Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I am frequently asked how much I make at writing. It’s astounding and peculiar if you think about it. No one has ever publicly asked my husband, “So, I.T., yeah? You make pretty good money at that? About how much?” Never. Who would do that? But, writers are asked all the time. ALL the time.

Everyone is super secretive about it too. But, I don’t mind telling you, I have one book in print. I anticipate making less than I spend buying books and attending conferences. There you have it, folks. The only thing that’s changed since my debut arrived in print last month is that I can write off my books and conferences at the end of the year now. In that way, I’m making out. I would have bought the books and attended the conferences with or without being published, so there a HUGE score for me. But, do I/ will “make money” at it? No. Probably not in the way you’re hoping.

At every conference with aspiring authors, I’m asked how much I make. I’m also asked at church, bookstores, kids’ birthday parties. It’s early for me, I’m only getting started and who knows what will come, but based on my experience and research, this is not a career. Compared to my favorite big publishing house authors? Not even close. I’m not even on the same planet as them.

Here are some things to consider: Will you get an advance? Did I? No. I didn’t. I work with small presses right now and they don’t offer advances. Some medium sized presses will. Larger presses vary in their advance. *Which I want to add is becoming more and more common. Average advances are shrinking for new authors across the board as the industry continues to change. Don’t be offended if you aren’t offered one or if it’s smaller than you expected, be thankful for the opportunity. Be thankful for every opportunity. OK, so who pays for my marketing? Me. Who does outreach/publicity leg work? Contacts libraries, bookstores, newspapers, local television, creates organizes and executes blog tours, book trailers, orders book marks, magnets, business cards, raffle baskets, pays for conferences, gas, travel, lodging, writes, edits, plots, tweets, tirelessly? Me. Me. Me. Me. You get it. Me. Per hour I make about…..well in truth I’m making a colossal negative income – but I enjoy this life and would do it regardless, plus I’m not finished yet. I have plan to move up the ladder. AND I have an income supporting my family already. *Thank you patient/supportive/awesomepants Husband of mine* I could not do this otherwise.

A couple points to ponder:

1. I think the biggest mistake authors make is thinking they’ll get rich or join the handful of career authors in this country. It’s good to hope. Hey, I have that hope too, but it’s like making the Olympic team, so don’t quit your day job until you know you made the team.

2. Even if you get a fat advance, don’t spend it. Don’t put half down on a dream house and buy a new car and take a vacation. There’s no guarantee you’ll EVER get another advance, or not one that size. Think about that a minute. What if you get a $10,000 advance? WOW. How about $25,000 or $100,000? So what? I live in the most affordable place in the country I think, rural Ohio is light on taxes, low cost of living and my needs are few. But, let me tell you $100 grand wouldn’t get me super-far. Really think about that number. How long can you or your family live on that? Be truthful to yourself. Not the rest of your life. Not ten years. Not five.

3. One advance does not a career author make.

4. *IF* you’re lucky enough to land any advance, save it. Stash it and hold on to it until you need it. Consider it a whopping benefit of your writing, but until your income is steady, predictable and reliable, don’t pin your hopes on the writing bubble. You do know what happens to a bubble with a pin in it, right?

5. SO, my advice: Writing is a calling. If you know this is the life for you, GO FOR IT! CLAIM IT! Not everyone can do this. Grab a hold and don’t let go. But, don’t squander your current career, risk your savings, your home, your family to chase your dream. That’s just silly and in the end you’ll likely have nothing to show for the stoopid move.

Final thought? Jerry Springer style: Do writers make a lot of money??? No. Not usually. Can you make a living at it? Maybe, but until you can count on it, don’t.

7 comments to Don’t Quit Your Day Job

  • Thank you for this, Julie. I would never have asked the question, but the information is useful. :)

  • Love this post. (Found you on Twitter, by the way). A few of my friends are some of the *lucky ones*, however I think they’re also the smart ones as they’re staying put in their current jobs until their new 2nd/3rd book schedules force them to step away from a traditional job. Money doesn’t stretch very far these days. I live in one of the most expensive parts of the country, Southern California, and…yeesh, as grand as $100K sounds–it wouldn’t get us very far. (a couple tanks of gas at this point–ha!!)

    Anyway, again–I ♥ this post!

  • Ashlee Mallory

    Great story! Always good to have someone put things in perspective. Maybe by the time we’ve hit our 200th (published) book we’ll be able to quit our day job!

  • Fun post – love the title. I’ve hear that, “writing is a calling” before & I always second-guess myself every time I see it, just to make sure I’m not crazy. I’m nervous as heck about admitting I’m writing, but any moment I am not writing… I’m writing. One thing or another, I mean, not whether “writing” happens. It’s a relief to give into the pull and just do it!

  • I love this! I love your candor and your honesty! Thank you!!!

  • Excellent post! I write because the people in my head make me – any profit would be an unexpected blessing!

  • [...] Persistence is necessary for success in the publishing industry. Gina Conroy vows to persist until she succeeds; Jody Hedlund explains how to cling to hope when insecurities taunt us; Jill Kemerer urges us to always dream; but Julie A. Lindsey advises not to quit your day job prematurely. [...]

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