Working as a self-employed writer – Kathryn Freeman
For the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to work from home as a self-employed writer. I juggle two writing jobs, working as a medical writer for part of the week and a writer of romantic fiction for the rest. So far I haven’t managed to mix the two up…
If you’re thinking of becoming a self-employed writer, you might find my journey of interest.
I started working life as a pharmacist at Boots, but quickly realised it wasn’t for me so I left to join the pharmaceutical industry. There I spent over twenty happy years working in medical communications. I also met my husband (in the office) and had two children (not in the office!).
The catalyst for change
I had always thought being a working mum would get easier as the children grew older but actually I found it harder:
- Their secondary school was further away than the primary school and my parents weren’t able to pick them up on the days I couldn’t.
- There were no breakfast or after school clubs.
- More demands were made of their time after school – sports training and matches – which meant picking them up at odd hours, with no set routine.
- They needed more help with their homework during the first few years of secondary school (of course now I’m clueless).
Meanwhile my company was taken over by one based primarily in Switzerland, which meant frequent trips to Zurich, adding a new level of child care complexity. I also began to enjoy the job a lot less.
So I sat down with my husband and decided what I wanted out of the next stage of my career.
- To earn money doing something I enjoyed.
- To work flexibly around the children: be home when they were, pick them up when they needed it.
I’ve loved reading romantic fiction for as long as I can remember (I feasted on Mills and Boon in my teens) and had often wondered if I could write it, too. That New Year I set myself a resolution to write a book – and surprised myself by actually keeping to it. This is it, I thought. Maybe I can write books for a living. With the help of a kind manager, supportive husband and school car share scheme I reduced my work hours to three days a week, dedicating two days to writing.
Writing fiction – how I started
I began a distance learning writing course (Writers Bureau) which helped provide an insight into how to write a novel and what publishers are looking for. It also gave me my first taste of receiving feedback, via my tutor, and pushed me into writing things I might not otherwise have tackled, though I stopped when it came to writing radio plays. I also joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) – and kept writing.
A year later, even though I hadn’t landed a contract, I knew writing romantic fiction was what I wanted to do so I took a deep breath and handed in my notice. From now on I would be self-employed, giving me the freedom to juggle work that paid well (medical writing) with work I loved (fiction writing).
It was many (many) rejections and many (many) books later before I received my first contract – from the publisher Choc Lit. They are unusual in that submissions are given to a Tasting Panel of readers who read the whole book and not just the first three chapters. I will be forever grateful that they liked two of my novels enough to take a chance on an unknown author. Too Charming was published last September and Do Opposites Attract will be out in July.
A happy ending?
My perfect week would be to spend every day writing romance. When I’d come to a suitable place to stop, I would wander downstairs to greet my sons, who would interrupt their diligent study to smile, chatter about their day and wrap me in a loving embrace. After that I’d venture into the kitchen where my husband would be lighting candles and pulling a perfect lobster Thermidor from the oven.
Okay, so perfection isn’t quite there yet. I still need to keep up my medical writing to top up the earnings, my boys are unlikely to ever voluntarily hug their mother and my husband won’t put a pizza in the oven, never mind a lobster. I do, however, wake up in the morning looking forward to my day. I feel calmer, happier and more in control. I decide my day and what to focus on. Yes I still have deadlines, from both my publisher and my medical writing employer, but I can work round them in my own home, with my family around me.
There are a few niggles about working from home. My husband assumes I’m his personal assistant (car in for service, pick up dry cleaning, phone plumber etc). My children assume I’m their personal taxi service and can drop everything (even in mid romantic clinch – on paper!) to pick them up. But the advantages – working in my own space, dictating my own day, taking ten minutes to sort the washing, defrost the tea or simply sit in the sun and ponder my afternoon – are huge.
Achieving my goals – what worked for me:
- A gradual transition. Cutting down my work hours so I could spend two days a week writing gave me a feel for whether it was something I really wanted to do.
- Financial planning. As a family we started planning for me leaving work nearly three years before I finally left. This way we knew we could do it, and I had a figure in mind of what I needed to earn when self-employed.
- Being organised. For example, setting up a spreadsheet for publishers/agents that accept unsolicited submissions and keeping a log of earnings and expenses. I attended a really helpful (free) course on becoming self-employed, run by my local tax office, which took away my fear of accounting.
- Being strict. Sometimes medical writing work has come in that could have kept me busy five days a week, but I learnt to say no and stick to my goals. Medical writing is a means to earn money, but my goal is to enjoy my work – which means I have to ring fence time during the week to write my books.
- Maintaining work networks. Using Linked-in and facebook to keep links with former colleagues. For the medical writing this was essential (you never know where that next bit of work might come from) but it proved useful for the romance writing, too. I was blown away by the support I received from the people I’d worked with, promoting my books, putting me in contact with authors they knew who could help.
- Building new networks. Tackling social media is an essential part of this and something I should have done when I first started writing. Don’t be afraid to get your name out there and to interact with readers and writers. They are a friendly, welcoming bunch and I’ve learnt not to be afraid to approach them for help or advice. A warning – Twitter is so much fun you sometimes end up typing more tweets than you do pages of your new novel…
- Joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. The Romantic Novelists’ Association are a fantastically supportive group and couldn’t have been kinder to a fledgling writer. Their scheme for new writers gives you the chance to have your manuscript reviewed by an experienced writer of romance. The feedback I received both encouraged and made me view my writing in a different way. For me, the advice provided a turning point. I stopped writing words and started to write a story.
- Not giving up. It took nearly two years after I became self-employed and many, many… yes, many rejections before I received my first book contract. There were plenty of occasions when I thought I was wasting my time, labouring over words of romance nobody would ever get to read. Now I know even though some of those books might never see the light of day, the time wasn’t wasted because I was learning the craft. The more I wrote, the better I became. And I’m still learning.
My final piece of advice
Follow your heart. If you want to be a self-employed writer – plan and go for it. I wish I’d done this years ago.
I was born in Wallingford but have spent most of my life living in a village outside Windsor. After studying pharmacy in Brighton I began working life as a retail pharmacist. I quickly realised that trying to decipher doctor’s handwriting wasn’t for me so I left to join the pharmaceutical industry where I spent twenty happy years working in medical communications. However my life long love of reading romance often led me to wonder if I could write about it, too. If only I had the time.
In 2010 I made a New Year resolution to make that time, and started my first book. It was surprisingly easy to stick to, because I enjoyed writing so much. In 2011, backed by my family, I left the world of pharmaceutical science to begin life as a self employed writer, juggling the two disciplines of medical writing and romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero…
With two teenage boys and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to bother buying a card again this year (yes, he does) the romance in my life is all in my head. Then again, my husband’s unstinting support of my career change goes to prove that love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes can come in many disguises.