Hands up those who want to be a full time writer! Maybe it’s a definite goal or possibly just a nebulous dream of one day…
It sounds great, doesn’t it? After all, it means working from home and for many writing doesn’t really seem like work. Not like going to the office every day come hail or shine or dealing with difficult clients/patients/children or any of a thousand other jobs. I’m always fascinated by the number of people who say they’d like to be a full time writer.
I thought I’d share with you some thoughts on what’s involved in being an author. Not the highs of celebrations when a book is sold or gets lovely reader feedback or hits a bestseller list, nor the lows of rejections, but the everyday practicalities of working as an author. I won’t talk about the craft side of writing fiction. That’s a whole other blog (or series of them). Instead I thought I’d share some pragmatic ideas. Everyone’s situation and experiences are different so there’s no one right time to decide to write full time. It’s purely a personal decision. However, here are some things to think about (in no particular order):
- Time lags. When I sold my first book a published author advised me not to give up my day job just yet. She wasn’t passing judgement on the quality of my writing, simply mentioning that, with a traditional publisher (self-publishing has established its own set of parameters), money doesn’t necessarily flow fast. You receive an advance when you sign a contract for your book/s. Lovely. If you’re lucky it will be a big advance but that’s not always the case. This is a payment against future royalty earnings. You receive $x dollars advance and you won’t receive any more income on that book until your royalties (the percentage of earnings you are entitled to) exceed that amount. That may take a couple of weeks or a year or it may never happen. You may, possibly, need to survive on what you earn from your advance. On the other hand your book may sell and sell and provide income over many years. The thing to remember is that the release date of your book does not necessarily mean money in your bank account straight away. Depending on how your book is published it may take several months or much more before money starts flowing to you. Some publishers don’t pay advances, so that’s another factor to consider.
- No weekly salary. If you’re not good at managing your budget be prepared for the fact that you may be looking at receiving income not weekly or fortnightly but possibly monthly or even 3 or 6 monthly.
- Fluctuating income. It’s harder to budget when you don’t know what your income will be. One thing is for sure, it will vary. Some books sell better than others. Maybe one is a far better book, or maybe the cover was more attractive or the back cover synopsis more appealing. On the other hand you may receive lots of lovely fan mail but not so many good reviews. Maybe people are tightening belts due to economic problems and not buying so many books that month. Or maybe you luck out and get a release date at a time when people are looking for just the book you’ve written. Add to that the vagaries of the currency markets (some of us get paid in currencies other than our own) so income can rise or fall on the value of the dollar/euro/pound.
- The need to keep yourself fresh. Yes, you need to work hard to succeed as an author, but it’s important too, to take time to ‘refresh the well’. If you’re writing fiction you’re drawing on inner resources and those resources need replenishing. You’ll need to allow yourself some time to do those things that help keep you motivated and creative. For me one of those things is a brisk lakeside walk. But it could be reading, watching movies, getting involved in activities that have nothing to do with writing like volunteering, spending time with friends, travel or research.
- The sedentary lifestyle. Beware! Being a writer means long hours sitting at a computer. That can take its toll on your body as you work to meet a deadline or deliver on tough revisions or even just deal with the demands of your inbox. Think carefully about a plan to ensure you stay healthy (yes, I’m talking about exercise and diet and ergonomic furniture).
- Others’ perceptions. If you work at home, particularly in a creative endeavour, many people won’t quite understand that you’re running a business. Even your nearest and dearest, those who’ve supported you on the way to publication, are more likely to think because you’re not going out of the house to work, you have more time to run errands, be available to tradespeople, ferry family members etc. Allied to that is that fact that you too, may fall into that habit of thinking, yes, I’ve got time for that, conveniently forgetting the deadline looming in a fortnight.
- The dangers of working at home. I hate to say it but being close to your kitchen and your stock of (name the food weakness of your choice) is not always a good idea! There’s also the fact that you will be at home, possibly alone, for long periods. Will you miss the interaction with work colleagues as you sit at your computer? Will you be distracted by the need to tidy the house, cook exquisite meals or basically anything that keeps you from writing that next, difficult scene?
- It’s all up to you. Writers don’t get sick leave or any sort of paid leave or employer superannuation. If you can’t write, or choose to distract yourself, no-one else will write that book for you. Are you ready to sit down and write enough, not just to get pleasure from creating a story you love, but to produce books you can sell on a regular basis?
- Do you love it enough? You may think from reading the above points that I’m trying to paint the life of a writer as too tough to take on. Absolutely not! I love writing. It’s both a joy and a vocation as well as sometimes being hard work. It can be enormous fun and is one of the most satisfying things I know. I believe that you need to be passionate about your writing to keep at it. If you don’t love what you do, it will probably show on the page and as with any form of self-employment, you need to be prepared to work hard. Why do that if you don’t love what you do? Fortunately romance writing is a thrill as well as a profession.
First published on the Pink Heart Society Website