I kind of touched on this in one of my recipe posts. Because food is a big part of my life and it is intertwined with my memories and my journey. I thought I needed to expand on what I’ve touched on since it’s been four years since I published my first book.
Four fucking years.
I’m gonna talk about about my journey as an indie author…so far. I have not finished this wonderful and crazy adventure. I don’t plan on finishing, ever. My ultimate dream is to make this my life. To write forever. So I hope that this crazy ride continues and reaches new heights. Cross your fingers for me ‘kay? And also, keep reading my books.
I’m going to start this by saying I’ve always been an avid reader and writer.
My mum instilled my love of reading pretty much from birth and I’m forever grateful for her for that. Well, I’m grateful to her for many other things, including for shaping me into the woman I am today, but for the sake of this post, I’m grateful for that.
I would always write stories as a kid. Mum says that she has my ‘first’ story about a princess (surprise, surprise) written by five-year-old me and that it’s amazingly detailed for someone so young. Are we surprised that I was rambling from five years old?
As I grew older, I continued writing stories, on paper but mostly in my head. I’m a daydreamer. I’d spent hours making up elaborate storylines in my head. I loved writing, imagining, but I never considered the fact I could turn this into a career.
It was a part of me, just like my love of reading and my wild imagination, not tangible thing that I could turn into a job.
That was mostly because for as long as I could dress myself, I was all about fashion. I loved it. I loved to read and I loved fashion. I would create different looks every single day. My dad—before he passed—would take me out shopping, helping style me from head to toe, he instilled my expensive taste in me.
Un my mind, there was never a doubt about ‘what I wanted to be when I grew up’ (though now I’m totally at peace with the fact I’ll never grow up, I’m Peter Pan but in heels), never that weird kind of panic most teenagers have about their future.
Fashion was my future.
I’d tell that to anyone who would listen.
I was kind of an asshole about it, honestly.
People from my small country town didn’t really get me. I would wear wild outfits every day. Every day I embodied a different person, decade or style. For a straight year, I was obsessed with Edie Sedgwick. I chopped off all my hair and all I wore were shift dresses and huge earrings. Because of this, I’d get raised brows from a lot of people in town, followed by the inevitable question “what are you so dressed up for?”
And I would always answer the same.
I’m dressed up for life.
Although I adore my small hometown, I’ve never felt like I belonged there. I had a big city mindset and a creative brain with ideas that didn’t really fit in with place I called home.
Because of this, I was always certain of my future. Of fashion. Of New York City.
I would tell it to anyone that would listen: “I’m going to live in New York and I’m going to be fabulous and I’ll never come back to this place ever again.”
Ah, the arrogance of youth.
Fast forward a few years.
I moved to Christchurch with my boyfriend at the time, enrolled in a Fashion Degree. After only a few weeks of classes, I was in a devastating and deadly earthquake. One hundred and eighty-five people lost their lives that day. It was one of the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. I was convinced I was going to die.
But I was lucky. Luckier than a lot of other Christchurch residents. Back then, and more recently. I’m gonna jump out of this story for a second to talk about the incredible resilience of that city and my country in the wake of tragedy. I felt I couldn’t write this without mentioning the souls that have been lost in a city I used to call home.
After the earthquake, I was shaken, scared and needing my mum. I went back to the town I’d thought I’d left in my rear-view as my apartment was unliveable and unsafe.
I spent a little bit of time back home, trying to figure out where to go, what to do. Fashion was still certain, but I was too afraid to go back to Christchurch. So I made the decision to move closer to home to a smaller city. I moved in with some of my best friends. Enrolled in one of the most prestigious fashion courses in New Zealand.
And I hated it.
Months away from getting my degree, it came to a head. I cried. Every day. I was a ball of stress. I didn’t sleep. I was up until six in the morning designing collections. I had a mental breakdown at a sewing machine over a skirt.
I was trapped. Because quitting was not an option. My parents raised me to never give up. To never quit.
The only time I did that was at seven years old after a ballet class that showed me it was not all about cute skirts, pretty hair and pink shoes.
Other than that, I’d always seen things through to the end.
And I didn’t want to disappoint my mum. My dad, watching from wherever he was. I didn’t want to disappoint myself.
It was one of the lowest points in my life. All my life, I’d been so smug about never having a crisis of identity. About always knowing what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be and who I was.
And now the thing I’d attached to my identity was slowly killing me.
Or killing my spirit.
Enter Cade and Gwen.
I cannot tell you what made me write them.
Actually, I can.
In addition to my love of books, I began to love romance novels in my late teens. I devoured them. Adored them. Secretly, of course, since it wasn’t accepted to read such things in a conservative small town in New Zealand.
Romance novels got me through some hard times. They still do.
Books in general have been my guiding light through the darkest of places.
One night, around midnight, battling insomnia (something I struggle with on and off) I couldn’t find anything to read. Nothing was right. I had a specific idea of what I wanted to read, what I wanted to get from it.
But I couldn’t find that book.
So I started writing one.
I didn’t exactly make the conscious decision “I’m going to start writing a book”. I honestly just thought about a scene I wanted to read.
I wrote it.
And I continued writing without a clear idea of what I was doing. I was very careful not to tell myself I was writing a book. Because I couldn’t write a book. Other people did that. I was just writing something for me.
Something to get me through the night.
And then it got me through the next night.
And the next.
Suddenly I got about a quarter of Gwen and Cade’s book written.
And then I left it.
I don’t know why. Maybe it became impossible to avoid what I was doing…I was writing a book. Maybe that scared me. Terrified me. So I very carefully placed it in the proverbial drawer, closed it, locked it, let it stay there and tried to forget about it.
A lot of things happened in between me starting and finishing Making the Cut.
I dropped out of Fashion School. Months away from a degree. A decision that I felt sick about at the time. I knew disappointed my mother, though she is far too much of a good parent to say it outwardly.
She tried to understand the depth of the struggle that I was going through, the dark cloud known as depression lingering on my once cloudless horizon. She tried her best. She supported me working retail in a dead-end job I hated for a year. She had faith in me when I lost it in myself.
And when a fellow fashion school dropout told me about her plans to travel Europe, my mum supported me quitting my job, buying a one way ticket and a backpack. Most parents wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t give their child—who had just dropped out of university—their unwavering support to go and traipse around the world with no direction, literally or figuratively.
Because there was a way things went.
A formula I was supposed to follow.
You left high school, you got a degree, you got married to your childhood sweetheart, you got a job, a house and that was it. Don’t deviate from the system. Deviation is death.
But I left my childhood sweetheart, I abandoned my degree and I went nomad for a year around Europe.
My mother supported me. Every step of the way.
And it was the best decision of my life.
Because I lost myself for a long time, in a country I called home.
And I found myself, getting lost, halfway around the world.
I found my love of writing, my love of life.
If you babes are interested, I can give you more details of my travels. I had a blog and I can share some of the stories with you.
But for now, I’ll just say that I’m so happy that I made that scary decision.
Because it’s what led me here. Right here, sitting in a sunny café in London writing about how I became an author.
It’s still weird to call myself that.
But we need to go back a tiny bit. To the end of my year-long backpacking trip around Europe. I did half with a friend, half alone. Let me just say this to you now, I think every single person in the world needs to experience solo travel. It’s one of the most liberating and strengthening things I’ve ever done. It showed me that I was capable of so much and forced me to rely on myself.
I got home a year later with a lot of stories. With a purpose. With a slightly different identity than I’d worn for twenty-three years, but one that fit me like custom couture.
I wanted to be a writer.
When I vocalised this, my mother smiled slyly and didn’t even say “that’s what I’ve been saying since you wrote that mother effing princess story!”
She knew this was a discovery I needed to make for myself.
I moved to Wellington (my absolute favourite city in all of New Zealand), I started my degree. I also unlocked that proverbial drawer, pulled out that story I’d pretended to forget about. And I finished it.
And I published it.
I had no fucking idea what I was doing.
If you’re a babe that’s been with me from the beginning, firstly, I love you, and secondly, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
I didn’t know anything about Indie Publishing. Not. A. Thing.
All I knew was that I had a story I kind of loved and there was a place I could publish it. I made my cover on Amazon’s fricking Cover Creator. Cue cringe.
I didn’t tell anyone about this.
Not a soul.
Primarily because I didn’t think anything would come of it.
I thought, hey, maybe one person might read this and that’d be cool. I published it only because I wanted to do something with this story I created.
I legitimately thought Amazon would email me every time my book sold a copy.
I was so mother-fucking naive.
So imagine my surprise logging in and seeing the sales. The reviews.
The absolutely scathing reviews. Okay, some of you were kind and beautiful and I adore you for that because you’re probably the reason I didn’t unpublish my book and never open another Word Document.
I’m not saying I didn’t deserve those scathing reviews.
I absolutely did. As mentioned, I knew nothing. Less than Jon Snow.
So obviously, I didn’t realise the vital need for an editor.
For any aspiring indie reading this, trust me on this, you need a mother effing editor. I don’t care how many times you’ve read through your manuscript, how many online grammar sites you’ve run it through, how you don’t have the money to get it edited, you need one.
Somehow, I survived the reviews, though I did cry. A lot.
I could’ve quit right there.
Could’ve listened to some of the horrible things people were saying, could’ve told myself that I couldn’t do this, not on my own, not without any support from my friends and family.
But I’d already quit something once (twice, if you want to count ballet) no freaking way would I do it again. So even though I was a struggling university student with only a part time job to help me survive and do things like eat, I maxed out my credit card to get an editor, with no idea of how the hell I was going to pay it back.
I pulled Making the Cut from Amazon. I got it ‘re-edited’, this is in air quotes because I got kind of ripped off by my first editor. I hadn’t done enough research, was nowhere near seasoned enough.
But it was enough to have people continue to read my books.
If you are one of those people, you do not know how much you mean to me. I would pinch myself in those early days, literally pinch myself, when I got an email about my characters, asking about my next book or just saying beautiful kind things. I still pinch myself. I still read every single email.
I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I’m still making them. I expect to be still making them until I die. Because if I stop making mistakes then I stop learning, stop improving.
But I got most of the ‘rookie’ mistakes out of the way with the first two books.
It wasn’t until Out of the Ashes that I even told my friends and family I was writing books. I was such a coward about it I sent my mum a text because I couldn’t physically say “I’m an author” out loud. I had never said it out loud before. Or even in my head. I was in a weird kind of denial about it all.
My mother immediately called me, crying her eyes out.
She has been my biggest cheerleader ever since. Actually, she’s always been my biggest cheerleader. As have my aunty, my nana and all my girlfriends, just in case you’re wondering about why female friendships are such big parts of my stories. Because they are huge parts of my life.
Despite my mum, and my best friends knowing, I still wanted to keep it ‘secret’. Not because I was ashamed, but because this was something that I thrived off doing anonymously. I didn’t want people from my nosy small town talking about how I’m writing ‘sex books’.
But there are no secrets in small towns.
Not when my younger brother has too many beers at the local pub and talks about how proud he is of his sister and the books she’s written.
So yeah, no secrets.
And there was judgement.
Let me tell you this, whatever you do, especially if it’s something that comes from a place of passion and happiness—people are going to judge you. For a number of reasons. Because they are jealous you’re doing something that makes you passionate and happy and they’re toiling away at a job they hate because it’s what’s expected. I’ve never done what’s expected.
I hope I never do.
I started writing in 2015. It’s now 2019. I’ve written twenty-two books. I’ve met some amazing people. I’ve learned more about myself in four years than I did in the twenty-two years prior.
I am my own boss. I am doing something I adore. I am surrounded by amazing and inspiring women. I have so much planned for the future.
I want you to know that this is all started from a place of bone deep unhappiness. Of despair.
So for anyone reading this, if you are struggling under a dark cloud that you think is permanent. I promise you it’s not. The only way we can ever truly appreciate and love our sunshine is if we know what the storm looks like.
Take that chance.
It doesn’t have to be dropping out of school like I did. Or buying a one-way ticket to Europe. Or even writing a book.
That’s the beauty of this chaotic and crazy life. Everyone is different.
That means everyone’s life should look different. Do not listen to that person that tells you it needs to look the same as everyone else’s. Do not listen to that little voice inside you that’s telling you that either.
You need to listen to another voice, the one that’s telling you to do something crazy. Something terrifying. You need to listen to that voice. It knows its shit. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. I promise it does.
I need to end this portion of the blog post getting sappy. I know it sounds like a load of corny bullshit when I say “I wouldn’t be here without my readers” over and over again. But I say it so much because it’s true. Without every single one of you, I am scared to think about where I’d be. Fucking terrified. And yes, I know I’m a boss ass bitch so I would’ve figured out something kick ass to do with my life. But I honestly can’t think of another path that feeds my soul like this one. And it’s you babes that have paved this path for me. That continue to pave it. With your reviews, your messages, your comments, your support. Please never forget how important you are to me or my journey.
Love you all.
To the moon.
*The reason why the photo accompanying this post is one of me in New York is because I made it there. Not in the way I planned. The way I told everyone I would. But that doesn’t matter. You plan, then life happens. If there’s somewhere you really want to go, you believe in yourself, and you hustle. You’ll get there.
Advice for Indies
Okay, I feel weird as fuck giving out advice like this. Because as you know, at the start, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know about the indie world, didn’t have author friends (I’m so fricking thankful for the ones I’ve made) I had Google. And a story.
But I guess I’ve got to the point where I’ve got a lot more than Google and a story.
So I’ll tell you some things that I’ve learned along the way.
- Don’t think about it. Just open up a blank page and spew the mother effing words out. Don’t worry about the red lines, forgetting a character’s name (I do that all the fricking time), about logic. This will come later. For now, you need to get that fabulous and kick ass story from your brain to the screen. Let it be creative and beautiful and chaotic. *This might not work for ‘plotters’ since I’m a pantser and I can’t tell you about things I don’t do, this is what works for me.
- Read. I’m pretty sure you’ve already done that, if you’re here. And this should come first. But I don’t plan, hence this list being out of order. I can’t stress how important reading is. Both within your genre and out of it. Stephen King (my almighty god) said a good writer does two things, reads a lot and writes a lot. And he’s right. Every writer loves to read. Please don’t forget that.
- Edit. Edit. Edit. Then get a professional editor to edit. Trust me. You need it. I know it’s expensive, I know you’re just starting out and you can’t fathom spending that much money. But this is going to be your career, right? Or at least you hope it will be. Do you love your story? Is it little pieces of your soul carved from your insides and put into words? Then please do not do it the injustice of not having it be the best it can be.
- Make friends in the indie world. I cannot stress how important this is. Writing is such a solitary job. And even if you’ve got the most amazing supportive friends and family (which I do), they don’t always get it. Writers have different brains. We’re weirdos. The good kind of weirdos, obviously. You need someone to talk to about it all, to help you with things they might have learned along the way. And you might be able to help them too. Now, this is not about being in the ‘cool group’ and getting in with those ‘big’ authors. I’m talking about genuine, supportive, and kind contemporaries. Surround yourself with people that are hustling like you, who will straighten your crown without telling you it was crooked. I stole that quote off Pinterest.
- Get a good cover. If you’re amazing with Photoshop and design, then I’m super jealous and you rock. Saving costs is important, so if you can make a clean, professional looking cover yourself, by all means, do it. But your time is also your money, so don’t spend more of it than you would on getting someone to do it for you to free up your writing time. Do not do the Amazon Cover Creator like I did. Take it from me.
- Get social. Make yourself accessible to readers. Get a Facebook page. An email dedicated to book stuff, where your readers can contact you. Make a website. Get an Instagram. Or Twitter, if you’re hip and cool. I only recently got it and still don’t get it. Come follow me. But seriously, interacting with your readers is so important.
- Build your brand. Ugh, I know, this is so very businessy and you’re a creative and the thought of creating a brand does not line up with your idea of a writer’s life. Also it’s actually pretty hard to figure out ‘your brand’. But as an indie author, you are your brand. This is both a blessing and a curse. I have seen countless authors absolutely kill their careers because of a post on social media, an interaction with a reader, or a really fricking controversial opinion. If you want your brand to be about being controversial, then go right ahead. Lemme tell you right now it’s a risk. But you need to decide this for yourself. No one else can tell you how you want your readers to see you. But make sure once you figure this out that you embody your brand. Like it or not, this is a business. You are a business. And when writing, it’s wonderful to let your creative werdio freak flag fly, but once that portion is done, it’s time to think with another part of your brain.
- Don’t write to market. I’m sure there are loads of authors who disagree with me here. Maybe a load of them selling a shit ton of books. And if it works for them, then that’s amazing, I’m here with my pom poms cheering them on. It might work for you. So ignore this if this is what you want to do. But in my opinion, writing to market is forcing something that should come organically. And our readers are smart puppies, they can tell if something isn’t written with your heart and soul.
- Think of a book idea that terrifies you. Scares you more than waking up at 3.a.m after watching The Conjuring. Got that terrifying thought? Awesome. Run with it. Write that. Because the thing that scares you most in the world? That’s what’s gonna end up being the most awesome.
- Make your own mistakes. Learn from them. Keep going. Don’t let anyone tell you to quit.