Posts tagged with: writer’s lifer

Quitting Your Day Job – Two-Year Update

Two years ago, I left my day job to focus solely on writing (a decision I documented in this Ruby post from October 2010). As the second anniversary closes in, I thought I would share with you how this grand experiment worked out, what I learned, and where I plan to go next.

Spoiler alert: I haven’t starved to death yet, so even if it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, there’s at least a ‘happy-for-now’ ending to this post ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Grand Experiment

Year One: I finished a book, shopped it to NYC, finaled for a Golden Heart with it, and received a slew of rejections (that took all of Year One, from October 2010 to September 2011).

Year Two: Based on some fancy-schmancy analysis of costs/potential earnings, I pulled the Year One manuscript submission from the remaining houses and self-published it. I edited the first book, completely rewrote my 2009 Golden Heart winning manuscript to be the second book, and released both books in 2012 (Heiress Without a Causeย in January as a Nook First pick, andย Scotsmen Prefer Blondes in April). I’m almost done with the third book in the series (The Marquess Who Loved Me, coming this fall), and I’m planning for the fourth book in the series and proposals for a new series to launch when this series ends.

But enough about that…let’s get to what I learned!

What I Learned

1) Full-time writing may not actually mean full-time writing

As it turns out, I don’t write much faster now than I did when I had a day job. However, the time I would have spent at my day job is now spent on a combo of activities that either make me more healthy/satisfied as a person (gym, friends, cooking, walking around the waterfront, Twitter) or relate to my book in some way (marketing, social media, staying caught up on the industry).

2) Taking time to adjust to full-time writing is critical

I expected to hit the ground running when I left the day job. Instead, I spent six months eating, going to the gym, and napping (with some writing in there, but not as much as I expected). Part of it was recovering from the intense burnout I had from my previous job, but a bigger part was that I didn’t have a routine and hadn’t given myself time to adjust to my new life – so every day I didn’t accomplish something made me more depressed. I eventually snapped out of it, but it took a long time. If you’re thinking about leaving your day job, I suggest giving yourself time to grieve for your old life (even if you hated it) and build a new life around your writing, rather than expecting that you’ll be immediately and optimally productive from the start. And, unlike me, forgive yourself for the days when you just watch ‘Say Yes to the Dress’ marathons ๐Ÿ™‚

3) Writing is a small business – and should be managed as such

Most small businesses lose money in their first couple of years of operation. With traditional publishing, you might not ‘lose’ money since you don’t have the same upfront costs as self-publishing – but you’re losing an opportunity cost if your manuscript is sitting for 1-2 years while it’s on submission and going through the publishing process. Conversely, self-pub can result in a lot of expenses before the book ever comes out, and you need to be realistic with how much you can spend, how much you should spend, and whether your investment has any hope of being earned back. I over-invested in marketing on my first book, and while I’ve earned it all back, I think there were some marketing efforts where I could have saved money if I’d been more careful early on.

4) Some thoughts on self-publishing

Self-publishing has been awesome for me, but I’m not rabidly pro-selfpub or anti-trad. It should *always* be a business decision, but I firmly believe that there’s more to the decision than the money. I happen to love self-pub because I like being in control, I was willing to invest money up front, and I’m earning faster than I would have with a trad deal (important since I’m not earning anything else).

However, my hypothesis is that the most robust careers in the long term will be for authors who have feet in both the trad and self-pub world – traditional for increased print distribution/better opportunities with marketing and reviews, and self-pub for being able to experiment with price, build readership through quick extra releases, and pivot into new genres that a trad publisher might not be willing to buy from you. While I’m happily self-pubbing, I’m also exploring traditional opportunities – and I suspect that in five years I will either have a foot in both worlds, or will no longer be writing for publication.

What Comes Next?

This is the question of the hour. My self-pub endeavor has been as successful as I could have expected, and I believe that with another couple of books out, I could write full-time without dipping into my savings. But I’m not quite there yet, and my business plan says I won’t be for at least a year. So, I’m exploring my options and deciding whether to go for broke and give myself another year (riskier than my initial decision to do this, although I still won’t starve to death), or pursue my passions for digital publishing and either work for an epublishing startup or start my own consulting firm.

I don’t know what the answers are. I knew when I started this that it would be highly unlikely to build an audience in two years that would support me full-time. But I’m pleased with where I am right now and confident that writing full-time (without burning savings to do it) is possible at some point in the not-so-distant future. It’s just a matter of how hard I can push myself to write faster (difficult for me), how much I can do to build a bigger readership, and whether I have the stomach for this kind of risk (my heart loves risk, but I’m prone to ulcers, so I may need to factor that into my decision ๐Ÿ˜‰

So that’s the two year update! Are any of you considering taking the plunge? If you’ve already quit your day job, what have you learned since you started writing full time? If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them, and I’ll answer everything as candidly as possible in the comments!

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