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Thread: Writing as a Career

  1. #1
    Aurora Clairmont AuroClair's Avatar
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    Writing as a Career

    What kind of monetary success can lead into career sustainability in the world of novel writing? (for me specifically it is adult novels) I would love to have a goal to write full time and not worry about a day job.

    What are the ingredients for reaching that goal? For me, for anyone..

    I don't mean about working hard etc. etc. refine your craft etc. etc. I know. I meant on the sales side, assuming you are published and have several books out and working on more.

    Thoughts? Suggestions? Go!

  2. #2
    (Full time working, publishing many books.)

    Your work has to be very good and very popular. You have to produce a lot and your agent/publisher that you continually can write good stuff.
    Last edited by Pushingfordream; 12-21-2013 at 11:48 AM.

  3. #3
    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
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    You need to have enough books on your backlist that continue to sell modestly-well years after release to pay your living expenses.

    As for actual numbers, it depends on how many books you're continuing to sell, what you make per book sold, and how much you need to live on.

    I've heard authors (very) roughly make 50 cents to a dollar per book, but there are people around AW who can give you a more exact answer than that, I'm sure. From there, you can do the math, based on how much you need to live on. Also, don't forget things like taxes, health care, and saving for retirement or emergencies.
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    crazy mean SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Unless I've misread your question, I'm not sure that anyone can answer it for you: how much money you need to live on depends on your circumstances.

    An agent-friend of mine advises her author-clients to not even think about quitting their day-jobs until they've got at least five books published, and a certain level of sales for each of those books.

    Most writers earn from sources other than book sales: talking at conferences, providing critiques, writing articles and so on; and all that subsidiary income isn't going to materialise until you have several books out there on the shelves, and an established reputation.

  5. #5
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    Write a New York Times Best-Seller? Seriously though, just keep writing and aim big. Lee Child was fired from his job, and as a last ditch effort he decided to write FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE, composing only ONE draft of what would become his Best-Selling Jack Reacher series. 17+ novels later, he's a major success. Of course the odds of that happening are unlikely but if he could do it, it's not outside the realm of possibility anyone could. No one can give you the recipe for success, you just have to do your best and grab at what you want with all your might.

  6. #6
    The cake is a lie. But still cake. shaldna's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuroClair View Post
    What kind of monetary success can lead into career sustainability in the world of novel writing? (for me specifically it is adult novels) I would love to have a goal to write full time and not worry about a day job.

    What are the ingredients for reaching that goal? For me, for anyone..

    I don't mean about working hard etc. etc. refine your craft etc. etc. I know. I meant on the sales side, assuming you are published and have several books out and working on more.

    Thoughts? Suggestions? Go!
    Writing is like any other job. You want to be making enough doing it before you quit your day job. For some people this comes from a single million dollar sale, but for by far the majority of writers it takes several books and a lot of graft before they reach that point.

    Most authors won't earn much more than their advance, and with average advances for first and genre novels being around the 5- 10k mark, that's not a lot of money for what amounts to a year or two of writing work.




    Quote Originally Posted by DeadCities View Post
    Write a New York Times Best-Seller? Seriously though, just keep writing and aim big. Lee Child was fired from his job, and as a last ditch effort he decided to write FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE, composing only ONE draft of what would become his Best-Selling Jack Reacher series. 17+ novels later, he's a major success. Of course the odds of that happening are unlikely but if he could do it, it's not outside the realm of possibility anyone could. No one can give you the recipe for success, you just have to do your best and grab at what you want with all your might.
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  7. #7
    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    Agent Chip MacGregor has a lot of great advice about treating your writing as a business. If you go through his archives, you'll find a lot of his posts along the same lines.
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    Ooo! Shiny new cover! Absolute Sage Cathy C's Avatar
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    What do you consider the minimum you want to live on? $30K a year? $100K? $500K? I make about $30-$50K a year writing. But I still work a day job. Why? Because the regularity of the money doesn't really work for bills that have to be paid monthly. But once I break the $100K mark, I hope to have enough in the bank that I can dole out the money monthly after taxes are paid. Publishers don't take out taxes, BTW. That reduces each check pretty dramatically.
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  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeadCities View Post
    Write a New York Times Best-Seller?
    ... this or something similar. You've gotta write books that sell like hotcakes. Several hundred thousand at minimum, which usually requires a contract with one of the big six. Few achieve that. But a few is still a few. G'luck in joining their ranks. I abandoned that hope long ago. All I want is a book on the shelves. Even if it just makes me a dollar I would be very glad ! :-)

  10. #10
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    In my life, I've been friends or on good terms with many a popular SF/F author. The vast majority of them never quit their day job for various reasons: Health insurance and steady income (royalty checks are twice a year, if they arrive on time and you never know what you're getting 'til you've gotten it) have been the big reasons.

    Of those I've known who did quit the day jobs, most of them waited about 10 years, until their work was popular enough to sell well. As often as not, these people went back to work at times when the sales dropped. I know a few authors who quit when their first advance check came in and life often got hard for them more often than those I know who waited or never gave up the day job.

    There's very few authors I know who haven't had to go back to the day job, but that's usually (not always, but usually) because they have a spouse who can pick up the slack when sales slip.

    Writing is like any other commissions-based salary. You're not in full control of how much is coming in, and not always when it's coming in. You've got to be able to handle money extremely well (IMO) to make that work well.

    It really depends on your living situation, how many people you're supporting on this income, and how good you are budgeting/saving money as much as how popular your work is. Only you can decide.
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  11. #11
    phoenix blazing Parametric's Avatar
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    It's much easier to earn some money from writing than it is to earn enough to reliably support yourself and any family indefinitely.

  12. #12
    The force is strong in this one. williemeikle's Avatar
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    I'm not with one of the big six, but I went full time 6 years ago.

    I gave up my job, sold up house in the UK, and moved to Newfoundland where we could buy a house outright, be mortgage free, live a quieter, less cash intensive life and I could write full time. It's not for everybody, granted, but I love it here, and so does my wife.

    I make a living. Not a great living, but a living, mainly through a combination of sales to the high end genre presses who do luxury limited editions, sales of ebooks, and story sales to the pro markets.

    Here's to another year in 2014 of not starving.



  13. #13
    Toughen up. gothicangel's Avatar
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    For many people the idea of writing for a living is an escape fantasy, rather than dealing with the reality that they aren't happy with their day job, and doing something about it. Heck, that was me in my twenties. As I've started building a career outside of writing, the less I've driven myself to frustration over my writing.

    Don't put everything on one roll of the dice. Only the top 1% can quit the day job, and many bestsellers still have day jobs.
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  14. #14
    Whatever I did, I didn't do it. Phaeal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cathy C View Post
    Publishers don't take out taxes, BTW. That reduces each check pretty dramatically.
    Because of this, any check I receive goes into a savings account until AFTER I've paid taxes on it. My living money comes from the day job, as do excellent family health insurance and pension/retirement plans.

    Good health insurance and retirement plans alone would keep me in my day job. How much would it take for me to quit? Let's put it this way: I'd have to make my agent filthy rich first.

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  15. #15
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    One right novel can make you a mulch-millonaire. Fifty wrong novels won't make you any better off than working at a convenience store.

    No matter how or what any other writer does, or how well or how poorly any other novels perform, each new writer is a unique situation. You may not be able to write enough novels to earn a living, or your first novel may earn you enough to retire on.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    ... this or something similar. You've gotta write books that sell like hotcakes. Several hundred thousand at minimum, which usually requires a contract with one of the big six. Few achieve that. But a few is still a few. G'luck in joining their ranks. I abandoned that hope long ago. All I want is a book on the shelves. Even if it just makes me a dollar I would be very glad ! :-)
    Who are the big six? (which publishers?)

  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pushingfordream View Post
    Who are the big six? (which publishers?)
    .... Penguin; Simon & Schuster; Harper Collins; Random House and, err. Hmm, not sure about the other two

    Not to say you can't make big bucks with other publishers. These are just the primary ones. And of course if you sign on with one you're not an instant success either. But it's a good, auspicious place to be. Sorta like the major leagues.

  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW Sargentodiaz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DeleyanLee View Post
    In my life, I've been friends or on good terms with many a popular SF/F author. The vast majority of them never quit their day job for various reasons: Health insurance and steady income (royalty checks are twice a year, if they arrive on time and you never know what you're getting 'til you've gotten it) have been the big reasons.

    Of those I've known who did quit the day jobs, most of them waited about 10 years, until their work was popular enough to sell well. As often as not, these people went back to work at times when the sales dropped. I know a few authors who quit when their first advance check came in and life often got hard for them more often than those I know who waited or never gave up the day job.

    There's very few authors I know who haven't had to go back to the day job, but that's usually (not always, but usually) because they have a spouse who can pick up the slack when sales slip.

    Writing is like any other commissions-based salary. You're not in full control of how much is coming in, and not always when it's coming in. You've got to be able to handle money extremely well (IMO) to make that work well.

    It really depends on your living situation, how many people you're supporting on this income, and how good you are budgeting/saving money as much as how popular your work is. Only you can decide.
    Along those lines - Isaac Asimov a hugely popular author continued to be a professor at a university and also wrote lots of non-fiction works.
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  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by Ken View Post
    .... Penguin; Simon & Schuster; Harper Collins; Random House and, err. Hmm, not sure about the other two
    Hachette and Macmillan. But since Random House and Penguin merged to Random Penguin, it's probably the Big Five now.

  20. #20
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister SuperModerator Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pushingfordream View Post
    Who are the big six? (which publishers?)
    It's the Big 5 now, because Random Penguin (i.e. Penguin Random).

    There's an FAQ about that.

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  21. #21
    Wordsmith and shoechick alexaherself's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AuroClair View Post
    I would love to have a goal to write full time and not worry about a day job.
    Quote Originally Posted by AuroClair View Post
    Thoughts? Suggestions?
    Please don't take me the wrong way, or think me terribly pedantic, but it's my impression that most people who write novels full-time, as you specified, would say that writing is their day-job. They're mostly self-employed rather than "working for someone else", of course, but those successful enough to live on it do tend to treat it very much as a "job". Was it Faulkner who (first) said that he wrote only when inspired, but that he made it his business to be inspired at nine o'clock every morning?

  22. #22
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Big (US) Five Publishers.

    Be aware that each of these has multiple imprints that deal with fiction, and some might even have more than one imprint within your preferred genre.

    There are also a number of smaller presses that still do pretty well with sales in specific genres (Harlequin press and its subsidiaries would be an example, but they're owned by a Canadian newspaper company called Torstar, I believe) and some that have been acquired by a big 5 but which operate somewhat independently.

    It makes my head hurt, actually.

    An author who talks sometimes about the issues and concerns associated with switching to being a full time writer is Chuck Wendig. I find his blog very informative about a lot of issues, as well as very amusing.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 12-22-2013 at 05:18 AM.
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by williemeikle View Post
    ...where we could buy a house outright, be mortgage free, live a quieter, less cash intensive life and I could write full time.
    This.


    And this:

    Writing is like any other commissions-based salary. You're not in full control of how much is coming in, and not always when it's coming in. You've got to be able to handle money extremely well (IMO) to make that work well.

    It really depends on your living situation, how many people you're supporting on this income, and how good you are budgeting/saving money as much as how popular your work is. Only you can decide.

  24. #24
    Benefactor Member WeaselFire's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cathy C View Post
    Because the regularity of the money doesn't really work for bills that have to be paid monthly.
    This is the life of any freelancer.

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  25. #25
    Runs With Scissors RedWombat's Avatar
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    Honestly, it's REALLY hard to quantify. There's too many factors. Me, I've got ten kid's books, a comic, and some other small projects out right now and I make a good living, by my personal standards, right this minute at it. But my personal standards were defined by growing up very poor and by being an artist for many years...and ask me again in five years when the series has finished and sales have tapered off. A lot of this is feast or famine.

    Also, I live in a fairly average part of the country, cost of living wise. If I lived in San Francisco or New York City, I'd be poor. If I moved to Upper Peninsula Michigan, where property values are about 30% of the rest of the country, I could buy a house with a single royalty check and be comparatively well off, assuming I wasn't bothered by 200+ inches of snow a year.

    And I have a spouse with health insurance and a steady job--our finances are separate, but without that health insurance, things would be scarier. But that whole equation, traditionally a very powerful factor in authors keeping day jobs, may be upended when the Affordable Care Act finishes roll out. So what's true this minute may not be true a year from now.

    So...where do you want to live? How much ramen are you okay with eating? Do you have someone to share expenses with? Are you trying to put a kid through college? Are you disciplined enough to squirrel away your advance and not go buy a TV as big as a refrigerator? Any expensive medical conditions? Do you have someone who can catch you if you fail?

    Perhaps most importantly, how unhappy are you with uncertainty?

    Now, me, I'd get to the point where you're getting regular checks sufficient to live on, have contracts lined up, and a solid nest egg, before I decided to take the plunge. (But I hate uncertainty!)

    Overall, yes, it's doable, in the right fields, but it's not gonna happen on one book unless you're blindingly talented and blindingly lucky.

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