Thursday, September 17, 2020

Going back to basics by Kia Carrington-Russell

Let's welcome Kia Carrington-Russell as she tells us what it means to go back to basics and refresh her writing career. I'm sure we can all apply these lessons to other parts of our lives to not stagnate.

Daisy flowers in a jar

Feeling stagnant in your writing career? You’re not alone. Six years into my writing career and I just reminded myself once again why I’m writing and the way I managed to not lose myself and persevere to make writing a long-term career.

When I was fifteen, I began writing my first book, Possession of My Soul. At the time, as an angsty teenager, I found it a way to escape from reality and find discipline in my first personal goal and long-term project. Five years later, I independently published that first book. I’d experienced mishaps, mistakes, and some hard to learn lessons, but it didn’t detract from the experience, it just made it more real, more possible, just within grasp. It was time to put all I’d learned on the line and declare to new readers and the world at large: Look out, here I come, next J K Rowling coming through!

Young girl writing in a notebook

I remember my energetic bounce, learning everything new I could in the indie publishing industry and giddy with excitement about every new author and reader I met. I worked crazy hours, completely consumed for the first two years of my publishing career by my full-time job and hurrying back home to hop straight on the laptop for late night chats with my American audience, and then, even later working into the wee hours of the morning on my current manuscript. Stories, characters, and worlds spilled out of me as I inevitably began finding my own style and tone as a writer. In those two years I published nine books. To date I have fifteen books published.

After two years of writing, publishing, networking, and repeat, I organised my first book tour in the USA. I’d lined up book signing conventions, bookstores and personally meeting with readers who I’d been talking online with for those two years. It was the first time I’d ever been and I took three weeks off my full time job so I could fly over, meet readers, explore the other side of the world for the first time and bask in my personal achievements.

Woman in a bookshop

As I look back, I realize my youth and innocence for the most part had been the most endearing part of my journey as a writer, because with that adolescent spirit, there was no obstacle I couldn’t overcome. With everything that ‘failed’ I learnt something and angled it afresh. Every day I focused on getting my books to reach new readers, obtaining opportunities and contracts that would put me in the limelight, and I organised as many signings in bookstores, conventions—even Rotary groups with an older audience. Anyone who would listen, I was there. I took initiative where some might have held back and bounced on the forefront of every interview and feature in person and online. I was unstoppable.

And then, something happened.

This past year I found myself in a “rut.” I’d been writing and publishing for six years and as Covid touched down and my personal life, like everyone else’s, stopped, I had time to reflect and re-evaluate where the passion for my work had gone.

Woman lying on leaves

I still loved being an author and thrived in my interactions with readers and my established fellow authors, but I came to a point where the re-learning became tiresome and I almost felt as if I’d reached an expiration date on my knowledge. Was this the full-extent of what I could achieve? I’d been doing this for six years and I felt like I hadn’t gotten any further. Though this was a lie and an ego-fuelled negative thought pattern, I realized I’d stopped appreciating my accomplishments and became fatigued with the inability to control my outcome on sales, opportunities, and time spent on idle chat with fellow authors who were starting to become disgruntled for the same reason.

We’d made an establishment and a brand as an author and weren’t “unpopular” but we’d also hit a threshold in our careers and didn’t know how to break past it.

I’d tried things in the past that didn’t work, especially in marketing, and now the trends had changed once again, and I was simply too disgruntled to delve into it all over again. Would I just be making another financial risk? Would I be wasting my time? Why hadn’t I found the goldmine yet? Was I just not very good at this author thing? And so, I began creating excuses for myself and preoccupying myself with side projects instead of taking the core issue head-on.

Girl thinking on bench

In reality, and in my opinion, my book descriptions, covers, and even books, that I’d written in my adolescence weren’t as professional as my latest releases. Did I want to go back through them? Gah, no! How much work would that be? I’m not like I used to be with all that energy! I can’t do all-nighters anymore! And the excuses rolled on as I sifted through my list of I can’ts or I shouldn’ts. Because of past mistakes or short fallings on marketing campaigns I was hesitant to try again. Instead of growing and developing over the years, which I undoubtedly had done, with my bucketloads of knowledge and experience, I, as an independent author was outdated, and it was a tough pill to swallow. Because it meant more work and I thought I should be on a silk pillow by now, having worked so dang hard already for all those years. And the reality is, that everyone’s climb is different, and this is a long-term career if you choose it to be, not a short-term success. And that was something I had to remind myself of and feel in the very core of my being.

I had to come back to my roots. Why was I doing this? Because I love being an author, my internal dialogue would immediately respond. And though that is true, it is everything I am, my whole personhood that shaped me to be the woman I am today. Another thing niggled at me—if I loved being an author so much, then why hadn’t I published anything in the last year? Because I was busy. That might be so, but it was no excuse. If writing was what filled my heart with joy, then why was I hesitant? The realization was a wake-up call that I had to re-spark my passion for writing, not just for being an author (and the end product) but the learning and story-telling that began this journey--with a shaky breath and eyes-wide at unknown yet to come from hitting button of be-all and end-all: “publish.”

It can be hard to juggle all the balls as an indie publisher, especially managing self-discipline, writing, creating the product, marketing, managing social media, organizing a freelance team, managing reader expectation and release dates, networking and creating time and space to for PR opportunities. And at times, when I’m tired, all of the above is overwhelming and deterring. Because now I do know what is expected of me. I know what my readers want and I hold myself to a higher standard, now. That level of professionalism comes from years within the industry and many lessons learned.

Woman on computer

When I first went into this, I was oblivious as to how much hard work had to go into it and now I most certainly know and managing that consistency can be a struggle at times. So, I had to go back to basics and remind myself of why I began and find that excited writer who crafted magical worlds and was trapped in the web of their characters undoing. I had to remind myself why I was fighting—every late hour passed at my computer, every time I stumbled and fell flat—I had to remember that it all had a purpose.

When I stopped creating excuses and had an honest conversation with myself, I assessed my books, brand and career with a critical eye. Not the eye of the artist but that of the businesswoman. Everyone who has this critical conversation with themselves will find their own personal shortcomings and what needs to be worked on. This was simply my experience.

I realized I had begun to lack confidence in my previous books because I was an inexperienced writer when I published them. My first few publications were learning curves and though it represented my journey, it didn’t represent my current level of product expectation or tone as an author. And for me, having published fifteen books, I wanted there to be consistency. So, I was left with a choice: write new books and carry on with new manuscripts or clean up the old for self-assurance and incorporate a new marketing campaign where I wasn’t relying on specific series but all of my books equally. That’s not to say my books were bad, but their shortcomings weighed on my mind.

The Shadow Minds Journal by Kia Carrington-Russell Token Huntress by Kia Carrington-Russell Token Vampire by Kia Carrington-Russell Token Wolf by Kia Carrington-Russell

So, I decided it was time to take the time to fall in love with my old books all over again. To remind myself of why I was here and why I wanted to continue on with the new. I began going through old series, which is no easy feat as I rolled my eyes at inconsistencies, book covers that were no longer in trend, and blurbs that weren’t the most compelling copyright. But it also gave me time to acknowledge how far I’d come and all the knowledge and tools I now had in my arsenal, that I didn’t have back then. I now had a large support network that I depended on and, although I consider myself somewhat seasoned in the industry, I started to become excited by the gentle reminder that things had changed since I first started, and I needed to change as well. I needed to revamp my covers, rewrite my blurbs, continue learning and return to my core basics.

It’s important to remember, especially in this ever-changing industry, to research and process the information, so that you can continue to grow. Instead of becoming overwhelmed by what I didn’t know, I decided to take time out to immerse myself in new groups, reading new books, and listening to podcasts so I could learn. That being said, I don’t know everything. And I shouldn’t. There’d be no fun in that!

What I had thrived on at the start of my career was that the industry was new to me and, at some point, I had begun to take that for granted, opting that it was a job and, dare I say, even a chore as opposed to my passion. And from conversations I’ve had with fellow authors and friends, it happens all too easily across the board.

Happy girl with balloon

So, I hope that if you recognize a small part of yourself in this that you realize this feeling of stagnation is normal and that you are not alone. We are all learning, still hustling and finding new ways to better ourselves, our books and our future projects. That we still must take initiative in putting ourselves out there and no matter how many years we’ve been in the industry we can still learn from someone else and something new.

We all have our own reasons for being here and sometimes we just need to remind ourselves to come back to basics and remind ourselves of why we want to be here and what we’re really fighting for.

Don’t give up.

Just find your why.

Kia, thank you for all your insights and taking the time to visit with us today. And for the rest of us, how about checking out Kia's new release.

About the author

Kia Carrington-Russell

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