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View Full Version : Is Becoming A Novelist A Viable Career Goal?



ATV0121
05-05-2009, 09:27 AM
I am a year away from graduating from college. This is horrifying. I don't know what I want to be except I know I love to write and that I have three working novels, one of which is up to a suitable amount of words to represent a legitimate WIP. Certainly there are other things I'd consider doing - journalism, press secretary of some sort, work at a publishing house, maybe PR or advertising for the right company - but none of these comes close to appealing to me like just being a stay at home person (eventually dad) and writing books would. Do those of you who have been published live just off of these publications or am I in a fantasy world with these thoughts? I am suddenly in a bit of an early-20s crisis.

geardrops
05-05-2009, 09:46 AM
Here (http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller) is the royalty statement of a New York Times Bestselling Author.

rugcat
05-05-2009, 09:52 AM
Here (http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller) is the royalty statement of a New York Times Bestselling Author.Well, she makes more than I do, that's for sure.

Q. I'm a musician. How realistic is it to expect to make a living at it?

A. Depends on how good you are. But it really depends on how many people buy your tunes and come to your shows.

bettielee
05-05-2009, 10:22 AM
You gotta write for love, not money. And you gotta love what you write. If I ever make a dime or earn a single fan, that will be pure chocolate syrup on top of the double dip of chocolate/peanut butter cup ice cream already in the waffle cone bowl.

Now marriage... you gotta marry for money....

mlhernandez
05-05-2009, 11:40 AM
Now marriage... you gotta marry for money....

I know this is tongue in cheek, but it's the reality of my situation. DH earns a fairly good salary, not six figures or anything but plenty for us. We don't live lavishly and are content with the simplest of things so the money I earn from writing is more than enough to give us a nice cushion for savings, traveling, and the birth of our daughter in a few months. It's all about priorities.

Izz
05-05-2009, 02:42 PM
Here (http://www.genreality.net/the-reality-of-a-times-bestseller) is the royalty statement of a New York Times Bestselling Author.But did you know that this author has published 42 titles since 2000 under 8 pseudonyms? Read this (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/04/sales-statistics-new-york-times.html)

So yes, it is possible to make a living as a novelist. But it really depends on a couple things: a) you have to have a very good grasp of your craft (and that's not just how to construct sentences, but how to construct stories) and b) you must be prolific.

By the author's own admission in the comments section of the link that dempsey provided, her family isn't rich, but they have provided for their childrens college education already. And churning out 42 books in less than 9 years is almost superhuman. I'm picking she knows her craft so well she doesn't have to do much to her first draft to make it publishable.

And, to be honest, the royalties she made on that book--though that money was covered by her advance--would give me enough to live for a couple years (but i'm very good at being cheap and enjoy frugality).

Diana Hignutt
05-05-2009, 02:46 PM
Depends how well you write, how quickly you can pick up a fabulous agent, how well your agent does her job, how much money your publisher puts out in marketing, how well your first book sells, how well your second book sells...

Short answer: Sure, rock star is a viable career goal, too...but only for a select few.

However, becoming a writer (i.e. not just a novelist) is definitely a viable career goal.

IMHO.

Momento Mori
05-05-2009, 03:09 PM
ATV0121:
Certainly there are other things I'd consider doing - journalism, press secretary of some sort, work at a publishing house, maybe PR or advertising for the right company - but none of these comes close to appealing to me like just being a stay at home person (eventually dad) and writing books would.

Okay, this is going to sound a little harsh and negative but I'm only saying this to try and give you a sense of perspective about this.

You currently have 3 novels in various stages of production. You don't say how close you are to having any of those in a state ready to go out on submission to agents, so I'll make a conservative estimate and assume you're about a year away from having something ready to go out.

On that basis, you start querying in May 2010. You could hit the jackpot on your first attempt and secure the agent of your dreams. Alternatively, you could be stuck on the query, partial, full rinse and repeat cycle for anything up to a year/18 months before you get an offer of representation. You could even get to the end of your query list and not have secured an agent, in which case you'll have to start again with your next book.

But let's be conservative here, say that after 12 months of querying you get an agent. That takes us to May 2011.

Now your agent loves your manuscript but has some notes on changes that have to be made before they're prepared to send it out to editors. It takes you, say, 2 months to make those changes and get a manuscript in a shape that the agent is happy to submit.

We're now in July 2011.

The manuscript goes out to a bunch of editors. A couple make encouraging noises, some of them auto-reject it for whatever reason (not right for their lists, they've already got a similar concept etc etc). Unfortunately, no one making encouraging noises loves it enough for your agent to decide that it would be worthwhile putting it to auction. So instead you wait for each of those editors to run it past their marketing bods and editorial boards. This takes, say, another 6 months.

You're now in January 2012.

One of the editors has decided to buy your manuscript. Your agent then begins the negotiation process for the advance and other contractual issues. Depending on your bargaining position and how skilled and efficient your agent is, that could take another 3 months.

We're now in April 2012. Up until this point, you have not received a penny for your manuscript.

However, once you have your contract signed and dotted, the publisher pays the first part of your advance. You're a first time author so you got the average going advance for a debut work - $10,000. The advance is split in 2 - half on signature of the contract, half on delivery and acceptance of the manuscript. Therefore, as at April 2012, you will have $5,000. For 3 years work. And you'll lose 15% of that $5,000 to your agent as their fee.

So for 3 years work, you have actually received the grand sum of $3,750.

It takes another 9 months of going backwards and forwards with your editor before you get to submitting your final manuscript. That takes you to January 2013, at which point you get your remaining advance of $3,750.

In the summer of 2013, your book is released into the market place. It could be a massive hit straight off the bat. More likely however is that you'll do reasonably well and end up midlist. Depending on the terms of your contract, you won't start earning royalties unless and until the second or third print run. That could take you to the end of 2013. Those royalties will be a welcome amount of cash, but unless you've had a good seller, you shouldn't expect to receive more than another $10,000 in total (and remember that this will be payable quarterly and calculated as against returns).

The point I'm making is that 4 years can go by and you won't receive a massive amount of money for your hard work (and I haven't even begun to factor in the tax payable on the other example sums, or the amount you'll need to pay in health insurance and what you'll lose in other bills).

Now, it's possible that you'll end up publishing several books a year or you could hit paydirt with your first novel and make a mint but you shouldn't count on that happening. The figure that gets bandied about a lot is that only a v. small percentage of writers actually make a living from their writing. An awful lot of writers find themselves having to take on another job to supplement their writing.

The best advice that I got from a professional writer was to marry someone rich and willing to support me (but the economy is really wiping out all the single Russian oligarchs who I'd normally consider ;)), or to make sure that I've got a decent job behind me that will pay my bills while I'm waiting for the writing to start paying off.

Personally, given that you're at college I think you need to work out now what job you want to do on a 9-5 basis that will support you while you're writing without interfering with the writing process. If you've got a good profession behind you that will always enable you to find work then that's invaluable because it will help you to stay on your own two feet. Once you do start to make the big time and you've reached the point where you're writing is earning enough to support yourself and your family, then you can consider packing in the job.

Hope that's of some use (and again, apologies for the above sounding harsh).

MM

Izz
05-05-2009, 03:18 PM
Hope that's of some use (and again, apologies for the above sounding harsh).

MMThat's not harsh, MM. It's truth. And you're probably being generous with those timelines too.

Ken
05-05-2009, 03:31 PM
... set your sights on becoming a novelist for a career, and in the meantime get an ordinary and non-demanding 9-5 job to pay the bills and you'll do fine. :-) No other way to go about it, unless you've got an exceptional amount of talent. And even then ...

Phaeal
05-05-2009, 03:59 PM
Sure, just get a day (or night) job to pay the bills and train yourself to live simply (aka cheaply.) Works for me.

scarletpeaches
05-05-2009, 04:01 PM
You'll need something to fall back on but it's perfectly possibly to live off your earnings as a writer once you're established. If you never aim for that you'll never achieve it.

Bubastes
05-05-2009, 04:20 PM
Momento Mori speaks the truth.

Most novelists have day jobs when they start out (and even after they're established). Plan for both.

Wayne K
05-05-2009, 04:22 PM
You'll need something to fall back on but it's perfectly possibly to live off your earnings as a writer once you're established. If you never aim for that you'll never achieve it.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

NeuroFizz
05-05-2009, 04:34 PM
I think it was Elmore Leonard who nailed it with dialogue in one of his stories (and this is paraphrased):

What kind of writing makes the best money?

Ransom notes.


That stay-at-home-and-do-something-you-love occupation is a dragon disguised as a faerie. It will require extremely hard work, the most incredible self-discipline, and an overwhelming desire to always improve and be more innovative. Proficiency is a minimum requirement. That's why many new and developing full-time writers have the benefit of someone providing financial support. And it's why many new and developing writers who have full-time day jobs don't sleep much.

eqb
05-05-2009, 04:45 PM
Excellent overview of the publishing timeline. A few comments:


The advance is split in 2 - half on signature of the contract, half on delivery and acceptance of the manuscript.

More and more publishers now split the advance in three parts: 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on d&a, and 1/3 on publication.


In the summer of 2013, your book is released into the market place.Yes, eighteen months from offer to publication is the average, but between crowded publishing schedules and other delays, a book might not appear on the shelves for up to three years after the offer is made. So that 1/3 on publication? Means you don't get that last chunk of money for quite some time.

scarletpeaches
05-05-2009, 04:47 PM
I know someone who's going to be published less than a year after finding her agent.

eqb
05-05-2009, 04:55 PM
I know someone who's going to be published less than a year after finding her agent.

It certainly does happen. Depends on the novel and the publisher. Schedules can change by a couple months or even a year, which makes calculating an income extra hard.

Momento Mori
05-05-2009, 05:28 PM
eqb:
More and more publishers now split the advance in three parts: 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on d&a, and 1/3 on publication.

I was trying not to be too bleak and off-putting, but fair point, well made. :)


scarletpeaches:
I know someone who's going to be published less than a year after finding her agent.


Oh sure - it definitely happens and it depends on the publisher. I wasn't trying to give a Gospel account of what tends to happen at all and apologies if it read that way.

As it happens, I know one debut author who got a 100,000 advance for a 2 book deal, but that was very much an exception as she got lucky and had enough interest for an auction on it. The others I know all came out in the 2500 to 10,000 pay bracket (and I'm not knocking the cash, but when you consider the amount of work that's gone into it, it works out as considerably less than the UK minimum wage).

MM

eqb
05-05-2009, 05:36 PM
As it happens, I know one debut author who got a 100,000 advance for a 2 book deal, but that was very much an exception as she got lucky and had enough interest for an auction on it. The others I know all came out in the 2500 to 10,000 pay bracket (and I'm not knocking the cash, but when you consider the amount of work that's gone into it, it works out as considerably less than the UK minimum wage).

And that's the point--it's very hard to predict how much you'll make from that first novel sale, or when you will get which part of the advance, or if your later books will get better advances. That's why so many writers keep their day jobs.

YAwriter72
05-05-2009, 05:37 PM
This is why, while I have one book out on sub, I am polishing up the next one to send out, and outlining the next one to write, all while working my day job. (That i love thankfully!) It will take a long while before you will be able to earn a living on royalties and that's if you are prolific and write many books a year (That get sold)

You might wanna play the lotto too! ;)

emilycross
05-05-2009, 05:56 PM
Momento - i'm in a similar position as OP, except when i finished my degree i went on to do a masters in a field (which is definitly 'dayjob' material), so i appreciate your original post cause its realistic but also reassures me that i made the right decision, rather than going off and doing MA in creative writing or another course which wouldn;t get me a 9-5 job.

:)

Claudia Gray
05-05-2009, 06:07 PM
It's a viable career goal -- but I think the operative word is "goal." You have to have written, sold and published at least a few books before being a full-time novelist is viable possibility. (Yes, some people sell that huge blockbuster debut, but don't count on being in that number.) So it's something you have to work toward, over time.

If your goal was to be a top plastic surgeon who had a couple afternoons off a week for golf, you wouldn't expect to graduate from college and instantly be in that position. You'd have to go to med school, go through your residency, and build up a practice over time. You would know that you might not ever create a cushy enough practice to allow you to fully command your own hours, but you'd put in the work anyway.

Same goes with writing. If you want to be a full-time novelist, first get yourself the day job. (I've done writing-related day jobs for almost a decade now.) Work on your craft at night and start completing and querying novels. If you put in the work, there's no guarantee you'll get there -- but you might.

ChaosTitan
05-05-2009, 06:09 PM
When I graduated college, I had hopes and dreams of being a professional author, living off my book income. So instead of using my degree to enter into a professional field, I got a retail job. And I still have it (part-time, yes, but I still have it). Seven years after graduation, I finally have my first novel releasing this fall.

Hopes and dreams are wonderful things, but the time after college graduation is important time. There's lots of great advice in this thread, so good luck with your decision.

scarletpeaches
05-05-2009, 06:30 PM
Incidentally the person I know who's published this year? She's in the UK so whether that makes a difference or not I don't know. Also, she still has her full-time job so while publication can happen quickly, I'd give the mountains of cash some time to appear. ;)

Palmfrond
05-05-2009, 07:18 PM
If your goal was to be a top plastic surgeon who had a couple afternoons off a week for golf, you wouldn't expect to graduate from college and instantly be in that position. You'd have to go to med school, go through your residency, and build up a practice over time. You would know that you might not ever create a cushy enough practice to allow you to fully command your own hours, but you'd put in the work anyway.

In fact, being a top plastic surgeon is an excellent day job if you want to become a writer. Chose a specialty that will give you lots of life experience to write about, save, save, save, write in your odd free moments, and in a few years (well, about twenty) you can quit altogether and live on your savings while you produce the great American novel. Without having to starve and forego vacations.

TrixieLox
05-05-2009, 11:46 PM
How about training to be a journalist? I love writing too but knew earning a living as a novelist would be a distant dream that might never become a reality so I trained as a journalist and now earn a decent wack in my f/t job as a journalist/editor, writing and editing all day. That's not to say it's easy getting a job as a journalist nor is it well-paid (to begin with). But at least you get to do what you love and most agents like to get queries from journalists according to my agent and others who requested my full m/s (some don't cos of the hack traps us scribblers can fall into, but as long as you know there's a difference between journalism and writing fiction - if fiction is your thang - that's cool).

Anyway, good luck!

blueobsidian
05-05-2009, 11:54 PM
How about training to be a journalist? I love writing too but knew earning a living as a novelist would be a distant dream that might never become a reality so I trained as a journalist and now earn a decent wack in my f/t job as a journalist/editor, writing and editing all day.

On the other hand, for some people, doing something all day long at a job makes it difficult to come home and do the same thing. I worked for four years as a baker -- something I loved and did constantly at home. For the entire time that I was at the bakery, I did not bake at home unless I absolutely had to. It was still something I loved, but doing it 8 to 12 hours a day was plenty. I had no motivation left! Now that I quit my job, I'm back to baking my breads and sweets at home.

I'm a freelance writer full time now and I believe that my fiction writing is suffering in the same way that my baking did. I'm already writing 8 to 10 hours a day. I absolutely love it and wouldn't trade this time for anything, but I do need time in the day to do something different.

I like Palmfrond's comment about finding a job that gives you lots of life experience. There are so many things to see and do in this world. Experiencing them can only bring more depth to your writing.

colealpaugh
05-06-2009, 12:16 AM
How about training to be a journalist?

Yikes, the US newspaper industry is in a heated battle with the US auto industry for which can be the worst possible career choice.

When I accepted a job with a Gannett paper, there were over 2000 qualified applicants for one position. Crazy luck.

But, yes, even a spot at a small weekly newspaper is an amazing opportunity to learn to write. Organization, deadlines, research, editing, quoting/attribution, and on and on...all valuable tools.

BTW, Trixie, I'm avoiding the television while the Man U v. Arsenal game is being taped, so I can watch it in peace tonight...so I'll just say: GLORY, GLORY MAN U!

And hope for the best.

TrixieLox
05-06-2009, 12:24 AM
Yikes, the US newspaper industry is in a heated battle with the US auto industry for which can be the worst possible career choice.

You are so right, mebbe it isn't such a good profession to enter right now ;-) But then trying to get a novel published isn't such a hot idea at the mo too...


BTW, Trixie, I'm avoiding the television while the Man U v. Arsenal game is being taped, so I can watch it in peace tonight...so I'll just say: GLORY, GLORY MAN U!

Okay, no comment... I'm a Chelsea fan... a Chelsea fan brought up by a Man U fanatic mother. What can I say? My childhood was difficult during the season.

veinglory
05-06-2009, 12:27 AM
You can only really consider being a full time novelist *after* you sell a book (or ten). Prior to that point you will need a day job or sugar-daddy (or mommy, as best applies).

Izz
05-06-2009, 12:29 AM
You can only really consider being a full time novelist *after* you sell a book (or ten). Prior to that point you will need a day job or sugar-daddy (or mommy, as best applies).Or lots of savings (which one gets from having a day job), and the realization that one may need to work a day job again after the savings run out.

Old Hack
05-06-2009, 01:07 AM
There have been a couple of studies into authors' average incomes in the last decade: the first one was in 2000 (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2008/06/what-writers-earn.html), I think, and the second in 2005 (http://howpublishingreallyworks.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-writers-earn-part-ii.html). The figures started off horribly low, and then got lower. It's not good.

colealpaugh
05-06-2009, 07:52 AM
Okay, no comment... I'm a Chelsea fan... a Chelsea fan brought up by a Man U fanatic mother. What can I say? My childhood was difficult during the season.

Well, good luck doin' to the Gunners Sunday what MU did to them today!

Imagine growing up a New York Cosmos fan with a father who thought a football was brown and had some sort of laces on top.:)

scarletpeaches
05-06-2009, 02:55 PM
Glory glory glory...hunters?

hammerklavier
05-06-2009, 04:29 PM
Is becoming a novelist a viable career goal?

Yes, assuming you have the talent, work ethic and marketable ideas necessary. But you will need some other means of support until you become a novelist... something like welfare checks, or your mother, or a job waiting tables (that seems to work for actors).