Flippin' eck' I can't believe that it is already 180 days since I first launched my cozy mystery business under the publishing house Isla Britannica Books Ltd. In some ways it feels like I have learnt and achieved a lot, and yet, in other ways, that I haven't progressed and still have a long way to go. My aim in sharing my personal journey as a new author, is firstly that I can have something to look back on and see where my path led, and secondly, that it might help others, as well as allowing readers of my books to get a feel for the behind the scenes of life as an author.
When I imagine the life of other authors, I think of them sat in beautiful wooden panelled studies or libraries, with an old wooden desk and lamp, leather armchair, and log fire. The stereotypical author, much like a character from an Agatha Christie book. That they spend their day writing and their evenings out at social events or dinner parties. Of course, real life is very far from that, at least for most authors, especially ones like me who are just starting out.
A Place to Call Home
I moved to the guesthouse where I am currently living, on the 15th June 2018, expecting to be here for a matter of weeks, before moving into a house I was in the process of buying. That didn't exactly go to plan, but on reflection it was one of the best outcomes possible.
Prior to my move, I was renting an overpriced, not especially great house in Kendal, in the beautiful Lake District in the north west of Britain. Up until my landlords decided to sell the house and gave me notice (that house is still for sale!). It felt like the end of the world. No way could I find anything locally that allowed pets and was affordable, and all of the properties I was eligible for wanted 6 months rent upfront, two months deposit, and charged for application fees (that's about £8000, the equivalent of a deposit to buy a house!). I was working all hours, just to make the rent, council tax, and utilities each month. If I had been eligible for a mortgage and not been self-employed, then I could have bought the same house I was renting, and been paying four times less for a mortgage than I was paying in rent. A ridiculous situation! But as I'd been living abroad and the amount they were asking for the property was more than I could get a mortgage for, buying the house was not an option.
But I did find a property that I was eligible to buy, in the north east of the country on a shared ownership babis. I wouldn't know anyone, it was away from my outdoor swimming and friends, but at least I would have a roof over my head and for less money. That property ended up falling through, just after I had moved into the guesthouse where I am now. But instead of being disappointed, I felt a huge sense of relief. Shared ownership wasn't really where I wanted to be in terms of having control over my own life. My solicitor had sent me the contract to sign, and what I saw was clause after clause about what I could and couldn't do with my property. I would have to get written permission to even paint the walls of a room, and couldn't put in a garden pond or build a rockery. It felt like a trap. That once I was in the property, I would never be able to sell it, and since the house was supposed to be my stop gap to getting my forever home, back in the Lake District, I knew in my gut that to buy would be a bad choice. But I didn't want to be homeless either, nor did I want to end up losing my pets.
As it turned out, my three cats and small dog settled amazingly well into our one room at the guesthouse, far better than I could even hope given that they were used to playing outdoors whenever they wanted. I also realised how devastated I was to lose the things that I had come to depend upon and trust - our veterinary practice, dog walker, my dentist, local doctor. The local services were not a patch on the relationships I had built up over a long period of time. Those things were priceless and more important to me than I could have realised.
It was clear that I needed to be back in the Lake District, and the silver lining was that my overheads were now a fraction of what they were where I was renting. I realised that I could now focus on becoming a writer and building up my business, one that would eventually not only allow me to buy a house, but to buy an amazing house for cash, provided that I focused on my writing and put in the hours. It was also pretty scary, because being in the guesthouse meant that I couldn't leave my pets for work each day since I no longer had my pet sitter, but that didn't matter because if I built up my own business, then I could simply work from home. This would be a good thing longer term, since I knew that I wouldn't want to keep travelling so much for work as I grew older anyway.
I spent a good few months researching my chosen genre, watching podcasts on YouTube, speaking with other authors, and putting out test books, and trying new things to get a feel for the market and world of publishing. My testing gave me the confidence to know that the future I had in my dreams was ACTUALLY possible, now I just had work on the psychology side and start to believe in myself and treat my writing as a business. It would be along. hard road, with a lot of sacrifice, but it would be worth it.
Starting from Zero
At the moment I'm frustrated with myself, but equally know that this is a phase I simply have to go through as well. I'm sure that very soon, something within me will just fall into place, and that the resistance I currently feel will disappear. I should be further along as a writer than I am!
However, over the past 180 days I have built up a newsletter of almost 3000 people from scratch, and having started to offer my publishing services to other authors on Fiverr, I now have a fairly consistent stream of repeat clients that I Vellum format and do book promo for. This has definitely grown organically in ways I wasn't expecting, an important reminder that hard work eventually starts to pay dividends in the long game. To be honest, I was really surprised to find other authors recommending me on sites such as K-Boards and in their blog posts. For example K-Boards here and on Nicholas Erik's website. I only become aware of these because some of my clients told me that was where they found me, and I have a lot of romance authors to thank too, because they began recommending me to others in their writers groups. It was hard to accept such positive comments at first, I still have imposter syndrome in all walks of my life, it's just who I am, but for the first time, I feel like I'm starting to embrace what it means to be a small business owner. I'm someone who actually has 'clients' now....even if I still can't quite get my head around that!
From a business perspective, am I earning money from offering my services on Fiverr, or would I be financially better off if I put that time into my writing? I admit that one out of three enquiries I get on Fiverr are time wasters. People trying to get rich quick and wanting to use me to do jobs for their clients which they then get credit and charge twice as much for. Those make my blood boil, especially as they aren't serious about quality or longevity and sem to think that publishing is a really easy way to make your millions. I dislike the orders I get where the client tries to bribe me or lure me with promises if I'll get their book on the promo sites immediately, even though I don't make the rules for the promo sites themselves. I get irritated when people place orders without reading through the information I provide on what services I offer. And I find it irksome that Fiverr penalises me when I cancel an order because a client has set me up for a job that I don't even offer because they think they are somehow special and the next big thing. That hurts my ratings and takes months to build up. But on the whole, I love my serious authors, the ones who appreciate a quality job and understand how many hours I invest in making their book interior look just how they want it. Business wise, I should be charging a lot more, especially taking into account the hours it takes me to do a job, but that isn't why I'm offering my services to other authors.
A traditional or old school business person would say that I am wasting my time with Fiverr, and that what I should really be doing is investing my time in writing and publishing my own books. But I actually don't see it that way. I see this as my apprenticeship, a stepping stone to producing better quality books in the grand scheme of things. I get to experience books from many different genres in the space of a week - see their covers, blurbs, description, layout, book stuffing and what not to do's, and answer any questions they have. I'm always learning and improving my own craft. Only then do I realise just how far I have come in my own education and I get a little confidence boost as I realise that I am capable of being a great author and publisher, that I know my field, I have a toolbox of expertise now, skills I have unknowingly mastered on my journey. What's more, I get a huge sense of satisfaction, seeing other authors do well, or being over the moon with how their book looks. I'm growing into my own skin little by little each day and I'm learning important lessons in marketing, communication, and knowing when to say no.
What's more, the money I am earning on Fiverr gets paid into my Paypal account and aside from the exchange rate between dollars and Stirling fluctuating to my detriment, I'm now super close to being able to access Paypal Working Capital. This is money that I can draw down into my Paypal account, based on my annual earnings. I want to invest heavily in my books - in editing, covers, ISBN numbers, all of which costs money. Paypal Working Capital will be the biggest step up in my career, and I have a strong sense that as soon as that happens, my business will snowball quickly. I just have to be patient as I try to get to that financial starting line.
Financial Freedom and Fear
Since my 90 day review, I have made some really scary moves financially. I've gone from having no credit cards or loans, to taking out credit cards. I don't like having debts, I like to be as independent as I can with no ties or trappings. But I realised that if I wanted to publish books, then I would need to buy covers, pay for editing, and invest in my business. It also turned out that if I took out credit cards, it would help me to get my credit rating up, just in case I wanted to get a mortgage in the future. Which seemed ridiculous to me.
I did some shopping around and used a platform called Noddle to see my credit rating and which, if any credit cards I would be eligible for. In a short space of time, I went from a near perfect credit rating and zero debts, to taking whatever credit cards I could and watching my credit score plummet. It should seem counter intuitive, but I'm not worried even though it is logically insane. I used those cards to buy ISBNS and covers and a desk and printer and chair. The cards are zero percent interest for a year and my plan is that every penny of that money is invested into my business and will earn that money back, and more within the space of a year. It should allow me to publish a lot of books, and the more books I have out, the more chance I have of being able to buy a house for cash, back in the Lake District. I'm starting to get enough money in from my business on Fiverr that I pay back £1 a day on each card for now, reinvesting that money in upfront costs of film work and getting to paid speaking events, as these don't pay me for round three months afterwards. Flipping things in the American terminology. Again, I'm focusing on long term gains here. I don't make regular payments into a pension but whenever my income goes up each day, I put 1p, 10p, £1 whatever I can afford each day, aside into separate pots in my Monzo account to be able to buy things in my future life; like health insurance, pension, tax, accountant fee, book covers, and I put £1 into an ISA as my 'emergency fund' as well as paying into my Share Dealing ISA and my Share Dealing account. I've so far bought a couple of shares, and am now starting to get quarterly income into my account from those, not a lot, but still growth on my original investment, that I can then invest back into my account and into more shares. This will become my passive income stream for my pension longer term (alongside my pension plan). I'm 43 now and though I have no plans to ever retire, I'm aware that this will be important to have as I get older.
I have downsized to the maximum I can to reduce my overheads, and am investing heavily in my new business, without taking any money out for myself, or wasting it on things that I don't need. I am living as frugally as I can. I eat homemade soup each day from reduced price veggies which costs me around £4 for a week for all my meals. I work long days at my computer, and sleep for around 4 or 5 hours a day. At no point does it feel like a chore, it instead feels like a step closer to my dream home and lifestyle. It's a year of my life on hold, but the long term gain will be more than worth it, especially when compared to my monthly struggle of making rent on a house with damp walls and a leaky roof.
Mind Set and Other Changes
Mindset is definitely something that is shifting all the time with me, especially as I reflect on the past 180 days since starting my business. I've become more goal focused, I waste less time, and I don't tolerate others as much as I did.
It's very easy when living in a guesthouse, to procrastinate. To put off jobs because you are waiting to use the microwave or bathroom, or waiting to clean your room or change your sheets. It's also very easy to get the life, energy, and time sucked out of you by doing a quick nip to the toilet, only to get drawn into a conversation with another guest who is bored and killing time. Initially I felt rude, or would politely make small talk, but I soon realised it was detrimental when writing and getting yourself into the creative flow and voice of a character. As soon as I bumped into a guest in the hallway or dining area, I would come out of that flow and lose the voice or place I was in writing that story. I could easily lose a whole day that way. I've learnt to be more blinkered, to not switch on Facebook or Twitter or to check my emails when writing, and to try and time my pee breaks or breakfast at times when I know there is likely to be no one around. I'm not quite there yet, but I've clawed back hours of each day just by keeping myself to myself, including writing at night, often until about 4am because it is quiet then. It's the only way I'll ever be able to write my books and get my own home. Sometimes in my frustration I would start looking at houses to rent or buy, but I've learnt that this is another form of procrastination. That it doesn't get me anywhere other than feeling depressed. The only way I'm going to be able to move into a place, is if I focus on my writing. Simple as that.
I've started to use a free app on my phone called 'BeFocused'. I was struggling to get any sessions in with a 25 minute sprint setting, but have started to do 5 minute sprints on the timer for absolutely EVERYTHING I do in the day. I intersperse this with little physical exercises because I know that my health is deteriorating and I've gained a lot of weight with being inactive. I'd like to get 10,000 steps in per day really, but I don't enjoy walking here as much as I did in the Lake District, and this leads to me faffing around and sleeping in because I can't find the motivation to get started with a walk. There's a lot of glass on the streets here and that doesn't make for nice dog walks. I was beating myself up for not achieving my desired walks and number of steps each day, but I've decided to switch to just walking at the weekends, and do exercises between sprints during the week.
Back when I lived in the Lake District, I could write 10,000 words a day and had a lovely structure, even with working a full time job. Because it was easy to get up at 5am, hike around the lake, have a quick lake dip, and then catch the bus home before going to work at 9am. Getting a structure has been tough. Even with it being summer and lighter earlier now.
Another free tool I'm using recently is Habitica. It's a way to turn your habits into games, but I'm not so interested in the gamefy side. For me, it just helps to have a list of things to do each day, which I get the satisfaction of ticking off, and I like it when I get the psychological sound or noise of success - just like on the Be Focused app, Habitica is great for things like remembering to stay hydrated and for ticking off my 5 minute sprints because then I get a sense of reward when I'm on track.
The other change is that I'm no longer afraid to admit when things aren't working, or to mix things up a bit and experiment. Psychologically this would have felt like failure before. The old school world I was brought up in, was about sticking with things until the end, and putting up with them as part of life. You made your bed, now lie in it kind of attitude. I suspect that this change in my attitude is due to me now feeling like I'm a business woman. I'm a creative and an entrepreneur, I'm supposed to be a bit more ad hoc about things. One of those big decisions was to switch from Instafreebie to BookFunnel for giving away copies of my books to subscribers. I'd been unhappy with the attitude of Instafreebie's customer service and their lack of interest in stopping erotic romance authors from spamming my book collections. I was paying Instafreebie each month for a service that was just making me irritable and draining hours from each day in removing romance books from my cozy mystery collections. It was taking away my time, energy, and money. Switching to BookFunnel has been a Godsend, albeit a little frustrating at having to learn the set ups from scratch and setting up 18 months of promos from the start again. But it's lovely to have a sense of respect and being treated seriously. I've also dropped one of my agents for film work and joined a new agent, which was incredibly refreshing to be treated professionally. And now, instead of long suffering through things that aren't working, I'm able to quickly and easily try something new for a bit, see if it works for me, and if not, then I drop it, no feelings of guilt.
I loved Schedugram for scheduling Instagram posts, but it was pricey for where I am in my career and that money was instead invested in the SPF 101 course. So I cancelled my subscription and now only post once or twice a day on Instagram, whereas before I would schedule months ahead. I also decided to drop the Cozy Mystery Book Explorer page on Instagram, and at the start of May began daily blogging on my website again. That one little tweak alone, has increased my affiliate income on Amazon by a couple of cents each day, and saw my Pinterest view jump from 45k per month to over 100k. I'm also averaging $100 a month in affiliate income. In terms of the SPF 101 course, I'm not sure that I've learnt anything new so far since I'd watched their videos religiously over the last 18 months, but the course has come with a lot of discounts and offers, chance to be in a special Facebook group that I'm enjoying, and I now have a kind of Bible or manual full of resources that I can go to directly whenever I need to know something. So I'm still glad that I took the course, even though it is a huge investment each month compared to my income. Psychologically it was an important investment and step in terms of taking my career more seriously.
I've learnt that being ruthless and picky is liberating, that I love having freedom. Previously I would have felt bad at having a negative experience with someone, but now I just see those things as destructive and dead wood. If I don't want to work with a client on fiverr, I don't. If someone complains that one of the 100 free books to download is no longer on promotion, days after I posted the promo, then instead of feeling like I should apologise, I now tell them that they are perfectly free to move along if they don't like me or what I have to offer. People seem to have a sense of entitlement unfortunately, they expect the world for free. I've come to realise that this energy is better spent on investing in the clients and readers I love working with, rather than feeling like I failed or let people down, or need to keep everyone happy. I've learnt to stop caring what other people think, and instead to keep focusing on moving forward and doing the best job I can do now. That has given me more energy and time to focus on the people that do matter within my community, people who will actually buy a service from me on Fiverr for their book, or people who actually read the books on offer and generally love the genre. I don't want to live in a world of negative people who just moan, so I'm not doing that now. This has had a knock on effect on my social media channels oddly enough, and I feel incredibly lucky to have some really cool and creative people who inspire me, now following me. This is really lovely to wake up to each day and see a like or comment or follow from someone I aspire to be like. I've taken a step back from a lot of author groups too, where I felt there was too much negativity, complaining, or people asking silly questions instead of using Google or at least making an effort to learn. Those sites had started to get me down mentally and were no longer giving me any benefit. I would find that hours had passed by, or that I would quickly check my Facebook notifications and suddenly get caught up in some kind of drama that had no connection at all with the group's purpose as a support for writers.
At the Heart of Business
In the past 180 days I have made a lot of headway, I'm building strong foundations, but the heart of the business is still missing and is something I am going to focus everything on as I move forward. That is the writing. It is no good me building up a mailing list, spending money on advertising, or buying beautiful book covers, if I don't have the most basic and important thing in place - the writing. I've struggled with writing a lot since I started my business, but for ridiculous reasons. I am afraid of being successful, and I feel a huge sense of guilt at earning a living from something that I actually enjoy doing. Writing is the one thing I need to become a success, to get a forever home, and yet I struggle to start. It is purely psychological. I have a story, I have a plot, a title, a cover, a desk, time to write, and yet I still struggle to get started on the writing. It is the one component that will pretty much guarantee me success as a writer, it isn't rocket science - I just need to get the words onto paper!
It isn't going to be easy overcoming this mental hurdle, but I have made big steps towards overcoming this. I've started joining author Orna Ross for a meditation session online each morning to help quiet my distracted mind and get me into the creative flow. I've switched from 25 minute to 5 minute sprints on the Be Focused app and with Habatica. I've also decided not to try and fit a big walk in each day. The silly thing is, I have zero problem at all when it comes to doing work for clients and putting them first, and yet, if I only put in as much effort with my own writing as I did with their books, I would be winning. I need to treat myself as well as I treat my clients, no matter how less important I see my work to be. As a way of overcoming this, I've decided to set up a Patreon page where I give away my books for free to patrons who pay $1 a month to support my writing and weekly newsletter. That way, I am writing for real, actual, physical clients now, rather than for myself. I don't want to let them down and I made a promise to them that I will write them books. I currently have ten patrons and that feels great for writing now. Going forward I think that will help me to make the mental shift and to treat myself better.
If I can get the words mastered on a daily basis, and start to get more books (products) onto the market and into the hands of my readers, then I will have a proper business, at which point I think things will quickly snowball and build momentum. All I have to do is write, every day.
This week I had the honour of visiting a lovely primary school in Wales and speaking with 6 classes between the ages of 5-11, I even learnt a couple of words of Welsh! I love visiting schools and sharing my passion for literacy, STEM, and exploration.
Here are some of the photos that the teachers posted on Twitter. FYI, I visit schools through School Speakers, am enhance DBS checked, and proceeds from any speaking events (and my books) helps support my environmental and STEM education charity Oceans Project which provides free, online education to young people worldwide who are denied access to school because of things like gender, poverty, natural disaster, war, and disability.
My 90 Day Milestone - A Reflection
Today is a little bit of a milestone for me as a new author. You see, today marks 90 days since I launched my new business Isla Britannica Books and decided to go full time as an author. A good opportunity to stop and reflect on what I've achieved so far.
Frustration and Sabotage
I've been feeling quite frustrated lately. Frustrated that everything is taking me so long and that I seem to spend so much of my time faffing around and not being as productive as I think I should or could be. But it turns out that having a 90 day reflection milestone, actually helps, and I've instead realised just how much I HAVE achieved in a relatively short space of time. 90 days ago was the 12th November 2018, just a couple of days shy of my 43rd birthday (I wrote a little blog post here as well as a post at Christmas/New Year).
Give It a Year
So what exactly have I achieved in my first 90 days as a new author? There was a show on the TV recently called 'Give it a Year' with a very successful British business woman called Karen Brady, and in that series, she would meet people starting a new business, and then meet them again a year later to see how they got on. I came across it by chance, but was immediately hooked because it was exactly the kind of thing that I needed to see (I do hope that they make a new series).
In watching it, I came to recognise that it's easy to see logic in things as an outsider, but never so clear when you are in the thick of things and 'can't see the wood for the trees'. Sometimes it seemed obvious what the business owner should do to be successful, but you could see that the owner was struggling because of fear or self doubt, or because they just didn't want to accept that their idea wasn't the right one. I think that really sums up my time as a new author too. In my head, I know exactly what I SHOULD be doing to succeed, but in my heart I know that I'm not achieving my full potential with everything because a part of me feels like I don't deserve to be successful and because I self sabotage to avoid my fear of success. And then I get frustrated and annoyed because I can recognise exactly what I'm doing, but haven't yet found a way to overcome this huge psychological hurdle. I always thought that I was alone in this struggle, but watching the show, it became clear that a lot of business owners go through this to some extent, and just the mere fact of recognising that this happens to other people has kind of made it less of an issue for me. And that is where I realised I need to become my own Karen Brady and to take a fresh look at my business. To treat myself as well as I treat my clients, and to start being accountable to myself on a regular basis. What would Karen advise me to do if I were on the show? What things might I do differently if I knew I had to stand up and be counted one year from now? If I were truly being objective, or if I was looking at this as someone else's business, what advice would I give them? Would I treat my clients as badly as I treat myself? Why is it that I do that?
Building my Author Website
If Karen were to ask me that question right now. What would I have to show for my time so far? Well, in month one (November) I created two websites, one for my author profile, and one for my publishing company. I also re-did the website for my charity Oceans Project as a percentage of the royalties from my books go towards the work that my charity does with children. That was important to me, especially as I needed a hub where I would drive traffic, and I wanted people to be able to find me, should they come across my author name and want to know more.
In changing my Oceans Project website, I switched it back from Wix to Weebly, saving money and making things easier logistically with all three of my websites now hosted with Weebly on the basic packages. I purchased my domain names, set up G-Suite hosting for my emails and one of my goals for the year ahead is to save up enough money to pay Weebly for these and the web hosting on an annual rather than a monthly basis, as this will save me a little bit of money and make my accounting easier as it wouldn't need to be done monthly.
With my website built, I started this blog, and began using Amazon affiliate links and in January I finally figured out how to use Amazon's universal links, thus saving me time and earning me a little bit of money in the process. The Amazon affiliate programme pays out at the end of each month, for each country's store (once you reach a minimum) and pays 60 days later, meaning that at the end of January 2019 I received my very first Amazon affiliate commision for folks clicking through my links to buy my books or the free books I post. That first payment was $85 (about £62) and I expect this to increase each month as I start to have more content and books for sale. I re-invested that money into my business, and will do the same again next month, along with royalties from my Audiobooks. In November, I took part in NaNoWriMo which got me a free setup code for Ingram which will save me around $40 when I get my print book ready for distribution to Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, etc.
Initially I posted blogs on a different topic each month and strived to post two blogs per day - one of the month's theme, and one for the free cozy mystery books, but I was struggling to keep this up and even though I was earning a little bit of affiliate income from it each day, I've this week decided to go back to posting just once a week on a Friday, to coincide with my newsletter. Otherwise my book production will suffer and that's where my income is in the longer term.
Pinterest and Instagram
Each time I posted a blog, I would pin those images to Pinterest boards, and share those same images on Instagram. Initially, I shared them on my personal Instagram page, but soon realised that I needed to set up an Instagram page for the Cozy Mystery Book Explorer Facebook page/blog posts. I schedule these using Schedugram, which is a big chunk of budget, but is timewise a lot easier logistically. I also took part in giving them some feedback and received an Amazon gift voucher in return, which I used to buy some business books to help me with my skillset. I've found a lot of great business books on Amazon for free, and for my birthday in November, I took advantage of the Black Friday sales and bought myself a Kindle. This has been brilliant for when I'm away, travelling, and on the film set and enables me to watch programmes, listen to audiobooks, and read all sorts of books on the go. I'm now at 199 followers on the Instagram page, and have an average of 40k views per month on Pinterest and 212 followers. I include my Amazon affiliate links on my Pinterest images and I expect these to bring in some extra funds in the longer term, as well as helping me to get pins of my own books out there circulating amongst others in my genre.
Prolifick Works and Starting a Newsletter
In November I set up a list of monthly themes (listed here) and set up giveaway groups on Prolifick Works (was Instafreebie then, but they rebranded). This gave me free books that I could share with my readers, and helped me to connect with other authors, plus build up my newsletter list as readers would often give their email address in exchange for a free book. From this, I built up a mailing list from zero to 2000 within a month, and pretty active readers in my genre (cozy mystery). My reason for setting up my own giveaways was because there weren't very many giveaways for my genre, and those that there were had all hit their quota of authors so were always full. It cost me $20 a month to use Prolifick Works to gain the subscribers (the free version doesn't allow you to) and it seemed to be going pretty well, but I've been less impressed in the past few weeks. It looks like a lot of authors in my genre have since switched to BookFunnel instead for similar reasons to my findings, but I think my own situation has changed to the point where I'm less reliant on PW for building my list of subscribers too.
From my newsletter list, I started sending out a 'Free Book Friday' newsletter which led people to my blog posts and my affiliate links to the free books within my genre. This was definitely something that worked for me even without having any books out yet. It allowed me to have something to share with my newsletter list, and it meant that when I finally put my books out, they would then show up on the 'also boughts' alongside other authors in my genre. I hadn't thought this through or planned it, but realised it was an added bonus later on. That definitely helped me with the Amazon algorithms, and I set up a Cozy Mystery Book Explorer Group on Facebook for subscribers who wanted to be more active. That had a knock on effect with my author page on Facebook as Facebook directed them to my author page and helped me to get myself out there without actively doing anything special to attract followers.
Going forward, I've decided to drop Prolifick Works, based purely on a bad experience with their customer services. Initially I was getting a lot of cozy mystery authors signing up to have their books in my giveaways, but more recently I've started to be bombarded with submissions from one or two bare chested man romance authors. This was starting to take up several hours each day and hundreds of email notifications each time a new book was submitted to my giveaway. Had these been books that actually fit into the genre of my giveaway it would have been great, but it was the same one or two billionaire romance authors that kept submitting and there was nothing I could do about it. I reached out to Prolifick Works a number of times, but they basically just said it was tough luck, and I felt that they were patronising. I didn't see the point in continuing to pay for something that was just adding extra stress and eating up my time, so as part of my 90 day review, I've now dropped PW from my toolbox, but will continue with the scheduled giveaways even though I don't have books in them and there's no direct benefit to me in terms on building up subscribers. Knowing what I know now, I'd use BookFunnel instead especially as there seem to be a lot more authors there with fresh new books, so the giveaways would be less saturated.
I'd also hit the level on my newsletter subscriber list with Mailchimp where I'd have to start paying to send out my newsletter, so I decided to instead, cull my list. If there were folks on there who hadn't been opening my Free Book friday mailing list each week, then I deleted them from the list. If budget wasn't an issue, then I might have considered carrying on as I was, but I didn't want my click and open rates to suffer from the few folks who weren't interested. I probably should have contacted those subscribers first to see whether or not they wanted to remain on my list, but I knew my time and energy would be limited and better spent elsewhere, so I instead did the cull without contacting folks. I figured that if they were in fact readers, and just weren't showing up on the data somehow, that they would likely get in touch to ask why they weren't receiving the mail out any more. It felt good to remove the 'deadwood' and will improve the chances of my newsletter not being flagged as spam in the long run.
Previously, I had been terrified of sending out newsletters, for fear of rejection and unsubscribes, but I'm pleased to say that I seem to have overcome that sense of terror now. Instead, I spend a lot of my Saturday interacting with email replies to my newsletter, and have received some lovely messages, as well as a few Christmas cards from subscribers. I feel as if I know my readers/subscribers quite well now, on first name terms, and those readers have shared quite personal things with me, that has built up my confidence as an author. I love the fact that there are folks all over the world now reading my books or newsletters and messaging me to ask when my next book will come out, even if they've only received an unedited beta copy or whatever. Life as an author and businesswoman now seems a lot less lonely and I know that I'm sending the newsletter out to real people not just random names on a list. It's a great feeling to be a part of a community of people who enjoy the same kind of books.
Starting a Cozy Mystery Facebook Group
Off the back of the newsletter, the Cozy Mystery Book Explorer Facebook group was formed. It wasn't something I had planned, but it felt like it was what the newsletter readers wanted. The newsletter was not enough, and having a group would allow me to have a space where I could talk to everyone, and share my own love of cozy mystery books. That group grew faster than I expected, and today has 390 members. I post my blog posts there, especially when I come across free books or discounted books that I think the group might enjoy, and just before Christmas, we started having different cozy mystery authors in residence. That actually worked out really well as sometimes I was away for a week with filming, and wasn't as active in the group, plus I wanted to build up a community of people who loved the genre, rather than it being a group all about me or my books. It's also turned out to be a lovely way for me to get to know my peers, the inspiration behind their books and writing, and as a result I'm now able to do newsletter swaps for my new releases. This seems to have been a win: win situation for everyone. It's also really helped me to learn about communication and to see how other authors interact with people in the group and to learn from them, especially as an introvert.
In January I asked the group what new things or changes they would like to see, and the answer was book reviews/recommendations and giveaways, so I decided to try something new in the form of a book box giveaway based on that month's theme. Members of the group simply had to leave a review of a cozy mystery they had read, and I would announce a winner at random on the last Friday of the month. It was a big chunk of my budget, but I think that in time, it will be a lovely way for me to help out fellow authors by purchasing print copies of their books, and will be something fun for the winner. I ordered books from Amazon using Amazon Smile (which supported my charity Oceans Project in the process), and purchased a box and other little bits of swag and posted it out. This may or may not be something that I continue going forward, but for now it feels like a nice, fun thing to do and I hope that it brightens someone's day. If I was based in the US I could make use of Amazon's own Giveaway feature, but sadly am not eligible, so this is the next best thing.
Finding a Community
In the last 90 days I've started to build a community with other authors, which is great for word sprints and seeking advice and celebrating success together. Most of this has come about through Twitter and using hashtags such as #writingcommunity and #ReadingCozy and I love the philosophy that 'a rising tide lifts all boats'. I'm keen to pay this forward to others as I develop and grow.
One of the biggest, but easiest decisions I had to make back in November, was whether or not to register as a business. In my heart it was an easy decision, even if it would work out more expensive in the first few years as far as my head was concerned. I registered Isla Britannica Books as a Ltd company with HMRC even though I knew I'd be faced with a tax bill of thousands, regardless of whether I actually made any money or not. The down side was that I'd now have to submit two lots of tax and pay extra for my accountant, but given that I'm currently homeless (living in a guesthouse with my three cats and 1 dog) and that I was working so hard to save up to buy a house, there was no way that I wanted to ever lose that house should something bad happen. Given that Amazon could shut down an author's account at any moment, with no reason, I didn't want my whole life to be affected. If I registered as a Ltd company, in a worst case scenario I would lose my business but my personal assets and home would be protected. It was a no brainer as far as I was concerned, and since I plan to become a millionaire and am in the publishing game for the long term, not just an overnight thing. I wasn't going to let the next 'cockygate' scandal, or recession, or whatever else happened ruin a life's worth of work. Stability is what I'm after and that means preparing for the worst and making sure that I'm protected as much as possible. So many businesses that have been around for generations have closed down recently, no one is ever safe.
Setting up as an Ltd. was pretty straight forward. I paid my £19 and filled out the online form, and then waited for my business registration number. Opening a business bank account was another matter though! As a customer of Lloyds, I figured that my logical step would be to open a business account with them, but having turned up for the first appointment, I was then told that I'd have to wait until the business number arrived, and that it couldn't be done in branch, but I could only do it over the phone. That was mildly irritating as it was a loss of my time, but what happened next made me furious. I had my phone meeting with one of the pool of nameless managers, and was told to fill out lots of different forms giving my forecasts and cash flows and things and was told to call back in a few days time to discuss the next steps. It took 6 weeks until the account was finally opened, meaning that I couldn't use the account from the off, as I had wanted to do. I spent two whole days filling out forms, emailing them to the manager as requested, only to then discover from another of the random pool of managers that I hadn't needed to fill those forms in. The manager I spoke to knew nothing about my business, and his attitude wasn't the best, to the point where I seriously doubted the ability of the managers to look after my business needs. What exactly would I be paying extra for, just to have an account that didn't do anything I wanted, and that I'd have to wait until January before the pin number and card finally arrived? Three months into my new business! I was livid, and I knew right in that moment that this wasn't the bank account for me. There was something about high street banks that was so backward, so prehistoric, that just didn't work for the modern day business owner. All of my income would be in dollars, and all of my outgoings would be in dollars. I didn't do invoices to clients, I sold books and I got paid for selling books, it was very straightforward. It took another 6 weeks to finally get that account closed, at which point the bank card finally arrived!
In the meantime, I came across two new bank accounts, both very modern, and crowdfunded. They looked much more forward thinking, and within no more than a couple of minutes, I had set up a business account with an app on my phone called CountingUp and a personal bank on my phone app called Monzo. This was more like it! What's more, I could use the accounts the very same day, and I received the bank cards within the week, even though it was Christmas season. Both are still in their infancy, but I'm already in love with them both, and getting a lot more from them than I ever have with a high street bank. CountingUp isn't quite where I need it to be yet as I can't do the international income without the Swift codes and BIC but will be launched very soon, But that's fine with me for now. Monzo is brilliant because it allows you to have pots to earmark money into, and they will be adding business accounts very soon. So it won't be long before I drop the high street banks completely and do everything on my phone, including scanning receipts.
In November I spoke with my accountant Helen about the different accounting packages, and pros and cons of becoming a Ltd company, and I spent some time doing free trials of accounting packages like Sage. Unfortunately, I didn't like any of the packages very much as none of them really fit my needs, and it seemed like a waste of money for something that wouldn't really help me. As I say, I don't invoice clients. I write books, I sell books, and I get paid. I have very few expenses - ISBNs, book covers, editing - so my accounting should really be quite straightforward. That's why I've decided that longer term, I'd rather hand all my receipts over to a bookkeeper and have that person do my accounts for me instead of me wasting writing time doing something I'm not especially expert in. For the moment, I'm not paying myself a salary as I'm not earning enough, but in a few months time, I expect this to change and for my income to be more consistent. I always knew that my outgoings would be more than my income at least for the first few months. I'd rather have my procedures in place from the get go, than have to make changes part way through, so it's better to get things right now when things are fairly simple, than later on when I hope to be earning a seven figure salary. For now, I write all my income and expenses in my daily book (I use a Leuchturm ruled notebook), along with my word count, ranks, stats, and sales, so that I have a record of it for the future and can see my growth over time.
Fiverr, Book Cover Design, Editing
As soon as I started my publishing business in November, I pulled all of my soft launched books from Amazon, and worked hard on building up my profile on Fiverr - offering Vellum book formatting, beta reading, and book promotion for $5 a go to other authors. I needed to save as much as I could, so that I could buy professional covers and editing services for my books, Fiverr seemed like a decent way of bringing in the extra income and working on my expertise at the same time, whilst helping out my fellow authors. My sales increased over time, and in January I decided to drop the beta reading for new clients, and to increase my Vellum formatting to $10. It was a scary move, but I knew it was the right thing to do, and I offered my best clients the opportunity to buy a pack of ten gigs from me for $50 if they ordered before the 31st December. On the whole my customers have been brilliant and genuinely professional authors like myself who are just starting out and struggling with cashflow, but by offering my services too cheaply I think I also attracted a lot of time wasters who were buying my services and re-selling them to their clients for a hefty sum. I now earn a bit more than I was doing, but for half the time I wasted on people who didn't value my services.
Fiverr has generally worked out really well for me, and I love working with my regular customers, especially seeing their beautifully formatted books doing well in the Amazon bestseller charts. With the funds I raised from my $5 gigs (about £1.50 after Paypal, exchange rate, and my high street bank charging me for having income in dollars) I was able to purchase my first two book covers from the Queen of cozy mystery covers Mariah Sinclair. This was another massive step for me and I really struggled with trust issues, even though I knew Mariah was well known in the genre. As an introvert I find it difficult communicating with other people, and especially so with people who are from other cultures/countries where they tend to be more direct than what I'm used to as a Brit. It was a huge investment and it had taken me a really long time to save up enough money, now I had to trust that a complete stranger would do a great job for my books. I'd also waited a really long time for one of her slots to come up (she gets booked up months in advance so it was a big deal to get one of her slots), and my fear was that I'd invest all this money in a cover, only for her to then not be able to do my other covers, which would mean I'd have to do my first cover from scratch again with another person and that would delay my books being launched. It was a tough one psychologically even though I wasn't really aware of it or able to put it into words at the time. But it was a HUGE deal, I had a lot riding on it. Likewise for finding and working with an editor for the first time, and trusting that they would do a decent job for a large (to me) sum of money. It was going to take several weeks to get an editing slot and the book would take at least a month to be edited. What if that person then turned around and said that they hadn't managed to get the job done? That would be months wasted. I'm not good at handing over control to others and being on another person's timeframe, but I'd have to suck it up if I wanted to step up my publishing quality. Once I've saved up sufficient funds, then I'll be able to have six editors and cover designs on standby on a retainer to keep up with my writing pace - but until then...I need to be patient!
And so came the end of January, and I had my first two book covers and my edited books. Now I could upload them to Amazon on a pre-order, and begin marketing them. Now it was back to me, things were in my control again and it was a huge relief to not be waiting on others to deliver.
As I write this today, I currently have 98 pre-orders for Dead on Doughnuts and 50 pre-orders for Baa'd to the Bone which went up on Amazon a week after Dead on Doughnuts. I'm not going to get my money (covers, editing) back on those orders for some time, but I'm trusting that I'll get more sales once the books are out, as well as getting the page reads from Kindle Unlimited customers, plus people going on to read my next books. I won't receive that money until the end of May at the earliest, because Amazon pays out 60 days later. Right now, both books are on the Amazon 'hot new release' best seller charts and my author rank is #1493 for all genres and #1089 for the mystery genre. When I look at my rankings since November, even though I've not actually released my books yet, I'm on an upward path, and my ultimate goal is to get within the top 100 best selling authors on Amazon and certainly within the top 10 for the mystery genre.
Financially, I've already cleared two debts, and each day I've been paying in a few pennies into my Monzo pots using the 1p challenge idea. Basically, I wrote down a list of all the payments that go out or will go out from my author/publishing business and personal account each year, plus a wish list of things I'd like to afford, and I created a pot for each of those. On the 1st January I put 1p in each pot, and now today is day 41, so I put 41p in each pot. So by the end of the year each pot should have around £600 in it. This means that as soon as I hit the amount I need to pay for something on an annual basis, I'm going to. For example, I need £136 to pay for three years worth of domain names and Weebly website hosting, so as soon as I have £136 in my pot, I'll switch from my monthly payments, to paying three years upfront, thus saving me money in the long run. Plus I'll have enough money in that pot to pay for other things if I continue with the 1p challenge. One of my personal wish list items is private health insurance, so I plan to save up until I can pay for a year of health insurance upfront. I also have a christmas pot for treating myself to things at Christmas, and a Starbucks pot so I can treat myself to coffee as I write my books. This will mean that I'll have covered all of my expenses for 2020, as well as being able to buy all the luxury things and wish list things, and since my income is minimal now, but should go up up as the year progresses, it shouldn't be too much of an issue to keep pace with the increase of 1p more each day.
Fiverr generally pays out on a daily basis, in arrears, whilst I receive my Amazon income and affiliate income at the end of the month 60 days in arrears. So, each day that I get paid, I've been paying the 1p challenge amount into each pot first, and then anything that's left over goes three ways - towards savings for book covers and editing, into emergency funds,pensions, and ISA's, and the final third into paying off bills and expenses. I put a little bit aside each day towards my tax and accounting too. It might not seem like saving a penny a day would make a difference, but psychologically it feels good to see things being paid off, and it doesn't take long before those pennies become pounds. Even if I only get £1 paid into my account, it still gets split between each pot, regardless of whether it seems worth bothering. I've also been using Amazon Mechanical Turk to earn dollar credits on Amazon.com that I can use to pay for Starbucks as a little treat whilst I'm writing. This has worked out really well whilst away on location filming, speaking at schools, or whatever, especially when my train has been delayed as I've been able to use the credits to buy food or drinks at the nearest Starbucks. I really lucked out in November, December, and part of January too, because the Starbucks app on my phone had some sort of glitch and this meant that I kept getting free drinks. Going forward, I'll probably do AMT less, and instead buy my coffee as my income has gone up a little now, to the point where I'm less time rich and am better to use that time on writing my books. It was definitely a great way to fund coffee whilst writing in the coffee shop though.
Building a Credit Score
Financially, I have two big goals. My first is to get my credit rating on Noddle to 5/5 (I'm currently down on points because of not showing up as on the electoral register, even though I am registered, and I also discovered that a Selfridges store card I had back in 2000 still shows up on my report which could be hurting my rating even though I always had a zero balance on the card, so that should hopefully be removed soon). I like Noddle because it is free to use and updates each week so it's nice to see where I am rating wise. Having a really good credit rating is important to me, because it will be a good measure of my financial health, and even though I plan to buy a house for cash rather than getting a mortgage, it won't hurt to have the best credit rating possible, just in case I ever need a mortgage or whatever. My second goal is to be eligible for an American Express Platinum card (maybe a black card one day if I'm super lucky). This goal came about after following a fellow author's journey, from working long hours as a nurse this time last year, still struggling to pay off student loans and writing really hard. She's now a full time author, having paid off her debts, quit nursing, and doing well for herself. I'm aiming to follow her path, and to be where she is now, by the time we reach January next year. The Platinum card is notoriously hard to get, and has no credit limit, so to be eligible for one, you need to be doing well financially, and that seems like a good way for me to measure my wealth and success as an author. That means getting more sales of my books, and writing more books. Mentally I find tangible things like the Platinum card easier to aim for, rather than things I can't really visualise, so the goal is more about making things happen than it is about the card itself.
Exercise and Health
Fitness wise, I know I struggle with my mood and energy levels if I don't get enough exercise and if I don't eat healthy food, so I'm using a free app on my phone to make sure that I walk at least 10,000 steps per day. This will help me with my writing and brain downtime, plus is great for listening to podcasts on things like author mindset. Luckily, now that Spring is approaching, the sunrise is getting earlier, and the sunset getting later. This should make it easier for me to get an early morning walk in, and to get back into a good routine. I'm definitely still struggling with my routine at the guesthouse, and part of this is from getting back ache, plantar fasciitis, and headaches from poor posture whilst working on my computer, so the walking and weight loss should help a bit with this, especially as I'm really missing my outdoor swimming.
Paypal Working Capital and Cashflow
My biggest frustration is by far finances, or lack of finances. I think this is why I got so annoyed at my bank when I started my business, even though I wasn't asking them for funding. Right now, I have to save up a lot of money for my book covers and editing before I can publish my books, and then I have to wait a minimum of 60 days before I receive any money back on those books. I can write a lot, and have stories ready to go, and my ultimate aim is to be publishing up to 5 books on the first of each month, but right now, everything happens slowly, because I need to get funds and then wait on booking an editing or cover slot. Yet, I'm so close to making it all happen. With another $500 of income I'll be eligible for Paypal Working Capital, which would allow me to draw down money upfront from my Paypal account - that money would cover the cost of my covers and editing. Likewise if I could get a loan or credit card or business loan or whatever, I'd be able to get my books out quicker. So for now, I'm having to learn patience, and discipline. I've also applied for the SPF Foundation Scholarship which would include $2000 worth of Reedsy services (for covers, editing). A life changing opportunity!! To be so close to my dream, and yet still so far. The sooner I can bring in funds, the sooner I can buy a home and get back to my swimming and community, but I also know that as long as I keep plodding on, I'll get there soon enough. It's the same when I'm doing a swim in a lake or river or whatever, the worst part is always when you can see the finish line, and yet it never seems to get any closer, especially when the current kicks in and pulls you in the opposite direction. The Henley Swim was just like that. So close I could almost touch the finishing buoy, but it felt like I wasn't moving anywhere no matter how hard I swam. The first part of the swim was pretty easy by comparison.
Writer's Retreats and Conferences
By far the biggest and best achievement so far, is that I've paid in full for my trip to Edinburgh in July, where I'll get to hang out and to write and learn from some big name authors. We'll be staying in a castle together and have 5 editors on hand throughout. This will be a big deal for me, as an introvert, and getting to finally meet people in person, like my cover designer, and names I look up to who are earning 7 and 8 figure incomes. A chance to finally meet my tribe, and all being well, to hang out with them in Vegas in November too. Last year, it would have seemed impossible to save up enough to take part, and with my 90 day reflection I realise that a lot of people have unfriended me on Facebook, but weirdly, I'm actually fine with that. I think it shows my growth as a person, and for the first time, I feel like I'm suddenly surrounded by other people like me, creatives, people I've admired for a long time. Musicians, writers, painters, supporting artists. I've got a bunch of really awesome friends, and I'm so lucky and privileged to have those folks in my life. Those friends are the ones who know me now, as a homeless person, who has to use the food bank from time to time, to now becoming financially stable. Better to lose those folks now and to share the journey with people who get me. I've changed, I've grown, and I'm starting to believe in myself as an author and businesswoman. 90 days doesn't seem like a long time, but in many ways, a lot has happened in that time. Who knows where I'll be on my next 90 day milestone, or how my situation will have changed? As long as I'm moving forwards on that upward slope I'll be happy. Sometimes you need to see the bigger picture to see how far you have come, to see that you are on the up.
Goals for the Next 90 Days and Beyond
November/December 2017 - Where it All Began
My author journey really began in November 2017 when I first came across National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I somehow managed to write my 50,000 words in a single month - winning my first NaNoWriMo. I learnt three important lessons during that month: 1) that I was not only able to write the required 1,667 words per day but was writing closer to 10,000 words per day, 2) that the key to success is little and often, repeated on a daily basis, and 3) that I LOVED writing.
Around the same time, I came across The Creative Penn channel on YouTube, and later on through Joanna Penn interviewing different guests on her show, I began listening to the back catalogue of two more podcasts The Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast and The Self Publishing Formula (which has recently rebranded to the Self Publishing Show). As I listened to each podcast, I found myself in some kind of creative flow and began drawing out pictures from my dog walks in the Lake District that would later become my Rydal Water Adult Colouring Book.
Not Exactly the Year I had Planned!
Then, at 4.30pm on the 24th December 2017 my life was turned upside down in an instant. I was putting up my Christmas tree, and was looking forward to having a nice Christmas and getting some down time after a manic year of being away doing school talks, cruise ship speaking, and working on films. Christmas is always a stressful time for me, lots of unhappy memories from childhood, but each year I've been getting a little bit better at it. I'm also a workaholic, so taking even a day off from work is like going cold turkey for me. It was a huge deal that I had for once decided to take some time off and I was excited to put up the tree with a little bit of help from my three naughty little kittens and my dog. But I made the mistake of 'quickly checking my emails on my phone' and saw to my horror a message from the letting agent informing me that the office would now be closed for the holidays, but the owners had decided to put the house on the market on Boxing Day and that I'd have to be out when the agent showed them around and that they would need access to the property.
Writing as Therapy
It was a huge blow, on many levels. I had not long moved in to the property, and hadn't even bought any furniture yet, so was sleeping on a camping mat on the floor. No point buying anything now. Somewhere in the back of my brain I had a feeling that I wouldn't be living here for long, and the same thing had happened to me the prior Christmas in another property. I was sick and tired of having to move and not being able to make improvements to run down, over priced properties. The most annoying thing was that if I had been able to get a mortgage, then I would have been paying 3-4 times less for a place of my own, than I currently was with renting. But I couldn't get a mortgage because I was self employed and didn't have enough years of accounts and had been living and working abroad. This made no sense to me, especially given how much I had to pay to rent. There was 6 months of rent upfront, two months of deposit, plus the credit check fee, and the administration fee - more paperwork and expense than getting a mortgage. I wouldn't have minded so much, if the letting agent actually fixed things that didn't work, but that was the problem with having pets, there were very few options for renting.
The Birth of Bertram Bile - Time Travel Adventure Series
Anyway, I was fuming and frustrated at how little control I had over my life, and worse still, I wouldn't be able to get hold of anyone until the New Year now, and this would make it even more difficult to find a new place to live because most letting agents would be closed and no way could I afford to pay 8 months of rent (6 months plus two months deposit) again. Not to mention that I worked from home, and would have to waste my precious work time doing extra cleans and having to be out of the house during the viewings. Something had to change, but I had no idea how I was going to make this happen. So I sat down with a glass of mulled wine, lit a Christmas candle, and suddenly found myself writing a story to cheer myself up. Something I'd never done before, but on reflection I think it was a self comfort thing as when I was a teen in care, a very kind English teacher at school suggested that I pretend to write letters to her whenever things got bad over the Christmas holidays. I 'wrote' to her daily and began writing stories because I needed an escape from reality.
I wrote a novella in pretty much one sitting that Christmas Eve. Bertram Bile - The Last Wizard in the World, and the next day, and the day after that, I wrote and wrote some more. I thought I would write a Christmas story about a science teacher called Libby Lane, but Bertram appeared in my imagination, followed by his best friend Molly. Then I wrote a contemporary romance novella because I needed to prove to myself that I could write a story and romance seemed like a more simple place to start, based on locations I knew well.
Finding the 20Books50K Community
I continued to listen to my YouTube podcasts and those got me excited because it was like someone giving me permission to write, to know that it was OK to write stories. I was battling a lot of old demons, things that made me only do things that were sensible, not things that were fun. I felt guilty because I got pleasure and joy from writing and I didn't feel like I deserved to be happy. Life was supposed to be hard, not fun!! Good things didn't happen to people like me. Success was not really a word in my vocabulary. To add even more pressure to an already stressful time in my life, I had a breast cancer scare and my dog also developed a mammary tumour. We would both be needing operations in the near future. There was little I could do to change the situation, but writing was something I could do, no matter what.
I usually skipped over the suggested videos that played at the end of my podcast videos, but I wasn't quite quick enough this particular day, and suddenly I was watching some random video with a guy named Michael Anderle who claimed to be making around $50k per 20 books published. Another get rich quick scheme, I assumed, wondering what he might be trying to sell, probably some expensive course that wouldn't make a difference at all. But the video all seemed to make sense, and there was no sales pitch at the end, so I decided to do a bit more digging, and worked out the maths for myself. If I could write and publish a book and only sold one copy per day, every day for a year, the income would add up, to the point where $50k seemed quite feasible. Even when I was training as a Doctor, I never would have made that much in a year, especially when I thought about the difference between being paid by the hour and passive income. If I wrote a book, it would continue to bring in money for the rest of my life, not just pay me once. It could be a good way of funding my pension if nothing else, and at least I would enjoy getting to write in the process. If I did the cover myself, edited it myself, and used a CreateSpace ISBN I could give it a try without spending any money, and see what happened. Risk free, especially if I published under a pen name.
Writing a Book in Secret
After the Christmas holidays, the letting agent finally agreed that I didn't have to move out in January, and the date was pushed back to February, then March, then April, and finally to the 15th June (it is still on the market now!). But my year was already messed up. I lived from day to day not knowing when I'd have to move, and spending all my time trying to find a new place to live, visiting properties, and having to cancel school talks, speaking events, and film work. I'd spent hours planning out my whole year in detail before the holidays, including ice swimming championships, fitness training, and when to apply for a mortgage. My life was in limbo, I found it hard to focus on anything, and my hair started to turn grey. I began to put on weight because I was no longer out walking and swimming. But I published my romance book under my pen name and left it there to see what would happen. It didn't do a lot, but no one shouted at me, and it got a couple of very nice reviews and was selling the odd copy here and there. Later in the year I splashed out on a $15 pre made cover, and sales picked up (along with Kylitics changes). It became my experimental book, the one I got translated into Spanish for $50 (reaching number two in the Spanish language romance charts_ and the one that I had a go with for Amazon ads. It was my book for learning the ropes, in secret. Then something weird happened. I made the book available as a large print paperback book, and suddenly I was selling 1 book a day on average, but not as a Kindle book, as a print book. It sold consistently, every single day. A lot more could still be done with that book, but it proved that I could do it, that I could publish a book and earn money from it. I still get a buzz when I wake up in the morning and find that I've had a sale whilst I was sleeping. Most of my Amazon income for the year has been from that one book.
Fast Forward to June and everything was coming together for me with my film work, and I was getting some amazing offers for featured artist roles, and had been filmed for a Channel 4 documentary over the previous year, which would be on the telly in November 2018. The problem was, I couldn't do any of it because I had no idea whether I would be moving or where I would be moving too. I looked at caravans, mobile homes, living abroad, and at one point it looked as if I would be moving into a new build shared ownership property right by a busy motorway. In the end I found a b & b on the opposite coast of England from the Lake District, and moved in for a week, all set to move into my new shared ownership home. I packed up my rucksack of belongings, and travelled on three trains, via Newcastle to Hartlepool with my three cats and my dog. I'd never been to the North East before, and I was sad to leave my community, especially my swimming friends. I was at rock bottom, technically now homeless, but hugely relieved that I had at least managed to keep my pets and that we would have a roof over our heads. The biggest downside, was that there was no way I could leave my pets alone in the guesthouse room alone all day, and I'd left my vet and beloved pet sitter. I would have to find a way of earning a living, without leaving my room.
My Lightbulb Moment
I faffed around with mortgages and looking at properties, until eventually it dawned on me, that if I just focused on my writing and publishing for the next 6 months or more, then not only would I be able to get a place to live, but I could very likely get a place back in the Lake District where my friends were, AND I could likely buy a house for cash and not need a mortgage. Being in the guesthouse would save me a lot of money compared to the high cost of rent, plus council tax, and utilities, and that would mean that I would be a lot better off and would give me more time to work on my writing. My book was still doing well, and I released my Bertram Bile books. I listened to every podcast I could, read lots of books, and had become a member of the 20Books50K community.
Filming 'The Romanoffs' and 'ABC Murders'.
Right before I moved to the guesthouse I worked on an Amazon series called The Romanoffs, in which there is a murder on a train, and for this one particular scene where we were in the studio filming on an MDF model of the train carriage, the Assistant Director wanted me to enter the train on her cue, but since space was tight I was to stand by her, the Director, and the screenwriter as they discussed progress whilst watching the shots on their monitors. I've worked on film productions for almost twenty years, but in all that time, I never twigged that there were screenwriters or that many films and television productions are based on books written by authors. I then got put forward for a featured role on a new BBC series of Agatha Christie's 'The ABC Murders' but couldn't do it because of my house move, and the same with another series called The Crown where I was to play an Olympian, But the sequence of events planted a seed that led to me discovering a whole new genre of books called 'Cozy Mysteries'.
Ghostwriting and Publishing Services
I was still feeling frustrated after the move to the b & b. I found out about ghostwriting and wrote three romance books for clients for $20-$50 each, and then saw that they were getting bestseller status and wonderful reviews on them. The only difference between them and me, was confidence, and money. Where I couldn't afford to buy covers or pay for editing, they knew how it all worked and were able to follow through. If I wanted to earn a living then it was stupid to keep wasting time doing one off paid tasks, when I could be investing that time in writing my own books and getting passive income for the long term, but I still doubted myself. And I needed to find a way of bringing in money. I didn't enjoy ghostwriting. giving away my babies - my story ideas - to other people and watching them do well with them.
So I used that money and invested in a software package called Vellum, and set myself up on Fiverr offering book formatting services for $5. I knew it wouldn't make me a lot of money (I made $2707 for the whole year, collected 158 reviews which were mostly 5 star), but it would mean that I could earn back my investment in the software, learn how to use it really well, and bring in money that would go towards my own books in the longer term. I also offered beta reading, and book promotion services as extra services on Fiverr and continued to video log for another client privately. I reinvested some of that money into Klytics and bought a couple of premade covers for $5 on Fiverr and on Go On Write in a $10 sale. I learnt an important lesson here as my books started to 'stick' and sell consistently when I applied the right Klytics categories to them and changed the covers to better ones. I wish I could start my Amazon Author page fresh, now that I know more, but I've no regrets at just getting on and trying things, even though I knew they wouldn't be perfect (editing, covers). If I'd waited, it would have taken me years to get to where I am now.
FYI. I've decided to up my prices from $5 to $10 on Fiverr for 2019 since this will allow me to earn a little more for the actual hours that I put in, as I probably earn about £1.50 for each $5 after bank and Paypal charges etc. This should be less of an issue in future as I've also changed my bank account to an online one as I was getting charged for every payment into my account that was in dollars.
My First Cozy Mystery Attempt
It was a new way of writing for me. The cover and title was already there (for the Go On Write covers, not the Fiverr ones), all I had to do was to come up with a story to match the cover. I gave it a go, and did a soft launch under my own name. I wrote the story fairly quickly, over a couple of days, but didn't read it back or get it edited, because I didn't believe that anyone would even find it, and if they did they would probably think the story was stupid. I didn't have the money and it was too huge a risk to borrow money for a book that people might hate. It was one of the scariest things I've done - publishing! That book was Dead on Doughnuts, followed by Baa'd to Death which I made the cover for. I tested out Kindle Unlimited and was gobsmacked to find that not only were people downloading my book, and reading it, but both got to number 2 in the bestseller for cozy mystery, and I ended up giving away 966 copies of Dead on Doughnuts and 801 copies of Baa'd to Death. I even got some reviews, and people were generally pretty nice about my books. They liked the story but didn't like the spelling mistakes and typos and suggested I get a better editor. That I could live with!! It was so much more than I ever expected. The books were live between August and November, at which point I made one of the biggest decisions of my life - to become a full time cozy mystery author!
Discovering that I was an Amazon Bestseller
Something happened to me in November. I don't know what exactly, but I had my birthday and I decided that life would be different, that I had somehow found my thing, the thing I was supposed to be doing. But I wasn't going to rush things. I spoke to the guesthouse owners and realised that there was no urgency to move. My pets had coped a lot better than I could have dreamed of with living in one room, and it dawned on me that if I could just ride it out for a few more months, I'd be able to buy a home back in the Lake District where we would never have to move again. If I'd gone with the shared ownership mortgage and property I'd have had a landlord and would be in a place miles from anywhere, far removed from my swimming and quality of life. If I were to imagine my dream life, it would involve my pets, writing cozy mysteries, and being able to swim outdoors every day. And for the first time in my life, my dream felt like it was within touching distance. I just needed to put in a lot of hard work, and remind myself to do things little and often, just like I had with NaNoWriMo.
Starting My Own Publishing House - Isla Britannica Books
I had made a mental leap, it was a huge leap, but I felt ready for it. I registered my new company Isla Britannica Books with HMRC as a Limited Company - there was no way that I wanted to put my hard earned house on the line if life threw challenges my way in the future! I spoke to my accountant about what things I needed to do, and I spent ages trying to find myself an editor, a cover designer, and then saving up books ready to go to the editor and cover designer once I had saved up enough money. It was hard to sit on everything, but I knew it was the right thing to do - less haste more speed as the saying goes. The editor and cover designer are both booked many months ahead, so I knew I would have to work more strategically with my launches. There was no way I'd be able to publish rapidly, so I'd be better to sit on my books, do long pre-orders, and then release then in batched on the same day, each month. That would also help me with my promotion planning, making the most of the free days in KU, and with bringing in income.
Plotting and Planning for Success in 2019
The plan is to upload at least 5 books each month and have them on pre-order for $0.99 before they go on to their full price of $4.99. This feels scary when there are so many $0.99 books out there, but if I want to create high quality books then I need to hire professionals to do my covers and editing, and those things cost money. I have to set my standards high if I want to be known for producing good quality books and I want to be in this business for a long time. I need those books to not look out of place in a Waterstones or Walmart or Barnes and Noble store. I want my writing to become my main source of income and I need to be able to feed myself and keep a roof over my head. I'm planning to launch the first books on the 1st March 2019 and with better covers and editing, I'm going to try for a Bookbub. It's a strategy that wouldn't work for everyone, but I think will serve me well, given my goals, and backlist of books ready to be published. It takes a good few weeks for each book to be edited and I hate that this isn't something I can control, so by storing up books ready, I should be able to keep one step ahead of the editor at all times.
Streamlining My Life
Over the Christmas break I've done a lot of reflecting and processing on what has worked or not worked for me this year, and areas where I would like to see change. One of those was in relation to my charity Oceans Project. I used to spend a lot of time doing free sessions in schools and at STEM fairs, covering the cost of this myself, and Skyping with schools daily all over the world with Skype in the Classroom. This year will be very different, especially as it is harder for me to travel from the guesthouse now. I'm no longer going to do the school visits and Skype sessions, but will instead focus on my writing, and then once Amazon pays me 60 days later, a percentage of that income will go into Oceans Project's account to cover things like accounting each year, and another percentage will go into a special fund that Earthwatch has set up for me. This fund will pay for young people to go on expeditions around the world, tagging sharks in Belize, or studying river dolphins in the Amazon. And since I've left my books in my will to Oceans Project, that Earthwatch fund will hopefully continue to be funded long after my death as new readers find my books. That's a far better use of my time and energy, and will lead to a long term generation of young people having experiences in nature and hopefully going on to live richer, more environmentally aware lives as a result. I'm not launching my first books until the 1st March 2019, so I won't receive payments for those until the end of May, but that will be the first payment into the special Earthwatch fund, and my goal is that the payments will increase each month after that, as I release new books.
Taking Back Control
Having control over my own destiny is really important to me, especially in terms of my mental health. I simply don't like being beholden to others. I must have spent hours over this year, listening to audio samples and interviewing narrators, choosing narrators, and then having narrators deliver late or not contact me at all. That makes it really hard when you are trying to release your ebook, print book, and audiobook around the same time, or setting up promotions. So I'm going to be trying something new and out of my comfort zone in 2019 - I'm going to be recording my own audiobooks. There's a studio relatively close by to Hartlepool, in the city of Newcastle and I figured that I would rather pay the studio for the recording time and editing, than hire a narrator and then not end up with something I like. It's always a risk when you invest in other people's skills. I don't know if I can do it yet, but it will be a lot less expensive for me to pay for a couple of hours in the studio to have a try, and if it doesn't work out, I'll know that I gave it a good shot. I'm generally more time rich than finance rich, and recording my books could be something I do whilst waiting for books to come back from editing or whilst processing a new story in my head. If it works out, I'd have the added bonus of not having to share my royalties with anyone, and the full rights would be my own and that would give me freedom to decide where to sell the audiobook, rather than signing up for a standard 7 year agreement. That should also mean that I can set my own pricing and make my book available to more readers for a lot less money. So some of January will be spent in the studio!
Health and Fitness Goals
I won't lie to you, the past year has really put a lot of stress on my body and mind and I'm starting to feel the impacts on my health to the point where I can see myself going to an early grave at this rate. My biggest battle this year will be getting back into a healthier routine, but I know that my writing will reap the rewards as a result. I miss not being able to cook, and am eating a lot of foods, especially processed foods that I would never normally touch. I've just been surviving, thinking that this was a temporary state, but it's been 7 months since I moved to the guesthouse and change is long overdue. I've given myself two New Year's resolutions where my health is involved. I want to make sure that I walk at least 10,000 steps per day (better for my dog too), and I want to start eating healthier again. I love walking, and it's a great opportunity to listen to book marketing podcasts and to get into the creative flow. But it's something that has dropped from my daily habits, and there can be weeks where I don't even leave the building. As a result, I've built up a lot of fat that is making it difficult to get a good night's sleep and sitting isn't especially comfortable, and none of my clothes fit. I feel like my body is dying and I wouldn't be at all surprised if my blood pressure has gone up.
Sticking to the Plan
2019 is going to be very different. I'm going to go for a walk each day, I'm going to do stretches with my Theraband (to counteract my writer's aches in my thumb and wrist) during my Pomodoro writing sprints, and I NEED to get back into my swimming. Last year I swam in the lake or outdoors pretty much every single day, even through the winter. It made me feel amazing and I'm having withdrawal symptoms from my ice swims. So I'm going to try and get a swim in at the local pool at least once a week, and I'm going to start back with my cold showers. I had so many swimming goals last year, and I was going to put them on hold again this year, but then I decided to go for them, even if I don't have money and have to cancel them, at least in the first half of the year. I'd rather aim for them and fail, that not aim for them at all. Plus, if I can make it to my swims, I'll get to see my friends, have some downtime, and to feel connected with my community again, rather than isolated as I am here. It's silly to think that one house move or decision to sell a house could have so many life impacting effects. So the sooner I get a proper base, the better.
End of January BLDSA Postal Swim in the pool
March BLDSA Annual Dinner in Scarborough
May 1km BLDSA swim in Nottingham
June 1km (possibly even 2 mile) BLDSA swim in Scarborough
July BLDSA 1km or possibly the 3km swim in Bala, Wales
July 5.25km BLDSA swim in Coniston, Lake District (probably as a supporter rather than a swimmer)
August BLDSA 11.2km swim in Ullswater, Lake District (probably as supporter not swimmer)
August BLDSA 2 mile (5.25km) swim in Derwent Water, Lake District
August BLDSA 16km swim in Lake Windermere, Lake District (supporter not swimmer, but would like to do this in 2020)
September BLDSA 6.5mile St Mary's Loch swim, Scotland
September BLDSA 4.5km swim in Norfolk
Two years ago I booked to do a 1km swim in Antarctica in November 2019 (for my birthday) and I'm loath to cancel as this has been on my bucket list for a long time, and is part of my preparation for one day swimming an ice mile. To achieve this goal, I need to get my fitness and health back, work on my swim technique and swim faster, and get as much outdoor swim time in as I can so that I'm acclimatised to the cold and used to my feeding routines and warming up procedure when afterdrop kicks in. Funds will be tight for the first few months of my writing and publishing but I can swim cheaply at the local pool and at least get my fitness back up, even if I have to do sit myself in a bath of ice cubes in the meantime to get used to the cold again!
Neither my swimming or my walking goals will be achieved without me having structure and routine, and this is something I've really struggled with over 2018 with all the unknowns and being in limbo, plus adapting from a noise free environment and living on my own, to living in a guesthouse with lots of other people coming and going and the noise of the town compared to the sound of the mountains. I'm naturally a night owl, and my least productive time of the day is the afternoon, but most of my work for clients begins at 3pm which is about 9am US time. The guesthouse is generally quieter in the early morning and after 10pm at night. So finding a balance that works for me is tricky. In the summer it was easier to go for a walk early in the morning, but I wouldn't feel safe going out walking in the dark here, and with the winter it is dark until about 9am and then dark from about 3pm or 4pm. I'm also tied to the times that the dining room is open if I get a bit peckish or want a 5am breakfast.
Discipline and Focus
It will be really hard to get into at first, but my ideal day right now, looks like this:
5am-9am Write my books or work on the editing
9am-12 walk my dog, have breakfast, tidy my room, shower, pick up free Starbucks on walk home
12-1 have lunch, take a nap
1-4 do client work, write my blogs, emails, accounting
4-6pm go for a swim, dinner, social media, emails, accounting,
6-10 dinner, watch tv, reading, relax, plan next day. Go to bed.
I suspect it might end up that my routine in reality involves me staying up all night writing, going to bed around 4am, sleeping until 9am, and then doing the other things. But at the moment I'm finding it difficult to balance my best writing times with my surroundings, like when the pool is open for example, or when it is light enough to walk my dog. The most important thing is that I get my steps and my word count in each day.
Concentrating on the Little and Often
Again, I think the secret to success for me is little and often. Getting even 1000 words on the page, each and every day, likewise saving every penny I have towards the cost of ISBNS, and instead of paying for things monthly, switching to annual plans and saving a little bit more as a result. Even if that means saving 25p or 50p or £1 each day towards the cost. To be successful in my business, I need to be successful with my mental and physical health, I need to give myself the best possible start to everything I do. That means eating and sleeping well, losing some weight, exercising regularly, doing things that make me feel happy, cutting out things or people that make me feel negative. I've got one big goal here, and that is to save up enough to buy myself BUPA health insurance for a year. That gets me health checks, access to specialists, and peace of mind that should anything happen to me, I can get the right treatment quickly. I've moved from my regular dentist and doctor, whom I spent ages building up a rapport with, and now am in a totally new place, not registered with a doctor or dentist, and it feels unsettling.
Saving up for health insurance feels like a little bit of stability and consistency. It will take me a long time to save up for, but it's something that I want for myself as I grow older, to give me some peace of mind to know that I'll be covered if I break an arm and can't write or whatever. I've also re-read a book that I haven't read since the 1990s, back when I was financially stable and had savings and a house, pension, and fancy things materially including lovely holidays. I want to have that sense of safety that I used to have when I had money, and so I've set up different pots on my new Monzo bank account (they have an offer where they give £10 to new customers if you fancy it) and I will be paying in a few pence each day into those pots and into my ISA. I need to have an emergency fund again, and I also need to put money aside ready for paying tax now that I am a Limited company. I want to get into good habits whilst I don't have money, so that once I do have money, it's already an established habit to put money aside. I'm not buying any more Lottery tickets as I never win anything anyway, and will instead put that money aside to invest in shares and Premium Bonds. I still have a chance of winning, but at least I've got something to show for my money at the end of the day,
Paypal Working Credit
I should probably also mention another big change financially: Paypal Working Credit. This is going to be a life changer for me as it will allow me to pay for book covers, editing, and other book things thanks to being able to apply for this scheme. You need to set up a Paypal Business Account and have it for at least 3 months and earn at least £10k a year through your account. I'm just a few pence off that now thanks to my private client and work on Fiverr. I didn't open my account until a few months in to the year, otherwise I might have been there already. It allows you to borrow money upfront for a fixed fee, and then repayments are automatically taken from money that comes into your Paypal account. Since Amazon pays 60 days later, this will help me to get the start I need with my publishing, by which time I'll also have my first Amazon affiliate account payment - not much, but together it all adds up to a few extra book covers or editing per year.
Finding my Dream Jetty (I Mean Home)
My biggest goal for 2019 is to be in my own house in the Lake District by Christmas 2019, and to make that goal happen, I need to write every day, and believe that I can do it. Thankfully, a lot of that psychological work has already been done because I've signed up for the 20Books50K event in Edinburgh in the summer, and part of this will be a writing retreat and chance to sit and write with other authors, and to meet some of the cozy mystery authors I aspire to be like in terms of their success or writing styles, and to learn from a community of other authors. One day I'd like to go to the Vegas event, but if all goes to plan, then I'll miss the November one in 2019 because I'll be doing my swim in Antarctica!
I love chatting and reading the posts by those authors in our Facebook group each day, and I'd like to become a more active member of the community over the next year. It's the kind of attitude that I need to be around more, especially as we all have similar mountains to climb each day as we write. Some of those authors have spoken a lot about moodboards recently, but I don't have anything physical like that because my lifestyle is rather minimal at the moment in the b & b. If I did have a moodboard to inspire my writing, it would have at least two images on it. One would be an image of my dream house by the lake in the Lake District (I'm not excited about the house itself, but that the house comes with a jetty and lake frontage! Perfect for swimming). It's currently for sale for about £2 million so not really a realistic goal, but I like to aim high and to be honest I'll be over the moon with having any old house that I can call my own.
And so, I end 2018 feeling a whole lot happier and more positive than I was this time last year. The difference is that this year I have hope and I feel like I'm part of an amazing community, that I'm not alone. I'm back to being the master of my own ship
Applying for a Scholarship
At two minutes to midnight last night I submitted my application for the SPF Foundation scholarship. I couldn't apply for it last year because I didn't have any book reviews, nor a sponsor to support my application. I'd never counted up my 5 star book reviews before, and to my great surprise I found that I had more than I realised, and even the 4 star reviews were marked down purely based on my lack of editing. There are opportunities open to me this year, that I didn't have last year. I have regular customers on Fiverr - other authors, that I'll get to meet in Edinburgh in the summer, along with my cover designer. Even that sounds magical - I've got an editor and a cover designer!! That would have been impossible this time last year!
I've Surprised Myself this Year
If I could get good enough reviews and book downloads with quickly written, crappy cover, unedited books, then imagine how much more I'll be able to do this year with a proper team around me, and being able to write without the stress and fear of being homeless or not knowing what the next day might hold. If I hadn't found myself in the guesthouse, I wouldn't have made new friends (Julie and Paul especially), nor would I have been able to dedicate time to writing as a profession. I would have stayed doing all the jobs I could, just to make rent each month, but by downsizing in the interim, my overheads have reduced, giving me more time to write and do something I love. I've got a Facebook group of readers who say thank you when I share a blog post or free cozy mystery books I've found, and I had Christmas cards filled with lovely words from readers. I never could have imagined that this time last year, when I wasn't even sure whether I should publish a book!
My wish is to read back this post from my new home by the lake, this time next year, and to be a happier, healthier version of myself, with a wonderful balanced life of writing, hiking, and swimming, and to be reflecting not on a year of limbo, but on swimming adventures and time with friends. To be yelling at my cat to come in from the garden, and shouting at the others to leave the Christmas tree alone. I'm writing this blog post as a reminder to myself, but I hope that you will enjoy my journey too, as I grow and develop as a cozy mystery author, and become a better human being in the process as I find my feet around other people like me. I hope that you will join me this time next year as a happier and healthier you as well, having achieved your own dreams and goals. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
End of Year Stats
Total Income for All Books Jan-Dec 2018: £448.92
Total book sales: 378
Total books given away: 4185
KU pages read: 17,138
Amazon Author Rank (all genres): #138,091
Amazon Author Rank (mystery - I took books down on 16th Nov): #21,354
Newsletter Subscribers (started my newsletter on the 17th September 2018 from zero): 1982
YouTube Subscribers: 3686
Audiobook sales: 78
Instagram followers Cozy Mystery Book Explorer: (started on the 29th November 2018) 125
Instagram followers (personal page): 2589
Pinterest (started from zero around the 16th November 2018): 167 followers 39.8k unique views/mth
Cozy Mystery Book Explorer group on Facebook (started on the 1st Oct 2018 at zero): 326 members
Author Page on Facebook: 64 page likes
Last year I was lucky enough to be filmed for a new Channel 4 television series called 'Genealogy Roadshow' which was later renamed 'My Family Secrets Revealed'. Almost a year to the date when we filmed it in the Lake District, it was exciting to be back in the Lake District (this time filming a new television series called Deep Water, based on the books by Paula Daly) and to learn that episode 3 of the series would be aired. For those of you in the UK, it will be available to watch on Catchup on Channel 4 for the next 28 days, but for those who are abroad, I've tried to film it so you can watch it here instead. I hope you enjoy the episode, and learn a little bit more about what makes me tick as a cozy mystery author too.
I did film a little vlog on the day that we filmed the main episode, in the snow during the 'beast from the east'.