On writing, shyness and never giving up: Epic Interrogation with Ali Luke
When I was starting out on my mission to conquer the Internet world via Grymm & Epic, Ali of Aliventures was one of the first people to support this project. That’s how I first found her site and I’ve been learning and loving it ever since.
Ali is a lovely, kind and easy-going writer who started off making a full-time income writing paid blogs for sites like Daily Writing Tips. She now coaches writers, writes and sells ebooks on writing (including the awesome Bloggers’ Guide to Freelancing), creates amazing writing e-courses, and is about to self-publish her first novel about what happens when the world of Geekdom becomes very, very real.
Firstly, we just want to know who you are, and what you do. Can you share your journey from mini-Ali to Aliventures?
Sure! As a teenager, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I worked on a really bad sci-fi novel in my mid-teens, holing up in the school library in my lunch-hours. (I wasn’t the most sociable of kids…)
I decided to study English at university, mostly so I could spend more time hanging out in libraries, and wrote another novel. This time it was sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and it was … just about competent.
I graduated, panicked, got a day job in tech support and moved to London. I finished editing the novel in the evenings, started sending it to every agent who’d touch fantasy (not all that many of them, it turns out) and then turned my hand to short stories. I managed to get a couple of small competition prizes, which just about paid for all the stamps I was using…
Then I started blogging, in an “aspiring problogger” sort of way. My first blog made a whopping $100 in about eleven months. But … blogging also led me into a new writing world. I found that:
(a) Non fiction is a hell of a lot easier to write than fiction
(b) People will actually pay for non fiction
So, after several months of crazy busyness, balancing the day job with evenings and weekends spent freelancing and working on my own blog, I quit my job and set up as a freelance writer. I also started a part-time MA in Creative Writing – and a new novel.
That was three years ago, and since then, I’ve slowly evolved what I’m doing biz-wise: I do less actual paid blogging today and have more income from ebook and ecourse sales, one-to-one coaching and some advertising on my old blogs.
I guess the take-away here is … try lots of things. 14-year-old me had her heart set on writing novels for a living, but 26-year-old me is pretty darn happy with being a blogger, writing coach, ebook author, and a novelist on the side.
As of today, right now, how’s business going? What are your current projects? What are you excited about?
Business is going really well! I’ve been working on loads of exciting things this year – I ran my first ever ecourse in January, and I’m currently running a second one, Blog On. I have a fantastic bunch of bloggers taking the course, and it’s great to see all the interaction and collaborating going on.
I’ve also finally written a novel that I’m actually happy with, and it’s currently in the hands of a freelance editor; once I’ve done some revisions based on her feedback, I’ll be releasing it as an ebook and a paperback.
How long did it take you to grow your business from the initial idea to where you are today? Was there any one event that served as a catalyst for your success?
The first time I got paid as a freelancer was in January 2008. I quit my job six months later, and the business has grown from there. It’s been a bit more rapid since October 2010 (I finished my MA in September 2010, so I’ve only really been running the business full-time since then).
I guess the real catalyst was the first time that an editor emailed me and asked if I’d like to join his team as a paid blogger. I hadn’t even realised that was possible – that one email literally changed the course of my life.
Did you go to university? What was your experience like? How useful has your degree been in getting you to where you are now?
Yep – I did a BA in English at Cambridge University (2003-2006) and an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London (2008-2010).
I loved both. Cambridge was an amazing experience, not just academically, but also because I was surrounded by other geeky nerdy types, so I fitted in for the first time in my life Goldsmiths was a lot of fun too, though taking a part-time MA and living off-campus meant it didn’t feel anything like so studenty.
I’ve never had a job that I needed a degree for, and my clients care about the quality of my writing, not my academic qualifications. I learnt a huge amount during both degrees though – not just how to write wel, but skills like time-management and self-motivation that have been pretty essential as a freelancer!
How did you learn about the business side of your industry? Do you have a mentor/business coach/critique group/association or did you learn it all yourself?
I read a lot, and I kept trying things (and getting stuff wrong!) I bought quite a few ebooks/courses to help me with marketing myself and my products – something that I wasn’t very confident about to begin with. I’ve reviewed quite a lot of them on Aliventures – see the Reviews index <http://www.aliventures.com/reviews> .
I try to go to relevant conferences too – for me, that’s Winchester Writers’ Conference in the UK, South by South West Interactive in Texas, and BlogWorld, in LA this year.
Who or what has been a support or inspiration to you throughout your journey?
It sounds a bit corny, but my Mum and Dad. My Mum has always encouraged my writing, and we’re actually off to Winchester Writers’ Conference together in a week. I get my entrepreneurial streak from my Dad. They’ve helped out financially, too, which has made things much easier.
You have a diverse range of income streams. Did you intentionally set out to do this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of managing so many different projects?
It was somewhat intentional! I didn’t have a plan in place from day one, but things evolved naturally. I get bored fast, so I like to add something new into the mix every six months or so.
* I don’t get bored.
* If one project doesn’t work out, it’s no biggie.
* I’m not at the mercy of one client/employer
* If people buy one product from me, they’ll often buy another (sales funnel ahoy!)
* I have some intense busy spells – in fact, the whole of 2011 has been pretty busy and it’s only in the past few weeks that things have calmed down.
* I tend to take on too much and have to really curb my enthusiasm for shiny new projects.
The upside and the downside to being on your own is the fact you don’t just swap hours worked for money earned. How are you finding this? Do you earn more now or less than when you worked a normal job?
In the last couple of tax years, I earned less; mainly because I was studying part-time (and the business was newer).
This year, I’ve had months where I’ve definitely earned more – my income still tends to fluctuate a bit.
What’s one thing you’ve done that dramatically improved your earnings?
Started one-to-one coaching (despite feeling initially nervous about it). There’s a limit to how much I can write in a day, but talking about writing is another matter!
What are your tips for managing money as a full/part time entrepreneur?
Cut back on your spending. We cut down a lot before I quit my day job, and we don’t really miss it.
Keep a buffer of income in your main account – when you’ve not got a salary arriving monthly, bills always seem to go out at the worst time!
I’d love to talk about promotion. You’re quite a prolific blogger, but we all know that simply writing a blog isn’t enough. What have you done to bring new readers to your blog?
I guest post, a lot (and I’m on a bit of a guest posting spree right now – trying to build up my core audience). I try to post on large writing-related blogs like Men with Pens, Problogger, Write to Done, and so on.
I try to write really in-depth, valuable content – I’ve been thrilled to see posts getting shared a lot on StumbleUpon recently, and I’ve definitely seen a traffic increase because of that.
I’m pretty active on Twitter generally, and that’s become one of my largest traffic sources.
What have you tried that doesn’t work? Why do you think that is?
In my early blogging days, I tried submitting posts to blog carnivals, and only ever got one or two extra hits as a result. I’m not sure why it didn’t work – perhaps it’s become a rather outdated form of promotion and people simply don’t click on the links.
How important is networking?
It’s crucial, really. In the blogging world, links are lifeblood … and there’s no way to get any inbound links without some sort of networking (even if that’s very casual).
Do you get more out of face-to-face or online networking?
I get a lot out of both, in different ways. Face-to-face networking is a real blast, even though I tend to be quite introverted – I’ve absolutely loved going to conferences and actually meeting other bloggers.
Online networking, though, means I can reach lots of people easily – and I can usually do that through writing. I tend to be more eloquent when I write than when I speak! I also don’t feel drained by online socialising in the way that I do by face-to-face networking.
How do you approach online networking? What tools and techniques do you use? Do you actively seek out people you’d love to get to know, or just let the whole thing happen organically?
It’s pretty organic. I’ll certainly make the effort to connect with people who I want to get to know – and I find that guest posting is actually a great way to do this. I’d actually like to get a bit more strategic with my networking, because it’s easy for me to just hang out on Twitter and not make much effort to make new friends!
What kind of face-to-face networking events do you attend? How do you approach this kind of networking?
I go to a few conferences – I’d like to head to some more networking events (meetups and so on). I tend to get very hyper beforehand, and very jet-lagged … I don’t really recommend this!
As an introvert, I find large groups of people quite tiring, so I focus on one-to-one or small group interactions. I’d rather have an in-depth conversation with someone than just grab business cards from everyone in the room…
If I’m at an event and feeling a bit nervous, I look around for someone on their own, and I go over and chat to them. We usually hit it off just great!
The Entrepreneurial Life:
What are three tools of your creative business you absolutely could not live without?
1. My Journal software. After several failed attempts to combine my to-do list with my diary, I started using The Journal (David RM software) and it’s been fantastic. I accidentally deleted it once and that was a very sad day … luckily it prompts me to backup regularly.
2. A second monitor. Okay, I could live without this, but it makes my work so much easier at times. For anything involving editing or research, it’s really useful to be able to view a document alongside a browser window.
3. WordPress. Almost every website I have (and I run quite a few for friends and family) uses WordPress. I can’t imagine switching to anything else.
What have been some of the best things to happen to you because of your business?
I’ve had an excuse to visit America – I’ve been to Austin, Texas twice and Las Vegas once, and I’m planning to be in Los Angeles this November.
I’ve received hundreds of comments and emails from people who’ve been helped by something I’ve written – that’s an amazing feeling.
Most of all … I get to live out my childhood dream and make my money from writing.
Describe your typical day?
My days are all a bit different – but this is as close as it comes to “typical” … A Day in the Life of Blogger and Writer Ali Luke
Are you a workaholic? How does your business impact your personal life?
I really enjoy my work, which makes it very hard to switch off from it. There’s also a lot of overlap between what I do for work and what I do for fun … for instance, my fiction-writing isn’t currently making me any money, but it hopefully will be in six months time.
I quite often work a bit during the weekends – but then, I do get to take time off mid-week if I want to, so things balance out fairly well.
What have been your priorities when setting up your business? What were the reasons you’ve set things up in exactly this way?
My main priorities were – and still are:
* To do work that I feel comfortable with (there are some writing jobs I wouldn’t take on, no matter how good the money…)
* To be able to provide lots of value that people don’t have to pay for (that’s why I blog!)
* To make enough money to support me and my husband (he’s working now, but he was a full-time student when I started freelancing)
* To have enough time and energy to work on my fiction
My business setup has evolved a lot since I started. But ever since I was a teenager, I knew that freedom was more important to me than money, and that’s definitely how I’ve designed things.
Do you set goals for yourself? What kinds of goals have you set for the coming year?
Yes, I set goals every January. And then I look back in December and laugh…
This year, my goals were, apparently:
* Run small ecourse on Aliventures – (done – I ran it twice, in fact)
* Run bigger membership course – (currently running it)
* Develop my coaching business for steady income – (slowly getting more clients, haven’t really made this a priority)
* Relaunch Staff Blogging Course (done – it’s now The Blogger’s Guide to Freelancing)
* Launch: small ebook on writing (eh? No idea what I had in mind, but I’m working on a free writing-related ebook right now for my newsletter list)
* Launch: another blogging/writing-related ebook (Not sure I’m going to do this now…)
* Find an agent for Lycopolis or self-publish it (I’m on track to self-publish it)
* Bible in a Year Book (er … gave up in early March. Oops.)
My main goals right now are:
* Self-publishing Lycopolis (my novel) – hoping to do that over the summer
* Taking a long trip to Europe with my husband – during September
Working for yourself, how do you deal with procrastination tendencies?
I make a to-do list each day – this really helps me stay focused. I’ll quite often set a timer when I’m writing, and force myself not to check emails/Twitter/etc while the timer’s running.
Have you ever had negative press or comments made about yourself or your business? How do you deal with them?
I had a couple of very negative comments on a guest post once, which I found upsetting. I replied politely and the editor also stepped in to support me. I wrote a bit about the experience, prompted by a couple of writer-friends going through something similar:
The negative comments are vastly outweighed by all the positive ones, but it’s so easy as writers to focus on one or two tiny bits of criticism.
What’s the best thing about being Ali Luke?
I get to make money by pulling words out of my head and putting them onto a computer screen. That still gives me a little shiver whenever I think about it.
What do you think the future holds? What exciting projects loom on the horizon or in the back of your imagination?
I think my future will hold an awful lot of words…
Beyond my usual blogging, guest posting, coaching, etc, I’m hoping to start doing some speaking at conferences – this year, with a bit of luck.
I’ve got vague ideas for my next novel, which is going to be set in the blogosphere… I don’t have all the pieces yet, but I’m considering starting it off during NaNoWriMo this November.
And from 2012 onwards … I’ll see where the writing takes me.
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