So here's a popular topic. Should a debut author quit their day job? Common sense generally says NO, and yet, I know quite a few debut authors who did. I'm one of them. I have now been a full-time author for 16 months, and I'm not sorry, but I've also made some mistakes, so I thought I'd talk a bit about the lessons I've learned.
Lesson #1: Be prepared for delaaaaaaaaaaaaaays.For one thing, a brief rundown of the past 2 years:
Aug '08: Sold book.
Feb '09: Saw first advance check, 1/2 each of two books in a two book deal.
June '09: Saw second half of Magic Under Glass advance for turning in final edits.
Mar '10: Sold Magic Under Stone.
July '10: Saw first half of Magic Under Stone advance.
Note that I went for over a year with absolutely no new income. And that I still haven't seen the entirety of the advance from my original deal, almost two years later. And that it took six months to get my original advance check. And this is with my books coming out in a timely fashion. Not everyone's do. And I sold another book in a timely fashion. Not everyone does. The hardest part about being a full-time author who does not yet receive royalties is, you have almost no clue when your next check is coming. Your editor might indicate some loose time frame and it will turn out TOTALLY WRONG. It is wise to try and behave as if you'll never get a check again and you need to stretch what you have out as long as possible. But, that's hard sometimes, because...
Lesson #2: If your writing income is a decent improvement over your non-writing income, don't expect to stick to your old budget. When I first got my advance check, I had sensible plans for it. 1/3 would go into savings. I would stretch it out over the next two years. I had spent my entire adult life until that point working part-time in retail and my earnings were pathetic. I was the budgeting QUEEN. So, needless to say, there were a lot of things I couldn't resist buying when I had more money. I spent more in one year than I had in three years updating my TV and couch and going to the dentist and taking vacations and all sorts of things.
Lesson #3: If you're going to quit, have either relatives you can borrow from, a job you can return to, or hopefully both. I had both when I quit. And I did have to borrow from my mom, briefly, before the Magic Under Stone check came, although I still had a little stash of stocks I could cash if I had to.
Lesson #4: It may be hard to get used to working from home. This was my biggest surprise. I was homeschooled. I love being home! Yet, when I first left work, I was accustomed to being at work 3 or 4 days a week, and for some months I wanted to be out in the world a lot. But it was hard to think of things to do for free all the time. So I spent a lot of money being out. Eventually this wore off and I'm content being home a lot again. If you can, commit yourself to social activities sometimes even when you're not in the mood, so you won't end up stir-crazy.
Lesson #5: Don't forget taxes! As soon as I got paid, I went to TurboTax and plugged in my income. It wasn't the right year's TurboTax, and I didn't know what my deductions would be, but it gave me an idea, so I put aside a LARGE chunk of money for taxes. Save your receipts and don't feel bad about indulging in a little writerly travel and some books... (Maybe I should call this "Potential Lesson #5" because thank goodness, I didn't screw this one up.)
That's what I've learned. This year I'm back to a strict budget. (Of course, I also have a new couch now. It doesn't feel as dire.) It's kind of an uncertain place, being a full-time writer. But I'm not one bit sorry I left work. Somehow, when I follow the path of my heart, things manage to work out somehow, cheesy as it may sound.
Of course, everyone who leaves work to write has different considerations and challenges. If other full-time writers, debut or otherwise, want to share what they've learned, comment away!