Breaking a Glass Ceiling

April 2, 2012 | By | 10 Replies More
US Author Kristen James

US Author Kristen James

You’ve probably heard of THE glass ceiling.

There is another glass ceiling that everyone encounters that has nothing to do with gender; it’s a glass ceiling of negative beliefs.

I dreamed about my writing career since childhood and strived toward being a career novelist. I had “big ideas.” But even while writing and working toward this dream, I went through some hard times and picked up some very negative beliefs. At the lowest point, I was afraid to speak around other people because I felt they were secretly laughing at me and thought I was stupid. This would shock the people who know me now.

The funny thing is, sometimes it’s easiest to dream big when you’re knocked flat on your back.

It gives you that break in life to stop and ask, “What do I really want?” I started at this point in early 2007 and realized I was responsible for making my life the way I wanted it. The lesson I’ve learned wasn’t one “aha” moment that changed my life, rather it started with some little moments and successes.

To convey the fullness of this journey, I have to tell my husband’s part in it.

We met and began dating in late 2007. Lem completely supported my writing and dreams and helped me by challenging many of my self beliefs. He pointed out that they didn’t come from the truth, and weren’t how most people perceived me. Although he didn’t call it a glass ceiling, I began to see I had a giant wall to break through, and it wasn’t an outside force pushing me down.

When I talked about what I wanted, he’d ask, “And why can’t that happen? Why not?” He also says, “If you walk in a direction long enough, eventually you’ll get there.” Dreams don’t happen overnight, but they’re reachable.

The River People by Kristen James

My small successes began building into a pattern. Soon I looked for new things to accomplish and felt I could be successful through belief and action. These could break the glass ceiling. Just recognizing that I was holding myself back shot a crack right down the middle of it.

In 2008, I had three novels accepted by small publishers and had ventured into self publishing in print with The River People. I’d been following the publishing  industry since middle school and wanted to explore all the different options. I was also publishing other authors, mostly as a hobby, and Lem asked me, “Why don’t you do that as a job?”

The next day I launched a website for my new self publishing business, and soon a few people across the US and locally came to me for help. This was the summer of 08, and shortly after that I began looking for writing jobs online.

I started on iFreelance and Elance and, after a few months, was making a modest living through publishing and freelance/ghostwriting. It did take a lot of bidding, taking some low-paying projects, and work, but it was worth it. I continued to look at other freelancing sites and joined Guru. It turns out this is the biggest site and, in my opinion, has the best projects and security for freelancers. Now I work exclusively through Guru.

There were times of doubt, of course. I don’t think you can shatter that glass ceiling and be done with it. I removed it piece by piece and sometimes caught myself rebuilding it, but I pushed forward.

Cover of The Fairy and Her Giant

The Fairy and her Giant by Kristen James

Publishing and ghostwriting allowed me to do what I love and further develop my writing skills in a wide spectrum of genres.

I ghostwrote business books, novels, papers and many other projects, edited, and helped people publish their books while writing several more of my own novels.

In the end of 2009, I jumped on the Kindle bandwagon and began publishing my books as ebooks. I began to see more and more successes with my writing, including my book sales.

Like many other authors, I still dreamed of writing my own fiction full time. To begin working toward this new goal, I created an author page on Facebook in March of 2011 and began to focus on reaching more readers online. I published two more novels to Kindle, bringing the total to six. (I added two more later in the year, making eight novels plus a nonfiction book.) By then I was excited about my writing and had high hopes for “making it.”

I interacted mostly through my Facebook author page, Writer Kristen James and then @WriterKristenJ on Twitter. Right away, I noticed many authors promoting their books…sometimes to the point of annoying me. So I strived to focus on fun information and joining conversations, and I tried to keep any true promoting to a small percentage. That said, I announce specials, sales, big milestones, guest blogs and blog hops.

US Author from Oregon, Kristen James

The big lesson happened this last summer when I began seeing more and more results from reaching out to people online. My Kindle book sales began climbing. At some point, all the little successes turned my hope into belief. I no longer thought, “I might make it!” Instead I thought, “I’m headed in that direction, and I’m reaching it soon!”

I sold 19,000 ebooks in 2011, mostly between September and December. I gave away 45,000 through Kindle Select Program, and I also had 3,000 free downloads this month. I’m not sure what most authors dream about when they think of “the writing life.” For me, it’s always been about people all over the world reading my books, living in the life of my characters and connecting with me in a truly magical way. So I’ve reached the “writing life” I’ve dreamed about, and I also feel it’s just beginning.

I shared a story in this post that I normally don’t share. I’ve put my best foot forward to my readers and find myself happily running ahead, excited about the future, but I wanted to pause and look back toward the bottom of the mountain of my personal journey. It’s rewarding to marvel at how far I’ve come, and very rewarding to share this story and encourage others. If there’s a glass ceiling holding you back, you only have to crack it to start. Remember, of course you can make your dreams happen!

I’ve gleamed a few other insights during the past year that I’d like to share:

  • Malcolm Gladwell wrote about 10,000 hours in his book Outliers, and how putting in time is what propelled people to success. Overnight “successes” are simply the result of all the work beforehand. When I look at what I call “the big names,” I can see by the sheer number of books they’ve written that they’ve put in hours and months and years.
  • Readers love authors with a backlist. If a reader discovers your book and loves it, and then sees you have 5, 10 or 15 titles, they’ll buy them.
  • Readers are drawn to happy and interesting people, not pushy promoters or people who post about their books constantly. If you can draw people in with your personality, they’ll check out your books.
  • Readers love to win books. Offering a free book from your site just can’t compare with some kind of giveaway.

For more tips and insights on promoting ebooks visit my site at

Have you had to break through your own glass ceiling to write your books?

Learn more and connect with Kristen James at

Kristen James on Facebook.

@writerkristenj on Twitter













Category: Being a Writer, Contemporary Women Writers, Growing Your Platform, Marketing Your Book, US American Women Writers

Comments (10)

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  1. Anju Gattani says:

    Hi Kristen,
    Great post and the glass ceiling has always been the dream – since I was 7 and first saw my name in print – of writing a real book and having it published with a real publisher. Well… decades later the dream happened and I was overjoyed (understatment here) – ecstatic! I had cracked it!
    Now a new glass ceiling hovers – of getting the world of my debut novel out. The social media, marketing, FB, Tweeting, etc… it’s like a spiral glass ceiling now -one I’m sucked in and not sure which way to go or how to go about it best to break the books out.
    Any more suggestions?
    Anju Gattani

    • Anju, congrats on your first book! Have you checked out my blog, It was quite a few suggestions about promoting. I also have two books on the topic: Book Promoting 101 and How To Sell More Kindle eBooks.

      When you’re first starting, I think it’s easiest and most effective to choose what you can do, instead of trying to do everything. Some authors start a website, Facebook page just for that book, a Twitter, and join all kinds of groups. You may or may not have time for that! I mainly use my author page on Facebook and try to join in conversations. I like to run giveaways or a contest, post tiny teasers from one of my books, and other fun things that aren’t too “promoty.”

      Another thing to consider is writing a marketing plan. Some authors write a detailed plan. with a budget. (Book Promoting 101 has a sample plan from Joann Penn of The Creative Penn blog. Her website is also a great resource – My (simple) strategy is to continuously build my online presence and then announce new books and promotions to my followers on FB, Twitter and my blog.

      Best of luck with your writing and promoting!

      • Anju Gattani says:

        Thanks, Kristen,
        Will check out your blog, ideas and website mentioned. Another glass ceiling to understand and break? Or just shatter? Hmmm… 🙂


    • One suggestion I would make is this: make getting reviews a priority. They could be a blog, a print review, or a review on Amazon. Reader decision often depends on these reviews.

  2. Kristen,
    I just signed up for Guru. Thanks for the tip. Any suggestions for using it effectively, other than the obvious ones for using a freelancing site?

    • Hi Elaine, bid a lot! I won about 10 to 15% of my bids the first few years. And write a personal bid instead of sending out a template every time. I saved a template and then customized it for each job, and I would also copy and paste it into word so I could see it better and proof it. I’ve caught a lot of typos that way and saved myself from sending out a bid with errors in it. If you want some in depth advice, I actually have an ebook out on Kindle about how to use freelance sites to earn an income called How To Be A Full Time Writer. Good luck! It’s very satisfying to win freelance projects and design your own schedule.

  3. Kristen,
    Thanks for sharing your journey so far with us. It’s clear that your belief in yourself is what made your success possible. That, and a great deal of hard work, of course. Congratulations!


    • Thanks, Elaine! They say anything worthwhile takes time and hard work, but you can enjoy hard work when it’s something you love, like writing. It also helps when your hard work pays off, and others encourage you. My best to you, Kristen

  4. Ms S. Yakoob says:

    As a writer I find it hard to overcome the isolation that sets over you. The level of concentration and focus you require demands a detached mode. You are sometimes sacrificing social life, pleasure pursuits, even yourself. That is like trying to put up with the glass ceiling encrusted on top of you.

    • I agree – the writing life can isolate you. It’s important to get out with family and friends, and maybe join some social groups or the gym. Writing groups are nice because you have a shared passion. It even helps me to keep up online relationships with other writers. My life is pretty hectic between writing and raising a family, so it cuts down on the craziness to work from home. Sometimes I do have to intentionally get myself away from the computer!

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