Saturday, February 28, 2009

Making a living writing

They are the favored few. Only a small number of people are able to make a living just writing books. So why do so many as soon as they get a book contract immediately want to quit their day job? They don’t realize that most of the people making a living writing are not doing so strictly on book income. What writers really want is to get a big advance and live on it while they write their book, then live off royalties and off the advance for the next book. For most of us its not going to happen if in fact it happens for anybody.

Most do freelance work as well, maybe editing, but they do more than one thing. Does that include me? Yes, I’m afraid it does. I’ve done a couple of dozen book deals in the past year but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as an agent. I have a book out and another on the way but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as a writer. I’ve written some short things and did a ghostwriting gig on a novel for a publisher but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as a freelancer. I’ve done workshops and programs somewhere every month but that wouldn’t sustain me full time as a speaker.

But together they work. Together I make a living full time in this business. I have writing friends that tell me they do these other forms of writing in order to pay for their novel writing habit. There’s a lot of truth to that.

So when can a writer quit the day job? Most forms of writing income is not dependable. By that I mean we don’t know when the next contract is coming up, they may involve differing payment schedules, and the money is often slow coming in. The smart writer has a pool of money to live on in the bank and pays all the bills and living expenses from it, a dependable flow. As money comes in it goes into the pool and hopefully keeps the level of the pool where it needs to be. How much of a pool? A very bare minimum of six months to a year.

Just like a swimming pool, if the level of the pool starts going down we better quit diving in, and if it gets too low we better figure out a way to fill it up even if it means a day job again. And if there’s nothing in the pool? Really, be serious now, would you dive into a pool that had nothing in it?


Sharon A. Lavy said...

Ouch. What a dose of reality.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the reality check. I've not yet published any of my writing, but I certainly plan on keeping my day job for quite some time.