Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Writer's World - So You Want to Be a Full-Time Writer? Annie West

Hands up those who want to be a full time writer! Maybe it's a definite goal or possibly just a nebulous dream of one day...

It sounds great, doesn't it? After all, it means working from home and for many writing doesn't really seem like work. Not like going to the office every day come hail or shine or dealing with difficult clients/patients/children or any of a thousand other jobs. I'm always fascinated by the number of people who say they'd like to be a full time writer.

So today I thought I'd share with you some thoughts on what's involved in being an author. Not the highs of celebrations when a book is sold or gets lovely reader feedback or hits a bestseller list, nor the lows of rejections, but the everyday practicalities of working as an author. I won't talk about the craft side of writing fiction. That's a whole other blog (or series of them). Instead I thought I'd share some pragmatic ideas. Everyone's situation and experiences are different so there's no one right time to decide to write full time. It's purely a personal decision. However, here are some things to think about (in no particular order):

1) Time lags. When I sold my first book a published author advised me not to give up my day job just yet. She wasn't passing judgement on the quality of my writing, simply mentioning that, with a traditional publisher (self publishing has established its own set of parameters), money doesn't necessarily flow fast. You receive an advance when you sign a contract for your book/s. Lovely. If you're lucky it will be a big advance but that's not always the case. This is a payment against future royalty earnings. You receive $x dollars advance and you won't receive any more income on that book until your royalties (the percentage of earnings you are entitled to) exceed that amount. That may take a couple of weeks or a year or it may never happen. You may, possibly, need to survive on what you earn from your advance. On the other hand your book may sell and sell and provide income over many years. The thing to remember is that the release date of your book does not necessarily mean money in your bank account straight away. Depending on how your book is published it may take several months or much more before money starts flowing to you. Some publishers don't pay advances, so that's another factor to consider.

2) No weekly salary. If you're not good at managing your budget be prepared for the fact that you may be looking at receiving income not weekly or fortnightly but possibly monthly or even 3 or 6 monthly.

3) Fluctuating income. It's harder to budget when you don't know what your income will be. One thing is for sure, it will vary. Some books sell better than others. Maybe one is a far better book, or maybe the cover was more attractive or the backcover synopsis more appealing. On the other hand you may receive lots of lovely fan mail but not so many good reviews. Maybe people are tightening belts due to economic problems and not buying so many books that month. Or maybe you luck out and get a release date at a time when people are looking for just the book you've written. Add to that the vagaries of the currency markets (some of us get paid in currencies other than our own) so income can rise or fall on the value of the dollar/euro/pound.

4) The need to keep yourself fresh. Yes, you need to work hard to succeed as an author, but it's important too, to take time to 'refresh the well'. If you're writing fiction you're drawing on inner resources and those resources need replenishing. You'll need to allow yourself some time to do those things that help keep you motivated and creative. For me one of those things is a brisk lakeside walk. But it could be reading, watching movies, getting involved in activities that have nothing to do with writing like volunteering, spending time with friends, travel or research.

5) The sedentary lifestyle. Beware! Being a writer means long hours sitting at a computer. That can take its toll on your body as you work to meet a deadline or deliver on tough revisions or even just deal with the demands of your inbox. Think carefully about a plan to ensure you stay healthy (yes, I'm talking about exercise and diet and ergonomic furniture).

6) Others' perceptions. If you work at home, particularly in a creative endeavour, many people won't quite understand that you're running a business. Even your nearest and dearest, those who've supported you on the way to publication, are more likely to think because you're not going out of the house to work, you have more time to run errands, be available to tradespeople, ferry family members etc, etc. Allied to that is that fact that you too, may fall into that habit of thinking, yes, I've got time for that, conveniently forgetting the deadline looming in a fortnight.

7) The dangers of working at home. I hate to say it but being close to your kitchen and your stock of (name the food weakness of your choice) is not always a good idea! There's also the fact that you will be at home, possibly alone, for long periods. Will you miss the interaction with work colleagues as you sit at your computer? Will you be distracted by the need to tidy the house, cook exquisite meals or basically anything that keeps you from writing that next, difficult scene?

8) It's all up to you. Writers don't get sick leave or any sort of paid leave or employer superannuation. If you can't write, or choose to distract yourself, no-one else will write that book for you. Are you ready to sit down and write enough, not just to get pleasure from creating a story you love, but to produce books you can sell on a regular basis?

9) Do you love it enough? You may think from reading the above points that I'm trying to paint the life of a writer as too tough to take on. Absolutely not! I love writing. It's both a joy and a vocation as well as sometimes being hard work. It can be enormous fun and is one of the most satisfying things I know. I believe that you need to be passionate about your writing to keep at it. If you don't love what you do it will probably show on the page and as with any form of self-employment, you need to be prepared to work hard. Why do that if you don't love what you do? Fortunately romance writing is a thrill as well as a profession.

Do you have any other suggestions or thoughts on a writers' life? Or perhaps you have a question?

Annie is a USA Today bestselling author who's currently working on her 22nd book for Harlequin Mills and Boon. Her current release is AN ENTICING DEBT TO PAY, a story of revenge and passion and happy ever afters. Out next month in the UK is RUTHLESSLY ROYAL, an anthology which includes her PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE (winner of both a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice and CataRomance Award). To find out more about Annie and her books, drop by her website.

25 comments:

  1. Oh, and I forgot to add, one other danger of being a full time writer - that of the postie catching you in your pjs well into the morning because you got a good idea at breakfast and then just didn't find time to shower and change because the words were flowing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lol, Annie!

      I look forward to the day when I can stay in my pj's and slippers all day! The kids will be old enough to get themselves to and from school, and I'll have that extra hour and a half or more in front of my computer, in my bright pink dressing gown and goofy slippers! Comfortable and hopefully inspired :)

      Michelle

      Delete
    2. Michelle, that's something to look forward to! But I guarantee you'll only have postal deliveries to the door on days when you're not dressed in day clothes. It always happens that way!

      Delete
  2. Wow, what a great read. I haven't any question or concerns. But it sounds funny if the postie catches you in your bunny pjs... :)
    And I will second your point on the love for writing. I agree 100% that if you don't love to write and come up with amazing places and ideas, writing might not be for you. And I do love writing! As for you Miss Annie, it shows just how much you love writing as the books I've read of yours are very passionate and deep!
    H.L. Laffin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Holly, I'm so glad you headed over to read the article and enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind words about my writing. That's terrific to hear!

      I suspect writing is one of those few jobs where passion is required. I couldn't imagine doing this full time unless I loved it. That makes it all worthwhile.

      Delete
  3. Oh, dear, I must have upset the blogging gods. My previous comment never appeared. Oh, well, try again! Annie, what a marvellous piece. So true and so packed with wisdom. I think the sedentary life thing is REALLY important to recognise! And sadly unless you spend the time with the computer, you don't get the books written. So glad PASSION, PURITY AND THE PRINCE is getting another outing - that's a fabulous story! So romantic!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anna, I'm glad you finally managed to post a comment.

      I admit I didn't fully think through the implications of such a sedentary job, especially one which isn't necessarily restricted to 'office hours'. I'm working on dealing with that now but it would have been a good idea to get into better habits to start with.

      Delete
    2. PS. Forgot to say thank you for the nice wrap for Alaric and Tamsin's story. I had such fun writing that Cinderella with a twist.

      Delete
  4. Oh, Annie, you mention so many good points here! I have to admit that while I don't miss heading off to an office every day, I do miss the regular interactions with co-workers. I'm trying to work this to my advantage though, and couple it with another point you mention -- the sedentary lifestyle. Hence trying to incorporate a regular walk to my local shopping centre to surround myself with real people -- exercise, a nice coffee and people watching. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michelle, that sounds like a great way to go. Coffee catch ups are terrific and being in amongst a throng is such a change, isn't it? As for the walks, I'm finding them a good way to clear my mind of the book but also, for clarifying plot points when I'm in doubt.

      Delete
  5. Great post Annie!

    My husband may be waiting a little longer for his early retirement! LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mel, thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I wonder if every writer's spouse wants to retire early, dreaming of the good life when the books hit bestseller lists?

      Delete
  6. Great post. Another issue is the need to do everything yourself, unless you're famous and/or wealthy enough to hire an assistant, publicist, and other employees. While there are many wonderful writers who will offer support and advice, ultimately everyone is looking out for his or her own best interest. While traditional workplaces can be hostile, they can also offer avenues for receiving advice and mentorship.

    Also, the dangers of social media as distraction!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Anastasia, hi. What great points. Yes, there's so much more to a writing career than 'just' writing the books. I thought I knew about multi-tasking before I took this on but this puts it in a whole new league. And there's the danger of focusing on one aspect rather than another too much. As for social media - yes! I wonder if anyone has done a study on how much time writers spend on social media when the writing is going well, as opposed to when the writing is tough?

      Delete
  7. What a thoughtful post, Annie--such good observations and advice.
    As you point out, writing for fun and to express creativity is quite a different thing from writing as a job with all the demands of meeting deadlines, marketing and so on. And when we're working at home there are all those traps to fall into as well--convincing family and friends it's really "work" can require considerable diplomacy.
    I've got a sore back, sore arms and have put on two kilos as a result of my recent deadline. But I also have a wonderful sense of accomplishment and thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in my characters' world.
    BTW, I also just thoroughly enjoyed my time in your characters' world having recently finished your marvellous AN ENTICING DEBT TO PAY. Such a memorable hero in Jonas, fuelled by revenge, and Ravenna a worthy, strong heroine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kandy. I'm so glad this post touched a chord. My sympathies on the aches and pains and the weight gain. I remember times when I was a physical mess by the time I finished revisions. All that time hunched over a computer, even though I tried so hard to do the right thing. Congratulations on getting your book in! What a great feeling.

      You're so right about the difference between writing for fun and for a living. Obviously there's huge cross over but there's also the need to stick at it, even when the going gets tough once you're full time. I suppose that's why it's so important to love the story telling, in order to want to do it again and again.

      I'm so chuffed you enjoyed Jonas and Ravenna's story! Thanks for letting my know.

      Delete
  8. Hi Annie

    Thank you so much for this post. You got down to the nitty-gritty reality of writing and working from home, and hit the proverbial nail on the head.

    One thing I've discovered, after having the wonderful privilage of being able to write full-time at home, is that I need structure and routine. Between kids and hubby (school drop-off and pick-up time) I make sure that I have an hour of some kind of exercise, eat a relatively healthy meal, and then sit at the computer and work on my current wip. I need to do all three of those tasks to stay happy, healty and on top of my writing. And I try, very hard, not to allow the distractions you spoke about. Most times I win.

    Thanks again for sharing your knowledge.

    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Michelle, I like the sound of your routine. I've discovered routine is important for me too, including some breaks, even if they're not for loafing off but for doing other specific things. Good on you with the exercise and healthy meals. They sound like the way to go. Good luck avoiding those distractions!

      Delete
  9. Hi Annie thank you for yet another great post. I like my life at the moment. I juggle work, family, exercise, friends, fun and WRITING. And that's the way I like it. I think I would become a huge procrastinator if I was a full time writer. I imagine it would be a mental battle with time management on some days. Life is about balance, thankfully I have it right now. Cheers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kendall. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. You've mentioned something terribly important - balance. I suspect that's the key, whether you're writing full time or not. Finding a way to deal with all the things we need to and want to is an art. And yes to your concerns about time management! I'm glad to hear it's working for you right now.

      Delete
  10. Thanks for your clear and insightful observations, Annie. I'm at a fork in the road and your comments have given me much to mull over. I love your writing and your story crafting is superb. When I 'grow up' as a writer, it will be with you as one of my role models.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gee, Susanne, that's so lovely of you! Thank you.

      The fork in the road sounds so exciting. I hope you enjoy the freedom of having decisions to make. It's wonderful to have the opportunity.

      Delete
  11. Great post, Annie! I can totally relate to the one where family assume that because you work from home they can drop in anytime.

    It's been a long hard road to change that attitude.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Cheryl. It's good to see you here. Interesting that you've had to fight that battle for your time. I wonder if all people who work from home have that issue, or whether it's because a lot of work is in our mind?

      Delete