Caveat Scriptor–Quitting the day job

I know, I’m not a famous writer type and probably not the best qualified to write this. Nevertheless, I’m alarmed by some posts I’ve seen recently on writers’ forums about quitting the day job to “write full time.” Especially from those who don’t already have an agent, a track record, or even a contract in hand.

Of course this doesn’t apply to those of you with second homes in Bimini and Maddoff-proof portfolios. But if you’re the average bear, like me, please think things through.

There are only a few spots and a few authors who openly discuss their earnings from writing, especially at small presses. I was struck this past month by my royalty checks. I don’t write “hot stuff” and I’m not particularly a great seller, but I was able to make my final car payment and pay the phone and internet bill with my royalties. Oh, and bought groceries. That is with a new release, several books out, and I’ll admit, minimal promotion. And as I said, many, many authors do much better than I do.

Still–ask yourself these questions before you decide you must quit your job to write:
1. Do you have several months’ funds in the bank to fall back on if you must reenter the workforce during this terrible economic downturn?
2. Do you understand that it could take months, even years before you turn a profit (you’ll be spending money on prizes, organizations, advertising…)?
3. Do you know that if you are lucky enough to land that “big NY contract” it will be ages before the full royalties come your way. You’ll get your advance (hey, if it’s $200K, go for it), but how long will that last you?
4. Do you think you need to write full time to be a writer? Do you know that most writers have day jobs (including those who are caregivers for their own children)? That most writers write an hour here and an hour there? Some fairly well known ones?
5. Are you the sort of person who has the discipline to write all day long? Would you be better in a more social environment for at least part of the day?
6. Do you have an alternate source of health benefits, 401K contributions from an employer, life insurance, etc?

I don’t mean to be a downer, honestly. And sure, it’s none of my business. But the “I made a sale of my novella to small epub! squee! time to quit the day job!” makes my heart sink. Please, can you add anything for or against my warnings here? Have you made it work? How long did it take? Have you tried writing full time and failed? Succeeded? Please share your experiences.retrodow_1952_plastic_0


4 thoughts on “Caveat Scriptor–Quitting the day job

  1. anny cook says:

    I write full-time because I’m RETIRED! It takes enormous discipline to sit down in front of a computer and write all day. Money? Well with thirteen books out and a fourteenth contracted, I average $200 a MONTH. Some months are better. Most in the last year are not.

    IF I WAS GAINFULLY EMPLOYED I would NOT quit work to write.

  2. Sue says:

    Sound advice, my friend. I tried quitting the day job to write a few years ago and ended up having my husband make me do all of the bookkeeping for his businesses instead!! I went back to a day job just to get away from that so I could write again LOL

  3. Some of us are joking when we go “ZOMG! A royalty check! SQUEE! No more day job.”

    I usually follow it with the words. “Yep, I’m living large on the $7.26!”

    2% of writers make a living and only 2% of them get rich. I know a number of writers to an extent. TWO of them write full time and they write everything, including ghost-writing and tech manuals.

  4. Being a writer is like a rock rolling downhill. You start by not rolling very fast, not a lot of people know you, perhaps you have piddly royalty checks. (There’s a reason some pubs don’t cut a check below $25.)

    The more books you write, the bigger your backlist, the more opportunity for a bigger check. Why? Because those people who’ve noticed your new release might just buy your older books.

    Those authors who started out at an ePublisher then made it big (enough to quit the day job) more than likely also have contracts/agents for Big Name Publishers in NY or London. They went out, made a name in eBook circles, got themselves an agent, and took their audience to NY (or wherever), then brought the NEW audience they just gained by publishing at Big Name Publisher to their older eBook backlist.

    So in that way, you have to build your audience by writing the best books you can and having a strong presence.

    It is VERY hard to earn a living being an eBook author alone. Some do, but very few, and those that do most likely write loads of erotic books for one of the hotter ePublishers around. (“Hot” meaning both erotic and popular.)

    Nora wasn’t “Nora” when she first started. She slowly built her empire. Then again, Nora’s the exception, not the rule. A lot of Big Name Authors still have their day jobs.


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