Do you have dreams that that you consider unattainable? Have you ever been in a situation that you knew was slowly sucking the joy out of your soul, but you were too afraid to sever the cord and fall out into the unknown?
Twenty-eight months ago I was slogging away at a job that I loathed. I’d been there for two decades and I didn’t see a way out. I reminded myself over and over again that although I was miserable, at least I had job security. I wasn’t valued or treated with any respect- but I got a paycheck. I had long since lost the love for the field I was in- but I was trapped. In my mind, there was no real way out.
The first ten years of work were okay. The following ten were a nightmare and I just kept hoping something would shift and it would be okay again. I felt imprisoned and I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. People I considered friends at my job turned out to be the polar opposite. It was like “The Hunger Games,” really. We all turned on each other because the environment was so toxic that everyone was miserable. Long-term friendships imploded in the blink of an eye.
Right around that time, my anxiety turned into depression. I was having trouble getting out of bed to even go to work each morning. I had always prided myself on being someone who didn’t call out sick—in fact I’d won perfect attendance awards for several years. Suddenly, I just didn’t care anymore. During the last two years that I worked there, I started calling out more and more. I self-medicated, in the form of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and fattening foods. I stopped wearing make-up and didn’t bother getting “dressed” anymore. I just didn’t see the point.
I used to start stories but then would never finish them. During the darkest hours at my job, I stopped writing at all. Until the day I realized that I needed an outlet—an escape. This story had been swirling around in my mind for quite a while. The more time that passed, the more it took up residence. Finally it dawned on me that I needed to get the story down. I picked up my laptop and started typing like a woman possessed. The characters were Dante & Sabrina, and the book was Broken Hart. I was midway through when I realized that I actually wanted to take a leap of faith and hit publish.
I struggled with the decision. Would anyone else care for Dante and Sabrina? What would happen if people in my community found out that I was writing steamy romance? How much shit would I take from my friends and colleagues if they knew that I was writing?
My mom had been writing romance stories for years and years. She didn’t even know that I was considering it. Any time that I’d written before, it had always been something suspenseful and I never finished a story. My first love has always been Romance, but I didn’t think I would have the courage to write something so… steamy. I was full of ideas, but had no follow through.
My mom had always encouraged me to be creative and to write, but I constantly put it on the back burner. I couldn’t believe that the story was falling out of me, and I wasn’t confident in my own ability to see it through. So I didn’t tell her what I was doing.
I made the decision to publish the book via Amazon. I chose a pen name, created a cover myself and wrote the back blurb. I finished the story, then read it through at least a dozen times. I didn’t get an editor because I was naïve and had no idea what I was doing. I told no one. Literally—not one soul. I figured if I sold 50-100 copies it would be the most amazing thing in the world. I pressed publish on Amazon one night in July of 2012, and that was that.
By the end of the first month, I’d sold two copies. One had been returned. Still, I couldn’t believe that a complete stranger had bought my book! In August, I sold twenty-six copies. I was beside myself with glee. I felt like I’d won the Miss America pageant. I’d sold books! Twenty-six people that I’d never met and knew nothing about had read about Dante & Sabrina!
Like I said, I was completely clueless and had no idea what to do. I had NO blog tour, NO ARC’s, NO advertising at all, NO teasers, NO excerpts—nada. I waited for a review, something to tell me whether my book was the worst thing ever, but no reviews came.
The question I asked myself time and again was, “How can I get reviews?”
Since I didn’t know what I was doing, I’d chosen only to publish via Amazon. The book wasn’t available anywhere else, so I joined their KDP Select Program and made Broken Hart free for a few days. That’s when things started happening. In those few days, over three thousand copies were downloaded.
Reviews started coming in. Finally, I thought, I have some reviews! I figured that was the end of it. I had a few thousand people reading my words. Life was good and for the first time in forever, I smiled for real. Maybe I knew how to follow-through after all, I thought. I felt like taking a chance had been good for my self-confidence. I decided that I would write the follow-up because I was getting emails and people wanted to hear more about the Hart family.
I didn’t expect anything at all to happen after that. But after the book was finished with the KDP Select Free Promotion—it started to sell. By the end of September 2012, I’d sold more copies than I’d given away for free—and what I’d earned was more than what I would’ve made in two months at my job.
When I’d sold more than one hundred books during the month of September, I walked into my moms office (We worked at the same place) and sat down in front of her desk. “I need to tell you something,” I said.
I’ll never forget the look on her face when I blurted out that I’d written a book and it was selling. She was a mix of flabbergasted that I’d kept something like that in, and completely in awe of the fact that I’d actually followed through and done it. When I told her that I was already writing the follow-up, she gave me a high five. “You’ve got this, E. I’m so proud of you. Holy shit!”
I still believed that I was trapped at my job, but now I had an outlet. Something that was just for me—something that made me happy.
As the sales kept on and the reviews came in, I realized that I was hearing one thing fairly consistently. “Needs to be edited.”
So I went at it and found myself an editor. Since then, I’ve had Broken Hart edited three times in order to get it just so. Since Broken Hart, all of my books have been professionally edited. After book 2, Shattered Hart, I started having my covers professionally done.
Through all of this, I still had zero teasers, no blog tours, no advertising of any kind. When book 3, Loving Hart, came out and hit the Amazon Top 100, I almost fainted. My mom was my rock because it was right around then that I freaked out. I realized that what I was doing was real—and that I had a choice.
Stay at the job that I hated, or leave.
My entire goal was to get myself—and my mother—out of that hellhole. I wrote three more books while working there. Unbroken Hart, Picture Perfect and Missing Hart. I never did teasers for any of them and I wasn’t even on Facebook until just before Missing Hart came out. I wrote six books while working full-time and I never told anyone other than my mother that I was doing it.
As I worked on my stories, I started harassing my mom about hers. “Hit publish, hit publish,” I chanted as she wrote faithfully, every single day.
One day I realized that if I stayed at my job for one more second, I was going to lose it. I submitted my resignation three times before it was accepted. I stayed because I hated leaving my mom working for those people. The universe being what it is, it took care of that right away. We left together in April of 2013—and it was one of the best moments of my life.
My dream of getting out started out as a whisper. I believed I was trapped. Slowly but surely, I started making changes. Taking that huge leap of faith and quitting a job I’d had for two decades—even though I hated it by the time I left—was no small feat. That was my sink or swim moment. I learned a lot about myself when I had the courage to jump out with no safety net—and I like what I learned.
There have been ups and downs—but the downs are better than the best day at my old job.
Not everything comes up roses. Writing requires self-regulation and time-management. Sometimes I suck at both. Not all stories are well received. “Catch My Fall” was my baby and I loved it. There were some autobiographical elements to it, little bits and pieces of my own life made it in. I bled over that book, fell in love with those characters, had it double-edited before release. I booked my first blog tour ever. I had teasers made. I spent a literal fortune putting that book out.
To date it has sold fewer copies than any book I’ve ever written—and by a wide margin. I barely made back what I put into it.
“You left a full-time job with benefits you idiot,” my subconscious railed at me. “Now you’re not going to sell anything and you’re going to wind up having to get another job you’ll hate. Good job, genius.”
The Catch My Fall experience messed with my mojo big time. Maybe I’d never sell another book again. Maybe I was a flash in the pan. Maybe I was nothing. I kept trying to get more words to flow, to get anything to come out of my brain onto my keyboard. I tried to work on a bunch of different books, tried to get back into the groove. Nothing was really happening.
I had this idea for a story—something I had written down in my notes was likely a “Guaranteed Career Killer.”
Might as well go out with a bang before I go back to the 9-5 grind, I thought.
My Guaranteed Career Killer was Consequences of Deception.
You could literally have pushed me over with a feather the day I found out that it had made USA Today as a best seller.
I was thrilled to make USA Today, but I knew then (and I know now) that it wasn’t a guarantee I’d make it again. My priority is to support myself. As long as I am doing that, I’m succeeding. I believe that making the marker of success the ability to make a list is a huge mistake and I will never do that. Bottom line: I won’t ever make it more times than I don’t, and that is FINE. Getting there once was something I never imagined—like seriously, never—and the fact that I got there at all was almost more amazing than I could comprehend. I was beyond thrilled.
Then, the unexpected happened. The reaction I got from some people to getting on the list scared the shit out of me. I felt an insane amount of pressure to perform at that level again, or be labeled a loser. The anxiety came back and everything I tried to write, I hated. My word count was awful, I couldn’t figure out what to do, and I was panicking. Suddenly what happened with Catch My Fall didn’t seem so bad. Sure, it tanked… but no one had any expectations of me.
That’s when I figured it out—if I allowed the USA thing to go to my head, I would expect it and be an unbearable shit when I didn’t make it.
So, I did the unthinkable. I made a conscious choice to write a book that I absolutely positively knew would not even get to the Amazon best seller list. I knew it would earn me a living, but I also know that it wasn’t a straight, “Ella Fox” book and it wasn’t going to burn the building down with sales. I knew the book wouldn’t make it and I wasn’t just okay with that—I was happy about it. It kept me real, made sure that I stayed humble, and reminded me that I write books for readers—NOT LISTS.
I know a lot of authors that take getting on the lists VERY seriously. To them, it’s all about the list. I cannot, and I will not, write like that. The philosophy I’ve developed is this: Reading is like any form of entertainment, and all entertainers go through an ebb and flow—up and down. One minute you’re hot-ish, the next minute you’re an anecdotal story on “One Hit Wonders.” I’m fine being a One Hit Wonder, as long as I can earn a living. There’s no shame in making it only once. None at all.
I believe that as long as you know that, you’re okay. The second you believe that you’re somehow entitled to something… you’ve gone off the rails.
Last week I released the entire Hart Family series as a box set. I knew I wasn’t going to make money off of it—it’s been over two years now, after all. My whole goal was to get new eyes on the stories so that I could possibly draw in new readers.
Yesterday I got a text from my friend Tessa Teevan. “You hit USA Today!! #72!”
I burst into tears. In no way had I expected that news.
My reaction to this was even bigger than when Consequences of Deception hit.
Because it’s icing on the cake. The Hart Family got me out of my dead end job. The Hart Family helped me dream big. The Hart Family changed my life. I love these characters in a way that I can’t properly express. To this day, they’re all alive in my head.
And now, they’re USA Today Best Sellers.
I owe this life to Dante & Sabrina, Damien & Brooke, Spencer & Delilah, Dillon & Minnie—and to YOU. I am grateful in a way that I can’t ever possibly hope to express. Making the list this time is a reminder that taking that leap of faith twenty-eight months ago was the best thing I have ever done.
My dream is to continue writing. I want to create stories that make readers smile. The most important thing I’ve learned is that you have to do what you’re passionate about. Some stories will be well received, others not so much. I’m okay with that. My life is good and I am thankful. Because I took one chance, I am now able to take more. I can’t put a price on that.
Whatever your dream is, reach for it. Whether you take one tiny step or a big leap, YOU CAN DO IT. Don’t ever let a shitty situation dictate what the rest of your life will be like. There are always choices—always a fork in the road that can be taken.
My fork in the road was called Broken Hart, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.