I’ve mentioned this a few times, and I share this story with my students quite often. I joined the Navy in 2005.
I took a friend to the recruiting office. She did NOT join the Navy. I did.
I was complaining to her that I was angry I couldn’t get published. Back then, self-publishing wasn’t what it is today. A Navy recruiter stuck his head out of the door and told me he’d publish me. That’s the short version. Eleven wonderful years later, (nearly 12 actually), I’m a proud veteran.
I joined because I wanted to be a writer. I went through boot camp, meeting a dear friend of mine who was also going to be a Journalist, and talking about which of us would finish at the top of our class (it was absolutely going to be one of us).
I arrived at the Defense Information School, where I currently teach as a civilian. I sat in class and felt my sky fall when I was informed that after I complete the writing course, I’d have to then take a broadcasting course.
What many of you don’t know is I was born with what’s called an internal cleft pallet. I have a speech impediment. I had to learn how to speak when I was a child because the surgery required to fix the issue. I’m still blessed. Mine was internal, and didn’t affect me on a cosmetic scale. This isn’t about my speech issue; it’s about opportunity.
I’ve been a writer my whole life. I’ve already shared that story. Imagine my horror when I found out if I didn’t pass this broadcasting course, I’d still go to the Navy undesignated. I promise you all, I overreacted. But, being the dedicated young man I was (and am), I took the challenge.
I graduated the broadcasting course (with honor I might add). Then, I went to my first command to be the writer I always wanted to be. I met my first LPO (which was a story in and of itself). He asked what I do. I frankly must have lost my mind because I looked him in the eye and said, “Well, as long as you don’t hand me a camera, we’ll be fine.”
You see…he was a photographer’s mate who loved his occupation very much. So my first assignment in the Navy? You got it, I was handed a camera (and a rather obvious hint that I have no business telling my LPO what I am going to be doing for him). (NOTE: If you’re going to join the military, and your first LPO/NCOIC asks, “What do you do?” make like Gump and reply with, “Whatever you tell me to.” Your life will be far easier.)
Again, my work ethic comes to the rescue. I could have been even more childish than I was (and I assure you I was), but instead, I did the best I could. Until recently, anyone I worked with would have been shocked to hear 1) I am also red-green color blind and 2) I joined the Navy to be a writer.
I had a successful career as a mass communication specialist, where I learned to be proficient in pretty much every communication field they have a title for. I’ve laid out magazines, run a TV studio, documented combat, captured portraits, and I even got to write more stories and features than most everyone else I know. (That guy I went to boot camp with. He’s the best MC I’ve ever known…ever.)
Something clicked for me along the way. I realized that storytelling is storytelling regardless of the medium you use. I promise my students are very tired of hearing me say this, but it’s still true.
I’ve recently started re-designing The Journals of Bob Drifter. I needed to do another proofread, and it turns out, all those skills I learned can help me save money. I can use my design skills to lay out and re-release my book for free.
Imagine how I feel knowing I paid $2,000 for a process I could have done in half the time for free? That’s not including editing or the $16,000 I spent on marketing (which got me zero sales). Now, please understand. I am actually a trained designer. I’m not self taught. I went to school for this and then went to Syracuse University for advanced training. If you want to save money on design, call a designer, or become one.
That brings me to my point.
Being an author these days simply requires more of you than writing a book. I was blessed to receive the training I have. I’m an award-winning photographer. I’m a competent designer. Now, I’m using these skills to save me money so I have more money to spend on professional editors and artists for my covers. I can spend money on marketing.
If you’re a writer, and all you’re doing is writing, you’re still amazing to me. I want you to know that, but this world demands more (he repeated). I want to encourage you to take classes. Train. Hone your skills. Find a mentor and grow. I’m reading books on marketing. I’m studying social media. Every trick I learn is one more thing I can use to be better.
What I want to encourage you all to do is think about what you’re already good at. Increase your skill set to ultimately increase your ability to be a successful author. Do you have to? That depends. If all you want to do is write books, then this post was a waste of your time (sorry). BUT, if you want to sell those books and earn a profit, now you’re talking about a business. I’m clueless in that arena except for one simple concept. You want to limit expenses and increase sales. As I study more on how to market and work to create more books, I’m starting to do other things to lower my up front costs. This epiphany is something I’d like to share with you all before you do what I did and spend all kinds of money you don’t have to.
I didn’t design Caught. The design team at Create Space did a great job, and it was already far less expensive than Bob Drifter was. ($1,500 less). By doing all the design work for Bob, I’m basically re-releasing it for free. Meaning every single sale I have is 100% profit. I don’t like the time I’m spending, but in a world where I count every penny (not being metaphorical here), it all matters. That money can go to things I can’t do. I need editors. We all do. I think I could (if I wanted) edit someone else’s work, but no one can see their own flaws, they’re too close to it. Marketing is a individual effort, but some of it requires money.
I hope this gives you all ideas. I have one friend who’s very gifted with art and videos. She makes book trailers. Some authors have become very successful podcasters. Youtube videos. Whatever skill you can use is one more skill you don’t have to pay someone else to. Yeah, it sucks not writing. Whenever I’m not writing, I’m thinking about how quickly I can do whatever it is I’m doing, so I can get to writing. But this is a long game we play in this business. If you want it to be a business, you’ll have to start doing more than just writing.
I’d like to leave you with skills I think an independent author should consider training for:
Layout and design
Broadcasting (podcasts, audiobook narration, radio dramas, video blogs)
Marketing (Oh how I hate it and wish I could be better)
Proofreading (I stand by what I said, but if you improve your skill, your editors (who you should hire) will thank you.)
There’s a ton, but those are all skills that can make you a more successful business person.
I hope this has helped.
Thanks for reading,