Making a Living as a Writer: Challenges

rock climberWe’ve talked about volume and variety as the two keys to making a living as a writer. But we need to face the fact that there are some serious challenges to making this dream of “full time writing” come true. As much as you love to write, it may or may not be the life for you. Here are a few thoughts on some of the obstacles:

1. Your publisher limits your ability to publish “on the side.” Traditional publishers make a significant investment of time and money in each book they commit to produce, market and sell. Consequently, there are restrictions built into the publishing contract designed to protect their investment. For example, if your publisher is selling your suspense novel for $14.99, and you decide to self-publish a suspense novel on Amazon and sell it for $1.99, you’re undercutting your publisher, unfairly competing with them and hampering their ability to sell your book. So they have contractual safeguards against this.

These contractual “non-competes” are a bigger topic than we can fully cover today. As publishing continues to morph, agents will need to work with publishers to carefully hammer out a non-compete clause that is fair to the publisher and protects their investment, yet doesn’t unfairly impede the author’s ability to profit from their writing. (We’re already trying to do this, with mixed results.) The bottom line here is that when you sign a contract for a publisher to produce and distribute your book, you’ll be obligated to help protect their investment, and this puts limits on your freedom to publish wantonly in order to create volume.

2. You have limited time. It takes considerable time to do all the writing and marketing, not to mention chasing down new leads and opportunities. And a certain amount of your time must be spent in revenue-generating activities, whether that’s your day job or writing. Only you can determine if it’s possible to organize your time in such a way that the full-time writing life is possible.

3. You can’t create volume because your books aren’t selling enough. Sadly, this can be a reality for many writers. Maybe you have a couple of books published and you’re trying to create that “long tail” but your books aren’t selling well enough to be getting royalty checks. Maybe they’re not selling enough to interest a publisher in contracting more books from you. You’re trying, but the long tail just isn’t materializing. Does this mean it never will? No, you can always try different strategies. But we definitely need to face the fact that sometimes this just doesn’t work out the way we hope, or as quickly as we hope.

4. There’s NOT a lot of security in the writing life. If you’ve become used to things like health insurance, a paycheck every couple of weeks, and actually getting money back from Uncle Sam at tax time, the writing life can be a rude awakening. It can quickly take you back to the days of living paycheck to paycheck… except you’re never quite sure if or when that next paycheck is actually coming. It means you’re always hustling for the next job, because after all, you’re an entrepreneur now—a small business owner. I’ve helped authors through these stresses more times than I can count. So I recommend you assess yourself carefully and honestly. Are you cut out for it?

***

As I was writing this series on making a living as a writer, it occurred to me that maybe the most important key, beyond volume or variety or acknowledging the challenges, is this: that in order to make a LIVING as a writer, we have to stop romanticizing it.

That doesn’t mean we take the joy out of it, but it means we take off our rose-colored glasses and truly approach writing as both our calling and our business. (I actually think this can make it an even greater joy. ) At some point we have to stop saying “I write because I have to” or “I write for the pure joy of it” and change the inner mantra to something like, “I’m aiming to make a living from doing what I love, and that means treating it like a business. I can still love it, even if it’s a business.”

So what do you think? Did you ever dream of the full-time-writing life, and if so, do you still? What are some other challenges you’ve come across?

  1. PM Kester says:

    Thank you so much for your honesty!

  2. Kimberly L. says:

    After reading these posts I’m pretty sure that I’m cut out for the writing life. I think it helps that I’ve been a technical writer for years. I know how to write about things that I’m not the least bit interested in, to write on demand, and to not wait for inspiration to strike. I have a business already and I tried freelancing in the past. It was difficult because I didn’t have enough clips to have the variety. But, I am experiencing the long tail now, in a very limited way. I wrote a couple of articles three years ago; the royalties pays one of my smaller bills every month. I love knowing that the bill is covered by something that took me a half day to write 🙂 I would love the challenge of writing a ton of these then moving onto larger projects. I consider myself blessed, I’m just happy to write for a living.

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  5. Brianna says:

    After reading these posts, I absolutely still want to be a writer, but at this stage in my life, know that I can’t make it my only job. It’s a hobby, but more than that, it’s something I enjoy no matter how much money I make, because I have other jobs.

  6. mac makeup says:

    You know it’s quite interesting to know if it is really true about such story!

  7. “we have to stop romanticizing it” is hard for a writer to accept – everything is about romantacizing!

    Thanks for this series. I am so thankful I came across your blog, I learn so much each time I open a post.

    Cold, hard, reality. 🙂

  8. Guest says:

    Lol, I won’t have to worry about this until forever, or whenever my folks are gone, whichever comes first. I’m not married; I have no intention of ever being married, and I don’t have kids; nor do I ever intend to have them either. I live at home, and btw, I’m only 16. I quit school in 8th grade to avoid bullies and I’m so happy my folks never made me go to HS or waste time @ college or getting a stupid day job at McDoldrum’s. XD

    It’s not like I’m one of those spoiled-rich prep-school brats or anything; I’m lucky in that either my folks support my decision to be a stay-at-home “stay-at-home” or more likely, they don’t care what it is I do as long as it’s not setting fires or doing drugs or anything else bad/criminal. Like “Project X” or something like that.

    I am also halfway through the 1st draft of a YA SF/F planned trilogy 🙂 and have no plans to stop writing anytime soon, in fact not ever! I read and contribute to all kinds of blogs and media outlets when I’m done with my quota for the day, and plan on making my writers’ platform my “full-time income”!

    My process is as follows: Write the draft -> print out -> sock away for later -> edit (repeat as necessary) -> repeat all as necessary (so as to have a “backlog” of ready submissions) -> the usual steps towards (hopefully) trad. pubbing. (None of this crappy fanfic self-pub stuff for me.) :-\

    I am so not sp@mming and I know it’s not easy, but the fact that I don’t have much in terms of “distractions” — like job, family, friends, or (lol) Facebook (I don’t have an account), means that I basically have all the time in the world to write whatever it is I want, be it a blog, a novel, a joke or a recipe 🙂

    It all comes down to priorities, and I guess I’m lucky/smart enough that I decided my writing life is a higher priority than anything else. I know I’ll get knocked HERE for saying “even higher than god,” but I find writing my own epic myths more fulfilling a ritual than breaking bread and making omelettes 😉

  9. Catherine Hudson says:

    Another great post, Rachelle. Question – you touched on this in your post, but I was wondering, have you had any success in obtaining a contract with a traditional publisher, that enables the author to retain their right to sell their manuscript as an e-book? I ask because I entered a competition and had a really great response – with report, and the company wishes to see my book again after another edit. My concern is that although they may publish my book and grant me ‘published’ status (which us un-published authors obviously so greatly desire) they are not currently offering their other authors books as e-books. I feel this is a growing market and one I would not like to miss out on as a potential hot-bed for income. What has been your experience with retaining digital rights? (sorry if I have not found an earlier post that answers this 😉

  10. Kevin says:

    I would like to be a full-time writer one day, but one challenge that I’m not sure anyone else has mentioned is location. In the Variety article you mentioned freelancing, which some folks mentioned they did for local magazines or newspapers. Problem is, I live in a very small town where we only have one paper and it’s not in good financial shape. There are some newsletter/press release writing opportunities for local organizations/businesses, but beyond that I don’t see many other options beyond scouring Writer’s Market.

    Another thing I struggle with is isolation. Obviously writing’s a solitary occupation, but outside of the few critique sites I’ve joined (Scribophile, Critters), I really don’t have a chance to get much feedback from other writers. I tried to see if there any local groups already active on MeetUp, but…nothing. The online connections have been very helpful, but I wish I could get more face to face reaction.

  11. I make my living writing full time. Once, I regretted the 2 decades or so during which I didn’t write much of anything. I spent those in business for myself, and, as it turns out, those years of learning how business and marketing work are what now allow me to make a living as a writer.

    Most of us really must love business and writing to do this for a living. Good on you for pointing this out!

  12. Dagny says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Writers need to be aware that writing is only the beginning. Writers these days should be familiar with marketing, promotions, social media, blogging and constantly finding ways to get their stories out. It’s not as simple as sending out a manuscript anymore.

  13. Rosalie Pope says:

    I dream of it, but that is all I do. I began seriously writing about a year ago and fell in love with it after I self published my first book. This whole business is a big learning lesson that I look forward to exploring further. Until I win the lottery though, I will write in my spare time and see where that gets me.

  14. Peter DeHaan says:

    I wonder if any job is truly secure any more. Although writing full-time certainly provides less security than most jobs, at least with writing we can make it be one that we enjoy!

    (In case anyone is wondering, I like my day job too!)

  15. Amanda says:

    I completely agree with taking off the rose colored glasses. As a person who has always had the kinds of jobs that people glamorize (bartender, wine salesperson, event planner, and though not for tons of dough, writer) it always annoys me when people think just because they’ve written a ‘novel’ it should be automatically published. Everything that is a job is hard work and writing is harder than most things because it’s part of you. It took me a long time and a lot of hard work to get every ‘cool’ job I’ve ever had, and if I really want to be writer full time (which I do) it will be no exception!

  16. J.L. Mbewe says:

    Thanks for these posts. My dream is to be able to be a full-time author minus the rose-colored glasses. When we know what we want and what it will take to get there, we can plan accordingly, all awhile keeping our priorities in check.

    inner mantra: “I’m aiming to make a living from doing what I love, and that means treating it like a business. I can still love it, even if it’s a business.”

    YES!

    I’ll just have to see how that will look in this changing industry.

  17. R. G. Nairam says:

    I used to dream about it, but I’ve always pretty much assumed I’d have to do a day job of some kind.

    Now I’m not even sure if I’d like writing for a living–maybe some kind of history or mentoring day job with writing on the side is really how I’ll be happiest.

    I guess I’ll work on finding out!

  18. Cortez Law III says:

    Your writing gift was imparted to you to solve problems for those closest to you.

    When your dominant gift becomes your seed in the lives of others, God guarantees to generously compensate you.

    Christians have to be sure that their writing gifts and talents are the dominant gifts God wants them to use. It may be a gift, but not the dominant gift and hence with the requisite hard work, the compensation will come whether full time or part time/on the side.

    And last but not least, despise not humble or small beginnings.

    Rachelle’s right. Rose colored glasses? Stick a wad of C-4 on ’em and BOOM! Another excellent post.

  19. Sigh. I think I am in too deep already. Where are the temp jobs to get me to the end of the month?

  20. I think the key take-aways here are: always learn; always produce; always innovate; never assume circumstances won’t change.

    I’m embarking on the self-publishing launch later this year, but I work very hard at my day job and I sure as heck wouldn’t ever leave until I had figured out my exact salary was being met, plus the value of the benefits provided, plus about %20 on top of that for simple paranoia!

  21. Joe Pote says:

    I’m loving this series of posts you’re doing, Rachelle!

    I am becoming increasingly aware of just how freeing it is to have the luxury of treating my writing interests as a hobby.

    Thanks!

  22. Renee Blare says:

    Thank you for your solid advice and information. I am a LONG way from the reality of full-time writing but I will remember what you have said.

  23. TNeal says:

    Writing is work. Sometimes fun. Oftentimes not.

    I just took a survey for creatives earlier this week. One of the multiple-choice questions went something like this. Which would be most helpful for you to come to terms with?

    the reality of ambiguous goals
    regularly dealing with failure
    unrealistic expectations

    I kept changing my answer because any and all of them would have been helpful.

  24. Josh C. says:

    Quite a gut-check! These were wonderful posts, thanks for each one.

    Do I want to make a living wage at writing? Absolutely. I can’t imagine a better scenario.

    Do I think it will happen? Not for a while, anyway. I have a two year old daughter that I love to spoil, wife and I considering another, student loan payments, a mortgage, unhealthy addictions to collecting more books than I can possibly read, camping, hunting and fishing, and playing my drums (much to the chagrin of my wife). So, I kind of like my steady paycheck for the time being. Sacrifices could be made to facilitate me quitting the day job, but the level of uncertainty is too great a risk at this point. My plan is to continue to make time to write and build a platform and audience over time so that by the time I take my nose off the grind, I can make some money at it to go with my pension. It’s not as romantic as my most self-indulgent dreams about it, but I think it’s realistic and attainable.

  25. Bret Draven says:

    Honestly, I only write to amuse myself with my own stupidity. And if this stupidity affords me the luxury of an 18-pack of the Rocky Mountains finest libation… Coors Light, or a G-6… it’s really just a wash!

    Besides, we’re all going to be paying for health care in the next few days anyway!

  26. Bob Mayer says:

    I’ve made a living as a writer since my first novel came out in 1991. Any writer who thinks they have it made is doomed. Making the switch from trad to indie in 2011 was key. To give up the known for the unknown wasn’t easy, but it was the smart move. My career continues to evolve, but for the past year, it’s been better than ever. For the truly hard-working and smart writer, it’s the best time ever.

  27. Since I’ve had two books published with Avalon, I get a lot of people asking me questions about writing and publishing. Because I feel so blessed to have had the experience, I also feel compelled to share my knowledge. I always tell people who want to write that the best advice I can give them is to have fun with it. I owe that I can enjoy writing and the whole lengthy process of submitting, revising, editing, and waiting for that final product to show up on the shelf to the fact that it is not my full-time job. If it was my paycheck (and it hurts me to say this, because I want so badly to want to write full-time) I don’t think I would enjoy it as much. I’m a security person at heart. So, I tell myself I have the best of both worlds. And, in my heart I really believe that. There are so many stories to be discovered and shared. I could never find such inspiration in isolation or a sequestered writers’ life. Input from real people in the real world is integral to writing good stories. So, I’m double-blessed and having fun with it!

  28. For me, having a number of streams of income make the writing/editing life work. For example, I’ve been the Editor on a magazine for several years, and though this is a part-time freelance job, I can always count on a monthly assignment. Also, saying yes to freelance opportunities when they come in, even if it means slowing my pace on book writing works. And doing some magazine articles along the way are good for both some pay (usually), some exposure (platform is necessary), and some excellent practice, even if it sometimes means a rewrite of a a piece we thought was pretty perfect (also good to get used to and learn from). Jeff Goins has a great post on this over at http://goinswriter.com/ today. And Alexis Grant is also an excellent source for making your life a writing life (alexisgrant.com).

  29. Stop romanticizing it. Got it!

  30. I’m so glad you posted this — I’ve just started to think about this as I’m about to query with a women’s fiction book BUT I’m also thinking of self-publishing a mystery I’ve written. I have been wondering about non-compete clauses, so I’m glad to get validation that it is something I need to think about! A great post!

  31. Christie says:

    I did dream of the full-time writing life, but always thought it was a “pipe dream.” Now, financial hardship has caused me not only to put that dream back on the table but to seriously look at it as a career and vocation. God gave me a talent, and I need to provide for my family. So I wholeheartedly agree about not romanticizing it. I NEED it to be a business.

  32. Don Weston says:

    I heard a writer once say she was in it to get rich. I knew then that I wasn’t in it to get rich. Knew the reality of the business by then, but I wouldn’t mind bringing in enough royalties to pay some of the bills.
    I hate to write, but I love to write. All of the things that compete for my time–work, volunteer activities (in writers groups), life– compete for my time. So when I go for a week or more not writing, I feel guilty and go through this internal battle of making excuses.
    But when I sit down and start, I can go for four to six hours at a time and I’m having fun. Ideas keep coming and I get in a steady flow of writing that can go for weeks.
    Can I make money at it? Maybe. I had a freelancing gig years ago and made enough to be considered half time.
    What I’ve noticed is there aren’t many paying markets for short stories anymore, and there is a lot of competition for those few paltry dollars.
    For now, I’ll stay with the having fun part of writing, try to do the things that will make me successful, but enjoy the moments when I’m actually writing.
    That’s a pretty good paycheck.

  33. Anna Labno says:

    For me, writing is an art, a form of expression. Feelings drive my writing. I have to be moved when I write. I don’t consider writing as a business. I have a full time day job, so I don’t worry about money–I’m sure it would drive me crazy if I would, and it would affect my writing.

  34. Mira says:

    Rachelle, you left out royalty rates! That’s an essential element to author earnings.

    One of the primary reasons authors have a difficult time making money is the royalty rates publishers offer are extremely low.

    Not all authors want to make writing into a job. But, for those that do, I think it’s important to present all the information.

    Some authors are choosing e-publishing not because they couldn’t break into traditional publishing, but because the royalty rate in e-publishing is 70%, as compared to 17.5% offered by traditional publishing – a terribly low rate that even agents and other industry folks have spoken out against. But publishers remain stubborn and won’t change it.

    When you add to that the ability for e-published authors to change pricing in order to attract a customer base, as well as to publish multiple books very quickly, any author who is really interested in making a livelihood from writing would be well served to look at the e-publishing route as an option.

    I appreciated that you included self-publishing in your first post, Rachelle, but I think it’s really important to talk about it in this post as well.

  35. I’d like to point out some Not So Romantic characters of writing; The William Holden character in “Sun Set Boulevard”. He was a total sleaze with a week backbone. What about gonzo writer Hunter S. Thomson? We all know what happened to him. And William S. Burrough’s “Naked Lunch”? The guy was hooked on drugs. And then there is Showtime’s Hank Moody; looser.

    I love seeing the dark side of writing and I think that this gets romanticized.
    I would not want to sell my soul to be a successful writer. I’m just saying…

  36. I have hit a rhythm the last ten years of working full-time and writing on the side and then taking time off and devoting fulltime to the writing enterprises.

    In that way I have written and self-published my small town church fiction trilogy, focusing on marketing and promotion all through the process.

    Thanks so much for this blog. Invaluable!

  37. Such a great series, Rachelle! And I love those last two paragraphs. I think I’ll always dream of writing full-time, but for now I’m thankful for a day job that allows me enough flexibility to write part-time.

  38. Sue Harrison says:

    I love my life writing full-time as a novelist, but I also loved my 8 to 5 PR writing job before my first novel was published.

    I think the main disadvantage of being self-employed and working at home (and this goes for any such job) is that family and friends have trouble understanding that you are employed and that you need to work to YOUR schedule not THEIRS!

    One of the life skills I’ve only just learned these last few years is to demand writing time even when family members depend on me to take care of them and clean their homes and do their daily chores. My initial inability to demand writing time, even during a very successful writing career, totally side-tracked my writing life for about 6 years. It’s very difficult to recover from something like that.

    I’m a lot tougher now, and my husband has pitched in to really back me up on this. I’m very fortunate!

  39. Yep. I have often thought of being a fulltime writer/artist.

    But so far God has said “No.” So, I will just create art on the side and work fulltime.

    It is hard not to romanticize the writing career, but life and circumstances are GREAT at bringing you back down to reality!

  40. I loved this series, Rachelle, and your gentle way of dispelling the truth. It is so helpful. Good work, friend.

  41. I tried it for a very brief period of time, but didn’t like the fact that I’d have to work 60-hour weeks to make ends meet. I worked overtime too because I didn’t want to turn down ANYTHING…since you never know what the future holds. I think I prefer my full-time job as an editor for now: 40 hours a week and benefits. Hopefully when my husband and I have kids, I can stay home and write on the side (not to earn a living but to earn money for “extras”, etc.). I know that not everyone can do this, and for that I am truly blessed.

  42. Jerry Eicher says:

    These three articles were very good. Thanks.

  43. CG Blake says:

    Excellent post, Rachelle. A writer needs a full-time job with benefits and often must settle for employment in a non-writing field. In those cases the challenge becomes time, not money. That is what I am struggling with now. I could do much more to support my author ambitions, but when you consider a writer must also invest significant time and resources into platform building there is never enough time.

  44. I make my living writing and am self-employed. I am happy to wake up each day and go to work-in my comfy home office. I am very fortunate that my husband’s work provides insurance. I know this work is not for everyone. But I think it’s a great life!

    I read your posts on variety and volume, Rachelle, and it inspired me to write about my own experiences: http://thewritecatch.blogspot.com/2012/03/writing-high-wire.html

  45. Thanks for the consistently valuable information on the publishing industry. I’ve worked with non-compete clauses in my day job but was not aware that publishers had similar clauses.

    Many people have encouraged me to forego traditional publishing in favor of going the e-publishing or self-published route. I keep hearing about publishers wanting the writer to have a platform and to use their advance to promote the book. From the research I’ve been doing it seems like the big reason for going with a traditional publisher is the supply chain. With a non-compete hindering your ability to sell your brand the scales seem to tip in favor of running your writing business without the constraints of a big publisher.

    I find it interesting the changes that are taking place with agents as well. Most agents have moved to electronic queries and e-readers so they can more quickly respond to impatient writers (the longer a writer waits the more attractive that Amazon deal looks). Some agents are stuck in the stone age and will accept only hard copy queries and want 12+ weeks to respond (I can’t imagine that lasting long). Caren Estesen was one of the agents I was looking to query because she was recommended on P&E. It appears that she has changed her business model to being an editor for aspiring authors. Even Kristin Nelson (one of the top on my query list) is offering a DLP to give aspiring authors access to self-publishing channels.

    With Dorchester closing its doors recently I was wondering what you see for the future of publishing. If we want to make a business out of writing we need to look at trends and forecasts. Do you think big publishers are still going to be around in t5-10 years with the same business model? If not then it would be foolish to give them exclusive rights to your work going forward.

    Sorry for the long post.

    -b
    http://brentsbabblings.blogspot.com/

    • Mira says:

      Brent, I absolutely agree. I think many authors are looking at the big picture and coming to the same conclusion.

      One of the dangers of going the traditional publishing route that you didn’t mention is that your e-book royalty rate gets locked into 17.5%, as opposed to the 70% Amazon gives authors.

      Frankly, it does not speak well to the integrity of traditional publishers that many are trying to grab e-book rights retroactively from authors that signed with them prior to e-books.

  46. Beth Browne says:

    Absolutely love this:

    “I’m aiming to make a living from doing what I love, and that means treating it like a business. I can still love it, even if it’s a business.”

    Just printed it out and posted it over my desk for a mantra…

    Thank you!

  47. Really enjoyed your series on making a living out of writing, Rachelle. Maybe I should have read this *before* quitting my day job a couple of weeks ago? 😉

  48. Sharmon says:

    Books, writing, selling, publishing all of these are a business.

    Bottom line is the bottom line. Money.

    Each situation varies, as well as each authors motives.

    All I can speak about is my situation and that is this.
    I write because I have a deep faith that moves me to do so. I really do believe that this is what I am here to do. It isn’t easy money or a gravy train, it’s work. Work worth doing!

    That’s is why I have gotten to this point to begin with. God has lead me here.

    I am a power-stay at home-mom that supports my family with my love, my hands and my heart.

    The same powers that support my writing.

    I work very hard at both!

  49. Else says:

    Health insurance, yes– that is the big one. Writers need to look at this very carefully. Depending on where you live, there may be government-subsidized health insurance or reduced rates available through a writers’ organization.

    But in some areas (mine for example!) the only insurance available to you may start around $1800 a month with a high deductible. And that’s not counting any dependents.

  50. Jeanne T says:

    Rachelle, these posts clearly explain important aspects about the pursuit of being a full-time writer. Thanks so much for posting them. You raise a lot of great points for consideration.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be a full-time writer, able to provide a decent living only via full-time writing. Perhaps I’ll be one who seeks to balance writing because I enjoy it and the business aspects of whatever gets published. Being a mom and wife who stays home, I don’t have a job outside the house right now. I’m thankful my husband can provide income for our family. I enjoy writing, plan to pursue publication when I’m ready, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be a “full-time writer.”

  51. Lori says:

    My dream is to be a full time writer for ME. I already copywrite for a living, but I would LOVE to write nothing but my novels all day long. I realize there is a lot of work in producing a published book. I keep reading about authors who quit their day job to write full time, for themselves. I have to believe that someday I will make it to that point, I haven’t tried yet with my novel. I’m about to take that shaky step forward though. Hoping people love my stuff enough to want to publish it.

  52. I allow myself a little full-time-writer “dream time” each day – it makes me happy, and we all need a little happy. Between the not-so-glamorous freelance assignments and Mommy woes, the challenges are typical, but never large enough to stop me from stashing a smidge of bestseller hope in my pocket.

  53. Rebekkah N. says:

    Luckily, I enjoy what I do, so keeping the day job is no terrible burden. Especially compared to the time I spent working 3 part-time jobs and still trying to write! That’s not something I ever want to repeat, even if I know I can do it. But if I were to quit my job before achieving financial stability, that’s probably just where I’d wind up. Even if you like everybody with whom you work, 3 jobs will run anyone into the gutter with exhaustion. A full-time job is a beautiful, beautiful thing. If I ever did quit, though, I’d want to have at least 1-2 years worth of living expenses saved up, enough to cover costs should a series never pick up.

  54. Thank you, Rachelle. De-romanticizing writing has been my task for the past few months. It was difficult to burst the bubble. I’ve been striving to have a variety of material in the marketplace, as you wrote about yesterday. I LOVE to write fiction, but I’m still trying to break into that market. I’m marketing inspirational articles and selling some. I have a blog. At the same time, I’ve been writing bible-study material for my church for the past seven years for no pay. I spend twenty-five hours a week on it, and the church publishes it.

    An investor offered to supply whatever I need to begin to sell the bible-study material I’ve already written, while I continue to produce for my church. People from other churches are now using it—it’s user-friendly and well-received. My pastor thinks it’s a great idea and is helping me navigate the start-up. Sounds great, logical, and good, right?

    But I had the hardest time thinking it was okay for me to move forward on this, that it was alright to profit from the work I’d done for the Lord (Yes, I know, He’s the one who said not to muzzle the ox when it’s treading out the grain). In my mind, I had thought I’d keep doing this for free. Because I love writing and feel inspired by God as a Christian writer, it seemed as if it would be a tainted offering if I sold it. It was BIBLE study material, for goodness sake. For some reason, I had no qualms about trying to sell the Christian fiction or inspirational articles, which I also felt God had inspired me to write.

    But waiting on the fiction to sell is taking a long time. AND, here’s the kicker, my husband nears retirement. Bills need to be paid.

    I spent a lot of time praying about it and came to the realization that it is entirely pleasing to God to move on this. I have His blessing to do so. He gifts us in many ways—ability to fulfill any occupation is a gift. He builds into each of us an aptitude for our work, no matter our job. We all work to refine the necessary skills for that task.

    Why do we writers so romanticize our particular gifting so that our noble honor gets all wrapped up in this issue? Inspiration is not tangible—we can’t touch it. It’s spiritual and immaterial. That is very special. But it’s just one of many gifts God bestows on human beings. All are valuable. God knows we need to eat. He’s always made provision for His servants to be paid for their work, in one way or another.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Melinda, sounds like you’ve come to a good place in your writing journey. Most of us struggle to find our correct path as you have. I thought it was kind of ironic that you felt uncomfortable charging money for the BIBLE studies… considering the fact that bibles themselves are big business. You probably have several bibles at home, and I doubt you went down the to Christian bookstore and got them for *free.*

      • I know! I’m laughing as I write this. The heart is so illogical sometimes. I do, indeed, own a quantity of BIBLES in multiple translations. I paid cold hard cash for all of them. While I was wrestling my way through this marketing issue, my investor was scratching his head. To him, it was clear as the light of day. God inspired you, you wrote it, it’s useful, it should be available to a wider market, you should be paid. Duh. Our little romantic notions get us all twisted around sometimes, don’t they?

  55. Yes, there are realities that you may not think about when published and receiving royalty checks: when tax time comes, for example, be prepared to fork over a hunk of your earnings! I always set aside an amount to make sure I have enough to pay my taxes once that time comes. If I set aside more than I need for taxes, well good! Then it’s in savings all nestled in!

    On the flip side, I have become much better at keeping documentation of my expenses so I can take that off on my taxes!

    If you can consider it as a business, then you will be able to transition from thoughts of emotion/heart to “business side of things” easier. I went to an office supply store and bought things that made me feel all “businessy” – it does help!

    • Uggg…I hear you on the taxes. Between the day job and freelance 1099’s – I make my accountant cry. There’s a fruit basket in her future. 🙂

      • TNeal says:

        Since my wife has done freelance editing for several years now, I’m already aware of the taxes coming out of her earnings. This past year though, I entered into the fray by self-pubbing. In 2011, that meant the expenses far outweighed the income (which was none, since the book debuted this month). We had money owed, which Ellen groaned at, but the money was set aside already, so I rejoiced.

        Wisdom says to not take those once-in-a-lifetime celebratory trips until after the taxes are paid. 🙂

      • *laughing* crying accountants – oh lawd!

    • Sue Harrison says:

      Speaking of taxes…My accountant informed me years ago that tax regulations do NOT allow writers to deduct research expenses. I did learn that I can deduct expenses for book promotion, so in any of my travels, I try to do book signings, stop in at bookstores and sign stock and even arrange to do talks at local libraries and meet with book groups.

  56. boltoncarley says:

    I love writing and dream that someday I will be a full-time writer. But for now, I have a responsibility to my family to keep a day job and write in my free time. I’ve completed 6 books and blog weekly. That shows commitment in my opinion. However, there’s no question you’re right about the fact that being a writer is not for the faint of heart.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      It’s true – and many writers won’t have the freedom to consider writing full time until the day-to-day responsibility of supporting a family is past.

  57. Angela Brown says:

    It is a dream of mine to make this full-time passion my full-time gig, but I’m also a mother. Caring for my child as best as I possibly can is most important to me.

    I’d love to reach a place where my writing royalties can care for my two-member family better than my current drain – erm – job. But I hold no grand illusions that I’ll be the next J.K. Rowling. Nor do I seek to be Stephenie Meyer. I have my own story ideas and my own style. I accept that whatever success I reach in my pursuit of publishness must come by way of me, little, simple me working hard on something I love.

    It is a daily challenge but a worthwhile one for me. The reality is I may not reach “regular pay status” as a writer so that I can quit my day job. But my passion is worth the try.

  58. Vera Soroka says:

    I think you do have to treat it as a business and learn everything there is to know.
    I would like to do both traditional and self publishing. That is why I’m trying to learn about them both so I know what I’m getting into to.

  59. These contractual “non-competes” are a bigger topic than we can fully cover today. As publishing continues to morph, agents will need to work with publishers to carefully hammer out a non-compete clause that is fair to the publisher and protects their investment, yet doesn’t unfairly impede the author’s ability to profit from their writing. (We’re already trying to do this, with mixed results.)

    This is the key issue going forward in the publishing game. Publishers make an investment in an author and deserve the kind of protection you mention. But not via boilerplate language from the “old days.” Specific provisions, unique to each author’s situation and strategic career plan, need to be worked out, and can be for mutual benefit.

    Publishers need to understand that authors can build readership that will support the contracted books, through, say, shorter works in the same genre. The author can also do off brand work in the E world without hurting the “home brand.” (This is not a different dynamic than an author blogging, which publishers encourage or even demand, with the exception that the author actually has a chance to make money).

  60. I wonder if more prolific authors could publish on the side under a pen name with the non compete clause if they kept it very separate.

  61. carol brill says:

    “we have to stop romanticizing it” is spot on for me. There was a time I thought I wanted to make my living writing, but the truth is, I do not enjoy the business side of writing. Once I realize what “making a living as a writer” really meant, I realized I want to write–be a writer, and that is very different than making a living at writing.

  62. Lisa Buske says:

    I found this very informative and hadn’t even thought of the prospect that there would be a clause determining what I could or couldn’t pubulish after a contract is signed. Can you seek to publish books of another type, submitting first to the publisher you currently work with? Time to do more reserach, thank you.

    Lisa M. Buske
    http://lisabuske.weebly.com

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      It just depends on what you signed! Some publisher contracts prohibit you from publishing anything else until your contract is completed. So be careful what you sign. It’s possible to negotiate a clause that allows you more freedom without harming the publisher’s ability to profit from your book.

  63. Incy Black says:

    Dream about it all the time! I find it helps motivate me and gets me through the rough patches. I’m also realistic enough to know that I won’t be giving up the day job until the kids have left home. And that’s the biggest challenge for me, balancing the need to be brave against the responsibility I owe to family (and that includes time).

  64. Neil Ansell says:

    I have no other income but my writing, and I have to be pretty careful with money. I reckon my annual earnings are about what they would be if I was stacking shelves in a supermarket, though I would hope that as time goes by and I have more books out there this should rise a little. But I don’t really care; I would rather be a poor writer than a rich banker.

  65. After doing a bit of freelancing, I decided it was not for me. I didn’t want to waste my precious writing time with magazine articles. I am grateful that I have a part-time job that pays my health insurance and still gives me enough (is there ever enough?) time to work on my novels.

  66. I remember Magnum P.I. living on the huge estate of his novelist friend, Robin. Moreover, Truman Capote hobnobbed with New York’s elite. Even the poorest of film author’s seemed to eek out a living at their typewriters in a spacious Manhattan loft. Then there is everyone’s go to writer billionaire R.K., who is second only to the queen among wealthy women in the U.K. For every one of these, there are ten thousand wannabes scratching their life’s blood on paper, hoping for a shot at the good life. All a person has to do is string a few hundred pages together and the world is their oyster, right?
    “in order to make a LIVING as a writer, we have to stop romanticizing it.” -BINGO! Far too many times I’ve heard the cinematic words “I finally finished my book!” followed by the pop of champagne. Someone needs to make a realistic movie where the words are followed by the pop of the person’s balloon.
    “You finished? Good for you! How are you going to earn a living for the next year or so while you try and market it? Maybe it will be a huge success and sell fifty thousand copies! What are you going to do with your ten percent of the proceeds? Perhaps you can buy a time share in Robin’s Hawaiian estate? I heard he needs the money since the bankruptcy!”

  67. Dozie Nzewi says:

    Writing everyday could easily become bland and monotonous. Who wants to sit in one place day after day dreaming up things out of duty or necessity. That is tantamount to mind punishment and may begin to impair reality. I would only enjoy writing as a past-time. Writing mostly during bursts of inspiration. Writing is the most solitary occupation on earth except the characters are counted as part of the team. To the writing of books there is no end. This never fails to strike me anytime I am among the shelves of of a library. There is hardly a book I will not want to take home, but who reads them? What a waste of time, effort and resources?
    I see a situation similar to the phenomenon where black kids hope to hit the big time in Hip-hop or sports; or a white kid aspires to be the new rock star. Wanna be writers hoping for the big day! Please forgive me. It is hard to make a living from a past-time. And it may demand full time to achieve excellence. It is hard for any kind of artist to earn a living purely from their art because there is very much being produced of a non-essential product that people can do without. If writing aspirants actually had to show their stuff before a live audience the saturation would have been clearer. For a failed audition certainly hurts more that a rejected query. Then those who work will get paid and those who fail auditioning would not be left with 70000 words of work without pay.
    After sounding the waters a few times I turned my work ‘Business Lessons from the Rainforest’ Wealth Secrets from Nature’ to Smashwords.
    I love and enjoy writing. The plodding work for a tail is not worth the risk for me. Those who hit it big hit it quick in any sport or the arts. Talent is the defining element. A young lady comes up and wins a prize with every book. A teenager matures and breaks the 100m record six times. Unless the prospects are truly promising trying to earn a living in any art form in this age at the expense of a day job is like selling all to join the gold rush,or the black and white kids above.
    Thanks Rachel for these series of common sense posts.

  68. Spot on, Rachelle! Though not the stone cold piece of reality I wanted to hear today, I needed to read this. Thank you!

  69. I love this! So many times, I’ve heard people say–if you’re writing for money that’s the wrong reason. And I agree somewhat. I realize that I need to write because I love it, but I’m also motivated by success and financial stability so I always disagreed in my mind when someone would tell me–don’t try to write for the money. I think this is because it depends on what kind of price tag you’re putting on the writing and what stage you are in. I think it’s okay to have a goal to be successful financially and keep in mind that the success will be defined by many different dollar amounts depending on the writer you ask. I take all of my job as a writer seriously–I write, I promote, and I’m not afraid to push myself to reach that next level of success. And I still love to write.

  70. Simone says:

    As much as I’d like to admit that I’d love to make a living as a full-time writer, reality is, the climate changes daily in the industry. It is something I aspire to and want more than anything.

  71. I began writing in 2005 when I became a journalist for a local newspaper. I dabbed a little in writing before then, but after 2005, I realized it was something I truly wanted to do.

    Sadly, that job fell under the economy crunch and I was let go in 2008. But I still hold that serious writing skill in my heart and soul. In 2007, I had written and self published a children’s book. Shortly after, my family and I created and wrote a screenplay as a fun family project that still hasn’t gotten past my thumb drive.

    I have since started six various other projects including four adult fiction novels and have completed the first of those four just a few weeks ago. I have been searching for a literary agent for this book and after sending out more than 100 queries, I have yet to succeed in getting past those query emails.

    I would love to make a living as a writer and as someone who is currently living on a one income of a little more than minimum wage paycheck, it would not take much at all in royalties to help make my writing a full time career.

    It’s not greed running this dream, it’s the chance to do something I have dreamed for years that’s running it.

    All I need now is just that chance to prove my writing is worthy and hopefully the 9-5 jobs would be history.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      Don’t forget to calculate the cost of taxes and insurance when you’re figuring if you can quit that job!

      • I haven’t had health insurance since 2008. Taxes, well, that goes back to what I originally said. If I am able to raise a family on minimum wage for the past 4 years, and that if I am able to make that much in writing, and not have to lose anything else, then it would definitely be an improvement.

        Anything from this point would be an improvement. The economy slapped my family very hard and we have learned to do without on top of losing quite a bit through the years.

        I see what you’re talking about Ms. Gardner but if I am currently able to do it on a paycheck to paycheck minimum wage income, I would hope that I wouldn’t have to take any more loses in income becoming a full time novelist. Even if I broke even each week, at least I would be doing what I love to do instead of continuing to do what I dread.

        I have the passion to write and if it will pay my bills, then I would have finally accomplished something in my life.

        Not to mention that my wife and I have two teenage sons who are now interested in writing. Although I am not making a living with it, I am finally proud that I am doing something that my children want to do and hopefully be successful with in the future. It’s one of those – “I want to be like my dad” kind of things that I really don’t want to go into details about up here.

        I feel that just selling this fiction novel that I just completed, alone, would make a huge impact in our family’s income crisis. We all are only dreaming of what it would do if I was able to make a living while fulfilling my dream.

  72. Julie-Ann says:

    Thank you for writing these articles Rachelle. I would like to become a full time writer one day but at the moment that isn’t possible as I am the sole breadwinner.

    As a website designer (where one of the things I have to do is write original content), I know that in the future if I do get to be a full time writer, I will have something that can bring in extra money between “pay cheques”.

  73. I am trying to make writing a full-time job, but I’m finding it very difficult. Lately I just feel like I’ve run out of steam: motivation and inspiration.

    • Rachelle Gardner says:

      That’s a big issue for full-time writers: learning to make the muse answer to your schedule, rather than being beholden to whenever the muse feels like striking. Sounds like you might need a change of pace or scenery!

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