Jessica Bell is an award-winning author and writing and publishing coach. Having admired her incredibly diverse achievements from afar, I was delighted to finally meet Jessica at London Book Fair earlier this year. In addition to her novels and poetry collections, and her bestselling Writing in a Nutshell series, Jessica Bell has published a variety of works online and in literary journals, including Writer’s Digest. She is also the Publisher of Vine Leaves Press, a voice-over actor, a freelance editor and writer for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide such as MacMillan Education and Education First, a book cover designer, the coordinator of the Writing Day Workshops which take place throughout the United States on a regular basis, and the founder and co-ordinator of Self-Publishing Masterclass. And as if that wasn’t enough to prove her Renaissance Woman credentials, in October 2016, Jessica Bell became the new lead singer of the well-known dream-pop group, Keep Shelly In Athens.
This series gives me the excuse to ask my guests six questions that I hope go to the heart of why they choose to earn – or attempt to earn – their living as writers. I’m featuring a different writer every week, some of whom you will probably have heard of, and some of whom may not have hit the best-seller lists yet, but are beavering away to produce the highest quality work they can. Likewise, some are self-publishing indies, whilst others are ‘traditionally’ published, and yet more – like me – ‘hybrids’ spanning both paths. The series is growing to represent a wide cross-section of authors, revealing how they ‘tick’ to aspiring writers and fellow authors alike. Do join in and leave your comments below.
1. What sort of writing do you most love to do? Include as much as you like – fiction (including genre), non-fiction, blogging, copywriting, academic, courses, poetry etc.
I write literary/contemporary fiction, mainly about dysfunctional relationships, both romantic and family oriented. Basically I like to write about ugly truths and flaws in humanity. Related topics come through both my fiction and poetry, and also in my latest release, a personal memoir called Dear Reflection. I stopped blogging a couple of years ago, but sometimes I will write lengthy posts on Facebook, which is fun and perhaps more spur of the moment. I also write non-fiction. Mainly writing/publishing reference books and speeches about writing and publishing. I love all styles/genres. I get bored easily so need to regularly switch it up!
2. How long did it take to earn your primary living from writing (if, indeed, you do) and what were the major obstacles you have had to overcome?
I don’t actually rely on book sales to make a living, and this is directly related to one of the biggest obstacles I’ve had to face. For a very long time, I didn’t know how to market myself or my books, because I didn’t write series, nor in any one genre. I’d receive marketing advice after marketing advice that just did not work because I was targeting audiences that would not pick up my books. After a few years of many trials and many errors, and discovering for myself that my books would not succeed in the mainstream market, I identified that the style of my writing always remained the same. Last year I came up with a slogan for my books—Beautiful Ugly Words. I branded myself as an author and created a cohesive book cover look that represented my writing style, instead of genre. I am extremely comfortable in my new skin, and now I also know to only target readers with acquired tastes or the desire to stray from their reading habits. You can read more about how I did this here.
However, because I have always wanted to be my own boss, and I didn’t want to be stuck in a 9–5 job, I was forced to really think outside the box. I started self-publishing in 2011, and have just this year been able to quit my day job. I still write and publish my own books, but I also do the following to supplement my income: I am the founder and Publisher of Vine Leaves Press; I am a book cover designer; I am the co-ordinator of Writing Day Workshops; I am the founder and co-ordinator of Self-Publishing Masterclass. (I am also the singer of Keep Shelly in Athens, but I know that has nothing to do with books!) With my fingers in all these pies, I am making a very comfortable living, and loving absolutely everything I do.
3. Briefly describe your writing and editing process. Are you primarily a plotter or a ‘pantser’?
My process varies depending on my mood. I have plotted a novel from beginning to end, and I have also written an entire novel by the seat of my pants. I have also written an entire 25k novella in three days due to some strange burst of inspiration. (I have yet to experience that a second time, but I wish I could!) I just go with the flow. Limiting myself with rules—even when self-inflicted—inhibits my creativity.
4. Which writers, living or dead, do you most admire and why? (As many as you like, but just a couple will do.)
I have many influences. They encourage and inspire me to hone my own style and solidify my own voice. A few of my favourite authors are Marilynne Robinson, Margaret Atwood, Truman Capote, Milan Kundera, Raymond Carver, Rebecca Miller, Jeanette Winterson. Music-wise, I’m a huge fan of PJ Harvey. My latest obsession is Sóley.
5. What advice do you wish you had been given when you set out to become a writer?
There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to sell millions of books and/or to become a New York Times bestselling and award-winning author. But try to have other goals which define your success too. It helps if at least half of those goals are not routes to third-party validation, but instead self-satisfaction. If you can feel good about what you have achieved without anyone else knowing about it, then you will still feel like a success when sales figures aren’t what you had hoped for.
6. Why did you decide to take the indie route?
Because I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, however I like.
Where to find Jessica Bell:
Jessica Bell’s website: http://www.jessicabellauthor.com
Jessica on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/MsBessieBell @MsBessieBell
Jessica Bell on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jessicabellcreative
Jessica on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/msbessiebell/
Jessica Bell Book Links:
Jessica’s Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/2uySZtG
Jessica Bell’s Music:
Jessica Bell on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/msbessiebell
Jessica on Bandcamp: https://jessicabell.bandcamp.com/
Jessica Bell on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3mIXc4B5oM69UuC7sKUQwQ
Thank you for your time and insightful answers, Jessica!