I have always dreamed of being a writer. I loved writing, even as a kid. I never minded writing assignments. I took as many writing classes as I could in high school. I edited our school’s literary arts magazine. In college, I started out as an English major, thinking that maybe I could be a writer or a high school English teacher. I eventually changed my major to writing and then somewhere in there, I thought, “I should probably major in something that’ll help me get a job that’ll pay the bills…” so, I switched my major to communications.
As I tried to make up my mind between filmmaking and screenwriting and journalism classes, all things that fascinated me, I realized time was running out. I needed to settle on something, and soon.
I did it just in the nick of time, to be able to make all of my requirements to graduate in four years. I enjoyed my education classes. I had a couple really great education professors. My internships were extremely valuable. And I realized I loved working with kids.
I wanted the kids I taught to love reading and writing as much as I did. I wanted to help them through the challenging moments, when they struggled to make sense of concepts and teetered on the brink of frustration. I wanted to push them to choose challenging books and do more than just write out lists of spelling words. I worked to get certified as a gifted education teacher. I attended the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy and the Google Apps for Education Summit. I was even nominated teacher of the year at my school.
My teaching career lasted 13 years. I worked my ass off, not because it was going to earn me any more money, but because that was the job I had chosen, and I wanted to do the best I could. For a long time, it paid the bills, but just barely so. I also tutored and proctored distance education exams for extra money.
I had always wanted to be a writer, and every once in a while, I would sit down with a brand-new notebook and start sketching out ideas for a story or a novel. That idea would always end up getting shelved, until one year, I decided to give National Novel Writing Month a shot. I needed my “own” thing. I needed to do something for myself. I was stuck in an unhappy marriage and writing became my solace. I wrote a fairy tale romance story that took me away from the sorry state of my actual relationship. I “won” NaNoWriMo that year – I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. And then I kept going. I eventually went on to finish the book.
I eagerly started researching literary agents and sending the book out anywhere I could. I received rejection after rejection, but I didn’t care, because it meant that someone out there was actually reading what I wrote. I had agents request pages and partials and sent them off, fingers crossed, waiting for the day when somebody would want to sign me.
During all of my querying and agent research, which is an incredibly time-consuming process, I got an idea for another story. I wanted to write another book. But I felt like I only had time to do one thing – I could keep sending out the first book, or I could write another one.
My marriage was crumbling around me and I was miserable, so I decided to write another one, with another happily ever after.
I was still thrilled with what I had done, but at the same time, I was also getting frustrated. What good were my stories if nobody was reading them?
I had heard so many negative things about self-publishing, but Amazon Kindle was kind of a new thing and it seemed like self-publishing would be pretty easy. It wasn’t like I would end up with a garage full of books that I’d have to peddle myself. I could still be “published” without having to front any money, so what could it hurt?
Self-publish – mostly just friends and family, which is nice, but then had someone tell me their mom read my book, then had my first review from someone I didn’t know…
When Amazon launched their exclusive Kindle Select program, allowing authors to have access to special promotions if they published exclusively with them, I decided I might as well give it a shot. My sales on Barnes and Noble weren’t anything like my Amazon sales. And both of those were pretty meager to start.
As a Kindle Select author, you were given a certain number of “free/giveaway” days for each period of membership. I decided to do my first giveaway for five days after Christmas. I figured that if people were getting Kindles for Christmas, the first thing they’d want to do would be to load it up with books, and who doesn’t love free stuff?
Christmas rolled around, and I didn’t remember that I scheduled the giveway until the day after. Wondering if my Christmas strategy had been successful, I checked to see how many times the books had been downloaded. At first, I thought there had been a mistake.
I kept checking like a maniac, watching the number of downloads roll into the thousands. They were free, so I wasn’t earning any money, but I couldn’t believe that thousands of people now had access to my books. I was thrilled.
Even though they were free downloads, all those “sales” pushed the books way up onto the Amazon Kindle bestseller list, making them more visible for people to download… even when the giveaway ended. Then people were actually seeing my books and paying for them. For a time, my books even hung out on the bestseller list with Emily Giffin.
I spent New Year’s Eve 2012 with my phone in my hand, staring in amazement as the downloads – and the royalties – kept coming. I was actually making money as a writer. It was my dream come true!
Was it enough for me to retire and declare myself a full-time author?
I went back to teaching. I divorced my husband. I moved. I remarried. I continued teaching. I kept writing. I self-published another book. I got pregnant. I had my son…
I hated the idea of putting my son in daycare so that I could go spend all day with other people’s kids. I hated the thought of someone else getting to spend all day with mine. I hated the idea of getting home around dinnertime and only having a few hours to spend with my son before putting him to bed. I wasn’t sure I could handle it.
My husband understood. He suggested rather than go back to work, I take up writing, try to make a go of it. If I wasn’t working, we wouldn’t have to pay for daycare. With his income, it was do-able. I could stay home with my son and write.
I submitted pieces to places like Scary Mommy – my first published piece was about having sex after childbirth. (Might as well jump in and put it all out there, I guess.) I wrote a few articles for the Atlanta Journal Constitution despite not having any other journalism experience. For a long time, I wrote click-bait for parenting websites… It definitely wasn’t paying the bills, but (1) I was writing, and (2) it was money coming in that helped me feel like I was contributing, somehow. But what I really love is just writing my heart out… Writing pieces like this for MotherHustle. Writing my fairytale romances – that makes six now. Writing for school.
By the time I graduate, my son will be in kindergarten and I will probably start looking for a job, if I haven’t already. Doing what? I have no idea. I just hope I get to write.
Because I’m in it for the love, not the money.
MotherHustle Panelist Jessica Goodwin lives near Washington, D.C. with her husband, son, and their two cats. She’s written four novels and her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Baby Gaga, Chocolate & Chaos, Tribe Magazine, Mamalode, and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Nope, she’s writing. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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