Catherine Bybee is a fabulous success now, but she grew up in poverty and hardship.
After high school, and a hopeful move to Southern California, Catherine got a job waiting tables and dreamed of becoming an actress. But starvation wasn’t that appealing, so she became an ER nurse. Did that for 20 years. While recovering from a patient-caused injury, she began writing. Now she’s a hot-shot successful writer, but I love her down-to-earth attitude.
Like when she gave a keynote address in Palm Springs recently, she told us she isn’t that sympathetic when writers moan about all the hard work they have to do. She said if you want to know what hard is, try sitting in the ER with a young mother whose baby just died. As she spoke, remembering, Catherine lost it, and so did we in the audience.
More about Catherine:
- She believes that “everything is a lesson or a blessing or both.”
- She believes in “being real.” She said proudly, “I will never eat government commodity cheese again.”
- She’s funny, grateful, kind, determined, and humble (oh, okay, she mugs for the camera, but that’s the actress in her.)
- Her writing process is “basically, to vomit on the page and fix it later.” She is a total pantser.
- She believes in paying it forward. (She supports Skip1.org. You should check it out.)
Catherine has published dozens of novels. I’d give you the exact number but I forgot to ask. If you go to her Amazon page, though, it’s a lot. Her website says she writes 2,500 words a day. (I know, right??!!) And then there’s this:
Catherine Bybee is a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and #1 Amazon bestselling author of romance novels. She writes in the romance subgenres of contemporary, historical, paranormal, and at one time erotica. She currently writes for Montlake Romance, an Amazon Publishing Imprint, and self-publishes some works.
So, obviously, she’s crazy busy, but she signed a couple copies of her bestseller “Wife by Wednesday,” so I could give them to you (see end of post), and agreed to do this interview. Which kind of turned into an essay. Because did I mention she’s generous?
LMS: What made you decide to try writing? Did you do it as a hobby, or did you think you could make a living from it?
CB: Good question!
You’ll often hear writers talk about how they have to write. That the story is in their heads and they need to get it down on paper. Sounds a little crazy, but that’s what happened.
Writing wasn’t a hobby, nor did I think I’d make a living from it. I was simply trying to learn the process. It wasn’t until I sold my first book that I dreamed of replacing the income I once had as a nurse. It took a few years, but it did happen!
LMS: In this day of self-publishing and market saturation, what can you tell a savvy writer about the best way to achieve mid-level sales? (Most writers would be happy to augment their income rather than achieve superstar status. And most of us know the basics, like “write every day” and “create a platform”.)
CB: I think it is easier now than ever for an author to make mid-level sales as a writer. Keep in mind, just a few years ago writers were dependent on publishers to ever make a dime in this market. That said, I think unrealistic expectations are a real thing when savvy writers and newbies think they can just put stuff out there and make six-figures a year. Authors making money are the people who, ten years ago, were sitting down to their computers after their full-time job and plugging away hoping to make five to ten thousand dollars via traditional publishing. Today our expectations are greater. Partly because we hear so often about other writers making a real income, and some reaching that superstar status you’re talking about.
While the ability to reach readers has increased with the Kindle, social media, and self-publishing, the process of writing great books has not.
And how much marketing is an author willing to do to find new readers? You’ve heard the saying “Doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results in the definition of insanity.” I happen to think this is only partially true in this market.
If you’re writing the best book you can at that time in your life, and you keep doing it—knowing on some level it doesn’t suck (Sorry, I had to put that in there.)—then eventually you might hit your market and reach the readers that make it easier for you to leave your day job. But—and here is the but—marketing changes daily. We need to stay on top of what is new and trending, especially if you haven’t yet found your core audience that keeps you from your 9 to 5 day job. Your marketing has to shift and adapt continually.
As for ‘create a platform?’ Honey, I sure hope everyone has already done that before they publish their first book, and they diversify their platform by adding to it monthly.
Yes, write daily. Get better at what you do. Write new and different stuff, but always write from the heart and love your work. If you don’t love what you’re doing, no one else will either. And don’t write for trends. Please. Only publish the best book you have in you right now.
In short, don’t self-publish crap. You often have only one shot at a new reader.
If you don’t hook them from that first book, because you self-published a book that really wasn’t your best, you’re going to lose that reader, and they will never come back. Harsh? Yeah! But ask yourself when you gave an author a second chance of your valuable time when the first book you read from them sucked.
Don’t self-publish that book it if it isn’t the best thing you’ve ever written! Diversify your marketing monthly. Quantify your goals. Your day job may increase your salary by what? 1.5% a year? 3% if you’re lucky. Did you make 3% more than you did last year writing? Or did you make 5-10% more than last year, but it still isn’t enough?
Reality check, people. This is a job. It’s the best damn job in the world, but it is still a job that has to grow to get better and more lucrative.
My tenth book was my breakout hit. For nine novels and novellas I was plugging away hoping something would happen.
Then I wrote in a different genre and wham! There are NO shortcuts to this business. And if you have taken on the role of a publisher, than you have all of that job to do as well as that of the author. It’s a lot. I know. I’ve been there, done that, still do it with some of my work.
(Update: book giveaway is closed. Thanks for playing!)