Interview with Jessica Killingley, founder of the Rockstars Writing Academy

Read how Jessica Killingley turned over 20 years’ experience in publishing into a new career helping coaches and consultants reach a wider audience through the Rockstar Writers Academy.

What’s your career background?

I spent just over 20 years working in publishing, for some of the biggest publishers in the UK. I started as a bookseller for Waterstones when I left university – essentially what was a short term Christmas job ended up being an entire career!

I worked my way up from a very junior assistant to being a board-level marketing director by the time I left. Publishing is a great career path to work for a marketer as you are constantly working on new and very varied projects – sometimes with big marketing budgets, and sometimes getting to be very agile with very little spend at all.

For a solitary pastime, reading is actually an incredibly social thing – people LOVE talking about books and it was a joy to spend two decades harnessing that passion.

How did your career change after having children?

Initially, very little. I moved to my final role when I was pregnant, (I found out I was pregnant the day after I handed my notice in!) and I was incredibly fortunate as my new employers were very supportive.

I had six months where I put pedal-to-the-metal to establish my role within the company and there was no question that I would be coming back. After nine months’ parental leave, I was back at it and after the first couple of months back to working full time.

I was still breast-feeding at this point, and juggling broken sleep with running a team of 10 at work certainly took it’s toll – most notably on my mental health.

Being business-as-usual at work during a time of massive change at home is really hard to navigate, and I think that often new mothers who come back into their role within corporate have to just ‘put up and shut up’ and get on with it. But things settled down eventually.

The next challenge arose when I started to go through fertility treatment, and again, that balancing act of keeping everything going at work, whilst you’re going home at night and stabbing yourself with needles wasn’t a chapter of my life that I cherished!

But the upside is that it certainly provokes periods of reflection about what you want, where you’re going, how you want your family life to look and feel. As our son approached school age, and the realisation that compared to nursery, they’re basically in school for about five minutes a day, I had to take a look at how that was going to effect our lives.

Both my husband and I worked over an hour away from where we lived and suddenly, you’re staring down the barrel of complicated child care arrangements and precarious schedules where one mis-step can bring the whole thing crashing down.

I think my inner stubbornness came out here, because I refused to believe there couldn’t be a different, better way. I had definitely reached a crossroads. Personally, I felt that after several unsuccessful years of fertility treatment, it was time to gracefully, gratefully withdraw from that arena to focus on creating a happy life with where we were.

Professionally I felt that it was ‘expected’ of me to keep pushing forward, to keep climbing the ladder. Surely turning away from that was going to be wasting all my potential and the career that I’d built so far?

Luckily, I had a word with myself and saw that taking a leap to do something new was an opportunity, not a sacrifice, with the BIG upside of a far less chaotic family life which would benefit us all.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I thought if i could ‘just’ make about a third of my old salary that would be enough to contribute to our upkeep, so that my husband didn’t have the pressure of being the sole breadwinner.

I initially assumed that I would work as a marketing freelancer within publishing, but quickly realised how frustrating that would be, as by waiting for the phone to ring I was putting myself in a position of being beholden to the vagaries of other people’s to-do list. Which I get isn’t really the point of how a successful freelancer operates, but I didn’t know any better at the time!

So I knew I had to take a bigger, braver step and be more proactive and that was going to take the form of setting up a business to help other mums in business with their marketing. At this point, coming from a coaching background myself, I knew that I needed to invest in myself to get the support and accountability that comes from having a coach.

One of the first things she said to me was ‘oh, you should help people write books!’ but I was adamant that I was DONE with books and publishing (I was pretty knackered after 20 years!) but to be honest I also felt a massive amount of imposter syndrome – who was *I* to help people with that?! (because apparently 20 years wasn’t quite enough experience…)

How did you move from idea to actual business?

With the help of my coach, I took my first steps to setting up a business around helping other women with their businesses. And it just felt really… hard. Not the usual things that we have to navigate on our entrepreneurial journeys, but I literally felt I was opening my mouth, and nothing was coming out – and I’m not usually lost for words!

As I worked through what was making me feel out of alignment, I kept coming back to the idea that what I know, what I’ve always known, is books. I like to joke: cut me and I bleed ink. And so, a few months in, I took the decision to course correct to what I now know was my zone of genius all along.

So I started small, working with people 1:1 to help with plan their books or their launches, and gradually refined my messaging and offerings with what I really wanted to do – which is help other entrepreneurs find their voice and give them a platform to increase their impact.

I now run a writing Academy which take people through the process of planning, writing and publishing a book that will turn readers into clients. Along the way, I started a second business as well, and now run a literary agency with two friends, so I have a foot in both camps – traditional and self publishing. 

What’s your USP?

If you ask most of my clients, they will probably say swearing. I’m not ‘just’ a writing coach – there are a lot of those out there and many are really great, but my focus is on writing a book that is a powerful tool for leveraging your expertise and amplifying your impact.

So I bring in business coaching, personal coaching, marketing ninja skills and the experience of selling literally millions of books and creating countless bestsellers over the course of my career.

Within the Academy, we start by looking at your business and what your business objectives are and who you want to be of service to and how, and we reverse engineer what your book needs to be to deliver on that. Whilst it is undoubtably an awesome personal challenge, it’s also got to deliver a ROI back into your business and really be a valuable read for the people you want to work with. 

Who’s your target audience?

I work predominantly with coaches and consultants – people who get transformative results for their clients and are committed to growing their business and their impact.

For me, it’s all about the ripple effect – if I can help someone reach a bigger audience by teaching them not just how to write a brilliant book but how to get it out into the world, then I can go to bed happy. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

Social media. I mostly use Facebook and Instagram and have been growing organically by word-of-mouth and referrals. I have just shown up and talked. And talked. And talked. In some ways, it’s an easy sell because everyone *says* they want to write a book, but in reality, very few people have the commitment and focus to actually go through with it!

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy? 

Definitely live video – just showing up consistently and giving value. I run free challenges that always get great engagement because it’s about giving people the space to see what a book could do for them and the permission to think big and go for it!

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

The elephant in the room is always money. I remember thinking in the early days that if actually earning any money wasn’t a factor, the entrepreneurial journey would be an absolute blast of a science experiment.

But sadly, it is a factor and you have to do an enormous amount of personal development work to shift your money mindset and how it connects to your self worth. Decisions made on the basis of money alone are ALWAYS terrible. 

And your proudest moment so far?

Within my consultancy, working with business coach Ruth Kudzi. I worked with her 1:1 and helped her write her book IS THIS IT?, doing a full developmental edit on it (it helps that she’s a great writer) and supporting her through the publishing process.

Not only did it go on to be a No1 bestseller in three different Amazon categories (on my birthday no less!) but more importantly, all the reviews for it are testament to what an incredible job she did with the book and with her clients.

When she then went on to be shortlisted for a Business Book Award for it, I was so proud of her! Going to the awards dinner earlier this year has been a definite highlight for me. I’m delighted to say we’ve just started working on her second book.

I’m also incredibly proud of having built my Rockstar Writers Academy and the thought that it’s created a space where people can write totally game-changing books for their readers.

To encourage everyone through getting their first drafts done, I started something called the 1 Million Words Project – when they collectively write a million words, I will donate to a children’s literary charity on all their behalf. So now they’ve got no excuse to not sit their asses down and write!

Why is work so important to you?

Because we’re here to make a difference. Even if that’s just to one person, I think we need to think about how we can be of service to others and think of a vision that’s bigger than ourselves. Those are the things that push you past the fear, the self-doubt, the moments when you’re sobbing on the carpet.

And because I want to model what’s possible, not just for my son, but also for anyone that’s stuck doing something that makes them miserable. It is perfectly possible to create a life that absolutely works for you and is an unending source of joy. 

Who inspires you?

The women that surround me on a daily basis – whether online or in real life, that are showing up, doing hard things and being beacons of positivity. 

How do you balance your work with your family?

I do 90% of the childcare, so I’m doing the school run twice a day. In the early days, there was a lot of working late into the evenings to fit things in, but I’m a lot better now at being focused and working during the school day.

That said, I absolutely LOVE what I do so could quite happily sit at my computer for 12 hours a day if left to my own devices. I think not getting overwhelmed is a constant battle that we all face, but owning it as the fear that it’s really masquerading as helps break it down. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Trust yourself

If I had my time over again, I would trust myself more earlier on. Hold onto that belief and try and get out of your own way. It doesn’t really matter WHAT you’re doing, but the only thing that dictates success or failure is your own brain. You can have all the strategies in the world, but your mindset is what makes the difference. Just trust yourself. 

2) Treat it like a science experiment

Throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall. If you wait for things to be perfect you’ll be still sat where you are in five year’s time with nothing having changed. Nobody is doing it perfectly, not even the ‘big’ names – we are all shambling through it – hence my forthcoming podcast ‘Shamblepreneur’ – I want to show people that done is better than perfect!

3) Slow down to speed up

Hustling hard is not the answer. As long as you are taking consistent forward action you don’t have to be killing yourself every day. If you think ‘but I don’t have time to take care of myself’ then you need to take care of yourself even more. (I’m still working on this one – currently writing this on my ‘day off’!)

You can find our more about Rockstar Writers Academy on their website.