Sheila Grace on Pen Names, Freelance Writing, and Self Publishing

Though she has self published a couple of books books under different names, Sheila Grace chose to use a nomme de plume for College Girl, a contemporary, New Adult romance novel. To bolster her income, Sheila works as a professional freelance writer, specializing in public relations writing.

Below, Sheila reveals why she chose to write under an anonymous name, how freelance writing can help a fledgling author's career, insights switching genres, and tips on choosing between traditional publishers and the self publishing track.

Why have you chosen to write under a pen name?

College Girl by Sheila GraceIt’s funny, because I talked to a friend-of-a-friend about it right before I published, and she really regretted writing her first book under a pen name. For me, it was a practical decision—and an emotional one. I had already self-published two other titles under my real name, and that series was in a very different genre than College Girl. I wanted to branch out, but I didn’t want a preconceived notion of what the new book would be. (People tend to be less than happy if they’re expecting one thing and get another, sometimes no matter how many times you warn them!)

How common is it for authors to also work as freelance writers?

I can’t speak for the profession as a whole, but I imagine a huge chunk of the self-published population has a “side job.” My first couple of books definitely didn’t pay the bills, and freelancing was a great way to make money and have flexibility.

Does being a published author help your career as a freelance writer in any way?

In some cases, for other people, it might. However, in mine, since I write fiction and my freelancing involves public relations writing for a very narrow market, there’s very little overlap. In fact, only two people I know are aware of my third book.

Does more of your income come from book sales or freelance work?

After I wrote my first two books, I was really hoping to transition to writing full-time. It didn’t happen. I definitely scaled back my freelance work to accommodate my fiction writing, but I needed that extra income from freelancing. With the third book, there was a dramatic shift. In the past month, my freelance income was 0.06 percent of my total income, but I don’t expect it to stay that way forever—unless I get another book in the top 100 of the Kindle store! The truth is that freelancing provides a somewhat reliable income to even out times when you’re not making as much income through book sales.

Given that other novels you have published were very different from College Girl, what prompted you to dip your toe into such a different genre, and have you found book sales or audience reactions to be significantly different?

College Girl started off as a total lark. I’ve never written in the “new adult romance” genre before—I’m not even sure that’s what I was aiming for. The book, initially, was supposed to be a novella—a little break from my other series. I wanted to work on a project where I could really let loose as far as language and characters—and College Girl was the result. At first, I was going to serialize it. Then I just decided to do it as one book. My first published book (and the one that came after it) got a nice little following, but I’ve sold at least three times as many copies of College Girl in one month than I have in total sales across a year and a half for my other series! And I did literally no marketing for this one. It just took off. I only wish I knew what caused it!

What drove you to publish College Girl as you did? What factors did you consider when weighing self-publishing and traditional publishing alternatives?

My very first book (still unpublished) was the one I sent out query letters for. I got a handful of rejections, one agent looked at the manuscript and passed—but most agencies didn’t get back to me. Then I started my next book, and when I was done with it, I decided—with very limited knowledge of the self-publishing world—to get it out there.

The alternative was to send it out to agents again (many of whom said directly on their websites not to bother submitting if you didn’t already have a viable “platform”). The result, most likely, was to get rejected again.

With College Girl, the decision was easy. I knew most agents would be turned off immediately (by the language, etc.)—so, like those agents said, I didn’t bother. I suppose there are advantages to traditional publishing, but I haven’t been a recipient of them.

My advice: if you’ve sent your book out to agents and been rejected, but you really, really love it, then self-publish. Otherwise, you’ll never know.