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How can you juggle full-time writing and a family? How can you manage ambition about adventure and travel with a desire to be a 7-figure author? How can you be both creative and a business-person? I talk about all this and more in today's wide-ranging interview with Emily Kimelman.
In the introduction, The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and the American Booksellers Association wrote to the US Senate anti-trust committee to comment on the concentrated power and influence of Amazon [Publishers Lunch]; Powell's bookstore announces they will no longer sell their books on Amazon’s marketplace [Business Insider].
My thoughts on how our comfort zones have shrunk during the pandemic and my plans to start expanding my own comfort zone again. Book research on Victorian London — David Morrell on my Books and Travel Podcast. Plus, get 50% off all my ebooks and many of my audiobooks if you buy direct from my Payhip store – payhip.com/thecreativepenn for non-fiction and fiction, including boxsets. Use coupon code: SEPT20 at checkout.
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Emily Kimelman is the author of the Sydney Rye Mystery series, and also writes fantasy under Emily Reed.
You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript below.
- The challenges and silver lining of being a dyslexic writer
- Travel as part of an author’s life
- Writing while traveling and going slowly to facilitate that
- The blurred lines between fact and fiction
- Keeping an author business going with two small children
- Strategies for working toward a 7-figure year
- Pros and cons of having two fiction pen names
You can find Emily Kimelman at EmilyKimelman.com
Sharing Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Transcript of Interview with Emily Kimelman
Joanna: Emily Kimelman is the author of the Sydney Rye Mystery series, and also writes fantasy under Emily Reed. Welcome, Emily.
Emily: Thank you. It's so great to be here.
Joanna: Great to have you on the show.
First up, tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing.
Emily: I am Emily Kimmelman and I live in New York and I started writing… In my early 20s is kind of when I decided I wanted to be a writer and I'm almost 40 now. And I started writing basically because I love reading.
I don't think that's an unusual path to take. But I think the small difference for me is that I was severely dyslexic when I was a kid. So, I actually couldn't read until I was about 10, 11, and then it was like a switch went off in my head and I went from not being able to read, to being able to read at college level.
And I actually can remember the moment where I could read. I was looking at a sign but all the letters were crooked and they literally moved into the correct order. And I read it aloud. I was in the car with my mom and she started crying. And from that moment on, I looked around, and literally I could read everything.
We were in Philadelphia, the city I grew up in, and I could read all the billboards, I could read everything and it was just like a miracle to me. My parents had always read to me, my dad read to me even after I could read myself, he still read to me at night. I really grew up with a love of story and a real fascination for reading and writing and it was this land I couldn't get into. Then once I could get in, it became just an obsession and I read all the time. I still read all the time.
In many ways I don't, I don't know that there was another option for me. I did try other things. I worked as a photographer for a while and I wanted to be a visual artist, which I wasn't that good at. And all of my visual artists friends kept telling me what a good writer I was, kind of trying to steer me gently away from that and into writing.
It was in my early 20s that I was living in New York. I was going to college and I read a book that was terrible. And I thought, ‘Well, I can do better than that.' And so I did. I started trying to anyway. Who knows if I've actually succeeded. But I certainly have tried.
Joanna: So, you wrote that first book 20 years ago?
Emily: I wrote it when I was 25, I wrote my first book, and I'll be 40 in this December.
Joanna: So, you've basically been a full-time writer for that time?
Emily: No. I worked as a dog walker. I worked as a bartender. My husband was a glassblower. We had a gallery and a studio together. I didn't start writing full-time until 2013, is when I went full-time.
Joanna: That's fantastic. Just on the dyslexia, because I feel like many authors or many people know people with dyslexia, like my brother is dyslexic, and there's, like you said, some people click through it.
The other thing too, you didn't fit in a box with your dyslexia and you also have spent a large part of your life getting out of the box in terms of travel, and travel's been a really big part of your life.
Tell us a bit more about your travel adventures and how they've ended up in your books.
Emily: My husband and I are both huge travelers. I think that's one of the reasons. When my husband proposed to me, he literally said we were at JFK long-term parking, get it? Long-term. And we were about to go on a trip and he proposed and said, ‘This is one of many adventures and let's have adventures together for the rest of our life.'
So, our relationship is based on the idea of traveling and having adventures. We've really made it a centerpiece of our life and writing books is something you can definitely do on the road. And I am hugely inspired when I travel.
When we went to India one year, then Sydney Rye, my character went to India. When we went to Costa Rica, she went to Costa Rica. She basically goes places I want to go and has adventures there. And when I'm there, I talk to people, I find out what's going on in that country and try and find something that could be a bad guy and then use that. And I do a lot of just observing, just soaking it up.
I always write when I'm on the road. I just am always writing, because I can't stop as most authors will tell you. But we've really made it a centerpiece and some of the ways we've done that is we lived on a boat, which is a great way to travel. We lived on a boat actually in New York. We mostly stayed in the New York area on it and we would be here for spring, summer, and fall. And then we would put it up on the hards, we'd wrap it in plastic and put it up on land and then go abroad for four months or so during the winter, which allowed us to not have to worry about a house being injured while we were gone and gave us that freedom.
And then when we had my daughter, so we moved into a house then had my daughter. And then when she was six months old, we bought an Airstream and started traveling in the Airstream because we felt like a boat wasn't safe with the baby. We spent two years living in the Airstream with her. And then we would do the same thing. If we wanted to go to Spain, we could just put it in a storage locker and get on a plane.
Joanna: I love that. I'm definitely someone who has spent a lot of time traveling and just love making that part of my research process. Like you, my character Morgan Sierra tends to go where I go and drink the wine I drink and all those of things.
But it's interesting because one of the things I can't do is I can't write that book when I'm on that trip because I don't really know where it's going to end up. For example, the book I'm writing now has bits from different trips over the last four years that I knew would end up in a book somewhere, but then I get it.
What are you writing when you're actually within that trip itself versus later on when you think about it when it's had time to settle?
Emily: Most of my trips are long-term. We went to India for four months. And so, we weren't on the road every day. And so, I have my regular routine.
When we were living in India, we were in Goa for a lot of it. We rented a hut on the ocean and every morning I'd get up and take a walk on the beach and I'd come back and I'd read for a little bit and then I'd write as many words as I could pour out. And then, in the afternoon we'd go do other things and explore and see friends.
I was living my life as much as I was traveling, if that makes sense, that I go very slowly. We're not trying to get to the next site. We're not rushing. Even when we are in the Airstream, we would never drive more than three hours in a day. And so, we like to go slowly, but just continue to go. That makes it easier to get the writing done because I'm not trying to get to museums. I'm not rushing.
And then I find it very easy to write while I'm in the place, and my husband jokes to people when we're traveling, he says, “Don't tell her any stories. You'll end up in her book.” We'll be at a dinner party and someone tells me a story about the place and literally the next day I've got a character telling that story or a version of it.
But also same as you, years later I use a lot of that stuff too. I just set a whole piece of my most recent book in Turkey, which I went to in 2013 and hadn't written about, and I have a whole section that's in Istanbul. So, it comes when it needs to show up, I guess.
Joanna: I know what you mean. I went to Istanbul, it must have been 1994. I haven't been since then and it's a very different place now. But that brings up a good point about writing with real places.
How much is true and how much do you make into fiction? Where do you draw that line?
Emily: I don't know. I think that most of the cases my books are pretty out there. I try and use a kind of truth in my characters in the way they would respond to things. But I try and also take like big, complex, scary things that we can't solve and I try and put them into one character and then basically kill that person and solve all the problems, which is not how the world works, but it's very satisfying. I try and use that truth that is kind of like the ultimate truth and then kind of fictionalize the rest to make it more solvable.
Joanna: For example, I wrote a book in New York and there's one of those islands, not Rikers, but somewhere around there, and one of my characters could hear the sound of a helicopter coming from a certain direction. And someone emailed me and said, ‘You can't possibly hear that with that direction because of the way the wind works around that island around New York.' And I'm like, ‘Yeah, I think that you're really asking for a bit much for me to get that exactly right.'
Emily: I don't worry about that.
Joanna: No, me neither. But it's interesting because if you're writing like Istanbul, for example, and you write about Hagia Sophia or you're writing somewhere that is well known, you do have to kind of have an exact description of a place, but then something might happen that isn't real obviously.
Emily: Yes. And I think, for me, that is important, that the street looks right, that the way people are dressed is correct, that the traffic flows in the way it would flow, and that the smells are the smells. I think evoking the place in that way is very important to me. And when I can't go to a place, I'll watch a lot of YouTubes and I often read other people's fiction that are from that place to kind of get a feel for it.
Joanna: We're very similar, I think in that way. So, well, then another question is, do you get your story ideas from setting primarily? And then that you mentioned, oh, there's a story about a place and then I make up a character to fit that, because that's kind of how I do it. Like, setting is my primary inspiration and then I add in everything else later.
How do you do things? Is setting the first thing?
Emily: It's changed over the years. And my last few books, I use Dean Wesley Smith's, Writing into the Dark method. So, that's basically where you climb in the character's head and you just look around and start typing. And I've always been kind of more of a pantser.
I've tried plotting and I'll spend all this time building this beautiful plot and then I start writing and the characters immediately are like, ‘Well, I'm not doing any of that. That's not me. Just leave me alone. I'm going to do what I'm going to do.' I've really leaned into that in recent years.
I basically sit down and start typing and now I just start typing scenes and I don't know where they are in the book. I don't know anything about them. And then I just go and go and go and it all, somehow just comes together at the end, and I consider it somewhat of a miracle at this point. But yeah, I just write.
My subconscious pulls whatever it needs from my experiences. And now the way I traveled, I just go where I want and my subconscious, maybe it's directing me, but it certainly uses what I put in there. And I don't worry about it or think about it too much because I don't want to mess it up by overanalyzing it.
Joanna: I know what you mean. That kind of serendipity or synchronicity, like yeah, this book that I'm doing at the moment Tree of Life is what I'm writing and something will come up in your research and you think, ‘How is that real? How is that what I was actually looking for?'
And there is in real life, it actually is true, and that I find that the synchronicity of travel that's probably based on the fact that we've traveled a lot and it's all in our minds somewhere.
I want to come on to your family then, because obviously, you've had this very busy travel life, but now you have two kids, and you've talked about how you've managed to keep an income from your books while taking maternity leave. I certainly feel as, as an author, self-published author, that I have to keep something running. I have to keep the income coming in.
What are your tips for writers who are parents and who maybe also have day jobs and are struggling with too much to do?
Emily: I hired help. Jamie Davis is my business manager and she's amazing. We met in 2016, I guess, when basically I'd had my daughter, I'd fumbled through that maternity leave and seen a big decrease in my income and recognized also once I had a kid that, oh, I didn't realize how much work I was doing. It was one of those things where I thought I didn't work that hard. And then I kind of realized that, oh, I was always working actually.
My husband and I would sit down to watch TV in the evenings. I'd have my computer on my lap. That's when I do my emails, that's when I would book my promos. And basically, once I had a kid, so much of my time just evaporated. And so, I needed someone to book the promos and write the emails and I still do strategy, and Jamie and I work together to create a strategy, but I needed someone who could format the books and upload them and everything.
I actually hired a coach to help me figure out how to do that, because I didn't know how to get all these things that I did, the systems I had built up over the years, I didn't know how to get them out of my head and into someone else's hands. And I think that for me, that was really important for my career, that I needed to have someone else doing a lot of that detailed work that can really suck your time and your energy, and I needed someone else to do a lot of that for me.
Jamie and I, it took us probably eight months to get to where we could work together very smoothly. And now we're a well-oiled machine and we have so much fun working together and she has great ideas and we brainstorm together. And also, I think one of the other great things about working with someone is that being an indie publisher can be lonely. You're a one-man band and if you have someone else you're working with, it helps you kind of check whether you're crazy or whether you're having good ideas.
Joanna: It's interesting, because there really is a tipping point, I think, when it comes to deciding to hire help, because like you said, your income had dropped.
How did you reconcile ‘I'm making less money' with' I need to spend more money to get more help?'
Emily: It became one of those things where it just became such a pain point that I just could see so clearly that I wasn't going to get where I wanted to go alone and have kids and a life. I certainly could have done it. I was doing it before kids. But then I really wanted to spend time with my daughter. I didn't want to spend my evenings writing emails.
I found Jamie who we kind of worked together. I was like, ‘Look, this is what I can afford now. And as we work together, I'll make more money and I'll pay you more.' And that's how we've done it is we've kind of built it together.
Also, Jamie was interested in doing this kind of work. She had experience in social media management stuff, and she had some experience in this stuff I wanted her to do, but it was the first time she was going to be working with an author in this exact way. We kind of were figuring it out together. Now she works with several other authors and really has built her own business. It really worked out for both of us. But I just knew that my goals were bigger than I could accomplish alone.
Joanna: It's a good recognition in that way. So, then what are your goals in that way then.
How did you decide what your goals were because many people have different goals when it comes to books?
Emily: I think for me, it's a combination of reach, which also equals income. And this is actually a conversation I have in my head quite a bit. Because if my goal is just reach, just to have people read my books, then I could just make them all free. So, that's not my only goal.
I also want to make a living and I want to make a good living because I want to have nice stuff and I want to travel, and I want to spend a lot of time with my family. I have high-income goals for myself. I want to sell a lot of books and I think I set those every few months. I look at how I did, how I've done. And I set a monetary goal every month, and I have kind of quarterly goals for my own work and launches I want to do or promos. And I kind of just keep going forward.
But when I look kind of 5 or 10 years out I want to make seven figures. I have really big goals on that front.
Joanna: That is great to know because I like ambition. I think ambition is something, or feel that there is ambition like authors will go, ‘I want a movie deal or I want to make seven figures,' but then you actually have to turn that into, like you said, a strategy and to do that.
What are some of the things that you're putting in place to aim at those seven figures?
Emily: I have spent a lot of time working on getting good at advertising. It's something I've put a lot of energy into, and this year I've already made more than I made last year, and it's because I'm just getting better and better at advertising.
That to me, it's about reaching people. Really reach and financial are just really wedded to each other. So, the more people you have coming into your series, the more money you're going to make, and they're going to tell their friends, and it's just a great self-fulfilling prophecy in a sense.
I work really hard. I do a lot of Facebook advertising, and I learned so much from that, because it's not just about selling books. I actually adjust my blurbs, my covers. My entire business at this point is really informed by what's happening with my Facebook ads.
One thing I noticed, I wrote my series, Sydney Rye, she's a giant dog named Blue. And I had a lot of people who were asking in comments, ‘Does the dog die? I can't stand a series for the dog dies.' And other people would comment and it became this whole conversation.
So, I literally made an ad that said, ‘My dog does not die in this book.' And it's hugely successful. Now, every single ad I have has a P.S. at the end, ‘The dog does not die in the series.' My blurbs have at the end, ‘P.S. The dog does not die in this series.'
Joanna: That's great.
Emily: I have people come in who are like, ‘I've been seeing your series for years, but never bought it because I thought the dog died.' And I'm like, ‘Okay.' And they're like, ‘Thank you so much for relieving me of the fear that the dog might die.' I never would have discovered that if I hadn't been doing so much Facebook advertising.
Joanna: That is hilarious. And it's really interesting. When you said you had a business manager who took a lot of the work from you, I imagined that that work, that the work that she's taken is things like advertising. Does that mean you do the advertising?
Emily: I do the advertising and I write the books and Jamie does everything else. She formats all the books. She runs my ARC team. She runs my Facebook fan group. I literally could not list all the things she does for me because, well, you know, the minutiae of this business. There are so many little things.
She does the email automation, whenever we update anything she goes through and updates everything. She works with my website guys every time we have a new book. I have to write the books and the advertising and that's it. And so, it keeps my plate pretty clean. And then she has to deal with all of the little details that surround a business.
Joanna: That's really interesting that you've kept the advertising because I feel like so many authors don't want to do the advertising.
Emily: I get that. I 100% get that. I didn't want to do the advertising. It's not like I wanted to do it. It's just that I realized I needed help at one point so I found Jamie. And I also realized I was going to have to do my own advertising.
I've tried to hire people and it just doesn't, it hasn't, I shouldn't say it doesn't, it hasn't for me at this point worked. And so, the thing is though, when I hired Jamie, I had a system and I said, ‘This is how I like to do things. These are all the things that… Here's use BookFunnel, use this, use that.'
And obviously she brings things in now, but I like to know how everything's being done in my business. And so, it was impossible for me to hand over Facebook ads or any kind of advertising to someone else without knowing how to do it successfully first. And that's just the way I do things. Now that I have it kind of figured out, today, for now, knocking some wood, I think it's something that in the future, there are pieces of it I will be able to hand off, but I needed to know how to do it before I could hand it off.
Joanna: I agree. I don't know many people who have been able to outsource the advertising effectively and cost-effectively because there are so many things you need to know yourself.
Do you publish wide?
Emily: Yes. Definitely. And that's one of the things Jamie has to deal with. Publishing wide is, as you know, more complicated than just doing Amazon, and there's just more to deal with if you publish wide.
Joanna: Do you find Facebook is most effective for reaching readers on the other platforms?
Emily: I still make most of my money on Amazon, but I think out of all the other ones, I make a good living there too. But what I've started doing is I have a link that goes to a landing page, which has all the retailers on it. It has the paper book and it has the audio.
I sell a lot of audio now, which I could not have said that to you last year. And a big part of that is the landing page and having it available. People will just go and buy it. And so I think having paperback, audio available in all retailers, I can just satisfy more people's needs that way.
Joanna: Right. So, coming back to this seven-figure goal, I have that goal as well. It's on my wall. I don't have a time limit on it, which I probably should put on. I'm hesitant to put a time limit on it because I feel like I could easily fail if I put something too on it. But I'm very interested in you also feeling this way.
Apart from the advertising, what are you doing with the books themselves that are taking you towards that goal? Is it series? Is it writing to market?
What are you doing with the books and the craft side?
Emily: It's writing series, which is what I like to read so it's what I write, and also I think it's your best chance of getting seven figures.
I have attempted to write to market before, but my characters are not into it. And like I said, I don't have a lot to say. So I've given that up, I would say, and now I just write the books I want to be written.
And then basically what I do is I use Facebook advertising to find the people who want to read those books because I believe every one of my books has an audience and that's why my book wanted to be written. And so, it's my job then to go find these people who want this book, and they're out there.
It's writing the books, basically allowing the books that want to be written to be written, and then using ads and other things like that to find the readers who want to read it.
Joanna: How does your time look now then? Everyone always wants to know this.
How do you balance your time?
Emily: It's gotten harder of late because my kids are both at home all day and my husband's at home, and so we have a very full house. I write in the morning, so I wake up with the kids and I take a thermos of coffee to my office and I lock the door and I put on headphones. And then I free write and I meditate and then I write my words.
And the word count, I usually have a goal for the day, but if it doesn't happen, I don't get upset about it. And if I get more, I totally celebrate. So, I only go one direction with that.
If I'm feeling kind of stuck or my kids are being especially loud that morning, I will go out dictating. And so, I do a walk-talk is what I call it, and I go for a walk and I talk to myself, and usually while I'm talking to myself, a scene just starts and I'll just dictate it. Until noon is my creative writing time. And then I take a break at noon, help with the kids a bit, put my son down for a nap.
And then the afternoons I work on advertising, or I have a meeting with Jamie where we look at what's going on. We usually talk about once a week and kind of say, ‘Okay, here's the promos we have coming up. Here's what's going on.' Or we'll talk kind of bigger picture, ‘Do we need to rebrand on this? What are we doing differently in the future?' Projects ongoing.
That's kind of basically how it's broken down. And now I only work like two to three afternoons a week because I help with the children a lot more, which is great and I love, but not totally sustainable. My husband and I are trying to figure out what we're going to do in the coming months. My daughter's not going to go back to school. She's only five, so she doesn't need to, and we don't feel super comfortable doing that right now. So, we're kind of figuring that out.
One thing I used to do is I would get up at 5:00 a.m. and write. So, we're probably going to bring that back so I can, which I love. I just absolutely adore getting up at 5:00 a.m and writing, and having my words before anyone else is even awake is like the best feeling.
Joanna: That's great. And I think it's really important too, for people to know that because I feel like sometimes everyone gets so obsessed with advertising that they forget the books need to be written so that's the first thing you're doing and obviously your family. Do you work evenings and weekends?
Emily: I don't. I don't work evenings because I'll tell you, by 5:00 p.m, my brain is just mush. It just is like it's done. And weekends are really for my family. I used to work more and my husband really got on my case about it and was kind of like, ‘Well, what are you doing with your life? Are you running a business or are you having a family or do you maybe want to have like an even scale here?'
That woke me up to, ‘Oh yeah.' I did have kids to spend time with them. I spend a lot of time with my family and really enjoy that. And so weekends, occasionally I'll work weekends. If I have a deadline and I'm behind, I'll definitely work a couple of weekends getting my writing done in the mornings. If I have a launch or something and I feel like I need to really watch my ads all weekend and I need to be paying super attention, I will take that time. But I'll make up that time with my family later in the week.
Joanna: And how about the two pen names? Because I feel like I have one non-fiction and one fiction, but I feel you have two fiction pen names. So, how does that work?
Why did you decide to have two pen-names and what are some of the pros and cons?
Emily: I decided to do that because my good friend, Toby Neal, who I co-authored The Scorch series with, we launched that together and what we realized really quickly, it's a romantic thriller during a pandemic. And what we realized really quickly is that because our mystery-thriller fans went and bought it, Amazon thought it was a mystery-thriller and tried to sell it to other mystery-thriller fans who didn't buy it.
And then Amazon said, ‘Oh, this isn't a successful book,' and basically buried it. If you read up on the algorithms, basically they're smart, but they're not that smart. They can't tell that Emily Kimelman writes in different genres, so we shouldn't try and sell her books all to the same people.
The reason I did the pen name, and Toby did one as well, is because basically, our algorithms were getting muddled and it was hurting both sides of our business. And now they're separate. If you go to the also boughts, which almost don't exist anymore, but if you go the also boughts of that series now, it's all other romantic thrillers, which is what it should be, whereas before it used to be all mystery-thrillers.
Joanna: Right. And obviously there's a lot of maintenance with multiple names.
Do you keep both of those names going or do you focus on one?
Emily: I focus more on Emily Kimelman because the mystery thrillers are my bread and butter. But I love urban fantasy. I love romantic fantasy. And so, I write that as well, because those are the books that want to be written. I haven't spent as much time trying to build that audience because I don't have the read through at this point.
I have 13 books in my Sydney Rye series. It's so much easier to make money off a 13 book series than it is off a three-book series. I'm building up that pen name slowly. And once I have the product, I'll start really working on promoting it.
Joanna: How are you promoting that backlist? Are you constantly promoting book one in the series or do you do other things?
Emily: I do that and other things. I have ads that go to book one, and I have a one to eight box sets that I sell for $9.99. That's a great price. And I about once a year put that on sale for $4.99. And that is always a huge, people just buy, it's so easy to sell it at $4.99, and then people buy the rest of the series.
Because, if you start the series with eight books, people rip through it and are obsessed. That's a great way to get someone into your work is kind of just let them dive into a series where there the first book then they can make the decision to buy the second one, the decision to buy the third.
Whereas if they have the first eight, the decision to buy the ninth, not difficult, they're invested. So, I sell that usually at $9.99, and I have ads running to that all the time, and that's my preferred way to bring people into this series because those fans show up in my Facebook group and they are so excited because they just spent a week only reading my books.
Joanna: I think Kris Rusch says you must have enough that someone can binge for a weekend. And if someone binges on enough of your books… I think there's other research that says, if you people need to read at least three of your books before they even remember your name.
Emily: Totally makes sense.
Joanna: It really does. Well, then I, again, coming back on the seven-figure thing, I've been thinking about this a lot is, and fantasy author Lindsay Buroker has been on the show recently and she said, ‘You might have a good year and then the next year, it doesn't keep trending up.'
It doesn't mean that if you keep writing books and you keep advertising, that doesn't step up every single year until you make seven figures.
What do you think are some of the other things that we need to incorporate in order to move into that level? For example, is it licensing? Is it going hybrid? Is it doing other things other than just write more books plus ads?
Emily: I think definitely write more books plus ads is a big part of the equation, and then licensing, getting it into all the different formats, so, audio. You're always talking about big print. Putting it into all these different formats that you can reach your readers no matter how they want to take in your content, I think is really important.
I don't have the solution for what seven figures is, because I'm not there yet, but I would say my strategy at this point is to keep my eye on it, keep my eye on what's happening today and just keep walking in that direction. I've had mostly in my career, I've only had up trends except for when I had kids, and then I would kind of slide back to where I'd been the year before. But other than that, I've always made more than the year before.
I feel like the reason is that I'm constantly learning, constantly putting out new books, and I'm always shifting. I'm not getting into like, ‘Oh, this works, therefore this will work tomorrow.' I am always looking at like, ‘What is working today? Okay. It's working tomorrow, it's working today. Great. Okay. Now it's not working. Okay. Let's look at everything. Let's see why is this not working.'
I comb through my numbers and I look at comments, and I'm like, ‘Okay, do I need new covers? Do I need new blurbs? What has slowed this progression?' I'm always on the lookout for that. I don't think I have an expectation. I think my strategy is always the same, but I'm always willing to try new tactics.
Joanna: What is your biggest struggle?
Emily: I think my biggest struggle right now is finding the time and bandwidth to continue to produce solid fiction. I have really allowed myself to slow down because I do have a solid backlist at this point. And I think with everything that's going on, it's the words still want to come, but they need to be, the silence that I need to create is much harder to create right now. I'd say that's my biggest struggle is finding that silence in all of this chaos.
Joanna: In case people are listening in the future, which they were, we are recording this in August 2020 during the pandemic. And yes, I think the mental headspace is difficult.
But then on the mindset stuff, because I feel like this ambition and I love that you've just come out and said the seven-figure thing, because I feel like we as creatives back away from the scary ambition because of fear of failure. Certainly, okay I'm saying we, I mean, I back away because it feels like, ‘Oh my goodness, it's too big.' And the thing is now we both know people who are at that level. And so, it's not like it's out of reach, but it still feels, I think maybe my imposter syndrome rears its head and all these different things.
How have you switched your mindset into ambition and how do you keep yourself focused on that without letting these fears take you away?
Emily: I'm not going to say that I never get afraid. I got my ad budget recently and felt physically ill. And the worst-case scenario was I was going to lose a couple of hundred dollars. This was not like the end of days. And I was like, ‘Wow, you were really afraid of what could happen here and you're not afraid of the downside because it's not that big. What you're afraid of is the upside.'
And then you'd have to be this new author who made that much and sold that many books. And was does that mean about your identity? So, I think that shifting our identity to someone who is comfortable with what they're making is comfortable saying, ‘I want to make seven figures.'
I first said, ‘I want to make six figures,' and then I did. And so now I want to make seven, and it took me a while. I was making six figures for a while before I finally kind of admitted to myself, ‘Oh, I do want to make seven.' That is actually where I want to go with this.
And so, the mindset stuff, I feel like that's kind of all of it. That's kind of like the whole shebang of life, not just career, not just writing, like everything is mindset, that's how you're a parent. That's how you exercise. Everything is mindset. I do a lot of meditation.
I'm constantly reading about mindset. I'm constantly talking to friends about it and always trying to correct course and make sure that I am not kind of allowing myself to get too excited or upset about anything.
There was a point about two months ago where the level of anxiety I was having was crazy. And so, I said, ‘Okay, I'm going to start meditating twice a day.' That's the solution to this problem. And I started meditating twice a day for 20 minutes. And within a week, I felt like myself again. I find meditation to be incredibly helpful. And really, if you meditate twice a day, it's really hard to get stressed out.
Joanna: I don't meditate, but I walk. I walk at a decent distance and I feel like walking is a meditation. And I do feel like if I don't have my walk then I do get really, really stressed. And so, having that just helps and it helps you get perspective.
I think that's the other thing that can be an issue when you're doing a lot of ads and being sort of in there as if everything feels so tiny, your whole world is fixated on this screen and these numbers, and then you look off and go, ‘Oh yes, there's the world.' But when you've got your kids that you've got like a six-month-year-old, right?
Emily: I have an almost-two-year-old and I have an almost five-year-old.
Joanna: So, when you look up and your kids are running around, they don't care. As long as their mom is there.
Emily: Yes. And they come and bang on my door every 15 minutes.
Joanna: That's real-life right there. This has been fascinating. I really enjoyed talking to you. I think we have quite a lot in common with the travel and it's always good to meet another ambitious author. You're definitely ahead of me in terms of the fiction world and that's pretty exciting.
Tell everyone where they can find you and your books online.
Emily: Sure, emilykimelman.com is my website, and all my other links are there.
Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Emily.
Emily: Thank you so much. I just want to say really fast how much I admire you and how much your podcast has helped me over the years. And it's a real honor, to be honest. So, thank you.
Joanna: Oh, thank you.
Christopher Wills says
Love the show.
My first writing ambition (the 7 figures might come later but one step at a time) is to write a bestselling book. I’m not sure what I mean by a bestselling book but I don’t mean an orange Amazon tag or number 1 on some newspaper list because those things can be gamified and sometimes have little financial value. Originally I thought 100,000 copies of a book but from where I am that looks a long way off. Maybe I’ll revise my idea of a bestselling book down to 50,000 or even 10,000 copies.
I’d be interested to know how you and your listeners might define a bestselling book; is it relative to where one is, or there a standard definition (ignoring tags from newspaper lists etc.)?
Good luck with your walking goals.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks for your continuing enthusiasm, Christopher!
Suzy Quinn talked about this on a recent episode – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2020/08/10/how-to-write-a-bestseller/
She said the industry standard is 100,000 copies — but considering you can hit the Sunday Times list with a lot fewer than that, I don’t know why that is the number!
In 2016, I hit the USA Today as a single author with 6231 copies in a week https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2016/08/20/usa-today-bestseller-ad-stacking/
Back in 2014, we did sell over 100,000 copies of the Deadly Dozen boxset to hit the New York Times – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/03/17/deadly-dozen-nytimes/
At the end of the day, you have to make a definition and aim for that 🙂 All the best!
Christopher Wills says
Fascinating. And thanks.
Aina Skoland says
Thank you for a great show. You asked what I am doing to expand my comfortzone. Well, I didn’t really have to take an initiative for that, my body did that for me. I am a full time journalist and writer (though dreaming of making it as a crime fiction writer), and during the beginning of the pandemic, I had so much work I ended up getting a really bad case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrom. Really bad idea! So now I am learning to write by dictation, and I have used your books and segments on the topic for inspiration. I am sooo far outside of my comfortzone, but it is getting better day by day, and it is super fascinating. In the end I believe it will be a bery good tool for me! At least, my ambition is for me to get really good at it.
Aina from Norway
Joanna Penn says
That’s at least a silver lining, Aina!
I keep trying dictation and then backing away again, but having that skill is so important just in case things happen, as they have done for you. I’m glad it’s starting to click in!
Bill Cokas says
Very inspiring episode! One comment Emily made almost slipped past me. She said she hired a coach to help her figure out how to hire an assistant. Where does one find such a coach (or how did she)? Also, are we to assume her assistant is a VA, vs. on-site or in-person?
Joanna Penn says
You can find creative coaches by googling and finding people you might resonate with.
I think that Emily did some coaching with Mark McGuinness who has been on the show before – https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2020/04/13/how-to-stay-creative-in-difficult-times/
Her assistant is virtual — and many authors have virtual assistants. I have the wonderful Alexandra 🙂
Again, just google ‘author virtual assistant’ and you will find lots or try Reedsy.com – my link is: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/reedsy
Bill Cokas says
Fantastic, thanks, Joanna:)
Lisa M. Lilly says
Loved all of this episode & especially the point on setting short term financial goals as well as long-term. In my law practice I only set yearly $ goals & it worked great. But I’d worked for other law firms for decades & studied how they made money or didn’t. So I think unconsciously I was breaking down each month what to do and try. With writing, the yearly goals didn’t push me to experiment enough. Then I ended each year where I started & wondered why. Just set my first monthly royalty goal! Thanks!
Joanna Penn says
Fantastic! Glad it inspired you, Lisa!
James Palmer says
Great post. It’s important to look back on things and see what lessons one can glean from them. My goals have changed alot as we have to roll with these difficult times. These days I’m more concerned with freedom than money, although a lot of one can certainly buy a lot of the other.
I am creating multiple streams of income. I have a Teepublic store and I am currently experimenting with Kickstarter. I’m running one for a anthology I’m editing now, and will do more smaller projects going forward.
Anyway, best of luck to you.
Joanna Penn says
Freedom is definitely my highest value 🙂 It’s one of the reasons I am wary of Kickstarter as it seems you’re locked into timeframes and your audience can expect a lot, but I am learning more so might try one at some point! All the best with your multiple streams of income.