Keep your day job.
Accept that you will not be able to quit your day job.
Regardless how much weeping and wailing and gnashing of the teeth goes on around the web about monetizing art, if you’re a writer not already pulling income that allows writing to be your day job, just deal with the fact that you probably aren’t going to.
In my mind, making peace with the fact that you have to keep your day job is a lot easier than spending all your creative energy to resent it. Ask me how I know.
Today, right now, as I look over the fiction writer landscape on the web, I see lots of writers I can slot into roughly five categories:
- The unpublished authors seeking publication via the normal route (query/reject/revise/repeat). They’re hustling to get an agent’s attention, and possibly spending money on ink/toner, paper, envelopes, and postage to do so. They aren’t earning any money.
- The midlist authors having to prove their numbers in order to get their next book contract, which means they have to hustle and market and fight to make sure people know their books exist (especially if they aren’t in Wal-Mart or Target). They probably aren’t earning enough to write full time.
- The self-published authors having to fight just to let people know they and their work exists. They probably aren’t earning enough to pay the cost of producing their book(s), much less earn a living.
- The career category authors (Harlequin/Silhouette) and e-published romance authors (Samhain, LooseId, Ellora’s Cave), a good portion of whom can earn a fairly decent living cranking out the books, but there’s a catch: Putting out enough books to make that kind of living has to be grueling. At least, it would be for me. YMMV. The advantage to e-publishing over career category publishing, though, is that your titles never go out of print and you have A) time to build a backlist and B) your backlist is forever available to any late-night shoppers with a credit card.
- The A- and B-list authors who have pressures of their own, I’m sure, to which I am not privy. This includes anyone who may (if they choose to) write only one book per year or fewer and earn a comfortable living doing so.
Now, I’m obviously #3, except that I’m doing okay: Not enough to quit doing my day job, but enough to bear out the investment of time and money. (See my Six-Year Plan.) However, my goal is the same as the e-published authors: Build the backlist and invest in the future.
I hate my day job. I really do. Yeah, it’s my own business but I hate the work, mostly because I’ve been doing it or something similar for years. It’s easier now that I have a couple of decent clients, but the work remains. I fight an uphill battle every day to Just Do It, but do it I must. Some days I’m more successful than others.
But the explosion of free versus paid writing that has kind of ballooned lately with Chris Anderson’s book Free, and Malcolm Gladwell’s review of that book in the New Yorker only reinforces the necessity of resigning myself to the fact that I must have a day job.
The fact of the matter is that I have better odds of doing so than unpublished authors who hold out hope that they’ll hit the lottery.
I also believe that I have better odds than those authors who have to prove every book via sales, even if all the stars are aligned against them (bad cover art, little marketing support, not being in Wal-Mart or Target); perhaps that myopic of me, but I’m hustling for 100% profit, while they’re hustling for 10% royalties and they’re locked into questionable digital contracts (amongst other things).
As for career category writing, I couldn’t do it (as stated above), especially within the restrictions of category. I know, because I tried, and missed the bullseye by half a hair every single time.
I also couldn’t do e-publishing because there isn’t one that would contract what I write, and I know that; I’d rather not waste their time or mine. Also, see above for the grind in order to make money.
Basically, what I have on my side is control and time. I’m going to write no matter what, and I’m going to write what the stories I have to tell. I’d rather put it out there for the opportunity to earn a little money than let it languish in the inboxes of agents who are also feeling the pinch.
Yeah, I think I’m in a really good position. I just can’t quit my day job.
I’m slowly coming to terms with that.