We had the good fortune of connecting with Tom Leveen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Tom, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
Understanding that entrepreneurship, particularly in creative businesses like writing and storytelling, requires a whole-life mindset. This business will impact your physical and emotional health; your relationships; your finances; everything. There is no “work-life balance,” there is only “life.” Running your own business isn’t punching a clock for someone else, and there are risks that go far beyond whatever financial investment you’re making. And that’s fine. But too many people aren’t told the entire story before jumping in. In my industry, for example, unpublished writers have a glamorized idea that they’ll write this one book, it’ll be an international bestseller, and they’ll have a legion of adoring fans. That is simply not the reality, even for the most successful authors! So the most important decisions I ever made about my industry and business were these: 1. Save 30% of every since dollar. No matter how large or small. Every. Single. Dollar. Doing this has kept my LLC in the black even in bad times. (1.B – form an LLC or other company!) My company has never been in debt. 2. Marry someone who understands what we are getting into. And I do mean “we.” Husband, wife, kids, whoever you are “beholden” to in your life needs to grasp on some fundamental level the ups and downs of your industry. 3. Prioritize your health. Physical, emotional, financial. Even spiritual. Whatever industry you are in, as an entrepreneur, there will be massive highs and massive lows, and your mind and body (and bank account) need to be ready for those. If your body or brain goes south on you, even the good times will be less fun; and the bad times will be magnified. (I am infuriated that this aspect of entrepreneurship is routinely ignored by “gurus.”) 4. Just. Don’t. Quit. You can tactically retreat; you can back off and regroup; you can come up with a new plan; but ultimately, this is a long game. A very long game. Be ready to play it.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My books do well with readers who identify with sassy, punk-minded teen girls. For whatever reason, that’s my strong suit when it comes to characters. My dialogue is also second-to-none, mostly because I come from more than twenty years of experience in live theatre as an actor and director. There is nothing easy about being a professional novelist. Writing books, it turns out, is pretty easy. Revising them, finding an agent, finding an editor, getting the book in front of readers….that’s hard, and that takes up more than half the job. My first novel sold at auction for an unseemly amount of money. I want writers to know that I was and am nothing special in terms of how and why that happened; I wrote, I revised, I polished, and that was it. There is no secret handshake to get in to traditional publishing. “All” it takes is a great book. It’s that simple and that hard. Every single editor I have had after book two has been fired or quit their job prior to my book coming out. That’s a death sentence to books, because it means you lose your cheerleader at the publishing house, and marketing efforts tend to dwindle. What I’ve leaned is to take charge of my own marketing and my own career. “Luck is not a business plan,” as they say. Be limber and ready to pivot to another medium, another genre, another platform. And KEEP WRITING.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
First, up to the top of Camelback Mountain. That’s a must. We’d visit both Changing Hands and Poisoned Pen bookstores. Assuming this is in winter or fall, a bike ride along the Scottsdale canal paths, and visit the Desert Botanical Garden and Papago Park. We’d have pizza and wings from ChiZona, and coffee and smoothies at Renegade Coffee. It would be great to time the visit to coincide with the Phoenix Film Festival or Phoenix ComiCon.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I must shout out Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe AZ and Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale AZ. Both of these long-time indie stores are dedicated to authors of all kinds, at all stages of their journey, and I cannot imagine not having them in my corner. (Specifically, I would name Brandi Stewart at Changing Hands and Patrick King at Poisoned Pen.)