As writers, we often see independent publishing as one of two things: incredibly liberating, or a terrifying unknown.
Both of these things are true—but can’t that be said of anything that’s new to us?
To truly appreciate independent publishing, we need to know about the process, including the things that free us and the things that make our stomachs drop into our feet.
Luckily, we have author Emma Dhesi with us today to tell us all about her journey as an Indie writer, who’s already published three books and has a fourth on the go!
Plus, Emma will share the new writing craft anthology she's just curated for all writers.
There’s so much to learn about the world of Indie publishing, and Emma shares it all!
[04:06] So, I sort of made a deal with myself and I said, “Okay, let's do this. At least just get the first draft written.”
[05:06] “Oh,” I thought, “you know what, I'm a good student. I'm gonna do that. I'm gonna do it.”
[07:25] But what they are missing is just that confidence to know that they can put together a project that big.
[07:40] And I think like lots of us do at the beginning, and they think “if I was meant to be a novelist, this would be easy and I would just know exactly what to do.”
[10:00] Writing a first draft—no matter how messy—it doesn't happen by accident, you have to make that decision that you want this, this is important to you, this is something that you're going to prioritize.
[12:20] It's just like, “I didn't know that was gonna happen. That's just so amazing!” And those are the little thrilling moments that I get from it.
[13:51] … but I think it was meant to happen because I got the opportunity to talk to him about the kind of business side of it, and what that was like and how the industry works
[19:36] So you'll see fashions in book covers, for example, in different genres. And that's quite interesting to look at and, and be observant of.
Intro: Well, hey there, writer. Welcome to the Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas, and this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love. Because—let's face it—the writing life has its ups and downs, and we wanna not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt in chair getting those words on the page. This podcast is for writers who love books, and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who wanna learn and grow in their craft, and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books, and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them, writers who wanna spend more time in that flow state, writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community in this crazy roller coaster ride we call “the writing life.” We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives, and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome, writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show.
Rhonda Douglas: Okay. Well, we are here with Emma Dhesi. I am really excited for our conversation today. So, Emma is an author, an independent author, and a book coach. She works with beginning writers to help them get over their creative blocks and creative fears, and finally write that first novel. So, she's also the author of women's contemporary fiction, and you can find her titles such as Belonging and The Day She Came Home and More Than Enough on Amazon. And she is a podcast host of the podcast Turning Readers Into Writers. So definitely check that out. And, she also has a new anthology out called Launch Pad: The Countdown to Writing Your Book. So we're gonna get into all of this today. Welcome, Emma.
Emma Dhesi: Thank you very much, Rhonda. It's so lovely to be here.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, lovely to have you here. I'm glad we could do it. So, tell me, tell us, for folks who don't know you yet, tell us about your story. Like, when did you start writing, and how did you end up finishing your first novel?
Emma Dhesi: Ooh, yay. Good question. So, I've always written, so I think I'm one of those people who from an early age was always writing, you know, picture books, then children's books, and then middle grade. So, depending on the age that I was, the type of story I was writing changed. I think I did manage to finish my picture book cuz there wasn't much to it. But, after that nothing really got finished. I'd always get about halfway through, three quarters of the way through, and then get bored and move on, or something new and exciting took over. And then, life actually took over. So, left school, went to university, then moved to London and started working, and all—so life kind of took over. And throughout all of that, I think like a lot of people had come back to storytelling.
Emma Dhesi: Every now and again, I'd take a new course, or do a workshop, or something. I'd get all excited about it and I'd start a new project, and I'd think, “oh, this is the one. This time I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna finish this book finally.” Then three weeks after the course had finished, “oh, something new is exciting, was happening” and life would move on. So, I never really had the staying power, if I'm honest, to get through to the end and to finish. So then I got married, had kids, and I was heading towards my 40th birthday, and the itch came back again and I was thinking, “oh, for goodness sake, Emma, sort yourself out. Either you do this, or you let it go and decide not to, and move on with your life, you know, figure out what else you want to do.”
Emma Dhesi: So, I sort of made a deal with myself and I said, “okay, let's do this. At least just get the first draft written.” Just go that far, and if I enjoy it, fantastic. Go on and do the revisions and stuff. And if I hate it, if it's painful, if it's an absolutely miserable experience, then at least I know, and I don't need to revise it, I can just put that behind me and say, “time to move on.” So, that's what I did. I made the decision to do it. And, it took me a long time cause I had, at that point, I had three kids under school age, three preschool kids. So I had to do it slowly. It took a long, long time. I tried doing it the Stephen King way. I read his book on writing that everybody said, “you've got to read, you've got to read.”
Emma Dhesi: And whilst there was a lot of good stuff in it and I enjoyed learning about his journey, you know, the main thing I took away from him was, if you want to be a real writer, you write every day, and you write for two hours or 1500 words. “Oh,” I thought, “you know what, I'm a good student. I'm gonna do that. I'm gonna do it.” But of course at that time, I just didn't have that writing muscle to do it. So within about three days, or four days, I'd given up and thought I was a failure. Wasn't until I came across Elizabeth Kostova, I don't know if you know her, she wrote The Historian?
Rhonda Douglas: The Historian, which is so good. Yeah.
Emma Dhesi: Fabulous novel. So, searching for the magic formula on how to write, I was YouTubing and all sorts of things, and I came across an interview with her at a book festival, and someone stood up and asked her, “how do you, as a stay-at-home mom with three kids”—my ears pricked up, cuz of course that was me—“how have you managed to write this book?” And her words were, “well, I had to write what I could when I could.” Because she only had moments in the day when she could do it. And that was the lightbulb moment for me as well, you know, you write what you can when you can, there's no prescription to it. Yes, you want to be able to write as often as possible, but life doesn't always allow for that. So once I had that little phrase in my head, I just kept—that was my mantra—and I just kept going, kept going. And it took a long time, but I eventually got there <laugh>. Long way around
Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> Yeah, no, that's amazing though. It's interesting, isn't it? Like, you do kind of get to the point where you think, “this has been my dream for so long and I finally, you know, I either have to release the dream, or I really have to commit to it and finally make it happen.” So, yeah. And, you work as a book coach, you work with a lot of beginning writers. What are the big things that tend to get in the way? Be it, you know, you mentioned some of the ones for you—fitting it in with having three kids—but what are the things that get in the way for most writers when they're trying to finish that first book?
Emma Dhesi: It's definitely confidence. That is absolutely one thing that's top of the list there. And what I've found, is it's not necessarily craft that's the issue. Most people I work with, there's an exception or two, but most people I work with, have been writing for a long time, or have had the story idea for a long time, and they've taken classes and they've done workshops. So they've done an element of practicing, and quite often have written short stories and things in between. So they've been in the habit of practicing. But what they are missing is just that confidence to know that they can put together a project that big. So there's confidence that they can sort of technically do it, but there's also this confidence they don't yet have—the confidence in their own process. And I think like lots of us do at the beginning, and they think “if I was meant to be a novelist, this would be easy and I would just know exactly what to do.”
Emma Dhesi: But that's not true. That <laugh> I can promise you, or anybody listening, it's a process, and everybody—there are commonalities to it—but everybody has their own unique way of doing it. So, for some people, like myself, dirty first draft the whole way, and it's a complete mess, and I get to go back to the beginning afterwards and then start shaping it and revising it. For some, it's writing a chapter, then revising it, then moving on to the next one. Writing it, revising it. Some people write linearly, some people write from the back to the front, some people do it patchwork, some people plot. There's just so, so many different ways of it. And it's only once you trust your… once you've written a novel, from beginning to end, you've got to practice finishing, that you begin to understand that there's layers to it and there's a process to it, and it's different for every writer. And often I found, I don't know if you have, but it can be a little bit different for each story that you write, as well.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, absolutely. Different for each book, different for each genre. Like, it changes so much. And you learn a lot writing the first book, but you still have to sit down and write the next one, you know? So, it is different. And, yeah, I find that a lot of the advice, whether it's the Stephen Kings or the Nora Roberts or from professional writers, millionaire writers who are supported in many different ways, and all they have to do in their lives is write, it's not the kind of advice that's gonna work for the rest of us who have to fit our writing in and around the rest of our crazy lives, right? Whether it's raising kids, or taking care of parents, or a day job, whatever it is we have going on. But it is very true that our process is different and very particular to us as individuals and to the book that we're working on.
Emma Dhesi: I would just add one thing to that as well. I think one of the other things that those of us who do get to that finishing point even of our first draft, is that we make the decision that we're going to do this. And I think that is a big element of it. Writing a first draft—no matter how messy—it doesn't happen by accident, you have to make that decision that you want this, this is important to you, this is something that you're going to prioritize. And because it's a priority, you make it fit around your existing life. And sometimes that's only in 10 minute slots. Sometimes you get a wonderful two hours on a weekend. But it does have to start with the writer kind of taking responsibility for their passion and what they want and their dreams, and making the decision that they're gonna make this happen.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. Making that commitment, so important. So Emma, I was noticing recently that you talk about being the book coach for pantsers, right? So, pantsers—just folks who like to dive in and do that discovery draft, or the dirty first draft, or the shitty first draft, whatever the language is, that people wanna use—why is it that that approach to story, you think, works so well? For you?
Emma Dhesi: For me, I've been thinking about this a lot over the years and I've realized it's that—and this is just to do with my personality—is by the time I've plotted it out or planned out, I've told the story and I've moved on <laugh>. So, to then take the time to go and then start writing it out in detail, it loses that excitement for me. So what I enjoy about pantsing is going on that journey with my characters and discovering what's gonna happen along the way, and I get that thrill, and there is that hard, creative work that's involved in it. So then, by the time I've written that first draft and I'm ready to go back and revise, I find the revision a bit easier. So then I've been on the journey, I'm ready for rest, and I can enjoy just doing the revision process.
Emma Dhesi: And I think that's common for a lot of pantsers, actually, that we just, we like going on that journey together. And, part of my process then is trusting that even though at the front of my brain I don't know what's gonna happen next, the back of my brain has it all worked out. And I love those moments, kind of maybe three quarters of the way through, that suddenly everything starts to make sense at the beginning and you begin to realize why you put all those pieces in place, so that it would all come together at the end. And that's like magic for me. It's just like, “I didn't know that was gonna happen. That's just so amazing!” And those are the little thrilling moments that I get from it.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah. When that sort of unconscious creative process becomes conscious, meaning you realize, “oh no, I did—there was something going on here. I did know what I was doing.” Right? Yeah.
Emma Dhesi: Yes. Yeah. And that element of process and trust that I talked to my students about, that takes time, and it takes experience, to kind of know that that is the way that you work.
Rhonda Douglas: <laugh> Yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent. Now, you and I have talked a lot about indie publishing, and you came into the Writer's Flow Studio, and were a visiting writer, and talked to folks in the studio about it as well. So, tell us a little bit about—for those who maybe haven't heard that—why you made the choice to go indie and what it is that you like about indie publishing.
Emma Dhesi: Mm-hmm. So, like a lot of people, I did initially want to be a traditionally published writer. And I wrote my book, and then I started querying, and I went to a book festival conference here in the UK in Manchester—a place you know well—and I got talking to a very established and well-known agent. Now he—my books are contemporary, he represents historical books—and I got put together with him at the pitch. And it's not a great match, but I think it was meant to happen because I got the opportunity to talk to him about the kind of business side of it, and what that was like and how the industry works. And through the course of that conversation, it became really clear to me that skill is a kind of—this might be a bit controversial—but it's a sort of secondary thing.
Emma Dhesi: The craft of writing, beautiful sentences, and all the rest of it, that's almost secondary. And really, a lot of it is about what your story's about. Does it hit the zeitgeist? What else has been selling well in that particular type of story within a genre? And I had been an actor, and this just smacked of, you know, casting <laugh>, and where you'd really have very little say in what's going to happen. You really are at the mercy of what else is happening in the industry. Who else is on that agent's books? Who have they just signed? What have they just published? And I thought, “okay, well I can, can go with that and just keep trying and keep hoping that one day my books fit, or I can take it into my own hands and have that level of control about it.”
Emma Dhesi: And I opted to go for that, because I just thought, “do you know, I'd rather fail on my own terms and be successful on my own terms and know that it's, it's not for want of trying and it's not for a want of talent.” There are many, many excellent writers out there, just as there are many, many excellent actors out there who never get that break, whose manuscript or photograph don't hit the right desk at the right time. So I thought, “I've got nothing to lose,” you know, and when I think about it financially as well as a new author, I'm not gonna earn any more as a new author than I am as an indie. I've got more chance of earning an income as an indie than I have as a traditionally-published new novelist. So it seemed to me just the way to go.
Emma Dhesi: And I guess maybe just part, part of my personality as well, I love learning. If you give me an online course, I'm there. So I really enjoyed learning how to publish, learning how to use the different software involved. As painful as it can be, I still enjoyed learning how to do the marketing and the advertising and things. So, again, I think it fitted with my personality type. And, whilst that agent was not right for me, the one in Manchester actually, I think I was meant to meet him so that I could have that conversation and know what the right path for me was.
Rhonda Douglas: What changed for you? So you now—do I have it right that you have, is it three or four novels out?
Emma Dhesi: So I've published three.
Rhonda Douglas: Okay. Right.
Emma Dhesi: And I've got a fourth one coming out. I've given myself the deadline of September. I'm almost there with the final little revisions and then I'm sending it out to beta readers. And then for proof I've got my cover, which is very exciting.
Rhonda Douglas: Ooh, fun.
Emma Dhesi: Yeah, it is. And I—
Rhonda Douglas: That’s the fun part of indie publishing.
Emma Dhesi: —I think I've got the right one, and I'm just doing the blurb and things like that. So it's almost there. It's been a long time in the process, cause I'm changing genre, moving from contemporary women's fiction to psychological domestic thriller, which I'm enjoying.
Rhonda Douglas: Interesting. Okay.
Emma Dhesi: Yeah.
Rhonda Douglas: And, what has changed for you from finishing and publishing that first book, to now coming out with book number four, for you as a writer?
Emma Dhesi: Ooh. So as a writer—rather than as a business person—as a writer, I feel like my skill has just upleveled exponentially. I hope readers will see that too. You know, I look back on my first book and I can see many, many flaws with it, and things I would do differently now. But I think that is par for the course of being a writer. I know of, you know, very big, established, traditionally published authors who also feel that way when they look back, cuz we're always looking to improve and get better at what we're doing. So I can see that in myself. I understand, kind of, more complexities of writing, now. So, if I think back to that first book, it was about plot. It was about knowing how to keep the story moving.
Emma Dhesi: So going from chapter to chapter to chapter, and making sure enough was happening, I've learned over the course of these books to deepen that, to include character in that and understand how character arc really underpins the plotline. You know, if your character is engaging and is doing all the right things, your reader will follow them anywhere, <laugh> really. And whilst I've had elements of both of those in my first three books, I think I've stepped up a level now and grown as a writer, and have focused more on that character, knowing that that is what will guide the plot line in many ways. Does that make sense?
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, absolutely. No, I can understand that. And as a business person, on the marketing side of being a writer?
Emma Dhesi: <laugh> I've learned that writing the book is the easy part. <laugh>
Rhonda Douglas: I'll bet. Yeah <laugh>.
Emma Dhesi: So finding readers, you know, that is a big part. It's all very well to write an amazing book, but if you can't find the right audience for it, who enjoy the way that you write, and the stories that you are telling, then—not that it's all for not, but you're not going to get the income that you perhaps are hoping for. And I know that's not everybody's ambition. But they're also just learning things like following trends in book marketing. So if we go to the local bookstore, if you go to Barnes and Noble or to Waterstones, and we see that there are—particularly for the classics—there's multiple additions of things because fashions change and book covers change, and what we respond to and like at any given moment changes.
Emma Dhesi: So you'll see fashions in book covers, for example, in different genres. And that's quite interesting to look at and, and be observant of. So, just becoming more aware of not only what images are used, but now I'm understanding the importance of font and how book titles are chosen cuz they too fit within a particular type of genre. Is it one word, three words? Is it five words? For historical, it's usually a quite a long title and it would be more kind of… not floral, but a more fancy font. Thriller, my genre, it's very boxy, it's sharp, it's minimalist, it's clean. So just kind of looking at these trends is nice, and then observing how do people write book blurbs, you know, what are people looking for? I was having a discussion with someone the other day about, “do you, in your tagline, do you have a question or do you not have a question?” <laugh> It's little things like that that I would never have paid any attention to, until quite recently. I find all that quite fascinating and maybe—
Rhonda Douglas: And just the amount of detail, eh? That's…
Emma Dhesi: Yeah, a huge amount of detail. So it's given me a whole new respect for book cover designers who don't always get it right. You know, even in the traditional houses, they don't always get it right. But there is a lot of thought that goes into it, just like there is for our manuscripts. Anything that's creative has a lot of thought put behind it and effort put behind it. So that's kind of how I've grown as a business person, I would say.
Rhonda Douglas: Wow. Interesting. We have to come to terms with the fact that we have both of these sides. Even if you're traditionally published, you are expected to also be out there marketing, you know, creating the so-called platform for yourself in your books. And so we just have to come to terms with the fact that this is required in some way, shape, or form, you know?
Emma Dhesi: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I think one of the advantages, if you're an indie and money is not a factor, it's not what you're doing it for, then you do have that lovely freedom that you can spend the time writing it, enjoying it for its own sake. And the craft of it, and the challenge and the puzzle of it, and feeling good. And then you can just publish it and it'll do whatever it does. But yeah, I think even as you say in the traditional space, you can't do that, because that publisher has invested a lot of money in you, and they want to know that they're going to at least recoup what they put in and hopefully make a profit, but…
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah.
Emma Dhesi: Yeah.
Rhonda Douglas: Mm. So I wanted to talk about the new anthology, it's called The Countdown to Writing Your Book. Launch Pad: The Countdown to Writing Your Book. So how did that come about?
Emma Dhesi: It's quite a mindful, isn't it? My friend Grace Sammon, she is a fellow writer, and she hosts a talk-radio show called Launch Pad. And she started this at the beginning of Covid because she was aware that a lot of her friends were publishing books, and there was just no opportunity to share about it anymore. All the book tours had been canceled, and so on and so forth. So she wanted just to give a platform for people to come in and talk about their new release and just give them an opportunity to do that and find new readers. And Grace being Grace, she's one of these kind of Alchemist people. She's always got ideas on the go. And she spoke to her co-host and said, “hey, why about we do a book series about this helping authors get published, get their books written.”
Emma Dhesi: And so they both thought this would be a good idea, and approached me to to head up the book, the first of a trilogy. So this one is The Countdown to Writing Your Book, and then, the next one is The Countdown to Publishing Your Book. And then the third one is The Countdown to Marketing Your book. So, I just jumped at this chance because I've been wanting to contribute something more on the non-fiction side, and this seems such a great way, and to do it with somebody that I like as well. And, I do believe in serendipity because I had just finished reading an beautiful anthology called Swallowed By a Whale, which is an anthology for writers, and it was published by The British Library over here, and it's just a beautiful object, it was beautifully done.
Emma Dhesi: And they brought in all these different authors. So, fiction writers, essayists, poets, illustrators, artists, all kind of different creatives, to bring them in and ask them, “what's your process? How do you write? What's the best advice you've been given?” And they all got to contribute. And what I loved about it was that so many different voices and so many different approaches, and everybody had unique experiences that they were able to bring into the book and share. And so, when Grace came to me, literally about two weeks later, and said, “do you want to do this?” Swallowed By a Whale was in the back of my head, and I thought, “yes, what a brilliant project to be part of.” I get to bring in people I know will be able to contribute something really lovely to this and bring a unique voice to it in their own style to it. I also get to be a little bit selfish and think, “okay, well, what would I want, if I was writing, what kind of chapters would I want to see?” And that's why I insisted that we have a chapter on grammar. Cause that is <laugh> something that I'm not always great at <laugh>.
Rhonda Douglas: Yeah, that's the Stacy Juba chapter on cleaning up your novel, right? That was great.
Emma Dhesi: That’s right, yeah. And funnily enough, that seems to be the chapter that gets the people most excited. Cuz, turns out I'm not alone in being a bit kind of scared of grammar and punctuation. So I love that. And then, sort of, what I felt was kind of unique about this one was that at the back of each chapter, we wanted to have a top 10 countdown list. And so that top 10 countdown is what each contributor thinks is the 10 most important things for a reader to take away from that chapter, and to then go and implement. So, my advice to people who might be picking it up, as you know—we focus on different things at different times. So if you're interested in scene structure and how to improve that, go and read that chapter, read it again, and then go through the countdown that's offered at the back.
Emma Dhesi: If it's point of view that you want to get to know better, go and read that chapter, read it again, and then go through the countdown, cuz that way you're getting to implement what it is that you're learning. So instead of trying to take everything in all at once—which is just too much, it's just too much knowledge—take what you need at any given moment. So it's like a reference book as well. You get to come back to it time and time again. And depending on where you are in this particular manuscript, depending on where you are in your career, you can come back to it and use it as a reference and you'll take away something new from it. Every time with each read, you'll get something new of that.
Rhonda Douglas: I really enjoyed it, when I read it. I thought… there's several of the chapters where… for example, the Joe Bunting one on scene structure, and the Heather Davis one on show versus tell. They're just really fresh takes on it because we've all sort of heard some of these things, you know, but getting down into the nitty gritty of exactly how to do it is the fun part. So there's a plan for two more of these, then?
Emma Dhesi: Yes, there is.
Rhonda Douglas: When are they coming?
Emma Dhesi: Say that again?
Rhonda Douglas: When are they coming?
Emma Dhesi: So the next one, the one on publishing, is at the end of April. And then, all being well, marketing will be… I think it's the end of June. That one's coming out, so we are working—
Rhonda Douglas: Wow, so they're like a three book set, basically, from soup to nuts.
Emma Dhesi: Yes, exactly. Exactly. So Stephanie Larkin, who runs Red Penguin Press, who's publishing the book, she's heading up the book on publishing and that is covering all sorts of things. So, both sides of the spectrum, both traditional, indie, and then we know that there's a lot of hybrid author services out there as well. And then Mary Helen Sheriff, she is heading up the marketing book. So she's all about marketing and how to build that author platform and, and find your 1000 true fans.
Rhonda Douglas: Great. Wow. Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking to us about the anthology, but also, I just always love talking to you about your approach to book coaching and to writing. And so I really appreciate you being here with us today. Thanks, Emma.
Emma Dhesi: Oh, it was a pleasure. Thanks for asking me. I always love seeing you.
Rhonda Douglas: Take care. Bye.
Outro: Thanks so much for hanging out with me today and for listening all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed today's episode of the Resilient Writers Radio Show. While you're here, I would really appreciate it if you'd consider leaving a rating and review of the show. You can do that in whatever app you're using to listen to the show right now, and it just takes a few minutes. Your ratings and reviews tell the podcast algorithm gods that “yes, this is a great show. Definitely recommend it to other writers.” And that will help us reach new listeners who might need a boost in their writing lives today as well. So please take a moment and leave a review. I'd really appreciate it, and I promise to read every single one. Thank you so much.