The Accidental Business
It has officially been one whole year since I made the epic decision not to return to my nine-to-five. At the time it was terrifying, exhilarating, and freeing. But over the last twelve months there have been more ups and downs than I can count, and a few sideways moves too.
You'll notice, looking at my blog, that absolutely nothing was posted in the last year. And that's because I made the biggest error that any rookie solopreneur can make - I stretched myself too thin. It happened by accident, but it was a tough lesson to learn and one that Future Me will not be repeating in a hurry.
In fact, my latest non-fiction project is a book titled How to Start a Business on Your Maternity Leave and it will be based largely on all of the things I didn't do – or did too much of!
So, What's Been Going On?
Without going over the entire year month-by-month and boring the pants off you, the primary business I thought I wanted to focus on in 2018-2019 was the educational publishing arm of my imprint Bewick Press. My husband is an English teacher and creates fantastically original resources. So, we developed a range of revision cards that we thought would go down a storm in the Secondary School market.
The problem? Schools have very little money and without an enormous advertising budget we were simply unable to penetrate the market. Reducing the RRP of the cards may have helped, but we didn't have the capital to print the numbers required to get it down to something sensible.
I also began a scheme called The Young Author Project, which was free for schools to take part in and aimed to teach young people about writing and publishing. Everyone who took part had their work published in an anthology and the aim was to derive income from book sales to schools and parents. Books were priced at normal paperback price because I didn't want to be one of those companies manipulating parents into spending heaps of money.
Unfortunately, though, this meant that at the end of the year, having crunched the numbers, we made a loss on the project. We barely generated enough from each school who took part to cover mailing the certificates and badges to the students, let alone the hours and hours it took to put together the anthologies and create the online resources.
Quite frankly, this revelation broke my heart. The Young Author Project was my baby, something I was so proud of and that meant a great deal to the students who took part. But at the start of the summer we were refused funding from the Arts Council and last week I made the decision to close down the project. At least for now.
The Accidental Business
While all of that was going on, because The Young Author Project and our revision cards weren't actually making any money, I've been working as a writing mentor, self-publishing consultant, ghost writer, and author services provider. Basically, helping other authors make their books great and get them published.
I've also been trying to squeeze in a bit of my own writing and was recently longlisted for the Mslexia Children's Novel Competition, which is the absolute biggest thing to happen in my writing career to date.
Writing, helping others write, and seeing books get published are things I love doing. But for almost the entirety of the 2018-2019 academic year, I didn't view any of them as my 'real' business. Why? Well, I've been thinking about this a lot and I've come up with two answers:
1. Because long-term I want to be able to make enough money to get my husband out of teaching. He loves his job. But it's stressful. And starting an educational publishers seemed like the logical way to do this.
2. The old demon self-doubt. Ultimately, until very recently, I never really believed that my writing and the things connected with it could be big enough to support me.
A little while ago, my sister let me borrow her copy of Neil Gaiman's Art Matters. In it, he talks about the importance - as a creative - of figuring out what the top of your mountain looks like and making sure you take steps that get you closer to it. Working in the Arts, this isn't always easy. Sometimes you have to take a sideways step in order to prevent a backwards one. But this little idea gave me a very sudden, very meaningful, dose of clarity. And I realised that the top of my mountain looks like this:
Ultimately, I want to be a full-time writer making enough money to support my family and enjoy a flexible lifestyle.
BUT!! Being a 'full-time' writer doesn't mean only writing. Most authors – even the really famous ones – do all sorts of things connected with writing in order to support themselves.
And this is my epiphany!
I finally realised that, totally unexpectedly, over the last year I've built the beginnings of a business that I love and that I can see growing – without the heartache and turmoil I was feeling every time I thought about my education business.
This time last year, I'd worked with one client (an author called Linda Negus who I helped to publish an incredible book called Gently They Rage).
Now, one year later, I have:
Three large projects on the go that I'm incredibly excited about.
Helped an author raise £6,000 in crowdfunding.
Provided editorial assessments, coaching sessions, and writing retreats.
Written two more novels and two novellas.
Been hired as a ghostwriter by a renowned publishing house.
Been longlisted for an award.
Secured a position as a teacher of Creative Writing at West Suffolk College.
For now, my education-based ideas are being placed firmly on the back-burner. I am human and there's only one of me. I do not have the time or the mental energy to run two businesses and take care of my gorgeous two-year old son.
I am going to focus on what I love and what excites me – helping others to write and publish well, and working on my own craft as an author.
I'm going to be clarifying my goals and streamlining my business – now that I've acknowledged what my business actually is and where my strengths are!
I'll be focussing on working with authors who have powerful stories to tell. Perhaps in the form of self-help books they want to write based on their personal experiences, perhaps as memoirs.
I will be prioritising self-care. I hear this thrown around a lot and in the past haven't paid it much attention. But as a mum, an entrepreneur, and a fibromyalgia warrior, it is something I really have to start making a part of my daily routine.
So, watch this space and I promise there will be more blogs from this point on! (I'll try and make them less wordy too...)