Are you a new/novice/aspiring writer? Watch a lot of movies about people who write for a living, and think it looks great? Sit in your pajamas all day! Drink booze/tea/coffee! Be eccentric with pencils in your hair! Sleep in! Do that thing you love, all day, every day! Have all this time for JUST WRITING!
Isn’t that a wonderful dream?
Now I’m going to shatter it.
When my employment situation changed in 2013, I could’ve done something sensible. I could’ve applied to work at the grocery store and stocked shelves. Not very glamorous but it would’ve involved a healthcare plan and drug benefits, a relatively steady–though shitty–paycheck, and all that stuff.
I did not do the sensible thing.
I decided I had enough skills built over the years to do freelance graphic design and editing, and to otherwise write full-time.
(Any full-time freelancers and writers are currently laughing at me upon reading this statement, I know.)
I knew it would be rough. And it was. But it’s been over a year and a half. Let me tell you something…
It’s still rough.
Last year I had a few months where writing paid all my bills/expenses and then some. I was regularly making $1500-$1700 USD a month from one source (to those who have jobs and don’t think that’s a lot—a. DUH, and b. I am used to living in poverty, so that’s a literal fuckton of money to me), the money arrived on time, and it was sweet. Granted, it was mostly for-pay writing projects I hated, but money is money is money.
Just because you make $1700 this month doesn’t mean you’ll make that next month.
There were also months where writing brought in *drumroll*…a big ol’ $100 USD.
November’s US KDP royalties, which I just got? $46 USD.
Are your dreams shattered yet? Because I’m not done!
If you write for a publisher, you are used to getting a royalty check. Hopefully regularly though, again, let me drop another bomb on your, novice writers—regardless of the publisher, advances and royalties are not always on time, so never count on money until it’s in your bank account. (And then? Then you have to make that money LAST because you will not see more of it for several months to come.) But as soon as you’re responsible for this on your own, or you have multiple publishers, that means your money is coming from all kinds of sources all at different times.
If I make $1000 this month on Amazon, I will not see that money for another sixty days after the end of the month. I might have also made $500 on Smashwords, but I will not see that money until thirty days after the end of the quarter. All Romance eBooks? Forty-five days after the end of the quarter. Kobo? They wait until I’ve made $100, then it’s 45 days after the month.
My income, even when I have a good sales month, is spread between four to five different sources (and this is just writing income, not freelance, where I have a half dozen clients at any given time), who all pay at different times, and I don’t see that money until months after the books have sold. Sometimes they’re late. Sometimes payment comes to PayPal on a holiday and that potential “seven business days” to clear the money into my bank account takes like two weeks.
This means that I can have $6 in my bank account, despite technically making enough this month to live on.
There are many things you can do to help raise the odds of money being regular. The first is to produce and release work regularly. That is not a guarantee, however. Some months are inexplicably better than others. Some releases do exceptionally well; others, ones you’ve spend hundreds of hours on with your fingers crossed that it’ll be worth it, completely tank. You can sell thirty books today and three books tomorrow and three hundred the day after; it’s impossible to predict.
That’s why, when I do have a good month, I squirrel that money away because later in the year I know I’m going to hit a rough patch. At least once a week, I double check my bank account, sales reports, and spreadsheets to see what I’m owed when and do math to figure out how all my bills are going to be paid for the next quarter and where I’ll need to pick up extra income. I never stop calculating.
Most of the full-time writers I know have spouses, someone with a regular income to balance out the sporadic nature of writer’s royalties. (I don’t. Which is why I’m in a blind panic most months, as my second income, from freelancing, is just as unpredictable.)
Also, remember that thing I mentioned above about how the sensible thing would’ve been to get a normal job? Because health benefits?
Unless you buy your own insurance or are covered by a spouse’s, yep, full-time writers have a hard time there too. I have an autoimmune disease now, and if I’d known in 2013 that it would’ve developed, I would have applied for the normal job. I pay for medication out of pocket now. It’s coming out of my monthly grocery money. This is not a fun thing.
And dental? My cavity-ridden, decayed, broken molar finally just…fell out a few months ago. Just boom, out it went. Now I have a sore, sensitive spot there that probably should be looked at, but unless I rob a bank, I’m not going to a dentist—not on this writer’s income.
So how’s that dream looking now?
Despite all this, there are many things I’m grateful for. I like working from home so I can spend time with my pets. I like getting to avoid interacting with the public as I’m less likely to pick up illnesses. I like setting my own schedule so I can go to the doctor’s and for tests with relative ease. I like being barefoot and wearing pajama bottoms all the time instead of real clothes.
But having worked as a writer with a full-time job and with writing as my basically-full-time job, let me tell you the one thing that hasn’t changed is the writing.
I still have the same amount of time to write. I still produce the same number of books. If you have a job outside of the home and have trouble finishing books, you are not going to have any more luck when all your time is devoted to writing because prioritizing writing is the same no matter what.
So while you’re daydreaming about the glamour of full-time writing, pause and ask yourself these things.
- Do you like money?
- Do you like going to the dentist when your teeth hurt?
- Do you like knowing you can afford groceries next month?
If the answers to the above are “um, yes”…maybe don’t be too eager to quit your day job.