Ten years ago today, I gave up my job as a psychologist to follow my dream: writing sapphic fiction full-time.
It’s been an incredible journey—one that has taught me more than I could have ever imagined when I first embarked on this path.
As I celebrate and reflect on those ten years, I thought I would share with you the 12 lessons I’ve learned during my decade as a full-time writer of sapphic romance.
1 – Prepare for a climb, not a leap
People often refer to giving up your day job to write full-time as a “leap of faith.” It certainly felt like one since I gave up the security and steady income my former job offered for an unpredictable career as an author.
But I didn’t actually “leap” into anything. It was more of a gradual climb after months of careful planning, years of building a backlist, and decades of learning the writing craft. I talked to fellow authors who had been writing full-time for years, and I saved up so I would have a financial cushion to survive the inevitable bad months.
Taking the plunge and quitting my job still seemed like a leap of faith. Yet it was like humankind first setting foot on the moon. That final stride onto the moon’s surface was certainly monumental, but it was merely one in a long sequence of carefully planned steps.
2 – Don’t look for shortcuts
Writers who would love to give up their day job to write full-time have often asked me for the secret to making a living as a writer. The secret is: there is no secret.
There are no shortcuts to success as a writer. The only true secret is putting in the work—day in and day out. Most people who appear to be an “overnight success” have worked hard for years. Persistence, patience, and a dedication to honing your craft are the building blocks of a successful writing career.
3 – Stay flexible and keep learning
The publishing industry has changed a lot since I became a full-time writer in December 2013 and even more since I published my first novel in 2007. Things that worked ten years ago might no longer work today.
If you want to make it as a full-time writer, staying flexible and adapting to changes is essential.
Being a full-time writer means you have to embrace a lifelong learning habit. I still read writing craft books to hone my writing skills, and I subscribe to newsletters and blogs on writing, marketing, and publishing to stay up to date on new approaches, technologies, and developments in the publishing industry.
4 – Understand the business side of being a full-time writer
As a full-time writer, you’re not just an artist; you’re an entrepreneur—someone who’s running their own small business. That’s a struggle for many writers since most of us are the creative types, not people with a head for business.
But if you want to make it as a full-time writer, you have to learn how to promote your books, analyze the market, and manage your finances.
That may sound daunting, but it gets easier if you make good use of all the resources that are out there—from books to online courses to asking the people who are already doing it successfully for advice.
5 – Build your essential tools early on
One thing that I wish I had done sooner is to establish my two most important platforms when it comes to connecting with my readers.
Social media platforms have changed their algorithms or fallen into disuse over the past ten years (or are in the process of imploding—I’m looking at you, X formerly known as Twitter), so relying on them is akin to building your castle in another person’s sandbox. Your website and your newsletter are the only platforms you control, so start building them as early as possible.
6 – Balance passion and marketability
I have never written a book I wasn’t passionate about. After all, I spend six to nine months researching, writing, revising, and proofreading each manuscript. That’s too much time to spend on something I’m lukewarm about—and, more importantly, I believe that lack of enthusiasm would be noticeable to readers.
At the same time, as a full-time writer, I rely on my books to make a living. Writing is my passion, yes, but it’s also my livelihood.
That means I have to find the sweet spot between what I am passionate about and what readers are passionate about. Luckily, there’s a huge overlap in my case, but if you write in a less popular subgenre, you might have to work a little harder to balance what you want to write with what readers want to read.
7 – Understand your brand
When I first started out as a writer, I was all over the place. I jumped from writing historical romance to romantic suspense and then paranormal romance without any understanding of what makes my books unique or what they might have in common.
My career only took off once I began to understand my brand—who I am as a writer and what readers love about my books. Read your reviews, listen to readers talk about your books, and look for patterns. What stands out for readers when it comes to your writing style and your books? What is it that they love in particular?
In 2024, I plan to redo my website, and as part of that website revamp, I’ll add a section that explains to new readers what to expect from my writing. That has been a good exercise in understanding the finer points of my brand.
8 – Stop comparing yourself to others and figure out what works for you
Writers often suffer from “comparititis”—constantly comparing themselves to other writers. Resist that temptation. There’ll always be someone who gets more reviews, more sales, more awards.
For example, I’m a slow writer, so comparing my hourly word count to those of my colleagues will only end up frustrating me. So I remind myself that the fast-drafting champions might have to spend more time revising and proofreading than I do, and I stick to my own pace.
Fellow authors are not your competition. Your success doesn’t depend on what anyone else is doing. Keep your focus on yourself, and figure out what works for you.
9 – Work with your strengths
Sometimes, it feels as if full-time writers have to do it all and master everything. It took me a while to figure out that it’s not true or productive. Doing things badly won’t help your writing career.
Instead, understand and capitalize on your own strengths.
I’m a very introverted and shy person. While I learned to deal with public speaking, the thought of doing readings still terrifies me… so I decided not to do them.
Instead, I focus on my strengths: With my background as a psychologist, I seem to have a knack for character development. I love learning new things, so I make that part of my books. I’m also very organized and creative when it comes to marketing ideas, and I use those skills to organize fun cross-promos and events for readers.
10 – Don’t spread yourself too thin
While I think I have a pretty good grasp on lessons 1-9, this one is still my Achilles’ heel: I want to do too many things—write my own books, edit manuscripts for fellow authors, mentor new writers, organize bookish events… The list is endless.
Saying “no” is really not my strong suit either, which frequently leads to working more hours than I ever did as a psychologist.
I’ll definitely try to take my own advice and prioritize the things that move the needle in 2024. My writing time needs to come before everything else. Oh, and I’m also overdue for a vacation, so I’ll make that a New Year’s resolution too.
11 – Cultivate ties in your community
Writing is a solitary activity, and as a full-time writer, you work from home and no longer have colleagues to chat with during breaks.
That’s why making friends with fellow authors and building a supportive network of readers, beta readers, and writers is so important. My author friends and I bounce ideas off each other, celebrate the triumphs, and commiserate when things are not going well, lifting each other up.
The community of sapphic fiction readers and writers means a lot to me, and I try to find ways to give back whenever possible.
12 – Love what you do
Lesson number twelve was the easiest to achieve for me: Love what you do. Even after all these years, I still love being a writer and sharing my stories with readers.
Of course, not everything is fun. There are negative reviews, tight deadlines, financial struggles, and other challenges, but it’s the love of the writing craft and of storytelling that makes every day as a full-time writer fulfilling.
So my final bit of advice is simple: Find out what you love about being a writer and do more of it.
Thank you to all the readers, fellow writers, editors, beta readers, and other book people who have been part of my journey as a full-time writer.
Here’s to many more years of storytelling and shared adventures.
With heartfelt gratitude,