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Writers@Work: Writing on the (IN)Side

An Interview with Kelly James

Tell us about your new book, The Book That (Almost) Got Me Fired.

I call it a “midlife memoir.” It’s about when I decided to return to corporate America after being a fulltime freelancer/ghostwriter, and stay-at-home parent, for 22 years.

What are the benefits and challenges of taking an in-house writing job?

As I write about in the book, affordable health insurance with good coverage was a huge benefit, and one of the reasons I wanted to go inhouse. After freelancing fulltime, it was also nice not to have to pitch constantly (although I continued, and continue today, to freelance on the side); as an in-house writer, there’s a steady stream of work coming your way. 

The challenges included having to sit in one place for hours on end (at home, I get up and take a lot of breaks during my workday); having to do all of my errands and housework outside of work hours (working from home, I typically fit them into my day); and learning a bunch of new skills, like how SEO works (and implementing keywords into content) and how to manage Excel spreadsheets, which I had never worked with before.

How did you decide to write a memoir instead of a straight prescriptive nonfiction book? What tips do you have for anyone writing memoir?

I knew I was going to write about the transition when I accepted the job. I’d published other books on freelancing, including Six-Figure Freelancing, Second Edition, and Writer For Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success, and this time I wanted to write a memoir instead of a how-to book. I’d published a couple of “chick lit” novels about 20 years ago, and I welcomed the challenge of memoir. 

If you’re writing memoir, first off, take lots of notes. I had 130,000 words of notes after the year I wrote about, and writing the memoir took another year or so. But I had taken copious notes from before I started the job, so I had a lot of great material to pull from. You also need to think about the “container” for your story — in my case, I had decided to focus on a year, and the transition from freelancer to corporate employee, but I also ended up writing about dating as a divorced mom in her 50s, menopause and body image, and the challenges of being a single mom. But I left a lot of other material out because it didn’t seem to fit in the container I chose.

Can you talk about the publishing process for this?

Of course. I spent a couple of years trying (and failing) to get an agent for the book, and then pitched some larger publishers with no success. I ended up choosing a small, hybrid publisher; there’s no advance, but the publisher has been great to work with, and I’ll earn royalties from my first sale.

If you do go with a small publisher, look for one that’s been in business for a while and will keep your book in print! I also talked to a couple of authors who had published books with the company to see what their experiences had been. 

You work full time, parent, and play pool, not to mention having a life: what tips do you have for squeezing in your own writing while working a full-time job?

That should be the topic for another book! 😊 Seriously, when I’m working on book, I write every day, even if it’s only a few paragraphs. That momentum keeps me going. Whenever possible, I write my own stuff first; I’m pretty tapped out creativity-wise by the end of the day.

If I’m not working on a book, I still do “morning pages” (three pages, longhand, ala The Artist’s Way) to keep my own writing going.

What are you reading now?

Great question! I’m actually reading Bryne’s Complete Book of Pool Shots (I’m always working on my 8-ball game) and I just finished The Fifth Chamber, which is a lovely memoir and grief, loss, and love. 

About the Author

Kelly K. James (formerly Kelly James-Enger) has been writing for a living, as an employee and fulltime freelancer, for more than 20 years. The former attorney is the author of books including The Book That (Almost) Got Me Fired: How I (Barely) Survived a Year in Corporate AmericaWriter for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Successand Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition. She works, writes, plays 8-ball, and attempts to golf from her home outside Chicago, which she shares with two teens, a high-energy rescue pup, and a very spoiled, fat cat.

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