I know – I know! Geez, Steph, way to piss all over someone’s dreams. But I don’t think people really understand what it actually takes to sell and THRIVE as a self-employed writer, and a lot of that depends on your personality, your productivity skills, your strengths, your motivation, your weaknesses, and whether or not you have someone to support you. A lot of people THINK they want to be career writers, but mostly because they think it’s fun and easy. Sadly, a lot of people will publish books, get nowhere, and give up. Or writing and publishing will be a hobby and nothing more — and that’s okay, too.
Being a writer full-time is cake-walk when someone else is paying the bills. But alas, most of us do not have that luxury. We are either self-supporting (meaning if we don’t work we don’t get paid, and we don’t eat), or our income, combined with our partner’s income, is required to keep us afloat. Long gone are the days when a single income could support more than a single person, and hell — oftentimes single incomes can’t even support a single person these days with the price of everything through the roof.
Do I make a full-time-living from writing. Well, yes. But also no because aside from the publishing company, I help to run our family business, and it bounces me around like a yo-yo, while at the same time helping me be the sole income earner for my family. But the bulk of my income, about 80% of it, comes from writing.
Do I love the writing life? Absolutely. I love spending time alone. My time really is my own. Aside from days I spend at the family business doing payroll, accounting, and HR, I can pretty much do what I want, when I want. I can sleep in. I can go for a walk in the middle of my day. I don’t have to punch a time clock. I can take time off whenever I feel like it. Sounds great, right? But I also work, on average, about 70 hours a week. Even if I didn’t split my time between our other business and the publishing company, I would likely work the same number of hours because for me, it would mean more time for writing.
- Career writers work LONG hours. If you expect to have a ton of free time, career writing may not be for you. Sure, I may take a day off to read, but I always split that reading time between a marketing or craft-of-writing book, and something I want to read for fun.
- Career writers never really take vacations or time off, even when they do. If you like the 9-5 and being able to leave work at work — forget it. You won’t get that being a career writer. Every shower, every walk, every trip to pick up groceries, every vacation — I’m thinking about the book, article, or story I’m working on, different marketing strategies, or my to-do list when I get back.
- Career writers have to think long term about their schedule, their savings account and budget, and their marketing strategies. If you’re bad with marketing, scheduling, or budgeting, writing may not be for you. Writers often get paid upon publication, once a month, or every 3-6 months. You don’t get weekly or bi-weekly paychecks like a normal job and you have to adjust to that. I already have books/projects scheduled into 2022, advertising scheduled a month or six in advance, and I keep the savings accounts as full as I can just in case I have a shitty month. It sometimes happens and writers have to be prepared for that. You should probably be good at juggling your finances.
- Career writers have to be self-motivated and somewhat disciplined. There isn’t a boss to give you direction, or a co-worker to really help you when you get stuck (that’s what writing groups and research are for). I make a choice every day about being a full-time writer. I can either wake up and binge watch Netflix, or I can get up and sit my ass in front of my computer and work on the current project. Be honest with yourself. Are you self-disciplined enough and self-motivated? This doesn’t mean you need to write every single day. I don’t. I only write 4-5 days a week. Others do write daily. But when I do sit down to write, I can often produce 3K to 5K (or sometimes more) in a day.
- Career writers must be prolific. No one ever made a career on a single book alone. So if you only have one book in you, a career in writing may not be for you. If you want to do well** at this gig, you need to publish a new book 2-6 times (minimum) every year just to keep yourself in front of readers.
- Career writers must be tech-savvy. In this day and age, not being tech-savvy is a huge handicap. You need to be comfortable with computers and adaptable to changing technology and a constantly changing publishing industry. The more tech-savvy you are, not only the more time and money you save, but also the easier it is to deal with things like updating your website, running a newsletter, or automating your social media.
- Career writers may sacrifice certain things to make their dream a reality because the reality is we each only get 24 hours in the day and sometimes you can’t FIT everything you want into that 24 hours. So you have to give something up to have time for the thing (writing career) you want. One of the things I often sacrifice in favor of my work is house cleaning. If it were just me, it likely wouldn’t be so bad and I could call in a housekeeper once a week. However, it’s me, my husband, and three very messy cats. While day-to-day like laundry, dishes, wiping down frequently used surfaces, cooking, and litter tray cleanup is habit for my husband and me – vacuuming carpets, scrubbing tile floors, dusting, and deep cleaning is not something done on a regular basis. I usually take a day off each month just to do those deep cleaning chores.
- Career writers often have a lot of things on the fire for different income streams. They write fiction. They write articles. They may be contributing to anthologies. They may write company policies on the side. They may be ghost writing on the side. They may also write non-fiction on top of the fiction. They may teach classes or sell items related to their books. I have yet to meet a career author who doesn’t have some kind of side income related to their writing that isn’t direct income from book sales.
- Career writers often don’t live glamorous lifestyles full of parties and social events. Most of your working time will be spent in front of a computer, writing. But – what about all the cool travel, conventions, and conferences? You have to remember that conventions and conferences may be “fun” and “educational” for attendees, but for the writers who are speakers, presenters, or vendors at these events – it’s part of our job. We’re not there to have fun. We’re there to work. That’s not to say we can’t have fun doing our jobs. I have a lot of fun at Denver Pop Culture Con because that’s my scene and those are my people. It’s one of the reasons I do that con year after year. If we have fun while we work – that’s a bonus. Let me just say that some events are more fun than others. So it may look like we’re just having fun all the time, but never underestimate the pain of a solid conference crash that keeps you from writing for days when you get back home. Outside of conventions, conferences, or writer events – I don’t attend parties or social functions outside my small group of friends. I haven’t done that since I was 21, back in 1993. So if you’re looking for the party life, a career in writing may not be your thing.
- Career writers must be able to work alone for long hours After all, writing can be a very solitary career. If you’re a person who needs other people around or you start to go a bit stir crazy, you may not be prepared for the long hours spent alone with yourself. I’ve never found this to be a problem. I love being my own boss and spending hours alone with myself. I’m a natural introvert. That’s not to say I can’t be extroverted. I go through phases of wanting to be social. But I am quite happy nestled in my office working. I also have a group of supportive author friends who I get together with through video chat on a regular basis. That’s enough to satiate my need to hang out with others. Only you would know if that would be enough for you.
- Career writers can fail, even after they succeed. So if you think once you succeed you’ll automatically be a billionaire, being a writer may not be for you. This can be a feast or famine career (which is why the most adaptive authors diversify their income by doing different types of writing or working as a writer for hire). It’s not like if you have one successful book you’ll be set for life. Unfortunately. If traditionally published, your traditional publisher may not offer another contract after you work out the current one. Meaning you have to go find the next contract, just as if you were starting all over again. If indie published, your last series may have sold like hotcakes, but your current series didn’t go over as well with readers, and is barely moving. I’ve had each of these scenarios happen to me and somehow, by the grace of my readers and my muses, I’m still here.
- Career writers must be persistent. See #11. If you give up or get discouraged easily, a career in writing is not for you.
- Career writers must have thick skin. If you fall apart at the first sign of criticism, writing is DEFINITELY not for you. There is no such thing as an author that every reader, everywhere, will love. There’s always going to be that one reader who hates your work and is going to share that in a review. Career writers don’t let the haters get to them. It’s part of the job. And if you’re saying, “But Steph, I have nothing but good reviews!” — then my response is — you haven’t had a book that sells well enough to get bad reviews yet. Or your work isn’t visible enough yet. Give it time. Eventually you’ll get *that* review, and when you do, you’ll know that people you don’t know are actually reading your work (or that you have haters, which means you’re visible at least).
- Career writers may eventually have to hire support staff. If you’re a control freak or don’t want to run a business, being a writer may not be for you. Because you can’t do everything and still be able to focus on the writing. I resisted hiring help for years. I’ve had a personal assistant for a few years to help me deal with websites, emails and scheduling, but he wasn’t able to help in areas I really needed help. Just this year I finally hired a person who manages my social media, and that freed up my time to write considerably. Does it cut into my profits? Yes. Unfortunately. But it was worth it to me because I need to be writing — not looking for memes and articles to post on my author pages. Just like I hire editors, cover artists, attorneys, and accountants as needed, because I don’t possess all the skills to do all the things, plus I don’t have time to do everything.
- Career writers have deadlines. If you don’t work well under pressure, a career in writing may not be for you. I’ve always excelled under the pressure of a deadline, but not everyone does. Now, I can’t say I’m fond of pre-release pressure (since that comes with a penalty for non-compliance), but I know what I want to get done and I bust my ass to meet those particular deadlines. I’ve always been that way.
- Career writers must be organized. There are a lot of dates that need to be coordinated with marketing, release dates, beta reader copies, editors, cover art, contract deadlines, etc… in the publishing world. So if you’re disorganized and you start missing deadlines, it’s going to throw your life into chaos and you’ll be racing to get things done, or losing contracts as a result. Or you may over schedule yourself and find yourself sinking. Been there. Organization is still something I struggle with, but I am getting better at it.
- Career writers must have some self-confidence. A lack of confidence can greatly hamper your career by keeping you from doing the things you need to do to make that career work. So if you’re going to go for it, I want you to start working on your confidence now. Even if you don’t feel confident, learn to fake it. From pitching a book to a buyer (whether reader, editor, or agent), to doing an interview or podcast, to just casually chatting with folks at events – a little self-confidence makes the job a lot easier.
- Career writers can’t afford to care what others think (unless they’re paying you a hefty sum to write what they want you to write). This means that your stories are your own and readers, friends, family don’t get a say. Writers who care too much what others think are likely to balk at sending stuff out, or publish something different. They’ll play it safe for the sake of not upsetting anyone, or to please a certain person or group. This can kill your career faster than you can read this article.
- Career writers must be able to focus and finish. To sell your work, you have to be able to write, and finish, a completed manuscript. This means there’s no time for hemming and hawing and edit-forever syndrome. If you’re a perfectionist – start working to get over it because nothing is perfect. If you are having a hard time focusing on finishing your creative work, writing as a career may not be for you.
- Career writers love to read and read often. If you don’t like to read, you definitely shouldn’t attempt a career at writing. I’m a slow reader and even I manage to read 30-50 books a year (not including my own or the books I read for my publishing company by other authors). I’ve always loved to read and have been a voracious reader since grade-school. Most of the successful authors I know, when they’re not writing, they’re reading.
- Career writers are business owners. You are basically self-employed and have to keep receipts, hire/fire people, pay your quarterly taxes and any sales tax from events etc…, and pay all your writing related bills. You have to collect on contracts, stay on top of your sales reports, make sure everything goes out on time, coordinate your team of people. All things anyone running a business does. So if you don’t want to be a business owner, career writing is not for you.
So think carefully when it comes to your choice to become a career writer. Be honest with yourself. Career writing is not for every writer.
**As in $40K + every year. I say that because a lot of writers can make $10K-$12K a year writing. As a matter of fact, $10K-$12K is what a good majority of traditionally published writers make after the IRS get’s their cut, the agent get’s their cut, and they’ve paid for all their convention stock, marketing, and travel expenses. Ouch!