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?

Managing Expectations

It’s one thing to have a fantastic manuscript and big dreams, but it’s another to have unrealistic expectations about how the industry will unfold in front of you. Each manuscript has a different path to publication–if it’s destined to be there–but, there are certain realities that never change:

  1. Be prepared. Know how the industry works and the processes involved. Know that not all first-time novels make it to publication so how are you setting yourself up to succeed in the long term?
  2. Don’t quit your day job. It takes a long time to see money come in from a book. Advances are split into three parts and you only see royalty payments come in twice a year, provided you’ve earned out your advance.
  3. Always keep writing. Whether you book is currently being shopped by an agent or you already have a deal, keep working on the next project. You never know what will happen so in the meantime: write! Continue reading Managing Expectations