Welcome to part three of The Only Thing, our series on the process of becoming a full-time children’s author. You can read the first post here, and if you have questions, feel free to ask using the form at the bottom of the page! We’ll be sure to cover all questions in future posts.
“The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn’t require any.” ~Russell Baker
Five years or five books. For some reason, that’s the most frequent answer I’ve seen in response to the question, “when is it safe for me to quit my day job and become a full-time author?”
Five years of consistent sales, or five books on which you have earned out your advance and are receiving royalties. It certainly seems like sound advice, and I’m not saying it isn’t…but I think there’s more than one answer to this particular question. And actually, the question itself is kind of flawed.
When is it safe to quit your job and start writing full-time? Never. It’s never safe. Anytime you leave one career and enter another, you relinquish, at least temporarily, your job security. There’s no magic time, no magic number, that will guarantee your smooth, successful transition into a life where you rely on writing books for your income. When and how you take the leap depends on your current job and financial situation, your book sales, and most importantly, your leap-to-comfort ratio.
Why do you have a day job?
That might seem like a ridiculous question, but answer it. Is it what’s paying 100% of your bills right now? Is it mostly for the health insurance and benefits? Is it for the structure, or because you’re in a rut, or because you thought it’s what you were “supposed” to do with your life?
Several of the OneFours had a great discussion on this last month. A few of them mentioned that being able to afford quitting their jobs wasn’t the problem – it was that they needed the structure the day job provided. Setting your own hours and holding yourself accountable sounds like a dream to most people, but it’s not always ideal. One author said she went from full-time to part-time at her job, and her weekly word counts didn’t change.
That’s normal, and it can happen for a few reasons. If your job is particularly demanding and you step away from it, you might find yourself giving more time to other worthy areas of your life – family, for one thing. And there’s nothing wrong with that. (Actually, there’s a lot right with that.) But sometimes it really is just a matter of not knowing how to handle this strange new freedom. This happened to me during my career transition. While the first several years of teaching were insanely busy, the last year was fairly light – about 35 to 40 hours a week – and I wrote my first book in five months. Then I quit teaching, and the next book somehow took twice as long to write.
Testing the waters
Figuring out how to structure your writing time is a topic for another post. But if want to quit your day job, it’s important to start thinking about it now. Yes, you can sleep in and write in bed in your pajamas if you want. Or you can check out what’s on Netflix. Or clean the house. Or tweet about how you’re watching Netflix while cleaning the house. How much self-discipline do you have?
One way to find out might be trying a leave of absence from your job. Or, if you’re particularly gung-ho, take your next week-long vacation and treat it as a week trial of being a full-time author. Not everyone will have this luxury, of course. But even dipping your pinky toe in the waters will help. Have a day off? Write. Write all day. Do it at your desk, or in bed, or at the beach – anywhere you like, just try it. Because…
Full-time might be too much
Some writers can pound at the keys for eight hours. For others, a two-hour session is more than enough for one day. And there’s nothing wrong with that…but keep in mind, if you want to go full-time, it’s pretty likely you’re going to have to up your daily word count. Can you?
There’s nothing wrong with answering, “no.” Everyone’s creative process is different. You might be the type who writes a few hundred words over the course of three hours, then needs to step away for a day to mull over it, forward the story along in your mind, figure out where you’re going. Nothing wrong with that. But it brings us to the next thing you’ll have to consider when it comes to going full-time.
How much do I need to write to live off my books?
Again, this is a whole different set of calculations for every writer. And in all honesty, there’s really no way to come up with a definite answer. (Remember, it’s never safe.) The publishing industry is unpredictable at the best of times – but you can start answering a few questions to help give yourself an idea of what writing books for a full-time income will mean for you.
~How long does it typically take your editor to give you notes? How intense do they tend to be? How many revisions do you go through?
~What’s your average advance?
~Have you earned out that advance and begun receiving royalties?
~What percentage of your total bills are covered by your books right now?
~How much do you need to earn annually? Are you willing to scale back?
So…clearly the answers to those questions can fluctuate greatly, and are very likely out of your control. This is where the five year or five books advice comes into play – it can take that long, or that many books, to come up with a solid average that’s as reliable as things get in the publishing world.
And once you come up with an answer, you might very well say…screw this, I’m going for it anyway.
Your leap-to-comfort ratio
You can do this gradually, staying at your day job while you publish a few more books, transitioning to part-time, then leaving your job once you feel safe enough relying on your writing income. You can quit your job right now and starting writing your very first book and researching which literary agents would be best for you to query. Those are the two extremes, and there’s a whole lotta middle. When you choose to take your leap – and how big of a leap you make it – is up to you.
The thing to remember is that it will be a risk. Maybe a big one, maybe a small one, but a risk nonetheless. I like risks, personally…but if you don’t, here’s another way to think about it, courtesy of my friend and fellow author Emery Lord:
You aren’t taking a risk. You’re investing in yourself.
We’re taking questions! If you’re curious about the process of becoming a full-time children’s author, feel free to ask away in the form below, and we’ll address your question in a future post.