In which Miriam Peskowitz interviews Anastasia’s Secret author Susanne Dunlap on her writing-coach start-up.
Do you dream about leaving your day job? Susanne Dunlap
has just taken the plunge. She writes YA and adult historical fiction, and is the author of four books. She’s currently working on the first book in a two-book deal with Bloomsbury (that book, Shadow of the Lamp, will pub in 2011). Until yesterday—that’s right, yesterday!—Susanne clocked in each day to a job in advertising. But now that job is history. What’s next is sustaining her writing career as a writing coach and author.
Susanne agreed to talk with She Writes about why she quit her day job, what it feels like to commit to writing full-time, and how she’s setting about building an editing and coaching practice to support herself.
Hi Susanne! What's the backstory? What made you want to leave your job?
Well, several things. The job was getting more and more intolerable. I worked at a small company where the owner/founder was very "hands-on" to the point of micromanaging. In the creative side of advertising, which is really a wonderful way for a writer to earn a living, the working conditions are usually very forgiving. In this job, we were held to strict hours no matter how late we'd been there the night before, and if we weren't visibly working (e.g. typing at a keyboard) the boss would invent meaningless work for us to do.
The other side was that I felt frustrated that I couldn't spend more time both writing and promoting my books. I had to keep the most important side of my life "hidden", because I believe my boss was envious, and believed that the writing I did outside of work meant I wasn't committed enough to the job.
Finally, I've spent so much of my life working very hard, doing the responsible thing. Now that I'm a ripe old 55 (though most of the time I feel more like 25), I need to seize the opportunity while I have it. I'm fulfilling a two-book contract with Bloomsbury USA Children's, so I have some income from that, and I have lots of other ideas as well.
When you decided to leave your day job and build an editing and coaching company, how did you find the courage, the belief in yourself, the safety net?
The truth is, my only safety net is my Bloomsbury contract. I do believe that I am a good editor and a supportive coach. I have taught college students and adults, and love to do it. I taught Music History, which is where my degrees are. But having spent the previous seven or eight years essentially teaching myself and learning how to write novels, I think I have a lot to offer aspiring authors. I've taken courses myself, read extensively, continually polished and edited my own works, as well as that of writer friends. It's a natural fit for me. My agent has said he will send potential clients my way, which helps!
Okay, let's talk nuts-and-bolts. Can you share with She Writes how you set things up for the new venture?
The beauty of being a writing coach/editor is that there isn't a lot to set up. I have some Web authoring skills so have made myself a website
and created a Facebook page and run a few ads. I've also hooked up with various networks on LinkedIn, which is a good thing to do, because it's about professional networking.
But I can't spend a lot of money on Facebook ads until I get a steady load of clients. Thanks to technology I can largely work virtually, here in my wonderful apartment in Brooklyn, with my laptop. I have plans to go to the colleges and universities, perhaps even some high schools in NY to inquire about running some writing workshops as well. We'll see!
Anyone who fantasizes about going out on their own wonders about how to find that first client, the one who gets it all going! What’s your plan for finding clients?
I actually have one client, a regular monthly gig, whom I'm looking forward to working with. I got him through LinkedIn, where I joined the Ivy group and the Yale group. You have to be bold! I've also connected with local bookstores. HOW? One may bring me in to do a writing workshop, which I would do for free because it could be a good way to get writing clients. I think most of all, it takes time, which I didn't have in my day job.
And I'm not just relying on the coaching to get the extra income. I'm also going to continue to do freelance ad work when I can get it, and build some Web sites, do some book trailers etc. Part of what gave me the courage to do this is that I have a lot of different skills and abilities beyond the writing.
Finally, I'm definitely a little scared. I don't have a pile of savings to fall back on, so it's all my wits!
Hey She Writers —anyone out there strike out on her own and set up shop? How did you start? How did you find your first client or two? What anxieties did you have? What happened that made you want to dance in the streets with joy? Tell us all about out it!
While you're at it, give me your input and suggest someone who YOU would like to see interviewed here, by me, Miriam Peskowitz!