Carla de Guzman is a 25-year-old self-published author with four books to her name. Her most recent book, If The Dress Fits, will be launched this weekend. Here she tells MB Life how she made her dreams happen, the sacrifices, and her learnings along the way.
How did this book publishing/authoring gig came about?
I remember distinctly that it started in the summer of 2015. I wanted to try my hand at writing original stories, and after brainstorming with my sisters, I came up for the plot of my first book, Cities. I wrote and wrote until I had a manuscript. Then I had two options: to submit it to publishers, or to publish it myself. When I asked around about self-publishing, I saw that Mina V. Esguerra, my fairy godmother, was holding private sessions to teach aspiring writers how to self-publish (which she still does!). She invited me to join her group called #romanceclass. We scheduled a meeting, and thirty minutes later, I had a book ready for pre-order! The Internet is magical that way. I’ve learned so much from her! We’re friends now and we’ve been all been writing and exchanging ideas, fangirling over things since then.
Is being a book author always been your life goal? Was it something you consciously tried to achieve?
Yes and no! I was known in grade school and high school as the ‘love story writer.’ I used to write lengthy epics about my friends and their celeb crushes (on their requests!). We were hormonal teenagers with no outlet, so this was a good way to let that energy out. Looking back, that’s probably where I first considered being an author.
But of course, life has a way to reminding you of the ‘real things.’ When I graduated college, I knew that I wanted to write. Typical fresh grad, I immediately took an internship at a magazine, and worked at a popular lifestyle website, where I figured I could earn and write at the same time. But after that didn’t pan out for me, I reassessed. Was that the kind of writing I wanted to do? What did I want to write? What were my goals? All signs were pointing to writing fiction and romance, becoming the author that my fourth grade self dreamed of being. Since then that’s what I’ve worked on. It was a conscious decision, but it wasn’t immediate.
Can you tell me about the moment when you decided to go for it?
It was when I took stock of the cost that had to be involved in developing the book. At least in the production of my first book, I had to pay for editing, creating the cover, formatting the body of the book for eBook and print book edition. The costs added up to around 30k, more or less, which was the amount I saved from my last job. SCARY! Money is a really good reality-checker! I wasn’t exactly rolling in money. But I talked to my parents, who pointed out to me that cost is relative. Money comes and goes, and isn’t it worth it if it means achieving something you’ve always dreamed of? So I took that leap, and haven’t looked back since. The worst case scenario here is that I have a book in my name that nobody reads. I was okay with that, so I went with it.
Oh yes. I worried that I spent all this time and energy on a one time thing, that after this, it would all be over. I worried that nobody would read it. At the time that was a real concern.
Now, I worry that I would reach a point where I write something that people would judge me for—that I would write things too close to my reality and people think ‘oh this is you, di ba?’ I hesitate when I read something one of the other authors have written and it’s just so flipping amazing that I become paralyzed in my own writing. I hesitate when my writing starts sounding like something I’ve read or watched.
Most of all, I’m scared that it will all end at some point, that the ride is over, but I haven’t realized it yet.
Was there anything that almost broke you and made you reconsider your plans?
There are two things that always, always nearly break me—one, is reading a bad review. I know I shouldn’t be the kind that gets bothered over that kind of thing, but I can’t help it. That’s someone personally talking about why you’re not good enough for them. It just makes me want to crawl into a little ball and cry.
Two is, and again, this is unhealthy, is when I’m not doing anything — not writing or promoting a book, and someone is. They’re reposting all of this hype, delivering books and stuff, and I’m always 99% happy for them and 1% jealous. These are my friends, but I’m apparently a competitive person by nature. That feeling makes me want to quit completely or bear down and write something new at the same time.
What makes it worth it?
This is something I experienced when we spent the WHOLE DAY at MIBF last month—no food, no bathroom breaks, just sweaty but enthusiastic book selling that all culminated in a live reading of our books that had me melting on the floor with kilig.
I was exhausted, but I was so happy because I had a group of people with me who went through the same thing I did — we all talked about the books we were writing, the books we were reading. It became worth it because I had friends who couldn’t wait to read what I wrote, and it was the same for me.
Just knowing that there are people out there looking forward to reading what you wrote, or interested in reading what you wrote, it makes it all worth it.
Advice for people who dream of doing the same?
Just write your story, because nobody can tell it the way you will. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. Nobody has your experiences, your views, or your imagination. It would be such a shame for you not to write that story. And people are reading! People are looking for books!
What about the dreaded writer’s block?
The only way out of writer’s block, I think, is to not think about it. When I’m stuck, I watch a TV show or a movie. I look through my old travel photos (because I know it’s a cliche, but travel is inspiring!) or maybe distract myself with watercoloring. When I think about it too much, I tend to go around in circles of crazy and end up writing nothing at all!
We need practical tips, too!
So much I can say about this! But I think most important is to accept that anything, even your ‘passion projects’ have costs. Not just monetary, but your time and effort will be spent on something that you may not work out. You have to be willing to put in the time and cost for that. A ‘glam’ side job comes with its hassles. Do what you have to do.
Be ready to market yourself. Don’t be shy about advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or on your website, it’s just a reality of what you do. Do it, and do it well! I can’t judge people who advertise themselves or their side businesses on Facebook, because that’s what makes them happy.
Finally, don’t quit your day job. Not yet. Nothing comes easy, and honestly, it’s very rare to be the kind of person who ‘quit their day job to whatever’. It would be great if you could, but with the way things are, it’s just not a feasible option for many people. Unless you’re mentally and financially ready to handle it, don’t quit the day job for your passion project. It may slow down your process, but slow and steady wins. I still work at a business consultancy firm and I still do part time as a staff writer for a lifestyle website. I grabbed that opportunnity just because it fit in my time perfectly. My editor is really understanding of my day job, which is rare. I’m the kind of person who tries not to have too much idle time. I’m happy dedicating my spare time to writing — that’s my huuuge time-managing secret.
Headline image: Madel Crudo; Photos: Carla de Guzman