Okay, let’s get this out of the way: lots of authors don’t quit their day jobs! This means that authors divide their time between their career and writing. But...why? Why would I keep a job when I want to write all day? Read on for why authors keep their jobs and when authors can actually write full time. Plus, should you write full time?
The publishing industry is fickle and volatile and dependent on market trends. Remember when YA dystopian was the thing to write? Or, before that, paranormal romances, especially with vampires and werewolves? Trends change and topics go dormant. Currently, there’s a boom in the YA retelling genre, but like dystopian and vampire fiction, this trend will fizzle out. Depending on the publishing industry for income is difficult and risky because of its ever-changing nature.
On the other hand, having a job can provide security, a way to make savings—and more important for the United States, healthcare. Jobs can also provide a sense of routine and accomplishment. Maybe you aren't done with your draft yet, but at least you got that report in on time (she says, having never worked in an office before).
But let’s say you are a full time author, what does the pay look like? Well, when a books sells, a publisher offers an advance to the author, or a lum sum of money. These advances can be anywhere from $2.5K to six figures, depending on 1) the prestige of the author, 2) the interest the publisher has in the book, and 3) how likely the publisher thinks they can sell lots of copies. If you are lucky to receive a six-figure advance, you still have to pay taxes on it. And you have to pay your agent. And you’ll most likely be given your advance in stages.
Publishing is a slow industry, so trying to subsist from advances is not only unpredictable, but unlivable... unless?
But how can you become a full-time author? Here’s our advice:
Write Good (Great!) Books
They say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. Put in the work. Write books you love and edit them. Make them better and send them to beta readers. Go query agents, then editors and get yourself a book deal! But none of this can happen if you don’t write great books. This is your sign to keep writing.
Find a Job That Supports You.
Since most authors can’t live off advances alone, consistent income can be helpful. Easier said than done, right? Once you have that job, you can start savings (retirement?!), and write in your free time. Some jobs that Steve Gillman mentions in his article, Jobs That Leave You Time to Write, are part-time or let you sit in front of a computer. There’s also the possibility of remote jobs, and these would remove commute times and free up a bit of your schedule.
Write for a Company.
If you can stand to write anything other than fiction, it will be more steady (or profitable) as a career. It’s sad, I know. Unfortunately, there are no companies that hire droves of authors to write books for them (however, there are a few opportunities writing for companies like Disney with established franchises, or ghost writing).
What is there to write that isn’t fiction? There’s copy-writing (a type of marketing), blogging for yourself or a company, content writers for magazines and newspapers, journalism (this could require a bachelor’s degree), and others. Do some research and see if you can find one that suits you!
What About Self-Publishing?
Yes, what about self-publishing? Self-publishing is when you publish your own work for consumers to purchase. A lot of self-published or indie authors publish through Amazon’s service. Certain genres of self-published books sell well like romance, sci-fi, and fantasy.
Through this route, an author has total creative control over their book, the price, and the release schedule. Sounds good, right? However, this takes a lot of work and upfront financial investment. This includes editing, formatting, marketing, purchasing DOIs, etc. It’s like running a small business. An author also needs time to build an audience, and you can’t predict how your books will sell. If you have a few thousand dollars and the time to spare, I’d say go for it!
I’m not one to discourage you from your dreams of writing full time. I have that dream. But I also know that writing is a long game and I will need security in my life. So, I’m going to get a job that I don’t hate and write in my free time. Eventually, I will have projects that I query to agents, but the rest is out of my hands.
Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground, and keep dreaming that full time author dream. I know I will.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.