Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Many writers dream of being able to quit the daytime gig and write full time. How do you determine if you can do this? The secret to making a living wage as a writer lies in two words: volume and variety.
One mistake writers make with respect to their “publishing dreams” is hoping for a big break that’s going to change their lives, allow them to quit their job, and propel them into the life of the full-time writer.
Making money, for the vast majority of writers, isn’t about having one huge contract. It’s about building a career, book by book, and building an audience that wants more of your books.
Writers begin to see a “living wage” when they have a stack of books out there in the marketplace. Each book needs to be bringing in royalties regularly. Even if each book is not selling a huge number of copies individually—if you have a whole bunch of books out there, each selling some copies, it starts to add up.
If you have a couple of books published, and you’re hoping or assuming the trend will continue and your publishing income will grow, now is not the time to quit the day job. Wait until you’re reliably replacing your income.
It’s all about building a foundation, building a reputation, so that each book you release builds on the last and each one expands your audience so that your new readers are always wanting to go back and find your older books, too. You’re not ready to “quit your day job” until those royalty checks coming in regularly are adding up to the amount you need to bring in.
This is true for people who are in traditional publishing as well as self-publishing. In fact, publishers have always built their business on this model, known today as “the long tail,” which refers to a situation in which a few products sell huge numbers (the “blockbusters”) and a great many more products sell fewer units each, but there are so many of them that they add up to far more revenue than the blockbusters. (Hence: volume.)
So this is why people always say “don’t quit your day job” to newer writers who have a book or two published. Even though it can be tempting to look at your advances and calculate whether you can get by without the steady income of the regular job, we always recommend you don’t take that leap until you’ve got somewhat of a “long tail” built up — a large volume of work that’s available for sale and making money on a regular basis.
Now let’s talk about the second component in making a living as a writer:
You may wonder what I mean by this, because we know we need to “brand” ourselves, we need to find a niche and write to a certain audience in order to build a following. That’s all true, especially for writers just getting established and trying to find their audience.
But making the transition to having “writing” as a full time living usually involves variety…as much as volume. The idea is to create multiple income streams.
There are a number of ways writers can vary what they’re writing to increase their income potential. Here are some ideas:
1. Digitally self publish shorter works. If you’re a novelist, consider writing some non-competing short stories or novellas that come “in between” your novels and help prime readers for your next novel. Non-fiction writers can write shorter resources that stay with their brand yet don’t compete with their main books but instead, enhance them or expand upon them.
2. Write in another genre, possibly under another name. If you’re publishing contemporary romance and you’ve written another series in the suspense genre, your publisher may not want to consider it because it’s “off brand.” However, that doesn’t mean you’re stuck with no place to go. You may be able to independently publish, or you may find another publisher for that genre if you use a pseudonym.
3. Write something completely different. Many authors grow their income by writing articles for magazines and online journals, or by writing Bible studies or devotionals. Novelists can consider writing on non-fiction topics in their area of interest or expertise.
4. Look for work writing marketing copy or online copy. Many organizations need press releases, newsletters, website content, and other kinds of writing. Admittedly, this may not make you a great deal of money, but I know plenty of writers who supplement their incomes this way.
5. Consider work-for-hire or ghostwriting. This isn’t easy to break into, and may require that you do some work for little money until you prove yourself. But some people have a special talent for ghostwriting and can make a good living doing it.
It’s not very exciting or romantic… but most full time writers have to branch out in one way or another. They’re not spending all their time doing their favorite kind of writing. They’re “piecing together” a living from a variety of different writing-related income sources. You have to be pretty scrappy (or well-connected) to make it happen. In the end, you may conclude that the day job is just fine, thank-you-very-much.
- Have you dreamed of quitting your job and supporting yourself as a writer?
- Have you thought about what it would take to be able to do that?
- Does the concept of needing volume and variety make sense to you?
Two keys to making a living as a writer: Volume and Variety. Click to Tweet.
The day job is looking better & better! Truth on making a living as a writer. Click to Tweet.
When should you quit your day job? @RachelleGardner answers. Click to Tweet.