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Sunday Self-publishing Success Story: Nicole Burnham, Award-winning Romance Writer

Headshot of Nicole Burnham

“Words in, words out” is romantic novelist Nicole Burnham’s mantra

US romance writer Nicole Burnham is not only a prolific indie author with a dozen successful novels to her name, but also an avid reader, epitomising her “Words In, Words Out” policy. Her self-empowering, smart attitude to her indie status has fuelled her consistent and enduring career of 17 years as a published author. In the following interview, she has plenty of wise advice to share, drawing on her own experience, about maintaining a sustainable and healthy work-life balance, as well as a steady flow of great books.

 

What’s your proudest achievement to date as an indie author?

I sold my first book in 2000 and it was released in 2001. Most of the writers I know who sold around the same time I did are out of the business. I’m still here, though I’ve had amazing highs and devilish lows over the years. I think that’s typical, though few authors will talk about the lows.

If resilience is an achievement, that’s my proudest.

What’s the single best decision you ever made?

cover of Scandal with a prince

Most of Nicole Burnham’s romance books feature modern royalty

It’s easy to say “going indie.” Both financially and creatively, that is true.

However, my indie career wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t taken the time to educate myself about contracts. Very early in my career, before I’d even sold my first novel, I read every book and article I could get my hands on about publishing contracts and attended every contract session available at writers’ conferences. I stuck to my guns on important issues and got substantive changes in several contracts.

I also walked away from contracts with two major publishers. In each case, it was because they sent a contract with different terms than those in my previous contracts—changes that were not in my favor and could have a long-term impact on my flexibility and my income—and the publisher refused to remove or change those clauses.

So the best decision I ever made? Learning when to say no and then having the self-confidence to walk away. There have been instances when the payoff for making those hard decisions has taken a decade or more, but it has always come.

What’s been your biggest surprise as an indie author?

How unbelievably happy it makes me to have control.

Each book is treated as a long-term project, not a flash in the pan that is either capitalized upon or pulled depending on its first week of sales. I can really invest in each one.

What’s your greatest challenge – and how do you deal with it?

Staying focused on the writing and prioritizing that over the marketing or the business side of what I do. To get my pages in, that sometimes means I fall behind on accounting or am slow to answer email. I’m constantly adapting in order to create a more realistic schedule.

How do you get/stay in a creative mood?

I’m a big believer in Words In, Words Out.

I read a lot and listen to audiobooks. First, because I love to read, and second, because experiencing other authors’ stories gets me excited about my own. I also binge-watch TV series whenever I’m on the treadmill. If there are Behind the Scenes segments where producers and writers discuss why they made certain decisions, I’ll watch those. The commentary is often thought-provoking. Finally, I used to finish every book I started. No more. If a book doesn’t grab me within a few chapters, I move on. I’ve noticed that when I feel bogged down in a book I’m reading, it makes me less excited about storytelling in general.

How do you remain productive/motivated?

I’m hardwired to be productive.

I’m one of those people who struggles to relax, even though I know it’s important for my mental health.

I feel my best when I have concrete goals and am actively taking steps to achieve them. However, over the years, I’ve seen many authors with careers cut short by health issues, many of which stem from the fact we spend long hours at the computer. This is particularly true for those who have day jobs in addition to writing.

To keep myself healthy, mentally and physically, I plan exercise each week and put it on my calendar. I take group classes like yoga and CrossFit, I hike, and I run. The variety keeps me from over-training in any one area, plus it gives me a mix of time alone with my thoughts (hiking/running) and social time.

When I exercise regularly, my writing flow improves.

On that note, it took me a long time to find exercise I truly enjoy. I’d always liked yoga well enough, but having the right instructors made all the difference. It morphed from an activity I knew would make me feel good afterward into an activity I looked forward to doing. Once I started walking – long, planned walks outdoors rather than a five-minute walk to get from point A to point B – I knew it would be a lifelong exercise for me. Eventually, those walks turned into runs. I hated running when I was younger, but over the years, I fell in love with it.

So if you haven’t found exercise you enjoy, keep trying.

Maybe a pickup volleyball league will be your holy grail. Or you’ll discover you love boxing class. Doesn’t hurt to try, and you could discover the key to both a longer, happier life and a healthier career.

What’s your favourite thing about being an author–publisher?

Control.

What are your top tips for other ALLis?

Cover of One Man's Princess

Nicole Burnham’s latest romantic novel

  • Make writing your story your top priority. Nothing matters more than getting words on the page.
  • If getting words on the page is a struggle, figure out what will get them flowing. A long walk? Reading a good book or seeing a good movie? Allowing yourself a day or two off? Taking a class on craft? Whatever gets you excited to write, find it and do it. Then get back to writing.
  • Make friends. Be kind. Be professional. Don’t gossip. Keep your ears and eyes open and understand that good lessons can come from anyone, anywhere.

 

What’s next for you?

Book seven of my Royal Scandals series is in the works. I’m also writing a second royalty series. The first book in that series will be released later this year.

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3 Responses to Sunday Self-publishing Success Story: Nicole Burnham, Award-winning Romance Writer

  1. Kari Trenten January 20, 2018 at 7:46 am #

    Thank you for the advice!

  2. Stephanie Hrehirchuk January 17, 2018 at 3:54 pm #

    Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your writing wisdom. As an Indie author, it can be easy to invest more time in marketing and business affairs than in writing. I have a long list of writing projects but as a new author with low revenues, it’s tempting to focus on the sales and promotion of my books and working with clients to coach them through the process of self-directed publishing. With your words, I’m encouraged to back away from the business and get writing!

    • Nicole Burnham January 18, 2018 at 8:26 pm #

      Good luck, Stephanie! I have to remind myself every day that writing is job one, particularly when social media, email, and marketing projects are clamoring for my attention, or the rabbit hole that is the Internet calls. To do that, I keep a calendar with word count goals. I do my best to stick to it and I build in short term rewards. For instance, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones, but only allow myself a new episode when I hit predetermined word count milestones on my current project. It’s amazing how easy it is to keep focused on the writing when I know that task will earn that short term reward and the other tasks won’t. Of course, the best rewards come from having more books complete and available for sale. Marketing, no matter how brilliantly done, won’t do much without great content for your readers and plenty of it.

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