Interview about my writing life – by Donna McDonald

In celebration of National Novel Writing Month, Webucator (a national training company), asked to interview me about my writing life. If you are madly writing for NaNoWriMo, check out their blog and their links to many authors answering these questions.

Comments about my writing in general

The simple truth is that I’ve been writing most of my life in one form or another. Many of the jobs I’ve held over the years used my writing skills, but it was March of 2011 before I actually published my first fiction novel. Since that time, I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living. Following the advice of the amazingly successful author, Nora Roberts, I write full-time and treat my work as if it were a day job working for someone else. While there are no giant houses with swimming pools in my immediate future, I do make enough to keep a roof over my head and food on the table. Writing continues to be my greatest adventure and also the hardest work I’ve ever done.

Donna WritingWhat were your goals when you started writing?

My goals about my writing are still the same as they have always been. Writing is my creative expression and something I’ve always done to soothe my soul. Writing helps me cope with living in the world and gives me a way to capture my experiences. Sometimes I call it my therapy because that’s true also. I will always write so long as I am physically and mentally capable. It’s what I was meant to do in my life.

What are your goals now?

With all the writing I did over the course of my life, publishing goals eventually emerged. I was in my 30’s when I first considered publishing and was only pursuing the traditional route. I was 50 when I actually accomplished it through self-publishing which was a godsend. Publishing the parts of my writing I think are worth sharing with readers is now the way I make a living. When I started trying to publish again at 50, I collected so many rejections that I chose a marketing scheme I hoped would spare me as much future adverse reaction to my work as possible.

I published the first two books of my first series at the same time and made the first one in the series completely free for readers to try without risking their money. I figured that way no one lost anything but me in the process and I thought it would help me determine how valid those rejections I got were. My hope was those readers who bought the second book did so because they really wanted it. As far as I can tell, it has mostly worked out that way.

Dating A Cougar, Book 1 of the Never Too Late Series, has been downloaded over a million times in almost four years. The first year alone I got over one-third of that number.  I have since repeated this process with two other series with lesser, but still outstanding results. Out of my now 25+ novels, new readers can still try three of my first books free (Carved In Stone, Dating A Cougar, and The Demon of Synar). Now I’m not saying this strategy is right for everyone who chooses to self-publish. It’s just an explanation of what I chose to do to meet my goals. Certainly if I only had one or two books finished, I would not have used it. But the bottom line is that offering a free book has worked well for me. Letters from readers usually start with “I downloaded Dating A Cougar because it was free. . .”

But selling my work is my business goal. Here is my real one. I write romance—primarily romantic comedy. In those same emails that begin by citing the free download, I also hear readers saying I kept them up all night reading and laughing. My number one goal for my writing is to keep getting those happy letters from fans until I die. The other goal I have is to make enough money to be able to keep writing for a living–hence the much larger business goal discussion. I am finding the business goals to be the most challenging because publishing books for a living is very hard work. It is a true business requiring a lot of attention and innovation to be successful.

What pays the bills now?

I count my blessings every day because I am a full-time author and my writing pays the bills. However, it helps that my bills are not extravagant. Travel is my favorite use of money, and luckily my husband and I live lightly. We don’t collect large things requiring lots of upkeep like three story houses with swimming pools. We drive used cars until they die or pass them off to our children–no doubt one day our grandchildren. My kids are all adults now, and I admit I had day jobs the whole time they lived with me. My modest life now is what allows me to live on what I earn from my writing career. If I still had a family at home to raise, I would probably have to have additional work or find a way to make more from my writing. However, not making the NYT or USA Today list with every release doesn’t make writing less appealing as a career to me. I’d like to think my turn on those coveted charts is coming one day. For now, I’m just grateful for circumstances which allow me to write the books of my heart in their own time.

What motivates you to keep writing?

Readers motivate me to keep writing. There is no other answer. They send me emails and messages, and they talk to me on social media about reading my books. This interaction keeps me going back to the computer to finish the next story in each series because I know some reader somewhere is waiting for it. I would not produce as often or as well without the contact I have with my readers. What also helps is that I have an ’empty nest’ with no pets, no children needing taxi service to activities, and few day-to-day interruptions. Having dedicated time to write is a luxury I never take for granted.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

This is trite advice authors give often newbies, but I don’t have anything better, especially not this year. Don’t quit your day job until you’re sure you can make the living you want to make from your writing. I was downsized in 2009 from an 18 year old career and I started publishing in 2011. After two years of not working full-time, I took a lot of risks out of financial necessity. What constitutes “a living wage” depends on where a writer is living and what kind of bills he or she has. This year, 2014, has been a challenging year sales-wise for many authors–including me. It’s a reader’s content heaven out there with so many books now available in the ereader channels. What I am earning supports me, but I have to do a lot of marketing to maintain my sales. Overnight top of the charts success stories are still as rare as they have ever been in this industry, but I think hard work can take you a long way toward making a decent living.  I know many, many writers who are paying bills with their earnings. Most are known only to their fans because they don’t hit the charts often, if at all.

Writing and publishing are a business and trying to make a living by it makes you an entrepreneur. All the full-time writers I know personally work very hard and live with the fear of maybe having to get a day job again if their work stops selling. To make it, you have to love writing enough to keep doing it through the lean times, the hard times, and the times where you just aren’t sure a living is possible. But even after all the stable jobs I’ve had in my life, I still wouldn’t trade being a full-time writer for any other vocation, or at least none that have crossed my career path yet. Readers have many ways to get reading material these days and more people than ever are reading. To me, there has never been a more wonderful time to be a writer.

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