A support team that isn’t based on success. You absolutely need cheerleaders who are on your side, but it’s vital that they don’t only cheer you when you’re up. They need to be cheering for you even when things aren’t going well.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily E K Murdoch.
Emily E K Murdoch is a historian and historical romance author. With a Masters in Medieval Studies, she has undertaken research at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, helped design the medieval exhibit at the Yorkshire Museum, worked for the National Trust, Jorvik, and the York Museums Trust. She’s worked as a researcher for a historical literary documentary presented by Ian Hislop, and will be speaking at the Historical Novel Conference 2021. Emily has 41 historical romance books published.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Being an author was always the dream. Books have consumed me since I was very small, and I was very fortunate to be raised in a house where I was encouraged to read widely and voraciously.
My parents still have all of my school reports, and from the age of five, my teachers were mentioned how I loved reading and writing stories. By the time I reached university, I knew that I wanted to write historical fiction and historical romance but always assumed that it would be something that I did post-career — in my forties.
I was challenged by someone very close to me that I was wrong. I shouldn’t wait. Why wait? Why not do it now?
And so I did. My first novel was published just after I finished my masters in 2013, and my 41st book is being published in May 2021.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I’ve worked with a number of publishers, all of which have varied in the amount of support they’ve given their authors. Some were very hands-on, just dealing with the practical aspects of getting the book to market. Others were more engaged, wanting to understand from me how I wanted to be involved.
And then there was Dragonblade. Dragonblade Publishing is the world’s #1 publisher for historical romance, and I had been watching them for a while. My next career goal was to publish with them, but before I could write a book to pitch to them…one of their editors, the one I respected the most, reached out to me.
It was a huge ‘aha moment’. I had been working so hard to write my next great book that Dragonblade had noticed me.
My fourteenth book with Dragonblade is due out May 2021, and working with them has been a huge learning curve. They’ve been unbelievably supportive and encouraging, and I am truly honored to work with them.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I am definitely not a natural-born entrepreneur. I’m very risk-averse and would prefer to stay in a safe, boring, slow place than try something new.
Yet being a career author, an author who treats their writing as a business rather than a hobby, forces me out of that comfort zone. You can’t ignore deadlines when you’ve got to ship a book to your editor, then format, while managing your cover designer and negotiating with your publisher. You’re booking promotions months in advance, running ads, paying narrators, reviewing translations, writing your newsletter, updating your website… I’ve run crowdfunding campaigns to fund books. I’ve set up a Patreon. I’ve taken on consulting clients.
But though the creative skills come naturally to me, the business skills don’t. I have to work at that, but I do that because I love the creative opportunities that come to me when I do that.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
There’s not really one person — it’s more about a community. The author community, particularly the historical romance community, was so incredibly welcoming to me when I dipped my toe into the water in 2013. I had a lot to learn (a lot!), and the community was very happy to share their expertise and insight. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the author community making it clear that anyone and everyone was welcome.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Being a historical romance author isn’t unique. We’re pretty open that there are only probably about seven different stories to tell!
So what makes me stand out?
A number of things. Firstly, I’m British. You’d be astonished how few historical romance authors who tell stories about historical England…have never been here! That’s not to say that an American or Japanese author couldn’t write that story, but there’s a level of authenticity you’re not going to get. I live just outside Bath, and that makes my Regency romances really special.
Secondly, I’m a trained historian. I have a Masters in Medieval Studies from the best university in the country. I’ve done research at the Bodleian Library. I’ve won a competition to redesign the Medieval Exhibition at the Yorkshire Museum.
I know what I’m talking about! The level of historical accuracy in my books has been praised within the academic community, and that’s something really unique.
Thirdly and lastly, I write quickly and I write well. What I mean by that is some authors will publish a book a year. I wrote 13 books in 2020 and will publish 5 books in 2021 and 15 books in 2022.
I write swiftly, but most importantly, I don’t compromise on quality as I do it. That means readers who find my work will always have a new Emily E K Murdoch book coming out within the next 12 weeks — or less.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Prioritization. It’s easy to switch off from your focus, to say you’ll do it tomorrow, to watch Netflix instead of finish up that manuscript… I’ve had to learn how to prioritize to ensure I ship books to my editor.
- Creativity. It kind of goes without saying, for a job like being an author, but I don’t just mean the words on the page. You need to think of creative ways to reach your audience, to promote your product or services, to get ahead of your competitors.
- It’s not a character trait, but I would add: a supportive individual in your life. I don’t mean online support, which is great — I mean someone in your corner, a friend, family member, partner, who roots for you. Who continually tells you to keep going. Who comforts you in failure and cheers on your success.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Accept the first offer you’re given. My first publishers, in hindsight, weren’t a good fit for me. They were great for others, but they didn’t really understand the niche of my book, and so it didn’t perform as well as I had hoped.
At the same time, it propelled me into the writing world, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I’m not sure whether I am the best person to give advice on this! I burn out probably about once a year. When I was younger, it was around three times a year. My passion for writing and growing my author business runs hot, and as I have a full-time job alongside it, I struggle to find that balance.
But I have gone from three times a year, to once a year. How did I do that?
- Outsource stuff you need to learn. I don’t design covers. I don’t format. I don’t narrate audiobooks. I could do all those things, but because I would need to gain those skills first, and it’s just not a good use of my time. It’s more important that I focus on the things I’m good at.
- Streamline your personal life. I order food online with a repeat list. I bulk cook. I have a low-maintenance garden. I still enjoy my garden, love my food — but I don’t waste time on it if I don’t need to.
- And accept that sometimes, you’ll miss a deadline! I do it infrequently, but I’ve learned not to beat myself about it.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
It’s not something you can do overnight. Anyone who suddenly appears as an ‘expert’ or authority in their area should be viewed with suspicion!
If you want to build trust, you have to be trustworthy. Offer something meaningful, something that no one else could offer. Insight only you, with your experience, knows.
If you want to build credibility, be credible! Get the qualifications. Intern. Volunteer. Speak at conferences.
If you want to build authority, you can’t. Authority is something bestowed by others in your field. It’s they who decide who has the authority, and I wouldn’t go chasing it as an accolade because even if you gain it today, you could lose it tomorrow.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
We live in an era of the most choice. The digital world has opened up global purchasing options, and that means you’re not just competing with the people in your town, or state, or country. You’re competing against the world.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I’ve worked in consultancy for some global brands and some exciting accelerating scale-ups, and the people in those very different businesses who are really successful are those who are willing to learn.
They make the mistakes — then they dust themselves off, and keep going. The really smart ones are looking at others in their field and learning from their mistakes.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
A regular job offers stability, certainty, and (up to a certain point) a lack of responsibility.
The life of the entrepreneur, especially a creative entrepreneur like myself, there is no stability, no certainty, and 100% of the responsibility.
If my next book doesn’t sell, it will be because the story wasn’t good enough, the characters didn’t grab people, the cover wasn’t eye-catching, I didn’t book enough promos, the blurb wasn’t well-written…
All of those are my responsibility. And it’s my income. It’s how I live.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I think it was the first month that my royalty payment was higher than my day job’s monthly salary. That’s a very surreal moment. What many readers don’t know is that when they buy a book for 5 dollars or 6 dollars, in many cases, less than a dollar of that purchase reaches the author.
That means that if you want to be matching your paycheck, you need to be selling a lot of books. Reaching that was a real milestone for me.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
When you receive a particularly blistering review, that can be really disheartening. I once saw a book’s sales plummet because of a terrible 1-star review on Amazon, and I was curious to understand what they didn’t like about it.
When I read it, I was astonished. They criticized the entire book because, in the first chapter, a seagull is flying at night. According to them, that didn’t happen.
I grew up less than 5 miles from the ocean. Seagulls fly at night!
It was so disheartening to see that potential readers were being put off my book because of such a daft reason — but that’s the nature of the business, unfortunately.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
When it comes to bad reviews, I do two things.
- First, I read bad reviews of books that I love. Even the best authors have critics, some warranted, some not, and it is always encouraging to see that even the greatest have readers that don’t love their books.
- Secondly, I remember that there are things I don’t love. I don’t write bad reviews, but I certainly read books I don’t like or watch movies that I didn’t love or eat food that didn’t do it for me.
Just because one person didn’t like something, that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- The knowledge that all things will pass. Things are good — great! Don’t get too comfortable. Things are bad — okay! Things will change. Knowing that nothing is permanent will get you through a lot of the downtimes.
- Remembering the highs during the lows. I have a folder on my computer that contains screenshots of bestselling tags, nice emails from readers, that sort of thing. Whenever I feel like I’m in a low, I head there. It’s difficult to remember the details of the good times when you’re in the bad times.
- A support team that isn’t based on success. You absolutely need cheerleaders who are on your side, but it’s vital that they don’t only cheer you when you’re up. They need to be cheering for you even when things aren’t going well.
- A goal to work for. I’m not 100% goal-driven, but there needs to be something that you’re aiming for so that you know what success looks like.
- Completely ignoring your competitors. You can learn from them, sure, but don’t compare yourself and your achievements and progress to theirs. That’s never going to help you.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is the ability to go through challenging times without finding yourself knocked off your feet. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel sad, or upset when something doesn’t work out. It does mean that you’re able to weather the storm and keep going.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
It sounds terrible, but I was relatively successful when I was younger. I got into the schools I wanted, I got good grades, I did well with my music exams — and then I didn’t get into not just my top, but my two top university applications.
It was devastating. I could still remember seeing the letter arrive with my rejection, and how I cried on my parents’ sofa.
I went to my third choice university, and I could have really allowed my frustration to show through — but I wanted to make the most of it. I wanted to do well, and not to prove anyone wrong, but because I still wanted to succeed.
Less than three years later, I was offered a place for my Masters at that top university — and turned it down to stay where I was.
Sometimes the ‘best” in the industry isn’t your best. You have to define what your success looks like, and that can really help to strengthen your resilience.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I do and I don’t! I am very good at seeing the negatives in a situation. My first reaction is panic — but not my first action. That’s the key difference I think between someone trying to make it, and someone who is making it.
It doesn’t matter if your first instinct is negative. The important thing is what is your first action?
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
When you’re in a position of leadership, you are the focus of the vision, and that means you are a snapshot of the future. If you’re positive and hopeful, then it will be assumed that the future is positive and hopeful. If you’re good at complaining about the situation and constantly drawing people’s attention to the negatives…well, then people aren’t going to feel good about the future.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
There’s a story that I love — I don’t know whether it’s even true, but it really helps to frame success.
Winston Churchill and his wife, Lady Churchill, we’re going for a walk and they were greeted by a number of people. Churchill was Prime Minister and wildly popular after the success of the Second World War. He chatted to some of the best dressed in the crowd, while Lady Churchill became separated from him and was chatting to a street cleaner.
When they came together and continued on their walk again, Churchill asked curiously, “Why did you spend time speaking with that street cleaner?”
Lady Churchill smiled and said, “He was a man I once knew, who loved me.”
Churchill laughed. “Goodness my dear, just imagine — if you had married him, today you would be the wife of a street cleaner!”
His wife smiled. “Oh no. I married him, today he would be Prime Minister.”
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can sign up to my newsletter, check out my website, follow me on Amazon to receive updates on new books, and find me on Twitter and Facebook.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!