Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Artist Unleashed: THE 5 BIGGEST RISKS I’VE TAKEN AS AN AUTHOR by Rachel Thompson

I’ve written a lot of blog posts. A lot. A lot, a lot. Yet, nobody has ever asked me before what the five biggest risks I’ve taken as an author are, til now. So thank you Jessica for the opportunity to write for you and for making me dig deep.

Let’s deconstruct.

1)              Telling my real story.  I started blogging in 2007-ish, and mostly it was a way to connect with family and friends far and wide. However, I soon developed my ‘voice:’ a sarcastic look at relationships, love, and all the ups and downs that go with that.

Following that humor route, I wrote my first two books of humorous essays. Though they both did quite well, as I started the third book I found myself wandering off to some of the more serious situations I’d experienced, and not the happy stuff either—having an almost uncontrollable desire to get it all down, triggered by the suicide of an ex-lover.

Childhood sexual abuse, loss, date rape… not exactly dinner conversation, but as I stared down fifty, I decided it was time. As often happens when you open yourself up, I happened upon a wonderful quote by author and professor Lorrie Moore (Elle Magazine): ‘Write something you’d never show your mother or father.’

That struck me in the gut. I had to go there because I knew I’d held myself back from going that deep before, using humor as a way to mask my grief and shame.

The result is my current release, Broken Pieces, currently #1 on the Women’s Poetry list on Amazon, and in the top 25 on Dysfunctional Relationships (a dubious honor?), but one I will take. The book has won seven awards and led me to a book contract with hybrid publisher, Booktrope, selling far more than any of my previous work.

2)              Self-publishing my books. When I first decided to write books, I knew very little about self-pub—heck, about publishing in general, except that I loved to read. Despite having 15+ years in soul-sucking Big Pharma in marketing and sales, learning all about self-publishing became a full-time job.

I knew that I wanted to do it right, and I also knew that while I had no doubt about my writing abilities, I knew I wasn’t perfect and needed help with things like editing and structure. Most authors know by now to hire an editor (hint, hint), and I started researching to find someone who could be brutally honest with me. Luckily, Jessica Swift found me (on Twitter), and we connected at a level I cannot explain really, except to say that it’s a gift.  

I can’t stress enough how important it is to invest in your work with professional editing services, along with hiring a graphic artist, proofreader, and formatter. You may think that cutting corners will save you money, but you’re missing the point: your book won’t sell. It’s on you to make your book as spectacular as possible before anyone ever sees it.

Self-publishing isn’t a simple ‘cut and paste’ and call it a book. Two agents contacted me (via Twitter), I’ve taken meetings, signed with a publishing company (while I self-publish my eBooks, I signed for print only).

Self-publishing is a wonderful option if you’re willing to treat it like a business and not a one-off project.

3)              Using my voice and platform. I didn’t write Broken Pieces with any notion of fame or glory or big bucks. I wrote it because I needed to. What I didn’t realize at the time, and what has been by far the biggest benefit or the book’s release, is that I’ve become a voice for other survivors.

Sadly, many survivors still live with their shame daily, have never spoken publicly about their ordeal, and suffer in silence from PTSD, addictions, shame, dissociation, and potentially risky behavior as a result. My goal has always been to help others, but I wasn’t really sure how.

I’ve now started a private, ‘secret,’ Facebook group (survivors of childhood sexual abuse only) and we’re up to about 50 members—mostly women. I’ve also started a weekly #SexAbuseChat on Twitter—every Tuesday at 6pm PST/9pm EST. Anyone can join and we encourage family members to join also—participate or simply lurk.

The risk in doing this is that I’ve opened myself up to criticism—a small portion of people still feel these topics shouldn’t ever be discussed in an open forum, or that I’m exploiting my situation for some kind of profit. I understand the hesitation—but I figure if someone has an issue, they don’t have to participate in my chat, or buy my book. I’ll keep on writing and connecting with others regardless.

4)              Starting my business. As a result of my experiences with my own three books (all #1 bestsellers on Amazon at one point—on various lists, even hitting the top #100 overall paid list, too!), I decided to combine my marketing and sales with new skills like social media and other author marketing concepts and start my business, BadRedhead Media, in 2011.  

I am not a guru. I never, ever refer to myself that way because that assumes I’ve nothing left to learn, which couldn’t be further from the truth! But I love to share what I’ve learned—the good and the bad—on my Twitter and Facebook, in blog posts, and with clients who are looking for customized help.

As a result, I now write regularly for The Huffington Post (Books section), Self Publisher’s Monthly,, and the San Francisco Book Review, and I’m honored to cohost a weekly Blog Talk Radio show with AudioWorld’s Bennet Pomerantz.

Sure, I have plenty of critics who disagree with how I do things and that’s fine—as long as I continue to sell books and my clients do also, and I keep connecting with people, I figure I must be doing something right!

5)              Honesty. Part of being a nonfiction writer and having a busy author platform is that I put myself out there, and some people don’t like that for whatever reasons. I’ve had my share of stalkers, haters, and bullies.

I’m always fascinated by people’s behavior and motivations. I share my personal stories, as well as my business experiences—mostly to help other authors learn what I have to save them time and money. The downside is that everyone has their own opinion of how I should do things. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a female succeeding in a ‘man’s’ world, or what. I honestly don’t spend too much time worrying about it.

Regardless of whatever negativity I encounter, I keep doing my thing. Taking it personally isn’t an option because the work I do is bigger than me—I will continue to advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, to help authors learn how to use social media and understand the marketing options out there with free tips and articles, sharing what has worked for me and for my clients, and what hasn’t.

Ultimately, life is risk, as is writing or creating any type of art. It’s subjective and you will not please everyone. And that’s okay! I wouldn’t change a thing.

What risks have you taken in life?

Rachel Thompson is the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She also owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…),,,, and Self Publishing Monthly. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Connect with Rachel online: Find all her links here.

Want to guest post on The Artist Unleashed? Click HERE for submission guidelines.

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  1. It is often through big risks that we find our biggest successes.

    1. That's very true, Angela. It wasn't until I decided to risk much of what I knew that I found out who I really was. Sounds cliche, and I don't mean for it to. It's just ... true. :)

      thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. A courageous post that surely resonates for any true writer and artist. Well said.

  3. Must be something about staring down 50... After 30 years on Wall Street, I'm all about risk. As a writer, I'm about to take my first risk (I didn't know there were going to be at least 5!) so I pay special attention to the advice you share. Thanks. Keep succeeding!

  4. TBH, I don't tend to take deliberate risks as a writer. I've had four books published by a publisher and having a 5th evaluated. I also have written a lot of magazine stuff over the years.

    I'm a bit dubious about self-publishing. Conventional wisdom says if you can't find a publisher who won't take it on, then it's not worth it. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of a year's work going to waste. Wouldn't we prefer to let people read it for free than have it unread?


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris