Hi, Scribelings. Suze here. Welcome!
We usually keep things light here at the Scribes but today’s topic is serious. I’m talking about transitioning from your day job to your full-time writing career. Let me explain.
Like virtually all writers and wannabe writers out there, I started out doing something else. For a couple of decades I worked for a medium-sized company as a staff person. When I sold my first series (debuting January 6, 2015 and available for preorder now!), I figured I’d work for a few more years until I was (hopefully) making enough to live on from my writing. Well, that was a nice plan. But it didn’t happen.
I’m here to tell you, unless you own the company you work for, no one is indispensable. (Depending on the type of company and the structure of management and boards of directors, even the owner might not be indispensable). I don’t care how much you think they like/love/respect/can’t function without you, you’re wrong. Everyone is replaceable or do-without-able. Everyone.
And once people at your day job find out that you’ve sold your novel, you might be replaceable sooner than you think.
See, everyone thinks writers make scads of money. I went to a job interview recently and the interviewer said, after having seen that I had a book contract, “I thought you must be a millionaire.” Um, seriously? Do you think I would be interviewing for a part-time job with you if I were a millionaire? Don’t you think I’d be sitting on a tropical beach somewhere, wearing oversized designer sunglasses and wrapped in an expensive silk sarong while a buff, half-naked island man served me cocktails and gave me suggestive looks? But this is the kind of thing you are going to get handed to you. A lot.
And the other thing you will probably face at some point is that not everyone will be happy for you, maybe not even members of your own family (not the case with me, thank goodness, but it happens). Because when you take steps toward living your dreams, it causes other people to examine their own lives, and when those lives are less than dreamy, it can foster resentment. Even active, malicious sabotage, which actually happened to me.
Think about the people in your circle. How many of them are doing what they really want to? How many of them are moving toward fulfilling their dreams? I hope it’s lots of them, because there are so many opportunities now that make things possible (see below for more explanation on that). But the truth is, it’s probably almost nobody.
So this post is about Looking Out For Number One–You, Yourself, and You.
Despite being under contract for three books with a Big Five/Six publisher (the biggest one, LOL!), and having something else in the works that I’ll be able to tell you about soon when the ink is dry, I don’t make a living wage from my writing. I think I will, hope I will, in the next few years. But for right now, I would have liked to have kept that day job for a while longer. However, someone else made that decision for me.
So here’s my advice to every writer out there who still has a day job working for someone else:
Consider very carefully whether you will disclose to your employer and your coworkers that you are writing on the side. Consider even more carefully whether you will tell them when you sell. I opted to tell, figuring that for various reasons it was going to get out anyway and I’d rather they hear it from me. I also showed my supervisors my contract, so they could see exactly how much money I was–wasn’t–making. Didn’t seem to matter to them, they let me go anyway. But you might work in a company (perhaps you work at home, and never or almost never see your coworkers) where you can remain relatively anonymous. In that case, I’d keep it quiet. What they don’t know, they can’t use against you. Share your success with your writing peeps and your close family and friends. Otherwise, don’t. Your boss, the administrative assistant, or the accounts receivable person at your office probably won’t buy your book–may even perversely enjoy not buying your book–so why bother?
Start NOW developing a side business, not necessarily writing related. A person would be foolish to invest all of her money in only one stock–smart investors diversify. Well, if you’re not at the point yet where you’re making enough at your writing to satisfy your needs and at least some of your wants, think about having something else in place in case your day job goes bye-bye for whatever reason.
I’d be willing to bet that most all of us have a skill/talent that could make extra money. Me, I do editing for indie-pubbers at Crazy Diamond Editing (click here for more information). Now that my unemployment has run out, I’ll be looking to expand that business. And I’m also thinking about resurrecting a handbag-making microbusiness I had a few years ago. Does all this take time and planning and organization? Yes. But you’re working for you, and I can’t tell you how satisfying that is.
But Suze, you say. I don’t have the kind of skills that people will pay money for. Are you sure about that? Can you read a label? Why don’t you go around to tag sales and look for consignable clothes? You could sell them on Ebay or ThredUp. Have you got stuff around your house you could list on Ebay or Craigslist? Can you knit or crochet or make beaded jewelry or other crafty items? These skills are not hard to learn and you could set up a table at a flea market or farmers’ market or sell online at Etsy. Can you garden? You could grow flowers or vegetables and put them out by the road to sell. Do you love animals? How about developing a pet-sitting, grooming, or dog-walking business? Have you got a skill you can teach someone else? Look into your town’s Adult Education department or local community college’s Continuing Education program and see if you can put together a class.
Think outside the box. I’ll bet you can come up with more ways of making money than you know. (And for even more ideas and inspiration, check out Barbara Winters’ Joyfully Jobless website–there’s lots of practical and motivational stuff there) The more diverse your interests, and the more you put yourself out there creatively, the better your writing is going to be.
Have an exit plan. Somebody should do a workshop on this (in fact, maybe I will). What do I mean by this? Here are some suggestions:
- Know what your company’s policy is regarding termination of employment. What benefits are available to you if you retire, quit, are fired for cause, or are laid off? Are you entitled to severance pay, unused vacation and sick time, unemployment (will depend on your state and the reason you and the job parted ways)? If the worst happens, how will you make the most of what you get?
- If you did lose your job, just how much money do you actually need to live on? Most of us don’t know. Make a list now of the money you have coming in. Then track where your money goes for a month. For bills that come less frequently, like real estate tax bills and winter heating costs, look at your bank statements from last year and average them out to a monthly cost. Identify what’s a want and what’s a need. I’ll bet there are places you can cut back. The grocery bill and shoe-shopping (insert personal vices here) bills are great places to start. Look at your phone plans and cable bills and gym memberships and make sure you’re actually using the services you’re paying for. Eliminate what you can.
- Save money NOW. Save as much as you can, even more than you think you can. So when your employer gives you a surprise one-month’s- pay severance “package” and a copy paper box to carry your stuff out in, you’ll be okay. Maybe not comfortable, but okay.
- If you’re a two-income household, can you live on what the other earner makes? It’s not a great idea to think you can fall back on somebody else, though. Because stuff that can happen to you (job loss, illness) can happen to the other person in your life too. I hope it doesn’t. But let’s face it. None of us are getting any younger, and, well, stuff happens. Be prepared for it.
What about you? Do you think you’ll ever make a living wage from your writing? Do you have a plan (share it with us, if you’re comfortable doing so) for making it your full-time job? Ever been fired and want to vent here? Inquiring Scribes want to know.