A couple of years ago, when I had just decided to step up my game and give this writing gig a serious go, I attended a networking function. I don’t remember much about the evening. Most likely, I stood near the food table because when I’m nervous, I eat. A young woman approached and introduced herself, probably recognising in me another earnest, emerging writer. We talked about what we were working on at the moment. I told her that I was a self-published author but that I was intending to give up publishing to focus on improving my writing craft. Then she said something that stuck with me all this time.

‘When people ask you what you do, do you say you’re a writer or an author? I tell people I’m a writer. When I get picked up by a proper publisher, only then will I introduce myself as an author.’

I’m sure she didn’t mean to offend me with the implication that I wasn’t a ‘legitimate’ author because I’d self published. Anyway, I’ve only ever thought of myself as a writer. I picture a game avatar of me running into a mushroom, Mario Brothers style, punching the air and levelling up. Now I’m an author! I don’t delineate between a writer and an author because I think writing is a continuous journey. Every day you write, you get a little better. Also, it feels like selling yourself short to let gatekeepers decide when you’ve reached a milestone, especially when the publishing industry (like everything else) is just a business model, that can’t always afford to take risks on fresh, new, experimental or diverse works.

I’m not dissing trade publishing. There are many publishers doing wonderful things. This isn’t  a post that rehashes self versus traditional publishing route. There’s plenty of information already put out on the whys and hows of self-publishing (a good starting point for people interested in finding out more is the Alliance of Independent authors https://selfpublishingadvice.org/alli-blog/ ).

But if there’s one thing my sojourn into DIY publishing has taught me is that emerging writers learn their craft more effectively if they adopt the mindset of a self-published author. How long does it take a writer to write their first novel? Anywhere from six months to years depending on professional training, talent and whether you’re lucky enough to be in a position to write full time. Most writers would fall on the longer end of the spectrum squeezing in the writing around paid work, family and friends. This is when thinking like a self-published author can help speed up that process.

I am presently wrangling my first serious novel and it is taking FOREVER. In 2017, I wrote a 100 0000 word draft that I’ve mostly trashed. I spent the first six months of 2018 doing world building research and re-plotting, then managed to write a semi-decent second draft of 80 000 words which I can now edit into something usable. It’s been fourteen months since I’ve started producing this manuscript.

For fourteen months, I’ve been turning up to family visits, squinting at my nieces and nephews and asking, ‘Which one are you again?’ Date nights with my husband consists of us drinking in the lounge room where he plays computer games and I type away on my laptop beside him, occasionally giving him an absent-minded pat on the leg whenever he blows something up. I shirk my share of the housework and feel guilty for not spending as much time with my toddler as he wants. Worse than that, I’ve sacrificed a reliable day job with great pay and career advancing prospects so I can spend time on speculative writing work.

Having self-published some of my works motivate me to keep going when I’m sitting around in my pyjamas at midday thinking about the bad life choices I’ve made.

I feel validated.

On a bad writing day, when I’m tempted to hit the delete button on every nonsensical sentence I’ve strung together, I think about my small writing wins. The monthly sales report I get from my distributors. I call it my cheerleading fund. Some months it’s only enough to buy me a meal, other months it’s high enough to knock off substantial amounts from my initial self publishing set-up costs. Having self published works have also helped my family and friends understand what it is that I do. I no longer have to field phone calls from well meaning friends wanting to have coffee in the middle of the day because they have an RDO and I’m obviously not at my day job therefore I must be free. Occasionally, they even ring to check up on how my novel is coming along. Now I’m committed to finishing this manuscript to save face.

I feel professional.

I diligently do a tax return for my writing business every year regardless of whether I make a profit or loss. From memory, this is the first year that I’ve actually turned a profit but there are practical reasons for my persistence. Any financial investments from my creative practice (writing courses, editors, books etc) can be offset against income from other employment regardless of whether that employment is related to my artistic field. (If you didn’t know this, check out Australian Taxation Office income tax ruling TR2005/1, especially useful for creatives). I have also just successfully applied for childcare subsidy. The annual tax return was an easy way to validate my writing business and claim my writing hours as work.

I have writer friends who don’t feel the need to set up their professional websites or maintain a social media profile because they are unpublished. Putting aside the advice of more experienced writers who always say that publishers look for new writers with a web presence, the other practical reason for building an online profile is that by setting up as a professional writer, you can be properly assessed for tax.

The ATO definition between a hobbyist and a professional doesn’t state that financial gain is necessary, only the intention to eventually make money from your work. My point is, if you’re going to invest ten years to writing that first manuscript, then go all in. Call yourself a professional, buy as much time as you can by claiming any tax benefits and give yourself a break.

I see the big picture.

Dabbling in self publishing helped me see my writing as a career instead of focusing on producing one book at a time. When it takes up to ten years to knock out one novel, then having endurance helps. I’m talking big picture stuff like how to stay healthy and not burn out. How much time to spend on my craft versus business versus family. This is why I’ve given up on the self-publishing in order to focus on being a writer. Because, it takes a very special breed of writer to succeed at both.

To all my emerging writer buddies out there, 2019 will be a year of transformation.  Maybe not from writer to author, but it will be equally as magical. It will be a year of levelling up, of clearing that writer’s block, celebrating milestones, of gaining insight into your practice to make it so joyful even Marie Kondo will approve.