A personal look at my recent journey

Published on October 3, 2019

A few weeks ago I was cleaning out my home office, sorting through ten years worth of Harlequin and Carina Press papers, swag and other detritus when I came across a goal planner from 2016 that I’d filled out early in that year. In it, were a few questions and answers that I didn’t remember filling out, but resonated now all the same…

What changed for you in 2015?
“My relationship with my job—my passion for it changed. I still like it but my emotional investment and connection is gone.”

What did you embrace in 2015?
“I embraced the idea that not everything about my job is perfect but I am paid well and it provides health benefits to my family so I am absolutely able to accept the drawbacks.”

When did fear hold you back in 2015?
“When fear of losing the security of my job kept me from doing anything new.”

* * *

Shorty after my layoff from Harlequin in July, I attended RWA Nationals. I didn’t really want to go. It had only been a week, I hadn’t processed my emotions yet and I didn’t want to have to publicly process them. It turned out attending was the best thing I could have done. I was able to have smart, meaningful conversations with smart, insightful, thoughtful people and during those conversations, one thing became clear—I was tired, I was heartsore, and I wasn’t ready to invest my emotional and physical energy in building someone else’s business when there wasn’t any guarantee of any loyalty in return. I knew by the time I left New York City at the end of July that there were only two options for me—to work for myself or leave publishing entirely.

It’s a strange thing, having so many people publicly interested in what’s happening in your career, when you’re not an entertainer, creator or in a job that’s overly public. It feels like the last several stages of my career have been somewhat publicly performed, though, so why not this one? But it’s a thing that brings both joy—for all of the support, love, and indignation on my behalf—but also anxiety—the message that I’m going to do something amazing and wonderful feels as if it’s teeming with expectation.

So though I knew building my own business was what I wanted—and needed—to do, being self-employed felt both scary and as though I was letting down everyone who said the words “amazing, awesome, can’t wait to see what great things you do next”. I think building your own business is pretty amazing, and I’ve been in awe of some of my peers who have been incredibly successful at this, but not everyone views freelance editors in the same way (sometimes with good reason, I suppose, but that’s another post for another day).

Then when I discussed freelancing with a publishing acquaintance, they said to me, “Being an editor at a publishing house brings a certain cachet, be sure you can be okay without that.” Certainly a thing that had never occurred to me but yes, I can be okay with that. Let’s not forget that I started in digital publishing before people had *any* respect for digital publishing. In fact, I started there when people had absolute scorn for it, as if I was encouraging authors to garbage their writing dreams. My first conference ever, an agent quite literally turned up her nose and walked away from me when I said where I worked. So, yep, I got this, lol!

There was a whole host of other things that made starting my own business a nerve-wracking proposition—for the past 5 or so years, I’ve been the sole source of income, and health insurance, for my family. This means a huge change in finances and benefits. Everything we needed would have to be provided for by us. Yikes.

And, of course, I needed to understand if I could be as motivated for my own business as I am for someone else’s. If you’ve ever taken Gretchen Rubin’s courses, quiz or read her book about the four tendencies, you may be familiar with the idea of an Obliger—that’s me. Someone who’s excellent at meeting outer expectations (fulfilling obligations to other people) but not always at fulfilling inner expectations—or obligations to yourself.

But then, the people who love and believe in me, my husband and my cheering squad and publishing life savers kicked me in the head and said “Of course, you can do this. Of course you should do this.” And they were right. Working for myself is what I want to do, what I’ve been wanting to do. The benefits of self-employment have the potential to be so much more than the sum of just the money (though money is nice—and necessary—too!)

So I’m venturing back into the somewhat uncertain and sometimes anxiety-ridden world of freelance editing, consulting, speaking and strategizing. Freelancing is how I got my start in publishing nearly 2 decades ago, so I’m coming full circle. And it’s been funny to talk with people who once worked for me as freelancers but are now editors in publishing houses looking for freelance editors. Another full circle!

I’ve already proven I can be passionate on behalf of all the authors I work with—even when I was struggling with my job happiness in 2015/2016, I don’t think there’s anyone who could ever say I didn’t give 110% to the authors who committed to work with us/me. I invested my heart and soul into a huge DEI project that started in 2017 and didn’t start to wrap up until mid-2019, so my commitment to publishing has never been in doubt.

And so this new chapter in my career and my life feels like a natural next step to keeping my passion for publishing going—working directly with authors on projects I love, getting a chance to work more closely with those doing indie publishing (I read 100s of indie published books a year so this thrills me), contracting with different publishers to help build their authors and their programs, and essentially just investing time in what I love!

I hope I’ll get a chance to work with some of you now or in the future. Thanks for continuing on this up and down publishing journey with me!

Written by Angela James

A #1 New York Times bestselling indie editor and author career coach, Angela James (she/her) has enjoyed 20+ years in genre fiction publishing and has edited bestselling books and authors, including the #1 New York Times bestselling Paper Princess by Erin Watt, as well as hundreds of other authors such as Shelly Laurenston/G.A. Aiken, Kylie Scott, Autumn Lake Jones, A.C. Arthur, Alexa Riley, Ilona Andrews, Lilith Saintcrow, Josh Lanyon and more. She is also the creator of Before You Hit Send: a popular online self-editing and writing workshop as well as From Written to Recommended, a robust author community, and the Book Boss group coaching program.

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