Monthly Archives: October 2013

Making a Living as a Writer

I think I mentioned in a previous post that I have a regular old 9-to-5 day job. Wish I didn’t. I want my profession to be: writer. But how to make that work in a financially demanding world? Here’s my game plan.

I set a goal for myself. My employer is the State of Colorado. Our fiscal year ends on June 30th, so I picked next June 30th as my target date to leave my job. This gives me time to accomplish several things, but also gives me a goal to work towards. I will also do analysis in about March to see if this is still feasible.

A large part of this goal hinges on making decent money from my books. My non-fiction work appeals to be a specific niche of book buyers, and past experience has shown that I can count on them to consistently buy the work I put out. So that is a pretty much known quantity, albeit a rather small one on a monthly basis. Therefore, the novels need to do the heavy lifting.

Money from writing a novel comes in chunks, rather than a steady stream. The traditional model is the author gets an advance, and if the novel sells well enough that future royalties extend past the advance being paid off, there are then royalty payments, usually on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. For starting off authors, advances are usually meager, often less than $5000, and almost never over $10k. And these are from major publishers. Small presses usually can’t afford to pay advances, so you only have royalties as the sales come in. Furthermore, the amount of royalty an author makes on their books is pretty small, usually in the 7-10% of the cover price.

These are very general numbers, but if you publish with a small press and your book is selling at $15.95 full retail, your take (before taxes) is somewhere around $1.15 per book. So to earn $50k in a year, you would need to sell 43,478 books in a year. That last part is a tough mountain to climb.

Every writer I personally know falls into three categories: 49% have a day job and write for their second income; 49% have a spouse/significant other who contributed heavily to the expenses of simply living; and 2% have hit it big. Even this last 2% do not live on their royalties alone. They have reversed the roles of the ones who have day jobs though. Writing is their day job now. But, they also have secondary work they do. Some teach a class now and then, many do free-lance writing for other businesses.

This last path is the one I am taking. I am working to build up a second career as a freelance writer. What I have learned about the job so far is that there lot of scammers out there saying they can help you make a career out of free-lancing, but if you end up with $10 after putting in a lot of work, you’re lucky. But there are some that are more reputable. I am currently getting writing projects through odesk.com and elance.com. Even with these, I find I have to be a bit selective, because there are some loser clients there too. But there are also decent ones to work with.

In future blogs I’ll recap how it is going and will likely share some anecdotes about how things I have found on the way.

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