make connections with people sooner rather than wait for them to make a connection with me. That was a stroke of luck, and when I look back I realize that half of my client base comes out of the private Facebook group that I’m in. If someone didn’t reach out and pull me into that group I may still be waiting for those connections. You never want to reach out to people and ask what they can do for you. Personally, that’s gross – don’t do that. People don’t want to be asked for something; people want you to reach out and offer them something. For example, I didn’t pay for my second book cover. Instead, I traded a beta read and editing for it because the money wasn’t there for me at the time. Lastly, I wouldn’t let my personal obligations derail my writing obligations. There was that period where I wasn’t writing all day and now I have to rebuild. Rebuilding is not very fun. I wouldn’t allow myself to lose that momentum like what happened last summer.

How do you prioritize that writing time while you have a family, a full time job, and other obligations?

You need to decide what the most important thing is for you. For parents of young children for example, caring for those kids is going to come before your writing time. Or if you have a day job obviously the hours between 9-5 you can’t prioritize your writing. When I was working towards the end of my day job I decided that I wanted to get more serious about my writing because this indie publishing thing looked good. So I started writing on my lunch break, which was only 30 minutes. I worked in a medical facility so there was always an empty room with a computer somewhere. I would jump on Google Docs and just do something for the half hour because writing was more important than lingering over lunch. It couldn’t be more important than my job, but it was more important than my lunch break. So once you’ve decided what your priorities are and you’ve carved out some sort of space for yourself – whether it’s 15 minutes during the day or two hours at night – you have to ferociously protect that. I think that can be really difficult when you’re just starting out especially when you’re not making much money. When I was just sitting here on my butt writing books that I wasn’t sure anyone would even want to read there’s the constant thought: “Maybe I should be out hunting for a job.” Or if you’re a stay-at-home parent then taking that time out may feel selfish because you’re not getting an immediate return. When you get up to go to work you know you’re going to bring home a paycheck. If you’re sitting here writing it’s easy to say to yourself: “Well, you can do that later on.” It feels very selfish to say: “Don’t knock on this door unless it’s an emergency. I’m working.” The thing is you’re not doing something self-indulgent. You’re creating something that down the road is going to benefit everybody in your family. If you look at it that way, and you really believe it then you can present it to them that way.

What’s one habit that’s contributed to your success as an author?

There’s no way from getting around it. You have to sit down every day and write. If you aren’t producing the content then there’s nothing for you, and you can’t move forward. There are other steps, but it’s all meaningless if you’re not sitting down and producing the content. I’m the example on this – this fall I didn’t write, and now I’m in the position where my books aren’t earning as much as the freelance work. Last summer I was writing five days a week, and I was producing books on a regular schedule and doing very well with them making solid four figures for several months in a row. It’s Butt-In-Chair. Everyone wants that magic solution, but it’s getting that butt in the chair and getting the words out. One of my writing friends likes to say: “The worst thing you write is always better than the best thing you didn’t write.”

What are you most excited about right now?

That would definitely be the fourth episode of my serial. It should have been out on Halloween… it’s now February. I get emails almost every day of readers asking: “Where is episode four?” “When will I see episode four?” I’ve told them the title, but I don’t have the cover yet because the book isn’t complete. My cover artist likes me to send him a scene to read, and he’ll make a cover based on that scene.

What advice do you have for those of us starting out as we strive to become full time authors?

It’s always going to be prioritizing your writing as close to the top of your list as you can. If that means you get up an hour earlier in the morning then that’s what you do. It could mean bargaining with your significant other about going to Starbucks for three hours on Saturday mornings, and you’ll trade off and watch the kids while they do something. Do whatever it is that you need to do to get that writing at the top of your priority list because without it everything else falls apart. After the writing, the second most important thing to do is educate yourself. At this point, I would say that Kboards is probably the place that’s going to be the easiest and the most accessible for new authors. There’s a “Yellow Pages” section that provides a list of services like editors and book cover designers. Lastly, I would recommend that you start listening to podcasts in the indie publishing industry. If I were to pick one it would be the “Self Publishing Podcast”. I love the three guys that run it. For those of you that used to listen to them – they no longer joke around for the first 40 minutes of the show. It’s a little more streamlined. There are also genre specific podcasts like “The fantasy and science fiction marketing podcast”. They are super useful if you’re writing in that genre.

Topic Tear Down: Understanding Your Book Market

The mentality where you set yourself up for the targeted market approach is some of the hardest writing you’ll ever do. It is a lot easier to sit down and write whatever you like. Write the book that pleases you the most – that comes a lot more naturally. Having to write within those fences and having to constantly think what readers want is some hard writing. I feel that a lot of people don’t have respect for that kind of thing. I saw a lot of it when I was writing erotica initially, and it’s difficult when you’re writing to a very specific market.

In a category like Romance, as an example, which is so big and has so many subdivisions it’s easier to find a home. If you write a clean romance then you write that. There’s inspirational, paranormal, new adult, and any age range you can think of. There’s also any spice level you can think of. There’s a genre out there for you. I feel in some ways I’ve lucked out because I’ve been able to write the stuff I wanted to write. Then I was able to look at the romance market and say: “Oh, there’s a market for it over there.” Then I’m able to shoehorn it into a little sub-category. You have to try harder if you’re aiming for a specific market. You have to aim, and your aim has to be really good. My next project is going to be urban fantasy, and I’m terrified about that. It doesn’t subdivide into 25 permutations. You have to hit it, and you have to hit properly. You can’t write the book you love and market it after the fact. You have to really plan it out and pay attention to it ahead of time.

How do you know so much about your market?

Haha, I feel so unqualified to talk about that! Well, when it comes to Romance I have a good idea of how to hit various genre tropes, almost entirely from being so widely read. Growing up I read sci-fi, fantasy, sword and sorcery, and romance – voraciously. If someone were to say to me: “How do I learn how to write a specific genre?” I would say: “Read 500 books in that genre.” By the time you’re done with them you’ll know. You won’t know because you picked them apart or you reversed outlined them, although, those are useful techniques to try. You’ll know because you read 500 romance novels. You will know the feel, you’ll internalize the ways in which the story can unfold, and you’ll understand bone-deep for having absorbed what the arc of that story looks like. There is no better way to really learn that. However, another tool that Chris Fox discusses in his recent book Write to Market is to study a particular market and pick the biggest sellers. Then you study those few. Readers will respond to it. When you know what the top people in your genre are doing and you can replicate it then readers will absolutely want that thing that readers always want – the same thing they already like but slightly different.

What’s the best way that we can reach you?

My website: http://tammilabrecque.com/

Can you share one last parting piece of advice?

You can do this! There are no barriers anymore. You can do this if you educate yourself, keep your butt in the chair, and write a good story that somebody wants to read.

If you’re interested in Tammi’s books then go and check out her Amazon author page here: Tammi’s Amazon Author Page

If you enjoyed the interview then please let me know!

 

To your consistent progress,

-Brandon

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