Why You Can’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.

contract signingMany writers think their day job is getting in the way of their writing and count down the days until they can quit because that big book deal is on the way, right? Wrong, for now.

(I should preface this with: Some writers have the luxury of external support, have modified or flexible work schedules that allows them to time to dedicate to their creative projects. Day job or not doesn’t make you more or less of a writer.)

I’m a fan of suggesting writers keep a job, volunteer, or engage in other intensive hobbies for the following reasons….

Keeping your day job has many benefits:

  • Inspiration via interactions with people other than your family and settings other than your immediate location.
  • Steady income that you can rely on.
  • Routine–it’s never a bad thing to have some structure in your life. Even if that means knowing you can only squeeze in a hour or two of writing every other day.

When you quit your day job you have to get your inspiration from sitting at your writing desk all day, your income will come in crazy spurts and there will be many lows, and you suddenly have no routine and the norm becomes sleeping in and working in your PJs all day.

I’m a big proponent, if you can, to keep your day job for as long as you can. Once your writing income surpasses your day job income and you have a multi-book contract where you can plan out your income for months and years to come then it’s time to think about whether you need that day job. And many writers still keep theirs.

Getting paid in traditional publishing looks like this:

  • Getting your advance paid in thirds (or fourths!): part on signing, part on delivery and acceptance of the manuscript and part on publication (and sometimes 3-12 months after publication). That money, on average, is divided up over the course of 1-3 years. Plus, your agent or lawyer gets some too.
  • Twice yearly royalty statements, but only once you’ve earned out that advance. Royalties go towards earning back the money paid out in advance. So sometimes books earn out and you see that money in a year or two, but sometimes they never earn out. It’s not something you can plan on unless you have a royalty-only publishing deal.
  • Foreign publishers, if you’re lucky enough to get some translation deals, don’t pay quickly. If you get a deal in Italy or Greece you’ll get paid, on average, 8-12 months later then you’re supposed to. Foreign money is always “bonus money.”

My experience with debut authors is that sometimes when they quit their day job before getting published their books start to be about the idiosyncrasy of daily life with their kids or their spouse/partner. When what we need is big idea debuts that are about more than the mundane things of daily life.

Q: Do you look forward to being able to write full-time?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

24 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Quit Your Day Job. Yet.

  1. I actually look forward to be able to write fulltime, but I’ll never quit my job if I’m not certain I can make ends meet.
    Besides, I work in a bookshop owned by a publisher, and I love it :-)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post. I find the balance between a job and writing to work for me. There’s a sense of structure and obligation. Plus, inspiration doesn’t really come that often, it’s more of a grind and grind procedure (at least for me). I was jobless for a while and it turned out to be even more of a challenge to produce, mainly because “I had time”. I believe a balance is better than “just writing”. Fortunately, with my job schedule, I’ve managed to come up with an efficient routine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d love to make the leap, but I’m very aware that I’m not in a position to do so yet. I’m planning, though. I’m working on several novels in different stages of drafting/editing/revision. I want to go into “the field” with a number of viable projects. I understand that if I want to be in a position to write full time, I have to be able to produce saleable novels at a fairly quick pace. And by saleable, I mean high quality :) It’s going to be a process, but I hope that in five years, I’ll have a basis on which to build my career, and help build the careers of the publishing professionals with whom I work.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I already do, but only because my husband earns enough money. I had to laugh about your “working all day in PJs” comment. I know so many authors who do. I’m guilty of it too, in the winter.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks so much for this; practical advice is always welcome here! And as someone still in university with student loans, I can definitely appreciate this wisdom … I kinda have to :)


  6. When I first moved to Australia, I had no work visa and was able to focus on writing for four months. While it was great at first, I found it so difficult to self-motivate without any sort of routine to keep me going. Now that I work part time, I find it so much easier to focus on writing on the days that I do have to myself. Like today–off I go.

    Thanks for another great post, Carly!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m a full-time freelance editor, so I know a fair amount about the pros and cons, ups and downs, of self-employment. Writing is my avocation, my reason for being on the planet, but I don’t aspire to write full-time and/or for a living. (I’m single and have no trust fund, so for me these are one and the same thing.) Editing for a living means finding clients who are willing to pay for the services I provide. So far I’ve managed to do this, and to work on interesting stuff in the process.

    Writing for a living works the same way: you’ve got to find publishers and/or individuals who are willing to pay for what you write. — and you’re also up against the realities of the digital age: a tremendous amount of wonderful writing is available for free. I choose to write what I want and need to write. This is not what publishers and individuals are willing to pay for, and I’m not sufficiently motivated to write what they are willing to pay for. I’m happy to accept money when the opportunity arises, for instance with review assignments, but there’s no way this will ever pay the rent, or even buy groceries.

    I blogged about this a few months ago if anyone’s interested: http://writethroughitblog.com/2015/02/05/write-for-a-living/.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have to laugh when movies portray writers as millionaires…highly popular and sought after! Most writers I know are just everyday people doing their jobs: speech writer, editor, business men, consultants, etc. No one has yet to become a famous and rich. Needless to say….they all love writing and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have a WAH job, already but I don’t work much in my PJ’s very rare, but I love that I can write or get things done & then get to my desk in time to work & I don’t have to leave any, I don’t know if I’ll ever be a writer who can quite their day job, but working has given me ideas for say characters ! So keeping a steady job is really not bad cause I don’t write every day anyways…..Plus this is hopefully to be my first book so I have many years to go before I can just write only !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank for that advice. I have so many things and projects at the moment which makes it impossible to write. I am very sad about that. However, I am looking forward to the two hours every other day you have mentioned in your entry. I tend to lose my focus with too many projects but the fact that afterwards I will be able to write again keeps me motivated.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I would love to be able to *change* day jobs. The thing I really want to do in addition to writing, training horses and teaching lessons, doesn’t pay enough right now for me to do it full time. BUT, perhaps with a little bit of writing income I could make it work.

    Books and horses were my first obsessions. Some things never change, I guess.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I would at least like to try and find a day job that’s more in line with my passions. Right now I work in marketing for a luxury goods company and it’s so soul-sucking sometimes… YET, it more than pays the bills. I’m trying to find something now that’s enough to live off of, but aligns with my interests at least a little bit more. Thank God I have writing on the side to keep me passionate.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. While the cash flow is completely different for Indie authors, the benefits of a routine and mental stimulation outside of writing is true for all authors. Stephen King talks about how he handles this in his fabulous book, On Writing. We need to remember to be fully engaged human beings in addition to being writers. If that includes a day job, that’s okay. Thanks for the insightful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Writing for me is less about the potential of being paid for it and more because I can’t imagine not writing. I have a message that I want to convey. Would I love it if I received huge sums of money? Absolutely, but I’m a realist. My day job pays the bills, allows me to attend writer’s retreats and send my kids to college. On good days my writing keeps me from going insane and on bad days pushes me to the brink of insanity. It’s like any other love affair. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I think what P.S. Wilson and Donna Cook say are key reasons why I don’t envision quitting my day job anytime soon – character inspiration and engagement. Having a day job (even if it’s a work-from-home one) encourages continued “real world” interaction and not only gives us inspiration for stories, but keeps our stories and characters authentic.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I like my current job. I have my mornings off and work in the afternoon in a profession that give some plenty of creative control and interesting experiences. Sadly it’s coming to an end in a year, but it’s been fun so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My day job IS the quotidian, mundane work of caring for young children. But I won’t quit that to be a full-time writer, either. I like the friction and momentum that time limitations offer my writing. As for big ideas, that’s why I’m also a reader!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It’s a someday dream, for SURE (in “retirement” especially) but I ADORE my job and my colleagues and couldn’t imagine giving that up right now! (or the benefits, which I read an interview w/Emily St. John Mandel not long ago that explained this was precisely why she kept her academic gig—though, I’m guessing in the past few months, that’s changed a bit :) )

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I’m a stay at home mom, so I clearly can’t quit my day job! I do hope, though, that once the kids are all in school, I can write full time. I’m very involved in school, clubs, and charities, so hopefully that will be enough “outside” experience in my daily life. :)


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