Oh, all while pretending to be on vacation in Arizona, where I’ve been working in the mornings and spending time with family and “relaxing” in the afternoons.
I’m cheerfully telling people how excited I am for the new year, how I’m going to put creativity first in 2022 — and yet.
I’m torn in a half-dozen directions, as usual, with no finish line in sight.
I’m lucky. Most of this chaos is of my own making: client work I’ve said yes to, books I’m excited to write, projects I initiated. I have what Charlie Gilkey calls “Shiny Object Syndrome,” gleefully jumping at new opportunities and filling my plate to bursting without stopping to think how I’ll manage it all.
That said, I can feel myself circling burnout, and I know I need to start working smarter.
I need to take real time off. To close the computer after dinner. To go on walks with my neighbor in the afternoon without stressing that I need to rush back to my desk.
I have no idea how to do that. I’ll let you know if I figure it out.
What’s coming in 2022
All that said, let’s take a look at what I’ve got in the works for you in 2022!
I know! I’ve been talking about these books for ages, and you’ve yet to see more than my short story in CROOKED V.1. 😉
My original goal had been to launch the first Nanshe Chronicles book, Ghost Pirate Gambit, in March. But a few weeks back I learned that the official launch date of my new nonfiction book (see below) will be March 8.
So in order to not divide my metal capacity and marketing-shouting goodwill, I’m pushing back the launch of the Nanshe Chronicles to May. I’ll be putting out all three of the first books one after another in May, June, and July.
I’ll be working with J.S. Arquin (who narrated the Bulari Saga audiobooks) to produce the first three Nanshe Chronicles books — so if you’re an audio listener, you’re in luck! Those will be coming out at the same time as the print and ebooks.
There will indeed be a CROOKED V.2, as I continue on my quest to make sci-fi crime a Thing. I’ll be putting up a call for submissions in January-ish — if you know of anyone who I should ask to contribute, let me know.
I’m also currently working on a couple of stories for sci-fi crime anthologies other people are editing — one about noir detectives, one about the future of crime.
(I’m revisiting the Bulari Saga for the noir one, giving Detective Timo Cho a chance to do what he does best — ask too many questions.)
(Is this the root of my overwhelm problem?)
I’ve got a book with Starla, Mona, and Luc kicking around in my brain. It would take place after the final Bulari Saga book, but act as an entry point into a new series following those crazy kids on their own series of adventures. (If you read the Epilogue you probably guessed I was laying seeds for this)
I also have a fantasy series I’ve been working on off and on for years. It’s been sitting in the metaphorical trunk for years, partly because I was working on other things, partly because it was missing… something.
But a few weeks back I realized what it was missing was a large dash of Killing Eve, and now I’m on fire to write it. Not to mention I’m coming back from a trip to Arizona, which is the landscape that I modeled this fantasy world off of.
As I mentioned above, From Big Idea to Book, my latest nonfiction book, will be out in March. It’s published through Microcosm Publishing, and I’m super excited for it.
Seven years ago this week, I was snowed in, stir crazy, and fighting off the certainty that I’d just made a huge mistake.
And now — sans snow — I’m struggling with that fear again.
(But more on the changes afoot here in a minute.)
That snowy January seven years ago, my husband and I had just moved to Portland, OR. I’d worked my last shift at the Elysian Brewing Company, said goodbye to all our friends, and hung my shingle as a full time freelance copywriter.
I was terrified.
One year earlier, I’d worked my way out of my full time catalog copywriting gig by freelancing on the side until I was too busy to do both.
I’d gone down to part time at the catalog company, then picked up shifts at the Elysian and a local Mexican restaurant (the excellent Fonda La Catrina in Georgetown) to bolster my shaky freelance income.
Working three jobs on top of being a freelance writer was exhausting — and, more critically, it was hindering my ability to grow my freelance business.
But letting go of that steady income?
I couldn’t do it.
Not on my own, at least — not until my husband got a job in Portland, and I had to cut my safety net loose and trust my writing business to support me.
I remember checking my dwindling business bank account, wondering if I’d made a mistake.
“If this doesn’t work, you can always go back to waiting tables,” I’d said to myself.
And I got to work cold-calling potential clients.
A new transition point for this freelance writer
“You can always go back to waiting tables” was my mantra for years.
Every time I lost a client, every time a dream gig fell through, every time I found myself checking a near-empty bank account.
And in seven years, I never did.
My hustle in those early years paid off. As I slowly gathered portfolio clips and confidence, I grew from charging $50 for a blog post to charging $500. I gathered a stable of reliable, well-paying clients I loved to work with. I said no to projects that weren’t a good fit for my goals, or a good use of my time.
In the back of my mind, I’d always known that as long as I kept relying on my waitress shifts for cash, I wouldn’t take the risks and pour enough energy into the freelancing.
Now I’m in a similar period of transition with my fiction business.
A focus on fiction
I’ve been diligently working to write and publish books while still keeping up with the freelance writer hustle, terrified that if I pull the plug on that regular income, my fiction income won’t sustain me.
It can’t — not now, anyway.
But what if I gave it the same full-time energy that nurtured my freelance writer career in those early years?
What if I trusted myself to work the fiction hustle as well as I worked the freelance one?
After all. I can always go back to copywriting.
Learning to say no
Of course, there’s a key difference between quitting waiting tables and quitting copywriting: I like copywriting. I find most of the work I do incredibly fulfilling, and love my clients.
Waiting tables, on the other hand? For all that I loved my coworkers, that job gave me stress nightmares almost every night.
In 2020, I started learning to say no to the work that no longer fit my goals, and opening space both for writing fiction, and for more of the work I do want to take on.
Going into 2021, I’ve set myself clear guidelines around the type of work I can say yes to as a freelance writer — and those guidelines are incredibly narrowly defined.
It’s terrifying to say no to money when you don’t have a big project on the horizon.
It’s terrifying to invest weeks and months into writing books on spec, rather than putting those hours under contract to a paying client.
But after seven years of watching my income ebb and flow, after watching myself build a business out of scratch, to succeed past every setback, I know I can do it again.
What I learned in my seventh year as a freelance writer
All that to say, welcome to my seventh annual reflection post. Changes are obviously afoot in Kwakland, and I’d like to talk a bit about how I got through 2020, what I learned along the way, and what I’m taking into 2021.
As always, my goal is to be transparent about my business and my struggles to help out freelancer writers who are earlier on their journeys than I am.
(And if that’s you, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line: jessie at jessiekwak.com).
This past year turned me (and many others) from a homebody into hermit. I forgot to leave the house for days. Honestly, I barely left my office.
It was a year of extremes. Some times I was so busy with freelance work I could barely breath. Other times it was crickets, and I used the lull to work on fiction. Some days I was laser focused on my work and goals — other days I could barely manage to find the energy to scroll Twitter and try not to scream.
I was used to working from home as a freelance writer, but I wasn’t used to my husband being constantly at home with me, and our forced co-captivity surfaced some issues we needed to work through. (As well as making our relationship even stronger.)
We all have our 2020 story, and I’m grateful to be in a place where I could weather last year’s storm relatively painlessly.
But, wow. I’m looking forward to the coming vaccine.
As for how COVID-19 impacted my freelance business, it’s hard to say. At the beginning of the pandemic, I took on a couple of COVID-related projects, such as an ebook about pivoting your business during the pandemic for Microsoft.
But as the uncertainty stretched out, marketing budgets froze and projects for Jessie dried up. I still had a few regular clients, but new work just didn’t seem to be coming in.
I used the time to finish the last book in the Bulari Saga and begin planning my next series, the Nanshe Chronicles — but as I watched my bank account drain, I started to worry.
Fortunately, I landed a few big projects at the end of the year that brought my income back up to par with what it had been in 2019. But October and November were probably two of the busiest months of my career, and I was perilously close to burnout by the time December rolled around.
But that’s a freelancer’s life, right?
Income analysis: How I made my living as a freelance writer in 2020
I had some shifts this year, but overall the makeup of my freelance income stayed on par with 2019. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, it’s a bit hard to break down by project since I sometimes do different types of writing for the same client.
The big change is that I had fewer clients overall. Whereas I did work for 16 separate clients in 2019, last year I only billed 10 clients — and two of those were for single projects that took less than a few days to complete.
I spent 2020 slowly shedding clients in an attempt to free up more time to focus on writing fiction. Going into 2021 I have only one monthly blogging client, and an ongoing relationship with one main client that feeds me regular content marketing work.
I’m still open to new work — particularly ghostwriting — but I’m in a position where I can be very choosy about who I work with and how it fits with my goals.
Here’s my income breakdown for 2020:
Content marketing (ebooks and such): 60%
Business blogging – 18%
Ghostwriting – 8.5%
Copywriting (website copy) – 8%
Fiction – 5%
Knitting product copy – 0.5%
Content marketing and ghostwriting are my favorite types of work, so I’m glad to see them making up a good chunk of my income for 2020. I’m also excited that my fiction income held strong at 5% — especially since I had planned to do several big in-person book events that got canceled.
Growing a fiction writing business
I mentioned that I’m paring down my client list to free up time to write fiction. The hope being that by pouring energy into writing and marketing that side of my business this coming year, that income will grow to a level that actually is sustainable.
Currently, my plan for that is to launch a new series (probably in fall of 2021), and re-launch the Bulari Saga with new covers (sometime next month).
My goal is to get these books in front of new fans, but also to double down on my core fans. To that end, I’ve started a Patreon, where I’m documenting my journey of writing the new series (the Nanshe Chronicles), sharing behind-the-scenes information, and posting sneak previews.
I also had a chance to go on the No Shelf Control podcast and talk about the Bulari Saga with authors Lindsey Fairleigh and Lindsey Pogue. It was an incredible amount of fun! (Listen to the interview here.)
A year of Chaos and Creativity
As well as fiction, I’ve been growing the nonfiction book side of my business. From Chaos to Creativity came out at the end of 2019, and I spent part of the summer of 2020 writing a followup book about the writing process.
While I couldn’t travel to do events like I did in 2019, I did have a few fun virtual opportunities come up to talk with people about creativity.
The first one was in May (remember May?) when I got a chance to chat with Lydia Rogue from Microcosm Publishing about pandemic productivity, and how to be gentle with yourself. (You can watch it here.)
The second amazing opportunity was with Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn podcast. (Listen here.) I’ve been a longtime fan of Joanna’s podcast, so it was a complete thrill to get to come on the show!
Finally, I was invited to give a presentation on productivity for writers at the virtual Willamette Writer’s Conference in August. There’s no recording of the event, but it was an incredible honor to get a chance to speak with everyone there — and the organizers even managed to build in some networking time where I made some new friends. (Difficult to do over Zoom!)
What’s coming up in 2021?
2020 gave us all a bit of whiplash. And I don’t think I’m alone in my newfound reluctance to make big plans at the moment.
But my main goal is to double down on fiction, refining my process and focusing my time in order to grow this part of my business like it deserves. If you want to stay up to date on that, join my newsletter.
Enough about me now. I’d love to know — what are your plans for 2021? How did your 2020 go?
Leave me a note in the comments.
And here’s to a fresh start and an amazing new year!
I’m told Monday is a … holiday? Potentially we’re still in May, I haven’t really checked lately.
Anyway, how are you doing? Still in quarantine like the rest of us, wondering what days are and how many ice cream sandwiches you need to eat to make a Complete Meal™?
Before this all went down, in the halcyon days of 2019, I published a book on productivity for creative people titled From Chaos to Creativity. But these days instead of feeling like a productivity expert, I mostly feel like I’m hanging in there.
Which is why when my publisher, Microcosm Publishing, asked if I’d be interested in doing a virtual event to talk about creativity and productivity during quarantine, I balked at the idea.
Sure, I wrote a book on productivity. But will anything I say actually be helpful to people right now?
I said yes anyway, then spent a lovely hour-ish talking with my editor, Lydia Rogue, about how we’re all getting things done during these times of chaos.
Maybe before this all went down you worked out every day and ate super healthy and wrote 2k words a day on your novel.
If you’re not doing that now, please please please stop beating yourself up about it. Do what you can, celebrate your wins, and give yourself the same grace you would give someone else.
Being kinder to myself when I don’t meet some self-set perfect standard has made a world of difference in these past few months. I’m happier. I’m mentally healthier. And in the end those two things have helped me get more done.
I’m going to do my best to carry this self-compassion on beyond quarantine, because it’s something I’ve been lacking most of my life.
Do what makes you happy
Not feeling motivated at all? That’s cool. Me neither.
I used to have a fairly rigid schedule, but in the last few weeks I’ve let myself do what seems most interesting at the moment, rather than forcing myself to march in lock-step to the tune of my to-do list.
The result? I’m accomplishing more, because I’m allowing myself to do work when I’m in the mood for it, rather than forcing myself when I’m not in the mood.
Writing this blog post wasn’t on my list today, but suddenly it sounded interesting.
And because I’m interested in it, it’ll take me about 30 minutes instead of several hours if I was forcing myself to do it when I wasn’t in a blogging mood.
Obviously, some of the things on your to-do list need to be done regardless of mood — but if you let yourself do things that interest you first, you’ll start developing more enthusiasm, and therefore momentum.
How’s your creativity doing right now?
Let me know in the comments — I look forward to hearing from you!
Hey, are you calmly being productive in your work and personal life in these apocalyptic-feeling days? Hats off to you.
I am not.
The general aura of anxiety that imbues my every day life bloomed into a full on meltdown near the end of last week, where all I could do was scroll the news and share wide-eyed looks of shock with friends.
(Now we are sharing those looks of shock over video conferencing software.)
As Oregon heads towards what seems like an inevitable lockdown, though, I’m starting to realize that the world is not going to become less *waves hands vaguely* like this. I still have deadlines with clients. I have a BOOK coming out next week that I still need to market or whatever (oh my God you guys are we still marketing our books right now???).
And, hey, if I’m going to have all this new free time I’d like to make some progress on the novel I’m currently writing.
I need to get my head on straight again.
I need to get back to the practices that used to keep me organized, sane, and on track.
Here’s what I’m doing this week — maybe it will help you?
Note: Or, seriously, don’t be productive. Read a book and binge Netflix or whatever, no judgement — take care of yourself. But if you want some tips, read on.
1. Morning Pages
Set a timer and write for 20 minutes.
(Long hand’s great if your wrists aren’t evil. Or type. Or dictate? Doesn’t matter.)
The words you’re producing don’t need to make sense. You can just hold down the “u” in “fuck” for twenty minutes if it makes you feel better. The idea is just to get all the thoughts swirling around in your head captured someplace where they seem more manageable.
Your morning pages are like the ghost trap in Ghostbusters, vacuuming up the chaos in your head first thing in the morning.
2. Freedom App
Install Freedom on your computer and phone, and say, “Get thee behind me, Twitter.”
(Note: that’s an affiliate link because I am so, so into this useful little app.)
You can set sessions to run automatically and limit your social media time to certain hours (like lunch, for me). Or you can set Freedom to block out the entire internet (or certain distractors) for a set period of time.
Like if you want to work on your book for the next hour.
I used to have a timer set on my phone to go off every day at 11:50am. I would then dutifully sit down, fire up Calm, and meditate.
When I was on a meditation roll, I found that it was much easier to simply let frantic, anxious thoughts slide off me. Like a duck on a water slide.
So why did I stop this marvelous practice?
Who the hell knows. I got busy. I got stressed out. I didn’t have time? I was too anxious??
All things that meditation helped me with.
So as of today that timer’s back on my phone.
4. Brain dump
Similar to morning pages, but you can do a brain dump at any time of the day. (Morning pages can only legally be done first thing in the morning, obvs.)
The way a brain dump works, is you just sit down and write down all the discrete tasks, ideas, worries, to-do list items, etc that are cluttering up your brain.
This lays them all out so you can take action on them, rather than trying to hold all that information in your head.
Get in the habit of doing this before you sit down to do distraction-free work, then keep a pad of paper nearby so you can easily capture additional items that pop up while you’re working.
I got the idea from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, and talk more about how I use it in my book, From Chaos to Creativity. (Shameless plug!)
Going on an afternoon walk used to clear my mind and make me feel calmer about life. So why’d I stop?
Two big reasons:
Ugh winter, enough said
I got a treadmill standing desk
Because of the treadmill desk, I’m actually walking 2-3 hours every day, whereas before I would go on a ~45-minute walk outside each day.
So, yay, I’m getting exercise while I work? But the flip side is that I’ve just been at my desk all day long instead of actually taking time off from work.
I’m reinstituting the afternoon walk, stat.
6. Breaking the notifications habit
I have been sooooo distractible lately, and it doesn’t help that I’m constantly checking my notifications on phone and email.
I used to be so good about this — but now I have Slack and Teams and Gmail open throughout the day, and all three of them are dinging me with distractions.
Plus, my phone has all these little red bubbles telling me that Things Are Happening on Twitter and Instagram and all those other super important places.
I’m turning notifications off, and closing down communication programs I’m not actively working in.
7. Setting timers
I used to be all about the pomodoro method: setting a timer for 25 minutes of focused work, then letting myself get distracted (or doing chores) for 10.
Time to get back on the timer bandwagon. My favorite app for that is Forest, because you plant a little digital tree, and if you look at your phone before the time is up, the tree DIES.
It’s very motivating, I feel so bad if I kill one of those virtual trees.
Especially since the dead tree stays in your monthly “forest” screen, reminding you that you COULDN’T NOT LOOK AT YOUR PHONE FOR EVEN 10 MINUTES YOU SLACKER???!!
Yeah, I definitely need to start using Forest again to time working sprints.
That’s the list.
Have you tried any of these methods in the past? What’s working for you now? How are you getting your brain back on track during these trying times?
(Welcome to my annual post about what I learned as a freelance writer this year!)
Six years! Six years of working full time as a freelance writer, folks. I can barely believe it — it doesn’t seem like that long ago I was trying to figure out how to even find a client.
Lately when I’m feeling frustrated with life, my husband likes to remind me that I literally made my own job, and have been doing it successfully for longer than I’ve worked anywhere else.
And I’m like, right. That is pretty badass.
I’m saying that not to brag. Because the reason I write these yearly wrap-up posts (you can read about Year 5 (2018), Year 4 (2017), Year 3 (2016), Year 2 (2015) and Year 1 (2014)) are because I hope to inspire writers who are a step or two behind me. And if that’s you, I want you to know that it’s entirely possible to build a freelance writing career from scratch — and have it be sustainable.
One thing about freelancing is that it can feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill — always running, but never actually making progress. That’s one reason I love these yearly check-ins! They’re an opportunity for me to take a deep breath and remind myself just how far I’ve actually come.
So without further ado, here are my lessons and successes from my 6th year as a freelance writer.
2019: A year of books!
In last year’s post, I mentioned that 2018 had been a year of writing books and stocking them up for release. The result? This year I put out six books:
And because I got the rights back, I re-released my first novel, Shifting Borders, as From Earth and Bone
It was a wild ride! Along with learning the ins and outs of marketing all these books and going on a mini book tours to support From Chaos to Creativity, I also kept writing. I turned in the fourth Bulari Saga book (Heat Death) last week, and am already hard at work on the fifth and last Bulari Saga book (Kill Shot).
The more I write, the faster I get. Plus, my husband and I have been developing a system where he beta reads the books and offers me feedback as I go, which has been crucial in helping me spot big problems early on. Even as the later Bulari Saga books have gotten more complicated, working more closely with him as a beta reader has reduced my writing time.
One of the biggest things I learned is that writing the next book is the best marketing you can do. I’m looking forward to finishing the Bulari Saga so I can do more with marketing it as a complete series.
2019: A year of making my business work for me
I had a few really low points in the last year.
I quit my desk job to freelance 7 years ago because I wanted more freedom, but owning your own business can sometimes feel like a trap. I wasn’t traveling like I’d wanted to do. I was working weekends and evenings. I was scrambling to balance freelance work with fiction, and didn’t have time for any of the hobbies that used to bring me joy — like sewing or drawing.
I hit a wall this summer, and so for the latter part of the year I really worked on reining that in. I said no to more things, and let myself off the hook when it came to keeping up with personal projects. I kept reminding myself to take small steps and enjoy life, rather than barreling through it.
After all, what’s the point in owning your own business if it’s just going to stifle you? Wouldn’t you be better off working for someone else?
Practically, I gave myself permission to take time off. I stopped scheduling my days so rigidly, and started letting myself work on the things that sparked my interest.
The result was that I would get way more done, because I was doing what I felt like working on in the moment, rather than forcing myself to do something I wasn’t inspired to do yet.
Obviously, I still have to meet deadlines — so part of finding joy in my work again was saying no to work that doesn’t spark my interest. I dropped a couple of clients that had become sources of stress for me due either to the type of work I was doing, or the pay rate being too low, and doubled down on work I enjoy.
I also gave myself permission not to worry so much about money. After 6 years of freelancing full time, I know that work comes in cycles. For example, in two months, I billed nearly a third of my total income for last year — which meant when things slowed down afterward, I felt comfortable taking that time to work on my fiction instead of doing my usual “freak out about never having work again” dance.
That required trust, and at times it was terrifying. But the freelance cycle is the freelance cycle, and over the years I’ve built systems to help me weather the ebb and flow through savings and recurring income.
This patience and kindness towards myself is an energy I really want to take with me into the next year. Instead of burning myself out for my business, I want to shape my business into something that works for me.
Basically, I’m going to be a better boss to myself.
Because if I’m going to hate my boss, I might as well work for someone else, right?
Client analysis: How I make my living as a freelance writer
Every year, I sit down with my sales reports and figure out where my income came from, and use that to shape a path for the next year.
This year, I saw some really cool shifts.
Content marketing/ghostwriting: 54%
Business blogging: 24%
SEO/website copy: 16%
Book sales/royalties: 4.5%
Knitting product copy: 0.5%
Every year I end up breaking things down different ways, sorry, but this year I found that 54% of my income came from my favorite type of work: story-based content marketing and ghostwriting.
That means reported articles, ebooks, case studies, ghostwritten blog posts, etc. (All of the ghostwriting I did in 2019 was blogging.)
It’s hard to get really granular, since I have several clients where I do multiple types of projects — but since I like them all, I grouped them into the top category.
The second category, business blogging, made up about a quarter of my income. This includes white labeled posts that rely less on interviews/storytelling, and are instead more straightforward content.
Website copy went down to 16% from 25% last year, which is great because it’s really not my favorite work. All of this year’s website writing income came from one client who’s been great to me over the years, but the work isn’t super engaging. I parted ways with them about halfway through the year in order to focus on another client who was giving me much more interesting work.
But my most exciting stat? Book income.
Last year, my book writing income was 1% of my total. This year, it’s 4.5%. Having more books in the market definitely helped that, as did having a traditionally published book come out, so I could count on the publisher’s reach and distribution to help get in front of more readers.
And knitting product copy is kind of ridiculous to put as its separate thing, but I just find it such an amusing data point — people will pay you to write all sort of things if you just look for it!
What’s ahead for 2020?
Fiction-wise, I plan to release the last two Bulari Saga books. Heat Death is already scheduled to come out March 24th (you can pre-order it here), and I’m hoping for a summer release for Kill Shot.
I’m not quite ready to talk about the next series I’m working on, but suffice it to say I’m REALLY excited about it!
As for my freelancing business, I’m going to lean more into ghostwriting, and ultimately stop saying yes to any projects that don’t bring me joy. That will free up space for the really fun work I want to do, as well as writing books in the downtime.
Five years ago, I would have loved to say no to boring projects — but I needed to pay the rent and I’d take what I could get.
This year, I’ve built a business that attracts amazing clients, and I get more inquiries than I can possibly say yes to. Being able to say no to boring work is a privilege, but it’s also the result of 6 years of hustling.
So here’s to an amazing 2020!
It’s going to be the year my business becomes a source of joy and energy rather than a hustle and a drain.
Because I definitely can’t afford to burn out — I’m way too unemployable at this point. 🙂
What are your 2019 takeaways and 2020 goals? Le’ve ’em in the comments.
You know how sometimes every waking moment feels like chaos incarnate?
Like it’s a quiet Saturday morning and you’re dying to work on your art, but first you really need to make yourself some breakfast. And before that you need to find the kitchen underneath all the dishes. Which reminds you that you never returned your neighbor’s tupperware, and — oh right — you’re out of paper towels and so you might as well pick up potting soil for your jade plant because you promised you’d make a cutting for that friend. And as you’re emailing your friend you see a note from your boss, or a client, or the electric company — and how the hell is it Monday morning?
Where’d your time to do your art go?
It got caught in the chaos.
It happens to all of us.
If the above scenario didn’t resonate with you, high fives. Go off and live your awesome productive life.
But if it did, you’re not alone.
It’s so, so easy to get caught up in the chaos of everyday life, being buffeted around so hard that you lose sight of the thing that really mattered to you in the beginning.
Your business idea.
Your family time.
I’ve spent my whole life trying to figure out how to get rid of the chaos of everyday life, only to realize it’s not going anywhere.
But you can lessen it, you can tame it, and you can organize it.
I figured out a way that works (mostly) for me, and I interviewed and learned from a bunch of other creatives about what works for them.
My goal: help you figure out what works for you.
So I wrote a book.
My book on creative productivity, From Chaos to Creativity, is now out from Microcosm Publishing. To celebrate, I’m doing a reading/creative productivity workshop at the Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, Monday, July 29th.
Come chaotic, because I’ll be leading the audience in a series of exercises from the book to help you get a bit of a handle on the chaos of everyday life and find time to do your most important work.
I’ll also leave plenty of time for questions and discussion, because honestly we’re all in this together, and there’s nothing I like better than helping people brainstorm ways to get their creative work done.
In the summers, I sucked them down like Otter Pops from my grandmother’s freezer, tucked in the crook of tree branches or sitting on swingsets or lounging on the couch or under my blankets at night.
During the school year I carried them onto the playground or read them under my desk thinking the teacher wouldn’t notice. My fifth grade teacher — tired of telling me to put my book away — once kept me in at recess as punishment.
My punishment? To stay inside and read?
It was heaven.
We lived out in the country, so in the summers, when the school library was closed, a stop at the library was a mandatory part of our weekly trek into town. I remember scooping books up by the armful and carrying them joyfully to the check-out stand, each week pushing against the upper limit of what I was allowed to check out.
And each week, I read every one of those books before we brought them back.
I remember growing older, starting to venture beyond the aisles of brightly colored chapter books. Wandering upstairs to grown-up fiction section to seek out dragons and mystics and murders. Agatha Christie and Terry Pratchett and Patricia C Wrede and Mercedes Lackey and Frank E Peretti and Ursula K Le Guin and anything else that caught my fancy.
I would have bankrupted my parents if it weren’t for the library.
For that matter, I’d bankrupt myself now if not for the library.
I want people to get my books at the library
As an author, I love libraries. I love that places exist where people can get books for free. Where the ability to experience the joy of a story isn’t limited by your bank account.
(Though I’ve paid my fair share of late fees, let me tell you!)
A month or so back, I asked my newsletter subscribers what are some of the tropes or themes that make them automatically buy a book, and I got back a significant response from people who say they read so much they’re only downloading free books these days.
That’s possible to do — especially with so many indie writers offering free newsletter magnets and first-in-free series. But what happens if you fall in love with a series and want to support the author — but are still on a budget?
I’m telling you, getting books from the library is a fantastic way to support an author.
Most indie authors aren’t automatically distributed to libraries. You’ll see more showing up as ebooks, but finding an indie book in print is tough.
Here’s where you can help! If you want to see a book from a specific author, you can recommend your library purchase it.
How to recommend a title to your library
Indie authors can distribute ebooks to libraries through Overdrive, a fantastic app that lets you borrow ebooks and audio books from your local library.
(If you read ebooks or listen to audio, seriously you should use Overdrive!)
Once you’re logged in with your library card, do a search for, hypothetically, “Jessie Kwak”.
More than likely, your local library will tell you they can’t find this “Jessie Kwak” person.
Just scroll down in the app, and you’ll see search results that aren’t owned by the library:
There’s my books.
If you want to recommend a title to your library for purchase, click the “Recommend” link at the bottom of the book card.
(From that screen you can also read a sample of the book, add the book to your history, or view other books in the series. Just click the three vertical menu dots.)
Why aren’t all indie books available to recommend to the library?
Super good question. It has to do with how a book is distributed.
Basically, if a book is in Kindle Unlimited, the author has to exclusively publish it at Amazon — which means no library distribution. My Durga System novellas are all published wide, which means you can get them on any ebook platform (and at libraries).
The publisher of my first novel, Shifting Borders, has kept it in KU — which makes it “free” for paid KU subscribers, but not available to libraries.
(And why some authors would make that choice. Full disclosure, I’ll be releasing the Bulari Saga exclusive with Amazon for the reasons Lindsay outlines, but I’ll make it more widely available as soon as I can.)
That’s what I’ve got for you.
I hope that was helpful, and — if you’re in a library ebook recommending mood I’d greatly appreciate you recommending my books. 😉
Oh — and if libraries have been a big part of your life, I’d love for you to let me know in the comments!
BONUS POINTS if you had to use a card catalogue to find the book you were looking for! 😉
January 2019 marks five years since I went full-time as a freelance writer.
I got in the habit of cataloging my yearly lessons early on, when I realized so much of the advice that I was seeing out there was from freelancers who had been in the business way longer than I had. I figured this annual series would be a good way to pay forward all the advice I’ve been given to others who are a few steps behind me on the path.
It’s also been an eye-opening exercise for me, personally.
It’s so easy to just go with the flow, keeping your head down and hustling as fast as you can without taking much time to notice where you’re going and how far you’ve come.
Doing a yearly check-in allows me to take a quick breath and check both my progress and my direction.
For example, I didn’t reach many of the goals I set for myself at the beginning of 2018. Some because they were overly ambitious, others because they were part of a business plan I shifted away from.
That’s why I never see my yearly goals as my benchmark for success. They’re more of a roadmap that I plan to follow.
Unless those plans get derailed.
Maybe a project will take way longer than you think it will. Maybe life will get in the way. Maybe a new opportunity presents itself, and it makes more sense to pivot and take advantage of it.
Whatever happens, the goal of a yearly check-in is to take a thoughtful look at the map, and plot the next leg of your journey.
2018: A Year of Production
For me, 2018 was finally the year that I felt balanced in terms of the amount of time I was able to spend on freelance work versus fiction. I didn’t split my days 50/50 — instead, I was able to carve time around the natural up-and-down flow of client work to write 250,000 words of fiction across three books and a variety of other projects.
That’s 100,000 more than I did in 2017, which is a big boost for me.
Despite my January 2018 goal to publish four novels last year, I didn’t publish a single thing. However, I did get myself set up to a position where I can publish four Durga System novels next year, along with my creative productivity book, From Chaos to Creativity.
(From Chaos to Creativity is coming out with Microcosm Press in Fall 2019.)
As part of boosting my fiction production, I learned how to write faster and more efficiently. In 2017, I had only a single day where my fiction wordcount exceeded 3000 words. In 2018, I had at least a few of those days a month.
2018: The Year of Stress
I may have felt more balanced in terms of the amount of time that I spent on fiction versus freelance work, but I put more hours behind the computer screen in 2018 than the year before.
Back when I was starting my freelance business, I worked full time as a copywriter, then part time in two jobs as a waitress. I did all my freelance work on the side, hustling as hard as I could until it had grown enough to support me.
It was exhausting.
Right now, my fiction business is that side hustle. I’ve become more efficient (and commanded higher rates) in my freelance business, which allows me to go down to about 3/4 time, and gives me some breathing room to grow my fiction business alongside that.
But until my books are successful enough to shoulder some financial burden, I can’t afford to cut down my hours of client work any more.
(Plus, I like my client work!)
So in 2018 I learned to be more efficient with my time, said no to more things, and spent more evenings and weekends writing fiction.
The result is that I felt burned out and exhausted on a regular basis, but I went into 2018 knowing that would be part of the hustle.
For 2019, I don’t want to reduce the amount of time I spend writing fiction, and I can’t reduce the amount of time I spend on client work. But I also know I need to build more leisure time into my schedule if I don’t want to burn out completely.
I’m still working on that one.
Client Analysis: How I Make a Living as a Freelance Writer
I have made my living as a full-time working freelance writer for five years now. It seems incredible to me that I could build a business from scratch and have it sustain me — and not just pay me, but give me the freedom to live the lifestyle I want while making more than I ever did at a desk job.
How I’ve made a living writing has shifted over the years. I don’t love every single client project I say yes to, but I love 90 percent of them — and that’s pretty wonderful.
Here’s where my writing income came from last year
Website copy: 25%
Bylined blogging: 14%
Ebooks, white papers, and case studies: 11%
Educational guides: 6%
Knitting pattern descriptions: .07%
My goal for several years has been to take on more ghostwriting projects, and as you can see from the percentage above, I’ve been successful. Much of that has been ghost blogging, where I interview a client or a subject matter expert and write a blog post from their perspective. But I also took on my first business book ghostwriting project in 2018.
My total fiction sales doubled from last year, but because my total revenue also went up, the percentage of fiction sales only crept from .07% to 1%. Steadily climbing, which I like to see!
I expect that percentage to jump quite a bit in 2019, since I’ll be releasing at least five books.
Ideally, ghostwriting and fiction would make up the bulk of my income, allowing me to spend my days working on books — whether mine or someone else’s.
How Clients Found Me in 2018
The last few years, I’ve broken down where my clients come from.
From year one, the trend has steadily been from outbound prospecting and answering jobs ads towards inbound leads getting in touch with me.
This year, every single client except for one (who I’ve been working with since Year 2) was an inbound lead.
My marketing tactics in 2018 were primarily to attend networking events and to build my LinkedIn presence so that when people went there searching for a B2B SaaS copywriter or ghostwriter, they found me.
That more than anything has freed up the time I used to spend prospecting and hunting down clients to work on my fiction.
How Much Hustle is Too Much Hustle?
One of the big lessons I learned in 2018 is that I can really only hustle one “side business” at a time. Last year one of my goals was to grow my freelancing ghostwriting business at an aggressive rate while also writing and publishing fiction.
The problem is that I really only have the attention to force growth in one area. If fiction was going to be my side hustle, I needed to be content with where my freelance ghostwriting business was at, rather than pushing myself to tackle that, too.
My ghostwriting business has grown, with new clients reaching out to me via my inbound marketing breadcrumbs, and I have done more ghostwriting this year than in any year past — including my first ghostwritten business book.
But I didn’t have the energy to put into creating intricate content marketing funnels and products, into maintaining an email list, or building up my profile is a thought leader in my industry.
I could instinctively feel that I was spreading myself too thin when I tried to do both. It simply made more sense to concentrate my creative energy in one area and push there as hard as I could, rather than spreading my creative energy scattershot at a bunch of different projects.
I’m going to publish at least five books in 2019. Which means that instead of keeping my head down and blissfully writing without telling other humans much about my work, 2019 will be the year I push myself out of my comfort zone and learn how to market — without losing my forward momentum writing new books.
My solution has been to look at ways to outsource. I hired a virtual assistant at the beginning of January to help me with common tasks like transcribing interviews for client work or marketing tasks that I would know I will need to accomplish this year. It’s too early to tell exactly how that’s going to work for me, but I can tell you that since I’ve made the decision to hire a virtual assistant, I’ve felt stressed less already.
Hiring someone doesn’t seem that scary to me. But you know what is?
Asking for help from my network.
Asking a friend to read my book and review it.
Asking my newsletter to share my book with their friends.
Asking a colleague to keep me in mind if they need a copywriter.
2019 is going to be the year I practice asking for help.
Focus my energy
For 2019, I know that my biggest hustle needs to be in marketing the books that I have already written, as well as continuing to put out new words.
As it is, my freelance business is it staying stable, which means I’m fairly confident I’ll have a steady flow of clients and projects even if I don’t do an intense marketing push. If I keep it my usual level of networking and marketing, I should do fine.
But if I let myself get distracted by shiny new projects, I’ll diffuse my creative energy too much to accomplish what I’ve set for myself in 2019. That’s why my goal is to focus my energy on what matters the most this year.
Learn to celebrate
Another lesson I’m taking away from 2018 is to celebrate accomplishments.
In my freelance business, it can like I’m trapped in a cycle: working for the same clients, picking up a new client, being ghosted by an old client, turning in a project then starting work on the next project.
Writing fiction is the same way: finish draft one of the book then send it off to my beta readers and begin draft two of the next book, head into revisions, send it off to my editor while beginning the next book….
I realized I need to start celebrating milestones, otherwise it can feel like it never ends.
For fiction, publication is obviously a great milestone to celebrate. But there’s also the moment when you finish the damn book.
Is the book finished when you have a complete first draft? When you send it to your editor? When you get the final copy back from your editor? When you’ve put into the design process? When you are holding the print proof in your hand?
I decided to start celebrating my book as “done” when it gets sent to the editor. That’s because up until that point it doesn’t matter if I have 20,000 words written or three chapters left to revise, the entire process feels amorphous and insurmountable. Creative, confusing, and messy.
But once I have a draft that goes to my editor, the hard work is done. Sure, I’ll have to get my creative brain back out for the edits, but beyond that it’s all procedural. Accept changes, reject changes, put the manuscript into Vellum, upload the files to the distribution sites.
Of course, publication deserves celebration, too. I did a book launch party for my very first novel, Shifting Borders, but haven’t done anything since. It feels too weird to ask a bunch of people to come together with you and to look at this thing you created.
(See “asking for help from my network,” above.)
My husband convinced me I need to throw myself a full-on book launch party with beer and cake and friends and wine and readings, sometime in April to celebrate the release of The Bulari Saga.
First off — yep, I’ve been at this freelance writing thing for four full years.
(Well, four years and some change — I officially quit my desk job in April of 2012, but I waited tables for the rest of that year to make ends meet while I ramped up my writing biz.)
I think after four years, I can officially say I’m ruined for a regular office job. I just enjoy making my own fortune* too much to hitch my wagon back to somebody else’s star.
I like it all: the marketing hustle, the accounting boredom, the feast-and-famine puzzle, the wide variety of interesting clients, the ability to take off on a Thursday afternoon and go mountain biking when the weather’s nice.
At the end of every year, I take a look back on how my business year went and reflect on how I want to shift my business for the following years. I started blogging this review because when I first started out, it was hard to find concrete examples of freelancers at my level. I figured writing these posts would be a good resource for newer freelancers who wanted to learn how someone just ahead of them can make a living writing.
If that’s you, I hope you find this post helpful!
All right. Onward.
*Luck fortune, that is. Definitely not talking money fortune, don’t get any ideas.
2017: A Year of Development
For me, 2017 was a set-up year.
At the beginning of the year, I consciously decided I would reinvest my time and income into professional development — both writing craft and business. I also invested in putting some things into place that will help me reach my business goals in 2018.
What do I mean by that?
I took several writing courses, including a ghostwriting course with Derek Lewis and Ed Gandia, the Story Genius course with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash, and the business master class from Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.
I launched a new website and brand for my ghostwriting and consulting business, Bassline Editorial. (Check it out!)
I attended the Smarter Artist Summit, 20 Books to 50K, and several local sci-fi cons, where I met amazing people and grew my network.
I published another Durga System novella and a short story collection.
I wrote a ton of things that will be published in 2018.
In 2018, I want to continue educating myself, but my primary focus is going to shift to networking.
This will include attending conferences and conventions (including Worldcon in San Jose!), as well as being more deliberate about building online relationships through forums and groups. I’m also looking at local networking events aimed at entrepreneurs and business owners. I’m even toying with the idea of joining Toastmasters, though it sounds terrifying!
Networking will be important for my freelance business as I pivot more into ghostwriting and consulting, and for my fiction business as I plan to publish four novels next year. (More on that later.)
Achieving Balance in Business
Last year, I wrote about wanting to find more balance in my business. When I first started freelancing, I worked every evening and weekend, and was in a near-constant state of panic about deadlines and money. This year, I feel like my business has matured to the point where it doesn’t require my constant attention.
As I said to my husband just yesterday, “I don’t have to work on weekends* anymore, because I’m a pro.”
Along with no longer working weekends, I actually took a lot of time off this year, too — and still made my income goals. I even once (gasp!) set up an “out of office” message and took three days without checking my email.
It was amazing, and the world didn’t end.
Part of this has been replacing clients who had constant deadlines (like 2 posts/week) or who required 24-hour turnaround on things with bigger projects like white papers and case studies.
This lets me plan ahead more and shift my workload around if I want to take time off. It also means I can structure my days more how I like them. I can take time to exercise in the mornings, then spend a few hours writing fiction before switching gears to freelance work — without stressing that I was missing crucial emails.
The result is that I’m feeling more productive and less stressed out than I have in years.
* I often write fiction on weekends, or work on personal projects like blogging or marketing. I just don’t do client work anymore unless it’s a rush job — with a rush job price tag.)
Client Analysis: How I Make a Living Writing
It was a bit harder this year to categorize my income by project, since I have several clients for whom I do multiple things. This is a rough estimate of where my money came from this year.
Ebooks, white papers, and case studies: 46%
Ghost blogging: 23%
Website copy: 16%
Misc business copywriting/editing:6%
Bylined blogging: 5%
Consulting on content strategy: 1%
Knitting pattern descriptions: 1%
The thing I’m happiest about is that the big, meaty projects I like (ebooks, white papers, and case studies) made up the bulk of my income. I’m still doing a fair amount of blogging and website copy, but both those categories have gone down from years past.
And, as I mentioned in the section on balance, the types of clients I work for have changed, so the blogs and website content requirements aren’t as fast-paced and demanding on my availability.
That fiction number crept up from 0.5% in 2016, but it’s obviously not very impressive. As I said, 2017 was a set-up year for me — I’m hoping for much bigger things in 2018 when it comes to my fiction income.
New to the list is consulting, which is an aspect of my business I’m just dipping my toes into. My plan is to grow that number substantially in 2018.
How clients found me in 2017
Normally I title this section “how I found clients,” but the truth is that in 2017 I didn’t go hunting for a single client. This year, every new client approached me, rather than the other way around.
Even though I’m not particularly active there, I do keep my LinkedIn profile updated — and it’s worth it. Showing up in a LinkedIn search actually landed me four clients this year, including my biggest client!
Focusing on inbound marketing has not only freed up the time I used to spend cold pitching companies, it’s also kept my pipeline full of some really high-quality leads.
(I actually started using Streak for Gmail to manage incoming prospect conversations, since I was losing track. It lets you sort emails into a pipeline, like Inbound Lead –> Meeting Scheduled –> Proposal Sent –> Negotiating –> Became Client or Snoozing or Dead Lead. It also lets you set reminders, so if you send a proposal to someone, you can snooze the email to pop back up in your inbox a week from today if the prospect didn’t respond.)
In 2018, I’m going to double down on content marketing for my own business, especially as I pivot more toward ghostwriting and consulting on content strategy. I plan to start blogging regularly on my new freelance business site, BasslineEditorial.com, as well as focusing on guest posts.
I may even try to get on a podcast or two, if I can overcome my terror at the very idea.
My Fiction Business
I was able to spend significantly more of my time working on fiction projects this year, partly because I’ve been able to command a higher hourly rate and take on fewer client projects. As a result, I published two books (Negative Return and the short story collection Business as Usual).
I also wrote a book on creative productivity called From Chaos to Creativity. That’s in the editing and revisions process now, and will be out in 2019 from Microcosm Press.
I’ve made headway on the next Durga System novella, as well as on a trilogy of full-length novels centered around Jaantzen and Starla. If all goes well, I’ll be releasing all four of these books in 2018.
Lastly, I wrote a handful of short stories, which are out circling the world, trying to find a home. Hopefully I’ll have some news on those soon, too.
When I compare my 2017 fiction output to other indies, it looks pretty sad — but we’re not doing comparisonitis in this post. Just typing out the above accomplishments is a good reminder that constantly plugging along leads to forward progress.
What’s Up For 2018
I had a phone call with a potential client today, who asked what it is that really gets me excited about my work.
He’s a long-time business owner who is clearly passionate and thoughtful about his own industry. I told him what excited me most is helping people like him — business owners with something powerful to say — craft and share their message.
I wasn’t just trying to land the gig, I was being completely truthful. I love working with individuals who are passionate about their businesses, helping them shape and share their stories and wisdom.
That’s the reason I started Bassline Editorial this year, to shift my business away from writing “5 Surprising Neutral Paint Colors that Will Make Your Dining Room Pop” to offering developmental editing and ghostwriting services to people and companies with something to say.
In 2018, I’ll be shedding the sort of work I don’t find interesting in order to fill my days telling my own stories, and those of my clients. It’s going to be a great year, and I’m looking forward to sharing things with you as they come up!
How was your 2017?
I’d love to hear how things are going with you — in business, life, and your creative pursuits. Leave me a comment or drop me a line!